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About this poet

Cecilia Vicuña was born in 1948 and raised in Santiago, Chile. A visual artist and a poet, she began painting at an early age, and her first poems appeared in a bilingual quarterly out of Mexico City in 1967. She studied art at the Universidad de Chile from 1966 to 1971, and in 1972 she moved to London to pursue postgraduate studies at the Slade School of Fine Arts.

Vicuña published her debut poetry collection, Saborami (Beau Geste Press) in 1973. In 1980, she moved to New York City, and the following year, her work was included in a group show at the Modern Museum of Art entitled “Latin American Video.” Her second poetry collection, Precario/Precarious (Tanam Press, 1983) received the Line II Award for Best Artist Book of the Year.She is the author of several additional poetry collections, including Instan (Kelsey Street Press, 2002) and Unravelling Words & the Weaving of Water (Graywolf Press, 1992).

Vicuña is known for her multi-dimensional works spanning poetry, film, sculpture, and performance. Her art, including her “precarious works,” ephemeral installations that she has been creating since 1966, has been displayed in museums, galleries, and natural spaces around the world, including the Whitney Museum in New York City and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires. In her work, she often addresses the political and social struggles of her home country while negotiating the ancestral and the avant-garde. Her art is compiled and discussed in Spit Temple: The Selected Performances of Cecilia Vicuña (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2012), edited and translated by Rosa Alcalá.

She has also coedited two anthologies, including The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2009), which Library Journal describes as “the most comprehensive, representative, and up-to-date survey in English of Latin American poetry.”

Vicuña has taught in various indigenous communities and at several universities, including Denver University, SUNY Purchase, and Universidad de Buenos Aires. She is also a founding member of Artists for Democracy and a cofounder of oysi.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to international oral poetries. Since 1980, she has divided her time between Chile and New York.

Selected Bibliography

Instan (Kelsey Street Press, 2002)
Unravelling Words & the Weaving of Water (Graywolf Press, 1992)
Palabrar mas (El Imaginero, 1984)
Precario/Precarious (Tanam Press, 1983)
Saborami (Beau Geste Press, 1973)

Three Fragments of Instan

alba saliva
el instan

time bending

the betwixt


del habla

del gen


of time

time awakes

inside words


mi away

voy a tejer
mis tres


el instante
es la cuerda

seco fluir

dry elixir

are the loom
of the stars

life's breath

la palabra
es la estrella
del estar

the inner

From Instan by Cecilia Vicuña. Copyright © 2002 by Cecilia Vicuña. Reprinted by permission of Kelsey St. Press. All rights reserved.

From Instan by Cecilia Vicuña. Copyright © 2002 by Cecilia Vicuña. Reprinted by permission of Kelsey St. Press. All rights reserved.

Cecilia Vicuña

Cecilia Vicuña was born in Santiago, Chile in 1948.