Translation: Mariblanca Sábas Alomá

Mariblanca Sábas Alomá (1901–1983)

Mariblanca Sábas Alomá was an Ultraist feminist Cuban writer. She was involved with the first Congreso Nacional de Mujeres in Havana in 1923. Her work was published in El Cubano Libre, Diario de Cuba, Orto and El Sol in Havana. Sábas Alomá took literature courses in Mexico and also attended Colombia University in New York and Puerto Rico. She travelled throughout South America, worked as a journalist and editor, and was politically active as a communist and feminist.

tuesday, longest day ever

In Poetisas de América, Sábas Alomá’s contemporary María Monvel, with characteristic blunt opinion, says of her:

Mariblanca comenzó escribiendo versos blancos, soñodores, llenos de ritmo, musicalidad y vulgaridad. Mariblanca cambió de filas, se pulió, se cultivó, y hoy hace campear su estandarte en las filas del más refinado ultraismo. Poeta de las revoluciones, como la uruguaya Blanca Luz Brum, Don Quijote de las ilusiones extremas, Mariblanca se ha convertido como en broma, en una notable poetisa. Es de esperar que cuando aconche un poco su absolutismo izquierdista, Mariblanca será una de las grandes poetisas americanas. (193)
Mariblanca began writing poetry that was pretty, sonorous, full of rhythm, musicality and vulgarity. Mariblanca changed her tune, became refined, cultivated, and today has raised her banner in the ranks of the most savvy ultraists. Poet of revolutions, like the Uruguayan Blanca Luz Brum, a Don Quixote of extreme illusions, Mariblanca has converted herself from a trivial writer into a notable poetess. It’s to be hoped that when her absolutist leftism settles, Mariblanca will be one of the greatest American poetesses.

Sabás Alomá’s 1920 article “Masculinismo, no. Feminismo!” was published recently in a volume of her essays, Feminismo. In 1928 she published an article in which she characterized lesbianism (“garzonismo”) as a crime against nature, encouraged by capitalism, that would disappear with the advent of true socialism; for her, feminism was in complete opposition to lesbianism (Menéndez).

Magda Portal wrote critical articles about the socially engaged vanguardist poetry of Sabas Aloma in a 1928 issue of Repertorio americano, “El nuevo poéma y su orientación hacia una estética económica” (Unruh, Performing, 176).

In “Poema a una mujer aviadora,” Sábas Alomá spaces words freely across the page, leaping great distances in sweeping arcs, just as the aviator would zig-zag across the Atlantic. A later poet, the Argentine writer Elvira Hernández, might be paying homage to Sábas Alomá in her long poem “Carta de viaje,” both in form and in theme. Hernández describes a flight across the Atlantic from south to north, from Latin America to Northern Europe, focusing on the dislocated state of flying, not on land, sea, or earth, detatched from terrestrial metaphor.

Juana de Ibarbourou echoes the “shout” of Sabás Alomá in her 1930 poems “El grito,” “Las olas,” and “Atlántico” in which she longs to leap the distance between the world of the real and the world of ideals.


Poema de la mujer aviadora que quiere atravesar el Atlántico

MUJER
mujer aviadora que quieres
atravesar dee un salto
el a t l á n t i c o
mujer
vereda en el motor una
bandera roja
y una canción
COMUNISTA
para que se limpie de toda macula
la ambición
que te lanza a la conquista
de la distancia
enorme
mujer
no asciendas por coqueteria
asciende porque el clamor intenso da
los hombres que sufren
t e p r e s t e s u s a l a s
mujer
tiende sobre la vastedad marina
que

S
E
P
A
R
A
dos continentes
el arco fraternal que una en un mismo
anhelo de
J U S T I C I A
a América
y a
Europa
mujer
desde una altura de 2,000 metros
deja caer sobre el mar
y sobre la tierra
L A N U E V A P A L A B R A
así veremos en la noche
un zig
zag
guiar
d e e s t r e l l a s j u b i l o s a s
mujer
esconde en la cabina de tu aeropleno el
G R I T O
– santo–y–seña de la América joven –
A N T I M P E R I A L I S M O
y clávalo
– para que toda Europa lo contemple
y
los ejércitos de
RUSIA
le hagan los saludos de ordenanza
EN LO MÁS ALTO DE LA TORRE DE EIFFEL
mujer
si tu sueño se rompe en el canto de una ola
no llegues a los dominios de lo
desconocido
rezando–padre nuestro, que estás
en los cielos
–sino regalando el oído
de los proletarios exámines
con un
– ARRIBA LOS POBRES DEL MUNDO
DE PIE LOS ESCLAVOS SIN PAN . . .


Poem of the aviator woman who would cross the Atlantic


WOMAN
woman aviator who wants
to cross in one bound
t h e a t l a n t i c
woman
in the engine falling into step with a
red flag
and a song that's
COMMUNIST
in order to cleanse everything soiled from
the ambition
that throws you at the conquest
of distance
enormous
woman
you don't ascend through coquetry
you ascend because the intense clamor of
people who suffer
l e n d s y o u w i n g s
woman
you stretch above the marine vastness
that

S
E
P
A
R
A
T
E
S
two continents
the fraternal arch that in the same
longing for
JUSTICE
for America
and for
Europe
woman
from a height of 2,000 meters
let fall across the sea
and across the land
T H E N E W W O R D
so that we'll see it in the night
a zig
zag
trail
o f j u b i l a n t c o n s t e l l a t i o n s
woman
hidden in the cabin of your airplane is the
S H O U T
– sacred–and–signal of the young America–
A N T I M P E R I A L I S T
and drive it home
– so that all Europe will see it
and
the multitudes of
RUSSIA
will make their comradely greetings the norm
ON THE HIGHEST PEAK OF THE EIFFEL TOWER
woman
if your dream breaks on the song of a wave
you won't arrive at the domains of what's
undiscovered
praying–our father, who art
in heaven
– not conforming to the rule
of the watchful proletariats
with a
RISE UP, POOR OF THE EARTH
STAND UP, SLAVES WITHOUT BREAD . . .
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Long poems last for a long time

Lately, poetry is all coming in floaty long phrases. It’s all endless stretching introductions full of commas. I think it’s because I’m in a beginning, and don’t have the clarity to send down a full stop sort of root into where I’m going with the language and ideas. I need a whole day to travel and think very thinkily, to figure that out. The ocean is often too distracting. I write poetry best when I’m pulled over by the side of the road, after having thought out phrases and rhythm and a holistic vision in my head to the sound of the highway.

I worked more on the very long Homeric Hymn that has been around for a couple of years. Its first part is good, and I can see the 2nd and 3rd bits aren’t going to match it no matter how long I wait for lightning to strike 3 times. That’s okay. I can detach from the desire for it to all be as good as the best bit. There, the long unhinging of the first section rambles into personal memory. I can’t match Steve Arntsen’s sustained visions, often 20 minutes of digression and glory.

That might be true for the new long poems, that they will be a little bit about personal memory. There is one about the moon landing and another about spaceflight and mistakes; another called Information Manifesto that makes me especially happy. The other thing holding me back is that I can’t quite figure out where they go in relation to others; are they part of Mother Frankenstein or are they something else and something new? That can be such an illusion, as so many people’s careful arrangement of poems into books is pointless. It’s only worth it to care if there is driving unity behind it and not just “the poems that i wrote sort of together in time.” Meanwhile, the manuscript of artless is just sitting around. At this point, fuck it, I thought I’d put out a tiny book at a time, like Woodbird Jazzophone, keep Tollbooth Press alive, and fuck the idea of books. Of all of it, artless is the only one important to keep together bookishly, because it is a deliberate series and I thought it out as one thing with structure.

I hauled out my Alta booklets lately and went looking online for another that I had seen in the New York Poetry House library – and found it. I have always liked the stolid bulldozer of her in Burn This Memorize Yourself. And I got a new Maureen Owen book and again pulled out old ones (as I have rearranged my library and excavated through piles and piles of books, weeding and shelving and shedding an entire piano’s worth of worthlessness, to make room for Oblomovka). Lucky find, and lucky remembrance, also from my trip to New York last year with its unsatisfactory visit to the Bowery Poetry Club — but there, in a lonely shelf of used books that were utter crap that I laughed at with qatipay by my side, I found Untapped Maps and was riveted to the spot till I had finished the book (with some sort of Erotic Poetry Happening happening all around me). Reading Owen was horrifying because until then I felt pleasantly maverick. I read AE later and realized so many things in common, leaps of thought and language in parallel, similar tracks. The relationship built across time and unreality! So that’s horrifying, understand, yet beautiful and made me cry with happiness because I feel less alone (as a poet). The beautiful similarities to the long and short airy eddies from Elvira Hernandez — I would like to send Owen my translations — and then spinning off into curls of density — and then her moments of solidness ringing true as, say, Piercy’s don’t for me. The thought that I might be thought to copy her upsets me. At least it is better than people drivelling about “the female Ginsberg” not that I don’t love it but WTF… as if.

But that moment holding the battered 20 year old copy of Untapped Maps in my hands was beautiful also if you think of all the small books that are to some extent neglected and you might think what’s the point, or where do they go, or are they dead. No! They might be lighthouses in the fog, and a distant in time person will hold them and cry a little with relief that not all poetry is damned boringly all the same as all the other poetry of its time. As I felt with some of the issues of Alcatraz and especially Wanda Coleman’s stuff in there. Think of the mountain, the dead weight, of awfully dull magazines! Think how nice it will be when some future poet-eating woman cradles your quite unexpectedly excellent little book in her hands. Send out those time travellers!

I do think of Greg Hall and how much he would (and might already) dig this crazy chick, certain phrases in particular are very Dirty Greggie, and I want to call him up and get back in touch and send him a xeroxed sheaf with coffee cup stains added accidentally on purpose.

Meanwhile! I’m very excited that a friend introduced me to Maureen Alsop, another translator of Juana de Ibarbourou! I have around 100 poems of Ibarbourou’s, translated in varying degrees of done-ness. Maureen and I had both tackled the Diaria de una isleña, a long prose poem in umpteen sections; one of Ibarbourou’s later works, I think from 1968 or 1969. The arc of Ibarbourou’s writing over her lifetime went from those pantheic exultations, almost-sonnety droplets published in 1919, to her sonnets on Biblical characters, and prayers of the 30s as if to atone; to forays into the surreal in the 40s and 50s, and then grey complex elegies, mad-eyed and Norn-like, in the 1960s and 1970s. Maureen’s and my separate translations of Diary of an Islander felt complementary, and I hope we carry out our collaboration by the sea, and merge versions over endless cups of strong tea and the solace of knowing someone else has loved and inhabited the words we’ve loved by the act of translation.

That’s what’s going on with my poetry and translations; it’s been a while since I’ve said. The translations of some of Carmen Berenguer’s poems from A media asta aren’t out yet; publishing is always slow; maybe the magazine‘s in difficulty? Maybe the difficult typography of that flag poem broke their souls! I hope it comes out soon. No one took my translations of Nestor Perlongher; so again, screw it, I’ll publish them myself in little booklets; I know they’re good and compelling and there is no magic validation needed of some other half-assed clique to rubberstamp it good. Get it out into the world and move on.

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