Poet’s Travel Book of Rapa Nui

Tongariki, Rapa Nui. Photograph property of Margaret Randall.

Destination: Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

Book: Their Backs to the Sea(2009) by Margaret Randall

(review copy supplied by Wings Press, San Antonio)

In her journey to Easter Island, the well-traveled Margaret Randall, came to a place more remote than any she had visited or lived in before. The introductory stanzas of [amazon_link id=”0916727610″ target=”_blank” ]Their Backs to the Sea [/amazon_link], imagining the arrival of the ancients who carved the giant totems, spells out the location of Rapa Nui..

Unyielding Pacific, 1,300 miles west of Chile,

1,260 southeast of Pitcairn,

at 27 point 9 south and 109 point 26 west

in the measurements we use today.

a journey of stars beckoned you then,

exhausted but ready,

to this speck of land.

The debate about whether we should ignore the writer’s life and just look at the work may never come to a satisfactory conclusion.  But I cannot help but think that knowing something of Margaret Randall’s life brings even more depth to her work.  Randall and Adele Barker comprised the panel I moderated at the Tucson Book Festival. Their subject was “Memoirs about Travel and Place,” because both have written about foreign places that they lived for an extended time.

Randalls’s long periods of living in Cuba (just after Castro came to power), and Mexico (during student uprisings), visiting North Vietnam(at the end of the Vietnamese War), and again living several years in Nicaragua were not trips taken to immerse oneself in culture or to study history, let alone lie on a beach.  A writer–essayist, memoirist, poet–and a photographer, Randall lived her political beliefs.  Her opposition to United States policy eventually led to her losing her U.S. citizenship. You can read more about that and the long struggle that finally restored her citizenship at her web site. You can also read more about her Cuban life in  To Change the World: My Years in Cuba. Excerpts can also be read at the Havana Times web site, a site sympathetic to the country and government of Cuba.

I bought To Change the World at the Tucson Book Festival and am eager to read it, having read some of the excerpts at the Havana Times. Just to be perfectly clear, I am not sympathetic to Castro, and steeled myself to dislike an apologia for his revolution. However, Randall is far too intelligent to just parrot dogma. I found the excerpts I read to be fascinating, and a good counterpoint to the (my) unexamined attitude toward Castro.

Randall now lives in Albuquerque, and the travel to Easter Island was spurred by an article by playwright Edward Albee about how a visit to the island had affected him.

A Lone Moai, His Back to the Sea. Photograph Property of Margaret Randall

In the first half of her book, the poetry and photography beautifully portray the mysterious stone heads on the island, and she asks the questions that I have asked when seeing pictures of the carvings, weaving the physical descriptions through the facts and speculations of history and anthropology.

Even here, she sees the dangers of colonialism, and her contemplation of the ancients moves through time to Baghdad, and on to a loop between past and present and future–both personal and global. Thus the second half of the book moves from Easter Island to the contemplation of universal life questions, and asks more of the reader than simple tourism.

Fallen Moai

Margaret Randall kindly gave me permission to use her photographs here. They are copyrighted and are NOT available for your use, other than enjoying what you see here.

I hope that you will start or join a conversation here. Surely I have given you enough controversial topics to approach. Have at it!

Read about the other panelist from Tucson Festival of Books, Adele Barker, and about another South Sea Island experience. And don’t forget to recommend this post by clicking on one of the social media buttons below.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

4 thoughts on “Poet’s Travel Book of Rapa Nui

  1. Don’t laugh, but seeing “Ancient Aliens” recently on the History Channel renewed my interest in visiting Easter Island! 😀 The Moai have always fascinated me, and the island has been on my travel list for a long time. I’m drawn to Neolithic sites – I was thrilled to see Stonehenge in England, and to walk through the temples on Malta.

    Thanks for an inspiring post. Randall’s book of poetry looks like a must-have, and Easter Island has moved up “the list!”

  2. What a great venture, catchy poem and extraordinary life supporting her beliefs. I’ve been to Easter Island and their rich cultural history based around Birdmen and the remarkable moai. To me, it is today a somewhat sad place as the islanders have struggled to get the balance between tourism and their Polynesian ancestry and lifestyle correct – a difficult balance when the population is only a few thousand and the place is so remote and so dependent on Chile and outside for most basic necessities. Told through the eyes of such a distinguished writer, I am now keen to get hold of the account of this island in the eyes of Margaret Randall. Great review.
    .-= Mark H hopes you will read blog ..Photo of the Week: Grey Crowned Crane (Uganda) =-.

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