The Guardian 17 August, 2005

Revolution and roses

Bob Briton

Last week in Adelaide a new anthology of the poems of Juan Garrido-Salgado was launched. Many of the poet’s friends and comrades gathered in the upstairs rooms of the Adelaide Writers Centre to hear fellow poets tell of Juan’s commitment to his art and the struggle for social justice reflected in it.

Juan’s latest Collected Poems is divided into three sections representing the three stages or major areas of concern in his life since arriving in Australia as a refugee from Chile in 1990. The poems are very personal. They talk about his battle to master a new language and a strange new way of living in the country that gave him sanctuary from the Pinochet regime. But always the collective, global experience of capitalist oppression and the resistance to it come to the fore. Juan’s poetry is personal but not at all self-­absorbed or individualistic. It is unmistakeably socialist verse of the straight-talking variety.

There are recollections of his time in detention at the hands of Pinochet’s secret police and the tragedy of the coup on September 11, 1973. There are tributes to the Romero Community that does tireless work with the disadvantaged of Adelaide. There are outraged commentaries on developments like the detention of asylum seekers in concentration camps like Baxter. There’s even a letter to Karl Marx about the relative lack of progress towards the new society foretold by the German philosopher/theoretician/activist. And, of course, there’s recognition of the support and love of Juan’s family who have shared his experiences in Australia.

While the poems deal with problems of huge dimensions and the sense of frustration and isolation this realisation creates, the work is ultimately optimistic and a good read for those needing a boost in these dark days of high imperialism. The last poem signs off on this note. Entitled Revolution and Roses, it says that the peoples of Venezuela, Cuba, East Timor, Northern Ireland, the Sudan and Chile will have peace and progress.

Even if the soil of the country is invaded
By lies and corruption
These people will know; Justice and Freedom
Are for us,
Are for the world: bread and roses
Roses like dreams
Bread like revolution.

Excerpt from the poem Revolution and Roses

Collected Poems
Juan Garrido-Salgado
Five Islands Press
Melbourne, 2005
ISBN 1 74128 089 3
RRP $18

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