Sep 8 2023
Poetry review – WHO KILLED MARTA UGARTE?: Charles Rammelkamp considers a graphic account of the horrors of the Pinochet regime as rendered into poetry by Jeanne-Marie Osterman
Who Killed Marta Ugarte? Jeanne-Marie Osterman Broadstone Books, 2023 ISBN: 978-1-956782-47-9 68 pages $16.50
Is memory words? Or a ghost who walks the streets?
Published close to the fiftieth anniversary of the CIA-backed military coup led by Augusto Pinochet that overthrew the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende – September 11, 1973 – Jeanne-Marie Osterman’s new poetry collection, Who Killed Marta Ugarte? is a fierce reminder that such atrocities should never be forgotten. Subtitled “Poems in memory of the victims of Augusto Pinochet,” these poems sear vivid images of unspeakable brutality and inhumanity into the reader’s brain and detail the systematic scope of the ruthless cruelty.
In this poem about memory, “Por Siempre” (“Always”), Osterman also writes, “Recordar, to remember / re, to return / cordar, from corazón, the heart / to return to the heart”
And the substance of that memory:
Disappeared— the electrical fences and watchtowers of Chacabuco the bloodstains on the walls of Villa Grimaldi the metal coils of la parrilla the volt batteries and blindfolds of Venda Sexy the serial numbers on weapons sent by Henry Kissinger the 1,170 detention camps the 17 torture centers the 3,197 muertos
Marta Ugarte was one of these 3,197 killed by the Pinochet government. A teacher who was kidnapped and murdered, Ugarte’s body was dumped into the Pacific Ocean from a helicopter. Her body washed up on the shore. “Open Letter to Marta Ugarte” ends:
When the fisherman found you, your eyes were open.
Two other poems, “Testimony” (“we used the wire that tied Marta to the track / to strangle her”) and “Marta” also focus on Ugarte as a victim of torture. The latter reads:
Ever the teacher, your body is a curriculum for atrocity— twenty extracted nails seven broken ribs one ruptured spleen two dislocated hips thirty-six lash marks, burn marks sinnúmero ocho dias in Villa Grimaldi
Villa Grimaldi was a complex the Chilean secret police – DINA (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional) – used to interrogate and torture political prisoners. Osterman’s poem, “Villa Grimaldi,” presents a gruesome picture of what went on there (“The bodies are wired to the tracks / The tracks are put into potato sacks”).
Venda Sexy (“Sexy Blindfold”) was an estate near Santiago used by the DINA secret police as another torture site, this one for sexual abuse, rapes and nude photos. It had another nickname, La Discoteca, for the deafening music they played to drown out the scream of the inmates. Osterman writes in “Venda Sexy”
Venda Sexy, sexy blindfold, name given by guards for how it happened here— eyes bandaged while raped by agent or dog
Or dog. An officer named Ingrid Olderock (nicknamed “woman of the dogs”) had a German shepherd named Volodya (after Volodya Teitelboim, a Communist who lived in exile in Moscow during the Pinochet regime) that was trained to rape female inmates (“howl of dog / cry of women,” Osterman writes in the poem, “Volodya”).
Chacabuco was a concentration camp that held nearly two thousand prisoners, doctors, lawyers, professors, writers and workers from all over Chile. “Calle Londres #38” is about yet another torture site, “a holding station for female inmates en route to concentration camps.” Giana Rosetta Pallini González, a 21-year-old university student and mother, was one such inmate, kidnapped, interrogated, tortured and finally exiled. She died from her injuries while in exile. Osterman includes photographs and graphic images throughout the book, signs and murals. A photograph of González is one. Marta Ugarte is another.
“In the Kitchen with DINA” is an ironic “recipe” poem that describes the torture, its “ingredients,” the detailed procedure.
Osterman includes two poems that present the point of view of the DINA agents. “Because an Agent Has His Side of the Story, Too” is from the perspective of a low-level soldier, “just following orders.” “It was cold there at Chacabuco, very cold” the poem starts and later: “I had to force heads into buckets of urine,” the soldier says. I was ordered to do this, I had to do that. “I was told I was saving my country.”
“Romo” is more sinister, the statements of Osvaldo Romo, a DINA agent, maintaining that what he did was right.
What will your epitaph say? Here lies the hangman, the torturer, the murderer? Logical, logical. I accept that. But for me it was a positive thing.
In the “PROLOGUE” Osterman provides an introduction and overview of the atrocity, bodies dumped by helicopter into the sea, “Hundreds more found in the Atacama Desert.”
The Atacama is the dry coastal desert that covers the narrow northern third of Chile. In “Mothers of the Atacama,” Osterman writes about the women who have not forgotten, who still comb the desert for remains.
Silently they go about it, in small groups, searching, shovels so short they’re on their knees.
It is the imperative to remember that is at the heart of Who Killed Marta Ugarte? Osterman writes in “What I Remember about el Museo de la Memoria”:
And I remember thinking that in a country accused of forgetting, it was all here to remember, and how these memories allow us to live in the present because without memories we don’t live anywhere
“What is remembrance?” Osterman asks in “POR SIEMPRE,” which is also about the need to remember the tragedy. The final poem, “Found at Villa Grimaldi,” is composed of twenty-eight stanzas, many of them three-line stanzas like:
Calipers, paean to dried blood, gaping; Fingernails, extracted, numerous
The final stanza reads:
Passersby, blinders, earplugs
This, then, is the danger: ignorance and indifference, willful forgetting. Put in the earphones, pretend noting happened. Who Killed Marta Ugarte? is a powerful, compelling argument for remembering.