"Speech is the mirror of action." These words by Athenian poet, statesmen, and grandfather of democracy Solon welcomed voters to one of the polling places in Tijuana during the 2010 municipal elections. They were painted on a banner held by members of Colectivo Intransigente (C.I.), a poetry/performance troupe co-founded by Jhonnatan Curiel and Mavi Robles-Castillo that year to "intervene in reality and modify the collective psyche through poetic creation." The intervention could be seen as a reminder of the significance of voting: a way for citizens to use their electoral voice to bring about change in a democratic society. However, the intervention titled "Political Erections. You put on your circus, I put on my play," also becomes a reminder of the farce behind the electoral process in Mexico, a process plagued by inconsistencies and fraud. Like many of Colectivo Intransigentes' diverse urban interventions, this action is not just a reminder, but a call to action, a demonstration of their fervent belief that speech--as writing, as poetry, and/or as debate--can catalyze change.
In the work of C.I., the connection between speech and action, between poetics and change, serves as the basis of both their aesthetic and political philosophy--a philosophy that Jhonnatan Curiel calls "poetic politics." The collective takes its name from the Spanish word intransigencia, which Curiel explains as signifying both a refusal to compromise and the capacity to transgress, to go beyond: "we are adamant about inserting poetry into a variety of places, even when people tell us we can't, we do...it has to do with not respecting the established rules and established institutions, to create new paths for poetic expression...to go beyond the formal [aspect] of poetry, and also to go beyond yourself, beyond the figure of the poet, beyond the poem itself."
For the Intransigentes, as their members are commonly known, poetry begins as a way of understanding the self, but ultimately transcends the individual and becomes a tool to understand and better recognize, respect, and acknowledge the other. In this way, poetry moves from the realm of the personal and intimate, to the social and political sphere.
For Karen Marquez, a member of the collective, the divisions between the personal, the social and the political are "barriers that can be transgressed...to make the work stronger." "My sense of personhood is tied to the social, I cannot exclude myself from the social, I am a part of it...it impacts me" Curiel explains, "but being integrated into the whole means that I can also influence the social, and this is what we decided to do: to have a social impact by beginning with the realm of the personal."
With this in mind, the Intransigentes began disseminating poetry across the city: into street corners, into traffic, onto buses, into street markets, onto the roof of artisan markets, onto bridges, into political demonstrations, into bookstores, and into bars. Armed with megaphones and inspired by groups like Los Poetas Salvajes from Mexico City and Las Poetas del Megáfono, Colectivo Intransigente embarked on a mission to take poetry to the streets and citizens of the city.
Curiel is cautious about idealizing the collective's mission, as he acknowledges that taking poetry to the "public" is not enough if the "public" is an amorphous, anonymous group of passerbys. More than a macro political strategy, Curiel sees the act of sharing reading and performing poetry as a way of engaging in micropolitics, creating links between the poet and listener, so that the listener "sees in your action a manifestation of liberation," the liberation that comes with creative expression.
A recent project titled "Poesia de la Dérive: Lectura itinerante de poemas en Tijuana," married this philosophy to the Situationist International's theory of dérive (literally "drifting"), which sought to create new psychological and geographical experiences of the increasing alienating and growing modern city. The basic tenant of the practice was to move through the city without a clearly defined purpose apart from letting the sensorial experience of the urban environment dictate new paths through the landscape, forming what where termed psycho-geographical maps and routes. C.I. adopted the strategy, created a series of algorithms -- turn right whenever encountering a red light, ride a bus for two stops whenever a homeless person is encountered, follow all children, among them -- and began their trek through Tijuana from the center of the city, letting the sights, sounds, and encounters, dictate their path. The poetic dérive became a way to break with the paradigms of a city that seems to never stop convulsing, a way of inserting poetry into spaces where it shouldn't be found, engaging diverse audiences, and proposing aesthetic possibilities that "fine tune your perception, that make it sing, that make it mutate" according to Curiel.
The Colectivo Intransigente seeks to foster each others' creative expression and "stimulate the creative potential of every individual" by hosting weekly poetry reading workshops on Wednesdays in the Pasaje Rodriguez in association with El Grafógrafo bookstore and cafe. In these workshops they encourage an approach to poetry that is multi-disciplinary, incorporating elements from theatre, dance, and performance art, as a way of transgressing the limitation of words and finding ways of "giving a voice to your body...of letting go of all fear, [and] breaking with logic to give voice to your imagination," as Marquez explains. The aim: to teach individuals to express themselves, to voice their frustrations and their hopes, after all, that is the "most powerful aspect of poetry" according to Curiel.
This effort to foment personal expression has gained an even stronger political dimension in the wake of the mass protests that have erupted around the country in response to Mexico's Presidential Elections. After the contested victory of PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto in the July 2nd elections, members of student-led movements and supporters organized massive rallies and demonstrations took to the streets in cities including Tijuana. People from different sectors of society marched together voicing their demands for a more transparent political process and the democratization of mass media companies like Televisa, which was considered to be heavily biased in their support of Peña Nieto.
In a way, these protests have become a macro-political expression of the Intransigentes micro-political model, bringing to mind the observation of Mexican writer and poet Octavio Paz that "culture arrives before history and predicts it." In January of 2011, the C.I. "took over" the monument to Aztec leader Cuauhtemoc along Tijuana's "monument axis," declaring their poetry as wings and calling for increased political awareness as one of their members exclaimed "Vendran nuevos tiempos y latiremos al ritmo de un solo corazon" (new times will come, and we will beat to the rhythm of a single heart). About a year and a half later, the massive demonstration against the Presidential Elections had filled that very same turnaround as the monument was swarmed by citizens expressing their frustrations with the country's political system.
It would be misleading to say that the C.I. action caused or led to the subsequent protest, but artists and cultural actors invested in social change would like to think that it did have a hand in it somehow, that effectively, culture can arrive before history and predict it; that art can prophesize new possibilities and have a hand in bringing them to fruition.
For Curiel and Marquez, it is enough to think that the two events are joined by a similar energy, seeking to unite individuals in "reclaiming what is theirs, not only public spaces, but ones very existence," an energy that represents individuals' ability to come together to envision and demand change through language.
More information about Colectivo Intransigente's urban interventions, poetry workshops, and various other projects, can be found on their blog.
And more videos of their readings can be found on the C.I. Youtube channel.