Todd Temkin

Last updated
Todd Temkin Todd temkin wikipedia.jpg
Todd Temkin

Todd Temkin (born 1964) is an American poet.

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Temkin has carved a niche as poet turned social entrepreneur and cultural activist. His poems are rich in humor, intimacy, and self-deprecating irony.


Temkin's poems startle the reader with "bursts of lucidity stripped bare of false poses and exaggerated gestures." [1] In a recent documentary on Chilean television, Temkin stated: "We live our lives weighed down by the burden of names and labels that society bestows upon us. For me, a poem doesn't come alive until it sets us free from such burdens." [2] Temkin's poems surprise us with their complex simplicity, breaking through the barriers that separate verse from oral speech." [3]

Temkin is equally well known for his social activism in Chile, his adopted country, where he is said to have played an instrumental role in the transformation of Valparaíso into a major cultural center and UNESCO world heritage site. Much of Temkin's work on behalf of Valparaiso has come through the non-profit Valparaiso Foundation, which the poet created in 1998. He also writes a popular and influential Sunday column for El Mercurio de Valparaiso, Chile's oldest newspaper. In 2010, Mercurio Aguilar published a collection of Temkin's Sunday columns under the title "Moriré en Valparaíso" [Let me die in Valparaíso].

For his many contributions on behalf of the city, the mayor of Valparaiso conferred upon Todd Temkin the "Premio Juan Ross" for 2009 (Juana Ross Prize), the highest honor the city of Valparaíso can bestow upon a citizen or institution for their work on behalf of the city.

In the "Sunday Book Review" (El Mercurio), Chilean critic Matías Ayala writes: "Temkin moves with surprising range from joviality to elegy and back again, combining elements both absurd and profane to reveal a deeper illumination." Esteemed Chilean poet Ennio Moltedo has written, "Todd Temkin's poems clearly establish the difference between inhabiting by choice and inhabiting by obligation." [4]


Temkin is said to have been deeply transformed by the loss of a sister who died of malignant melanoma when the poet was sixteen. [5] He enrolled to study art history and psychology at Indiana University. Later he came of age as a poet under the tutelage of Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Simic. He received his M.A. in poetry writing at the University of Minnesota. Early poetic influences included James Wright, William Carlos Williams, Galway Kinnell, Philip Levine, and W.S. Merwin. In 1992, Temkin accepted an offer to teach North American literature at the Catholic University of Valparaíso, Chile.


Once installed in Chile's historic port, Temkin taught, published poems, and became enraptured by the endearing chaos of Valparaiso. In 1998, the poet abandoned his academic post to create the Valparaiso Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the rebirth of Valparaíso as a cultural heritage site. From its earliest days, Temkin's foundation established an impressive list of accomplishments, winning grants and executing neighborhood redevelopment projects, all the time working to transform the movement on behalf of Valparaiso into a national campaign.

In recent years, Temkin's foundation has branched out into the administration of important cultural projects, teaming with noted film critic Alfredo Barrìa in the direction of the Valparaiso Film Festival and joining forces with Chilean mezzo-soprano Marìa Cecilia Toledo to direct a 15-day annual event known as "Opera by the Sea." Temkin is also said to be deeply involved in the restoration of one of Valparaìso's most important cultural venues, the Deutsches Haus Theater, in the Concepciòn National historic district of Valparaiso.

In 2002, the Chilean National Society of Architects named Todd Temkin "Honorary Architect" in recognition of his profound contributions to the restoration of Chile's National Heritage. In 2003, the historic quarter of Valparaiso was declared a UNESCO world heritage site. In August 2007, a thirty-minute documentary on Temkin's life and contributions to Chilean society aired on public television, produced by Channel 13 (Universidad Católica Televisión). The program was called, "La Huella de un Inmigrante," (An Immigrant's Imprint).

Mixing Poetry and Politics

By the year 2003, the poet's tireless participation in the affairs of Valparaíso began to take a toll. Though greatly admired in political and professional circles—Temkin has twice been nominated "Person of the Year" by the newspaper El Mercurio de Valparaiso—some local activists openly questioned Temkin's excessive protagonism in all things related to Valparaíso.

Such jealousy reached a fever pitch when Chilean Secretary of State Soledad Alvear (1998–2004) invited Temkin to be the official guide for a delegation of 21 ambassadors who voted for Valparaíso in the UNESCO world heritage conference, infuriating some local officials who felt that such an honor should never have been bestown upon a non-native, much less an American.

By 2004, Temkin found himself at a crossroads and began to hint openly in newspaper and radio interviews that he had painted himself into a corner and wished to get back to his writing. The 2005 publication of Enloquecidos Moradores de un Mundo Sin Quehacer is seen by some as a reconciliation between the poet and the civic activist. In his foreword to Crazy Denizens of the Lost World, Agustin Squella, cultural attaché to Chilean President Ricardo Lagos (1998–2004), wrote:

"When it comes to Todd Temkin, it seems unthinkable to separate the poet from the cultural activist from the man. I prefer to celebrate the activist, the cultural entrepreneur, the citizen, while thanking the man for taking the time to demonstrate the fine poet that he also is. The great Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa, once suggested that we are more than one person, that we are indeed a treasure chest of different people. Such an idea can find no better embodiment than the author of this book."


Crazy Denizens of the Lost World (2005, University of Valparaíso Press)

Enloquecidos Moradores de un Mundo Sin Quehacer (2005, Editorial Universidad de Valparaíso)

Moriré en Valparaíso (2010, Mercurio Aguilar)

Temkin's work

Temkin's poems have been celebrated for achieving a natural voice that avoids grandiosity and false posturing, often playfully poking fun at the poet's own expense. In "The Discovery of Love," Temkin extolls upon the virtues of physically induced love, only to deadpan several stanzas into the poem: "Later, she would dump me/ for a Kung Fu instructor/ canceling the wedding/ via U.S. mail."

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nicanor Parra</span> Chilean poet and physicist

Nicanor Segundo Parra Sandoval was a Chilean poet and physicist. He was considered one of the most influential Chilean poets of the Spanish language in the 20th century, often compared with Pablo Neruda. Parra described himself as an "anti-poet," due to his distaste for standard poetic pomp and function; after recitations he would exclaim "Me retracto de todo lo dicho".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Valparaíso</span> Municipality in Valparaíso Province, Chile

Valparaíso is a major city, commune, seaport, naval base, and educational centre in the Valparaíso Region, Chile.

<i>El Mercurio</i> Chilean newspaper

El Mercurio is a Chilean newspaper with editions in Valparaíso and Santiago. Its Santiago edition is considered the country's newspaper of record and it is considered the oldest daily in the Spanish language currently in circulation. El Mercurio is owned by El Mercurio S.A.P., which operates a network of 19 regional dailies and 32 radio stations across the country.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Víctor Domingo Silva</span>

Víctor Domingo Silva Endeiza was a Chilean poet, journalist, playwright and writer. He was of Basque descent by mother's side.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Margot Loyola</span>

Margot Loyola Palacios was a musician, folk singer and researcher of the folklore of Chile and Latin America in general.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Enrique Lafourcade</span> Chilean writer and journalist (1927–2019)

Enrique Eduardo Lafourcade Valdenegro was a Chilean writer, critic and journalist from Santiago.

Jaime Eduardo Riveros Valenzuela is a Chilean former professional footballer who played as an attacking midfielder.

Ricardo Carrasco Stuparich is a Chilean photographer, author and photography teacher, best known for nature and travel photography of South America.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Raúl Zurita</span> Chilean poet

Raúl Zurita Canessa is a Chilean poet. He won the Chilean National Prize for Literature in 2000.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna</span> Chilean historian and politician

Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna was a Chilean writer, journalist, historian and politician. Vicuña Mackenna was of Irish and Basque descent.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">2010 Pichilemu earthquakes</span> 6.9 and 7.0 MW intraplate earthquakes 2010 in Chile

The 2010 Pichilemu earthquakes, also known as the Libertador O'Higgins earthquakes, were a pair of intraplate earthquakes measuring 6.9 and 7.0 Mw that struck Chile's O'Higgins Region on 11 March 2010 about 16 minutes apart. The earthquakes were centred 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) northwest of the city of Pichilemu.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Greater Valparaíso</span> Metropolitan area in the Valparaíso Region, Chile

Greater Valparaíso is the second largest metropolitan area in Chile, after Greater Santiago. It takes this name after the city of Valparaíso, the oldest city of the group and the most important harbour in Chile. Its total population is 979,127 at the 2012 census, with an area of 401.6 square kilometers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eugenio Cruz Vargas</span> Chilean poet and painter

Eugenio Cruz Vargas was a notable Chilean poet and painter. His art was developed under the naturalistic landscape and abstraction, and his collection of poems under the concepts of surrealism and culminate in the literary creationism.)

The 2001 Campeonato Nacional was Chilean first tier's 70th season which Santiago Wanderers reached its third professional title after 33 years.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ernesto Ottone</span> Assistant Director-General for Culture of UNESCO

Ernesto Renato Ottone Ramírez is a Chilean actor and cultural manager. He served in the second government of Michelle Bachelet, first as Minister President of the National Council of Culture and the Arts (2015–2018), and then as the Minister of Cultures, Arts, and Heritage. In 2018 he was appointed Assistant Director-General for Culture of UNESCO.

Erick Swen Pohlhammer Boccardo is a Chilean poet of the Generation of the 80s, a self-described "media figure, traveler, compulsive reader, Zen Buddhist, and expert in both academic and pop culture."

The Jorge Millas Award was instituted in 1996 to remember the work of the distinguished intellectual Jorge Millas (1917–1982), an academic at the University of Chile and dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences of the Austral University of Chile.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jorge Inostrosa Cuevas</span>

Jorge Inostrosa Cuevas was a Chilean novelist, biographer, journalist, and screenwriter for radio, theater, and television. By his own account, "he lived to write and for what he gained from writing." Upon his death, he had more than 30 titles under his belt, as well as lyrics, poems, and a significant number of scripts for film, radio, and television.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Axel Kaiser</span> Chilean lawyer, philosopher and writer

Axel Phillip Kaiser Barents-Von Hohenhagen is a Chilean writer, lawyer and political scientist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edificio de la Bolsa de Valores de Valparaíso</span> Building

The Edificio de la Bolsa de Valores de Valparaíso is a building located at the corner of Prat and Urriola streets, in Valparaíso, Chile. Inaugurated in 1915, it housed the Bolsa de Corredores de Valparaíso until 2018, when the stock exchange closed forever. The building forms part of the Zona Típica de la calle Prat, a heritage area designated as such in 2001.


  1. Agustin Squella, Chilean academic, author, and columnist to El Mercurio
  2. Quote from the documentary "An Immigrant's Imprint (Huellas de un Inmigrante), produced by Universidad Católica Televisión, Chile
  3. Book Review. Las Ultimas Noticias, Santiago, Chile, September 14, 2005
  4. Revista Aérea: A Latin American Review of Literature
  5. Interview with Todd Temkin, El Observador, January 28th, 2007[]