Mario Benedetti (14 Sep 1920 – 17 May 2009), the prolific Uruguayan writer, one of the most influential exponents of Latin American literature, is back! The Uruguayan Universidad de la República is in the process of printing three volumes containing a compilation of articles published by Mario Benedetti in the Uruguayan press: Marginalia, Número, Marcha and Asir y La Mañana. The collection of articles entitled: Sobre literatura, cine, artes escénicas y visuales, 1948 to 1965 will be available in Spanish by the end of this year.
Some mornings I wake up full of ideas. When it happens I wish I was a human octopus so I can quickly write them all down as fast as I can before they vanish into thin air. Today I woke up with lots of ideas bouncing around in my head and one in particular was about Mario Benedetti and his poem: Vuelvo, I return.
Today is the anniversary of his birthday, 14 September 1920. When I think about Mario Benedetti, the idea of a genius, committed writer and the vibrancy and turbulence of the 60’s and 70’s come to mind. The 1960’s marked great cultural changes in the world. In Latin America, the expansion of Rock & Roll, the use of long hair (el cabello largo) and of the miniskirt (la minifalda) became prevalent along with the new youth culture rebelling, raising up and differentiating from that of their parents.
By the end of 60’s and during the 70’s Latin America was a continent in social, political and cultural upheaval. The works of Benedetti during that period were passed hand to hand in bohemian and rebel circles as a must read. The simplicity of his writing exploring everyday life and not being shy to spell out the political and controversial, made him one of the most popular writers of that time, particularly with youth. He called the reader for action, as in this fragment of the poem Oda a la mordaza:
therefore I insist 
The metaphor and imagery in his poetry, some of which became lyrics and were sung in popular venues, continue to be very appealing to wider audiences, such as this fragment from his poem Pregón, Street Cry:
Señor que no me mira mire un poco
yo tengo una pobreza para usté
limpia nuevita bien desinfectada
se la doy por diez.
Sir, you are not looking at me, look at me a little
I have poverty for you
it’s clean, new, good, disinfected
worth forty I’ll give it to you for ten. 
Mario Benedetti wrote to his wife, his lifetime companion, the poem Te quiero, I love you, which is perhaps one of his best known poems. Here there is a fragment of such a romantic piece:
Si te quiero es porque sos
mi amor mi cómplice y todo
y en la calle codo a codo
somos mucho más que dos.
If I love you it’s because
you are my love
my accomplice and everything
and in the street arm in arm
we are much more than two.
The words of this poem were set to music and many interpretations followed. Please click here to listen to the version of the Argentinean singers Sandra Mihanovich and Celeste Carballo.
The Latin American 1970’s was soon followed by military regimes with the saddest outcomes for Latin America’s history: torture, killings or “disappearances”, imprisonment or exile of those who were part of a social network committed to a more egalitarian culture.
Thousands were exiled. Mario Benedetti was one of these who departed in 1973 and would not return to his country until 1985. In 1974, whilst in exile, La Tregua, The Truce, a film based on a novel written by Benedetti, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. La Tregua is a great period piece of its time, set in the 70’s. It portrays the conflicts and aspirations between the generations. It is available with subtitles in English in YouTube, click here.
Close to the date of his return to Montevideo and the reunion with his wife, the poem Vuelvo explores the theme of returning after exile (Spanish: exilio).
Vuelvo de buen talante y buena gana
se fueron las arrugas de mi ceño
por fin puedo creer en lo que sueño
nosotros mantuvimos nuestras voces
ustedes van curando sus heridas
empiezo a comprender las bienvenidas
mejor que los adioses
I return in good spirit and willing
the furrows in my brow have vanished
Now I can believe in my dream
We maintained our voice
you continue to heal your wounds
I am beginning to understand the welcomes
better than the farewells. 
A notable version of Vuelvo as a song, is sung by Nacha Guevara, an Argentinean singer, songwriter and actress, and it can be found in YouTube, click here.
Mario Benedetti invented a Spanish word “desexilio“, to refer to the action of returning to the country of origin by those in exile (exilio). Please note that this word is not yet, to my knowledge, in any official dictionary.
He published 96 books, including poems, short stories, novels, essays, theatre pieces and films scripts, many of which were translated in 20 languages. Despite of the great influence of his writing, it is not well known within the English speaking world.
As noted, he wrote lyrics for some interpreters. His book: Canciones del más acá, Songs From This Side, includes 60 lyrics and poems. Due to the simplicity of the language used in his prose, they are a good option to read for Spanish language students at an advanced level.
The Fundación Mario Benedetti, which is financed by copyright proceeds of Benedetti’s book sales, is in the process of an ambitious project to move its headquarters. The new building will house the manuscripts of the writer and his personal library of over 10,000 volumes for researchers; a loaning-library for the works of Benedetti and others; and a third library to address social issues and human rights to underpin the Foundation’s work in this area. In addition, the headquarters will have rooms for workshops, conferences and book presentations. A fundraising campaign will be launched by the Fundation in order to complete this project.
Mario Benedetti is back! In fact he never went away. His writing is contemporary as ever. It continues reflecting the world of today.
 Free translation from the Poem Oda a la mordaza, From Tres odas provisorias, Inventario Uno, Poesía completa 1950-1985, Editorial Sudamericana.
 Free translation from the poem Pregón, Street cry, from Noción de Patria (1962/3), Inventario Uno, Poesía completa 1950-1985, Editorial Sudamericana.
 Free translation from the poem Te quiero, from Poemas de otros (1973/4), Inventario Uno, Poesía completa 1950-1985.
 Free translation from the poem Vuelvo, from Canciones del más acá, Editorial Sudamericana.