Plaque of the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Chile student leaders exchange program, from 1959 to 1967. Featured on the plaque are the lone stars on the similar flags of Texas and Chile, the Texas cowboy and the Chilean huaso, and the Texas longhorn and the Chilean snow-capped Andes. Dave participated in the program in 1965. The plaque was created by Filiberto Gutiérrez for a reunion of the participants, held in Austin in 2017. A gift to each participant, the plaque was paid for by Carlos Garza, a participant in the program in 1966.
The fifteen UT students and their faculty sponsor, on their arrival at the airport in Santiago, Chile, in July 1965. Left to right are: Ricardo Romo; Paul Quinton; Richard Cohen; Merry Nell Van Fleet; Dave; Fran Spivy; Mike Hennen; Kaye Northcott; Tommy Stephens; Sally Green; Robert Denham; Marian Pendleton; Ann Oakes; Professor Donald Larson; Cliff Drummond; and Tony Pate.
Because Dave had edited Riata, the University's student literary magazine, and had written poems published in a number of magazines, including The Texas Observer, he was chosen as one of fifteen UT students for the 1965 exchange, the 7th year of the program. During Dave's year in Hebbronville, his Spanish-speaking faculty and students stirred his interest in the language that he had taken in high school but had not continued with in college. His renewed interest in Spanish and a curiosity about Latin American poetry had prompted him to apply as a candidate for the exchange program. Just prior to the trip to Chile, he discovered two poems by a Chilean poet named Nicanor Parra, who was a physics professor at the University of Chile. Parra himself called his witty, colloquial writing "antipoetry," and Dave was so impressed with this new kind of literature that he wanted to meet the "antipoet." Dave's discovery of Parra and his meeting with him during his first trip to Chile were two of the most consequential events of Dave's career as a writer and translator. After visiting with Parra in his home in Santiago, Dave would, for the first time, try his hand at translating poetry from Spanish into English. The above photograph of Dave with Parra was taken in 2001 in Don Nicanor's same home in Santiago where Dave first met the antipoet in 1965.
In 2001, the year of the photograph of Dave with Nicanor Parra, he was invited to present a paper on the antipoet at the homage paid to him at the University of Chile. Dave's paper, entitled "Un tejano descubre la antipoesía de Parra y la trata de traducir" ("A Texan Discovers the Antipoetry of Parra and Tries to Translate It"), would be published in the proceedings from the event and reprinted in Dave's collection of his writings on Chilean poetry, Hallazgo y traducción de poesía chilena (2019).
After participating in the Universities of Texas and Chile exchange program in 1965, Dave returned to Chile on his own in February 1966. He is pictured here in the Andes with hands in pockets from the snow-covered cordillera. In Santiago, he taught English and American literature classes at the State Department's Binational Institute and at the Catholic University. A young librarian named María Isabel Jofré worked at the Institute library and attended one of Dave's literature classes.
María was chosen by her classmates to give the farewell address at her high school graduation. She scored high enough on the university entrance exam to qualify for any field. Interested at first in going to law school, she decided instead to attend library school. She was always an avid reader, and wrote beautifully in both Spanish and English.
Dave and María in 1966 when they were dating in Santiago, at a swimming pool on Cerro San Cristóbal. Their first date was in August, and two weeks later Dave asked María to marry him, and she accepted.
Dave's work at the Binational Institute, or Instituto Chileno-norteamericano, involved teaching classes in English conversation and American literature, and also his starting and editing a literary magazine. To supplement his minimal salary at the Institute, he taught two classes at the Catholic University, an American literature survey course and a course in essay writing. As would become his practice in producing student literary magazines, he used tide as a teaching tool. His students wrote some of the material included in tide, along with short stories, articles, and poems by Chilean and U.S. authors. Brother Carazo, a student at the Católica, designed the cover. Contributors to the second issue of the magazine included Dave's longtime friend Morton Stine, who sent an essay on Melville's humor; Luis Domínguez, who contributed a short story; and Carlos Cortínez, a friend-to-be, who was represented by a poem in English translation. The first issue of tide included a student's translation of a poem by Enrique Lihn that Dave had discovered in a local poetry magazine entitled Orfeo. Dave himself would subsequently translate a collection of poems by Lihn under the title of Figures of Speech.
Carlos Cortínez, a Chilean poet working in the administration of the Universidad Austral in the southern city of Valdivia, came to the Institute with an offer for Dave from the university: it would pay for him to come to Valdivia and give two talks on U.S. poetry. There Dave would be lodged in the home of Carlos and his family, and would meet the poetry group called Trilce, whose members included Carlos and Omar Lara. After Carlos had come to the States to study for the Ph.D. at the University of Iowa and stayed on to teach at several U.S. universities, he involved Dave in a number of translation projects. Meeting Carlos and his family in Valdivia would have a long-lasting impact on Dave's career as a writer and translator, and also as a reader. For details, see Dave's Harbingers of Books to Come.
Carlos, his wife, and their son and two daughters welcomed Dave warmly to their home. Decades later, Verónica, the elder daughter (riding here on Dave's back), would earn her Ph.D. in colonial and contemporary Latin American literature from Harvard University. In the 1990s she and Dave would meet again in Austin at UT, and later they would correspond after Verónica began teaching at UCLA. Dave feels privileged to have known her father and to have been able to read Verónica's illuminating scholarly study of Bernal Díaz del Castillo's Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España, made possible by that first meeting in 1966 and by their remaining in contact up to the present day.
Dave and María at their civil ceremony, on December 22, 1966, prior to their wedding on January 28, 1967. María had to be married legally in order to apply for a visa to enter the States. Their plan was to leave for their honeymoon in Mexico after the wedding, and then settle in Texas. Things did not work out exactly as planned. See Dave's account in his memoir, Harbingers of Books to Come.
María and Dave at their wedding on January 28, 1967, in Santiago. During the month before their marriage by the Catholic Church, María applied for a visa to enter the States, collected all the necessary paperwork, and had an x-ray taken of her lungs, as required by U.S. law. Dave's poem, entitled "María's Tapestry," tells the tale of her introduction to life in a barbaric country. She had never wanted to leave Chile, would never apply for U.S. citizenship, and remained a Chilean to the end.
María and Dave leaving their wedding ceremony on January 28, 1967, in Santiago, Chile.
María in Arica, Chile, in 1971, with the Pacific Ocean behind the banana trees at her back. She and Dave spent several days in this northern-most city where they met Chilean poets Alicia Galaz and Oliver Welden, the founders of the literary magazine Tebaida. In Arica, Dave gave talks on poetry at the local branch of the University of Chile.
María's Poems, from 1987, includes Dave's first nine poems that he wrote on María. The collection won an Austin Book Award and was designed by Jim Jacobs, with photographs taken by Tomás Pantin of objects associated with María. The cover photograph is of María with her elder sister “Coneja" and her mother Gladys “Gala” Aguirre, from circa 1946.
On the title page of Dave's book, María’s Winnie-the-Pooh bear appears in his overalls that she had made for him. In Dave’s poem, “María’s Voices,” Winnie and other dolls, as well as her part Pekinese and border collie named Sapo, speak through her in witty conversations that imitate childlike talk in discussions of politics or the latest news of the day.
María‘s metal cookie cutters were used to make these animal cut-outs from rolled-out whole-wheat dough. Jim Jacobs went around Dave and María’s home and selected items that represented her as described in some of Dave’s poems.
María’s Chilean stones, collected from places in her country such as the Villarrica region of southern Chile with its lakes and volcanoes.
A photograph of María when she was 16, superimposed by her son-in-law, Newton De Faria, over the tapestry she had made from wool yarn and fabric scraps. The scene depicts María's maternal grandfather’s property in La Chimba in the “little north” of Chile near the town of Ovalle where she was born in 1944.
Cover of Dave’s book of 55 poems on María, with her artwork described in the poem entitled “María’s Tapestry.”