A shaman and visionary—not a poet in any ordinary sense—María Sabina lived out her life in the Oaxacan mountain village of Huautla de Jiménez, and yet her words, always sung or spoken, have carried far and wide, a principal instance and a powerful reminder of how poetry can arise in a context far removed from literature as such. Seeking cures through language—with the help of Psilocybe mushrooms, said to be the source of language itself—she was, as Henry Munn describes her, "a genius [who] emerges from the soil of the communal, religious-therapeutic folk poetry of a native Mexican campesino people." She may also have been, in the words of the Mexican poet Homero Aridjis, "the greatest visionary poet in twentieth-century Latin America."
These selections include a generous presentation from Sabina's recorded chants and a complete English translation of her oral autobiography, her vida, as written and arranged in her native language by her fellow Mazatec Alvaro Estrada. Accompanying essays and poems include an introduction to "The Life of María Sabina" by Estrada, an early description of a nighttime "mushroom velada" by the ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson, an essay by Henry Munn relating the language of Sabina's chants to those of other Mazatec shamans, and more.
Written with Álvaro Estrada
The Folkways Chant
From The 1970 Session: Three Excerpts
From The Mushroom Velada: Three Excerpts
COMMENTARIES & DERIVATIONS
Introduction to The Life of María Sabina
From Teo-Nanácatl: The Mushroom Agape
The Uniqueness of María Sabina
María Sabina in Mexico City
From Fast Speaking Woman
Fast Speaking Woman & the Dakini Principle
The Little Saint of Huautla
The Poet Speaks, the Mountain Sings . . .
Juan Gregorio Regino
The Song Begins
Juan Gregorio Regino
Source Notes and Acknowledgments
An internationally known poet and one of the world's leading anthologists, Jerome Rothenberg has written over seventy books of poetry and criticism, and has edited nine groundbreaking anthologies of experimental and traditional poetry, including Technicians of the Sacred (California, 1985). He is Professor Emeritus of visual arts and literature at the University of California, San Diego.
“Sabina’s no Coleridge; She’s barely William Burroughs at his most strung out. Yet she conveys a similar audacity to writers from that visionary tradition.”—Heather Caldwell Bookforum
“Reading this book from beginning to end provides the attentive individual with an immensely valuable and illuminating journey that is at once distinctive and universal.”—Rochelle Owens American Book Review
“Jerome Rothernberg has done it again, having put together a compelling and important new book.”—Rain Taxi Review Of Books
“Ethnopoetic theorist and poet Rothenberg [presents] a compelling discussion of Sabina’s complex understanding of the mushroom's healing language. Magic and Poetry intersect in her worldview.”—Patricia Monaghan Booklist
"María Sabina's Selected Works
introduces and enhances the understanding of one of the world's most remarkable poets. Mr. Rothenberg frames her work within the larger context of 'ethnopoetics' with no academic reductionism whatsoever, a rare and indispensable service to a 'world poet' such as Maria Sabina. The translation of Maria Sabina, her 'autobiography' and her oral poetry, is exquisite, powerful, rendered with linguistic dignity."—Howard Norman
"This book transmits not only a full and rich experience with one of the most extraordinary personalities and poetic voices of our time, but also a great lesson in our understanding of the relations between religious inspiration and its artistic expression. It enriches our perceptions of the nature and possibilities of oral composition, complementing what we already know of it from the study of the Homeric and other poems in its great tradition."—George Economou
"María Sabina is one of the great figures of American shamanism. Her Chants
is a masterpiece of indigenous visionary poetry. Her Life
is the account of a woman who transcended her own culture and its material poverty to become one of the great women of the twentieth century. The veneration of her work continues beyond her death. To read her is to embark on a journey to the world of the extrasensorial."—Homero Aridjis
"In the chants of María Sabina, we can appreciate the interplay of individual invention and traditional liturgy within the oral creativity of a non-literate society. The recordings of her words that have saved them from oblivion give us the opportunity to glimpse the emergence of a genius from the soil of the communal, religious folk poetry of a native Mexican campesino people."—Henry Munn