outrageously erased

Today in the library I meant to write up a formal description of my anthology project, but instead skimmed through biographical dictionaries.

I checked out several huge fat multi-volume dictionaries of Latin American authors, and some other Spanish-language Encyclopedias of Famous Women. It was interesting to see patterns emerge. Some encyclopedists knew a fair amount of Cuban women writers, but missed all the Chileans. Others got the Argentinians and Uruguayans, or knew about certain of my own favorites like the Venezuelan poet Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva, or massively famous feminists like Adela Zamudio, but missed the Cubans entirely except for Gomez de Avellaneda. *Everyone* was blind to the very strong groups of Guatemalan women writers. Some of the encyclopedias who knew the Matamoros-Borrero-Xenes circle still missed Emilia Bernal, or perhaps left her out on purpose for being too scandalous – I have no idea.

Sainz de Robles’ Diccionario de Mujeres Celebres, 1959, was strong on international and historical references. I’d enjoy reading all of it someday. If I found similar books from 1900 or so, and simply read them through, I’d understand these women’s poetry better. I’d see their references, just as reading a historical review of Sappho-myths helped me understand the poetry of Mercedes Matamoros and Nydia Lamarque. And just as my somewhat random knowledge of Norse mythology clued me into understanding Juana Borrero’s poem about Ran’s daughters.

Anyway, I studied patterns, took notes, xeroxed some things, and added considerably to the short biographies of many of the poets.

I enjoyed skipping around in Cesar Aira’s dictionary of authors. The appendices, which listed writers by country and then by birthdate, looked extremely useful. Though he missed quite a lot of the women I think are interesting. I like to think that he just didn’t know about them – rather than that he knew them but rejected their work as inferior.

Then I got into a terrible history-of-literature book, Literatura Hispanoamericana, volume 5 of an enormous and authoritative-looking reference series, Historia de la literatura española. It’s from 1969, and its author, Professor A. Valbuena Briones, included only one woman in his 600-page review of five centuries of Spanish-American literature, and it was… wait for it…. who do you think? There are only two possibilities and it is unimaginable to leave one of them out. It was Gabriela Mistral! He left out Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz. Fucking incredible… of all the people you’d think it would be impossible to erase. I kept looking through the index in dismay and finally flipped through the books’ opening chapters. Nope! No Sor Juana! I still hope I’m wrong. It keeps my faith in human nature going. The Valbuena B, he’s an amazing guy. I started having flashbacks to my classes 20 years ago in the Spanish department at University of Texas… maybe those old fossils had learned off that very book. Since The Valbuena had huge bibliographies that made it clear he had at least opened the flyleaf of many fine books that had women in them, we have to think that perhaps he is the distillation of many filtering layers of sexist anthologizing and critical reviewing, so that all the times that women writers were shunted off into the last paragraph of the last chapter of the book finally came to a head, like an enormous, gross zit, and popped, leaving nothing for Valbuena Briones to work with. He didn’t even have the obligatory section of “mention a couple of women while putting them down and lamenting that they aren’t better and there aren’t more of them” which I notice in so many literary doorstops of the 20th century.

Related posts:

When Ran’s daughters meet

Oh happy synchronicity! I opened my juicy new “Poesía moderna en Cuba” and right smack in Juana Borrero’s short bio:

Debido a esta doble cualidad de pintora y escritora, y la pintura, y a la precocidad de su geniio, Julián del Casal la compara con la fascinadora María Bashkirseff, cuyas analogías se acentuan despueés con la muerte temprana de nuestra poetisa.

My sister just gave me a ratty old volume of Marie Bashkirseff’s journals (translated) which I devoured whole… Of course, I love to make the connections of who knew of whom and of course it makes sense that Borrero and her sisters would have known about Bashkirseff. And Bashkirseff wrote about Madame de Stael and George Sand, and other women who were inspirations for her. There was a hilarious day when she made her bumptious country cousin from Russia, who was in love with her, read Corrine… as if to say “And if you can take that, you might begin to understand the tiniest part of my little fingernail…”

I haven’t yet gotten my hands on the volume “Grupo de familia”, which collected work by several of the Borrero sisters, edited by Aurelia Castillo. I translated a few of Juana B.’s poems, and some of Aurelia’s, and I’m reading some of Dulce María Borrero’s. Others by Mercedes Matamoros, Nieves Xenes, and another Xenes sister make it clear that their poetic circle was not always focused on Julian de Casal as its center. The women read each other and wrote poems to each other. They read work by women from other countries and times. It seems important to say this, because most of the critical writing, the short bios, and the prefaces of anthologies, speaks as if de Casal was The Influence on everyone of that circle.

Related posts: