Magda Portal (1901-1989)

Poem and translation: Liberación.

Magda Portal, a Peruvian novelist, poet, essayist, and magazine editor, tended to write about feminist themes and activist struggle. She was in socialist literary circles and published in Amauta, along with María Wiesse, Angela Ramos, Alicia del Prado, Catalina Recavarren, and José Carlos Mariátegui, She was forced into exile from Peru in the late 1920s, living in Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Bolivia. The Peruvian government imprisoned her mother, teenage sister, and her infant daughter. She wrote extensively about Flora Tristan, the French feminist and writer who wrote about her visit to Peru during the wars of independence (Bustamente Moscosos). Her early poetry was published under the name Tula Sovaina (Reedy 490).

María Monvel describes Portal’s poetry with suspicion, mentioning “unánimismo,” a vanguardist and surrealist literary movement which arose from the French and Latin American Symbolists. Unánimismo is also the title of a book by early 20th century Cuban writer María Buceta Villar. Monvel’s acerbic judgement on Portal is as follows:

Del mismo tipo que Blanca Luz Brum, estas dos poetisas ofrecen pocas diferencias. Abanderas al ultraismo desde su nacimiento, se han hecho notables allí por sus versos buenos o malos. Respetuosos del juego unánime a que se ha entregado la gente de letras, temeríamos caer en error al juzgarlas sin comprenderlas. Preferimos, luego de atacarlas y darles aquí sitio, entregarlas al juicio de sus semejantes. (175)

Of the same brand as Blanca Luz Brum, these two poets offer few differences. Standard-bearers for Ultraism since their birth, they have gained fame through their verses, good or bad. Highly respectable as it is–this “unánime” game which people of letters have taken up–we fear falling in error to judge them without understanding them. We prefer, after contradicting them and giving them space, to deliver them to the judgement of the like-minded.

Magda Portal’s early works include Ánima absorta (1923), El desfile de miradas (1923), Vidrios de amor (1926), El derecho de matar (1926), Varios poemas a la misma distancia (1927), Constancia del Ser (1928), Una esperanza y el mar (1927), América Latina contra el Imperialismo (1931), and Hacia la mujer nueva (1933).

“Liberación” could be written in response to (or could be an inspiration for) José Carlos Mariátegui’s assertion that women poets are held back from true greatness by sexual and poetic inhibition. Vicky Unruh describes Portal as an important vanguardist critic who helped define the movement with her position papers in Amauta, and points out the irony that her reactions against male-dominated modernismo’s “rendition of women as static embodiments of aesthetic creeds” was then metamorphosed by Mariátegui into the new muse of Peruvian literary culture, as a natural and biological force of womanhood who wrote without artifice (Unruh, Performing 177).

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