remains of some mortals are buried within a few miles of the places
where they were born. The remains of my parents, for example, natives
of Hopkins County, Texas, are buried in the Old Saltillo Cemetery
within two or three miles of the farms where they were born. Buried
there are also the remains of my parents' great-grandparents, my parents'
grandparents, my own grandparents, and numerous other relatives. The
remains of some others, however, are buried on continents far away
from their places of birth. Alicia Galaz Welden, poet and scholar,
was born in Valparaiso, Chile, in 1926; her remains were buried in
Obion County, Tennessee, in 2003. Recently I drove the eight miles
from my home in Martin, Tennessee, to see Alicia Welden's grave in
the Cane Creek Cemetery. The Cemetery is located a quarter mile off
a narrow county road that intersects with another county road in the
small community of Mt. Pelia. There are only a hundred or so graves
in the cemetery.
Approximately one quarter mile from the main road, just over the crest
of a low hill, I found a weathered frame building with the identification
"Primitive Baptist Church" above the narrow front door. Before I stopped
the car, I noticed a modest marker in the front row of graves with
the name Welden carved into the stone. There is a space beyond the
marker reserved for the remains of Oliver Welden, Alicia's husband.
Learning a few facts about the circumstances of Alicia Welden's life
helps to understand why her remains were buried far away from her
Galaz Welden was a member of the Modern Foreign Languages Department
at The University of Tennessee at Martin from 1989 until 2003. In
an article in Trilce, a Chilean publication, Carlos Amador
Marchant writes about his encounter with Welden when he was a student
at the University of Arica in northernmost Chile. Welden was a young
professor, busily engaged in teaching and writing poetry as well as
scholarly articles about Spanish writers of the Golden Age.
Marchant was one of a select group of students who became protégés
Welden's poetry then and later spoke against the lack of equality
for women in her society. Before President Allende's administration
ended with his assassination, her poetry reflected her support of
reforms in Chilean society that progressed during Allende's administration
in the early 1970s.
While in Arica, Alicia Galaz married Oliver Welden, a poet and journalist
several years her junior. The two edited a journal of poetry, Thebes-Chilean
Poetry, which was reviewed favorably by many critics in Latin-America.
After David Oliphant, a University of Texas professor, translated
many of Alicia's and Oliver's poems, American critics began to take
interest in their works. Robert Bly, for one, praised Oliver's first
volume of poems, Love Hound.
The Weldens moved from Arica to the capital city where Alicia began
to teach in the University of Santiago. They were in the city in 1973
when a coup led by Auguste Pinochet ousted President Allende. The
Nixon administration and the CIA supported Pinochet because they distrusted
the socialistic policies of Allende.
Both the Weldens were widely known as former supporters of Allende.
However, Alicia continued teaching at the University until the fall
of 1975. One evening a colleague came to inform her that she was on
the dictator Pinochet's 'arrest list' and that she and her family
should leave the country immediately. When Welden went to the payroll
office at the University the next morning to collect her first salary
check of the semester, she was told it was not "available." By this
time the Weldens had three children. For the sake of their family,
the parents knew they had to flee as many other Chilean intellectuals
out of favor with Pinochet's regime had to do.
In his article in Trilce Marchant remembers saying good-bye
to the Weldens before they left Santiago. He writes that if Alicia
Welden had remained in Chile, she would have been shocked to see the
destruction of the creative spirit. He mentions how difficult it was
and still is to find copies of Alicia Welden's books. Under Pinochet
it was almost impossible for poets to publish. In the middle of night
Marchant risked arrest by going to a church basement where there was
a small printing press hidden from authorities. He proceeded to print
a small volume of his poems.
In 1975 the Weldens went to Alabama where Oliver's father lived. His
father had been an American diplomat assigned to Chile during the
second World War. It was there he met and married Oliver's mother.
At some point Oliver's father retired from his position and returned
to the United States.
Alicia Welden continued to write poetry reflecting disillusionment
with a woman's life in a "man's world." In a personal poem entitled
"Autorreferencias" reprinted in Extramuros'83, she speaks of her futile
attempts to make a mark in scholarship and creativity; she recognizes
she has been held back because of her gender. In the poem she talks
of the temptation of drinking in a tavern, experiencing intoxication,
and playing billiards in an environment exclusively for men.
In other personal lyrics Welden speaks of the homesickness she experiences.
There is always in her consciousness the call of her native land and
family members she left behind. Her poems show the speaker's longing
for the land of her birth where Spanish is the fabric of the culture.
Marchant never communicated with Alicia Welden again after she left
Chile. Unlike many other Chilean intellectuals who went into exile,
the Weldens never returned . It would be thirty years before Marchant
would hear from Oliver Welden. A few months after Alicia's death in
2003, Oliver called Marchant. They talked at length about the pleasant
times they had together in Arica and then in Santiago.
One sultry morning in July I found Alicia Galaz Welden's name on a
marker in Cane Creek Cemetery. With the sounds of mockingbirds nearby
I considered the vagaries of fate that led a Chilean-born poet to
a final resting place thousands of miles from her native country Unlike
my parents, whose remains were buried within the sound of a whippoorwill's
call from the places of their birth, Alicia Welden's remains are found
far away from her native Chile..
Marchant, Carlos Amador. Alicia Galaz en los Nuevos Tiempos.
31 junio 2011
Welden, Alicia Galaz. Poems in Revista Extramuros '83 on line
September 12, 2014 Guest Column
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