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 . . .
Related posts:

Translation: Claudia Lars

Here’s my chapter on Claudia Lars. I found this a hard poem to translate. Though I could’t do it justice, I enjoyed trying. Vanguardist poetry is hard, in general. I think because it is built on so much symbolism from other poems, but is trying to break free of that dependency; it feels like shorthand. Sometimes the poems I like the most, or like the most to translate, don’t come out that well. Maybe it’s overthinking. I’d like very much to translate her little book on Laika the cosmonaut dog.

Of course, I am especially fond of Lars because of my love of feminist science fiction. She’s a little bit science-fictiony, don’t you think? And this is certainly a feminist response to patriarchal poetics — a description of “woman” in poetry, but not with the metaphors and language that describes women in terms that are disempowering. It is possibly a difficult poem for that reason too; because it is trying to evade something.

Claudia Lars

Claudia Lars (1899-1974)

Margarita del Carmen Brannon Vega is her birth name; she is also called Carmen Brannon Beers or Carmen Brannon de Samoya Chinchilla. She was born in El Salvador. She studied and lived in the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.

Her early work in the 1920s and 1930s was compared to Agustini, Mistral, Storni, and Ibarbourou. She lists as her early influences Cervantes, Fray Luís de León, Lope de Vega, Quevedo, Góngora, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Burns, Coleridge, Whitman, Poe, Dickinson, Shelley, Byron, Yeats, Blake, and Darío (Barraza 142). Critics called her a lyrical postmodernist. Later, she was considered part of the Vanguard, writing in both formal and free verse.

Her books include Tristes mirajes (1916); Estrellas en el pozo (1934), and Canción redonda (1937). She also wrote poems and books for children, sonnets to famous women writers of many countries, and, later in the 20th century, she wrote a poem cycle on the cosmonauts of the United States and Russia–including the dog Laika.

“Dibujo” sets out a bold feminist vision of the future. The poem’s woman “que llega,” who’s coming, arriving now, or will soon arrive, transcends the usual gendered metaphors. Her ascension is not like flight, and not like the growing of a plant that is rooted in the earth. Instead, Lars describes a woman who stands up, who has agency and raises herself up with all her intelligence and power.


Dibujo de la mujer que llega

En el lodo empinada,
No como el tallo de la flor
y el ansia de la mariposa . . .
Sin raíces ni juegos:
más recta, más segura
y más libre.

Conocedora de la sombra y de la espina,
Con el milagro levantado
en los brazos triunfantes.
Con la barrera y el abismo
debajo de su salto.

Dueña absoluta de su carne
para volverla centro del espíritu:
vaso de lo celeste,
domus áurea,
gleba donde se yerguen, en un brote,
la mazorca y el nardo.

Olvidada la sonrisa de Gioconda,
Roto el embrujo de los siglos,
Vencedora de miedos.
Clara y desnuda bajo el día limpio.

Amante inigualable
en ejercicio de un amor tan alto
que hoy ninguno adivina.
Dulce,
con filtrada dulzura
que no daña ni embriaga a quien la prueba.

Maternal todavía,
sin la caricia que detiene el vuelo,
ni ternuras que cercan,
ni mezquinas daciones que se cobran.

Pionera de las nubes.
Guía del laberinto.
Tejedora de vendas y de cantos.
Sin más adorno que su sencillez.

Se levanta del polvo . . .
No como el tallo de la flor
que es apenas belleza.


Sketch of the woman of the future


Standing tall in the mud.
Not like the flower's stalk
and butterfly’s desire . . .
No roots, no flitting,
more erect, more sure
and more free.

Knower of shadow and thorn,
With miracle held high
in her triumphant arms.
With obstacle and abyss.
beneath her stride.

Absolute queen of her flesh
returned to the center of her spirit:
vessel of the celestial,
domus aurea, home of the golden;
clod where shoots burst forth into
maize and fragrant flower.

Forgotten: the Mona Lisa's smile.
Broken: the spell of centuries.
Conquered: the fears.
Bright and naked in the pure, clean day.

Unequalled lover
in enjoyment of a love so lofty
that no one today could predict it.
Sweet,
with controlled sweetness
that doesn't hurt or intoxicate the drinker.

Maternal still,
without the caress that holds back flight
nor tenderness that traps,
nor submission and giving in, that little by little, smothers.

Pioneer of the clouds.
Guide to the labyrinth.
Weaver of veil and song.
Adorned only in her simplicity.

She stands up from the dust . . .
Not like the flowering stem
that’s not so beautiful.
Related posts:

Poetry Month: Day 2, Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva

enriqueta arvelo larriva

Happy Poetry Month! Today I have been thinking about Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva, a Venezuelan poet from the 20th century (1886-1962). Her poems are small and odd, but huge internally, like a pocket universe captured and studied from all sides; a bit abstract and philosophical. This, at a time when it seems to me like the way to be a famous woman poet was to blaze passionately forth in a sort of meteoric scandal of words. Arvelo Larriva’s positioning of herself is at the same time very personal and connected to the specific landscape of the Venezuelan llanos, the central plains — a tropical prairie. But at the same time she positioned herself as a very abstract, analytical, point of human consciousness.

Arvelo Larriva began writing and publishing around 1920 that I can verify (but I have also read she was a poet beginning at age 17, much earlier). Most of her poems that I’ve translated were published in the 1920s, but I don’t have all the research done to know exactly when they were written.

I’d like to point out a pattern I have found in looking at the work of women poets in Latin America. Their poetry was often being published little by little in journals, the same journals as more famous men who were their peers, who were in their same literary circles. But the men became famous more quickly, had books published earlier. I think this is one reason that books of literary history tend to describe the women as footnotes, afterthoughts, imitators, or as not quite catching the wave of a literary movement. It appears from short biographical notes on Arvelo Larriva that she began publishing in 1939. This is not true — she was publishing as early as 1918, and certainly throughout the 1920s, and was part of the Generación de 1918; and was part of the Vanguard of the 1920s student movement as well.

Why do I care? Well, because histories talk about those movements – but leave her out, or only mention her 20 years after her vital, early work. The elision of 20 or more years of her publishing history means that she is also cut off from politics; her brother and others of her political circle were jailed in the 1920s. She remained in their hometown on the prairies. My feeling is that the story of her life might be quite interesting and complicated, but that complication is not represented in any descriptions I’ve seen — which just marvel at how she could write clever poems even though she lives out in the sticks instead of in the exciting capital.

Her work persistently reminds me of the somewhat better-known poems by David Rosenmann-Taub from the 1950s. I’ll talk about his poems later this month and connect back to this post on Arvelo Larriva. I also think of some of the short airy poems of García Lorca.

So, onward to a few poems. They might not be your cup of tea. But I get very excited over their depth and over how different they are from other poems of the time. They stand out to me. Also, since I have read a bunch of her work, I am able to see some things in a larger context. So if it seems that I am reading too much into a tiny poem, try to bear with me.

Destino

Un oscuro impulso incendió mis bosques
¿Quién me dejó sobre las cenizas?

Andaba el viento sin encuentros.
Emergían ecos mudos no sembrados.

Partieron el cielo pájaros sin nidos.
El último polvo nubló la frontera.

Inquieta y sumisa, me quedé en mi voz.

Destiny

A dark impulse burned up my forests.
Who is left for me from the ashes?

The wind roamed alone, meeting no one.
Echoes emerged, mute, unsown.

Birds without nests divided the skies.
The last dust clouded the frontier.

Anxious and meek, I dwell in my voice.

“Destino” can be read in light of the Venezuelan llanos and the prairie burn-off of the dry season. Yet, like many of her poems, it can be read as a political commentary. There is the “dry season” layer, specific to the geography of Barinas, where she lives; the tangled, thorny groves are burned with controlled fires in order to clear room for new growth for vast herds of cattle. The poem could also work as a personal one about philosophical and spiritual renewal. However, the “pájaros sin nidos” ‘birds without nests’ can also be read as the journalists, students, and poets who had to flee the country under the rule of Juan Vicente Gómez, after the 1927 student uprisings or other political clashes.

Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva

The creative act of the word, of poetry, is presented as a solution to the problems posed in “Destino” as in many of her other poems. I see her as writing with intense vitality about violence, revolution, politics. But as encoding those concepts within a sort of personal artistic framework, where the poet’s voice breaks out of everyday life, a jailbreak from reason and order.

To be honest here on my translation, I am not happy with those birds without nests. Well, how long can one stare at the page muttering, “homeless birds… birds without nests… nestless….. no, dammit” before one just goes with whatEVER. Sometimes, I will be driving down the highway and a line of a poem I translated years ago will pop into my head — one of this sort of line, where my English is clumsy and graceless — and the perfect, beautiful phrase will come to me in a flash. From what people say, this happens to all translators and that is why we are always revising. I can work very hard on a translation, and feel in the groove for 90% of it, but that other 10% that just wasn’t inspired, is a torment.

I am also fond of this poem:

Vive una guerra

Vive una guerra no advenida. Guerra
con santo y seña, con la orden del día,
con partes, con palomas mensajeras.

Guerra pujante dentro de las vidas.
No digo en las arterias; más adentro.

Ni un estampido ni un rojor de fuego
ni humo vago dan desnudo indicio.

Mas paz de tiza la refleja entera.

And I will give you the first bit, which I think is interesting to translate. Try it yourself as a challenge, if you like.

A war lives

A war lives, unheralded. War
with saint and sign, with the order of day,
with parts of things, with messenger doves.

War throbbing inside whole lives.
I don’t say in the veins; deeper inside.

“Vive una guerra” continues the internalization of violent metaphors, with war metaphors to represent existential and philosophical struggles.

Someday I would like to really do her poetry justice, and translate her first two books. Just the little bit that I do know about her family (which included many poets) and her life and about Venezuelan politics, history, and geography, illuminates the poems for me. If I could do the original research, find the journals where her work first appeared, read her poems in that context, I imagine that I could translate them better, explain them, present them in a context that would help other people see where the poems lead.

There is more to say about the ways that Arvelo Larriva was framed as a woman, and about the gendering of literary history as it happens and in hindsight. I guess I’ll go into that more in future posts as I talk about other poets and their lives.

Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva

What I truly wish for is the ability to get some good, lowdown, dirty gossip. I’d like to know the poets I translate, who have been dead since before I was born, in the same way that I know the poets who are alive now in my city; what do people think of them, really? What are they like? Would I have liked hanging around with Enriqueta? Was she rude, kind, radical, bitchy, boring, pedantic, vindictive, wise? Was she more interesting when she was young? What was the course of her life? With many poets, I do get a sense for the arc of their lives and careers. With Enriqueta, I barely know a thing. And am not likely to get it in this lifetime. Maybe I’ll find an old journal or two, or a letter; her letters with Gabriela Mistral and Juana de Ibarbourou. Just knowing those letters exist, changes everything for me.

Maybe someone who knows more will write a longer Wikipedia entry. More likely, some boorish great-nephew will write to me and go “My god! You’re talking about old Aunt Netty and her insane scribbling! I didn’t think anyone cared about that! Blah blah blah, all those poetry readings, grande dame of Barinitas… She smelled like dusty lavender and dead mice… But, she made good cookies.” I can’t romanticize my dead poets too much, because I always imagine out those great-nephews who have become excellent dentists and who have healthy lives and perspectives lacking in poetry, who knew only the human being and not the metaphysical point in space and time that was the free-floating philosopher poet.

Technorati Tags:

Related posts:

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.

Related posts:

provocations

While I’m writing all this feminist criticism I do find that I spend a lot of time describing and refuting sexist criticism.

There should actually be a special category or word for works that especially offend, that are so egregiously sexist that they sting feminist to action. They make it all very clear. Really, work like this does us a favor. It needs special mention, a category of its own.

This occurred to me the other night as I was talking about feminist science fiction with Laura Quilter. What to put in the femsf wiki? I was trying to argue for this “worst offenders” category for feminist sf. What are the books that outraged me when I was 12, and made me suddenly realize I was not, as a girl, included in (male) universalist claims to represent humanity? What made me shriek, “Hey! That’s not ME… and it pretends to be. So I better stand up, say something, and represent.” What are the touchstones of sexist thought?

Instantly a few revolting candidates spring to mind… Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, and certainly Podkayne of Mars. For me, I think, attempts to create the “plucky girl” stood out more strongly than the usual objectifications of women in fantasy and SF. I identified with John Carter of Mars easier than I did Arkady Darrell, for god’s sake.

Well, I’m led to think of all this again as I contemplate the horrors of Sidonie Rosenbaum’s “Modern Women Poets of Spanish America.” It sounds good, doesn’t it? But its horrible sexism was one of the main inspirations for me to translate Juana de Ibarbourou’s work. Rosenbaum praises and insults Ibarbourou sometimes in the very same sentence – she’ll refer to her freshness and sponteneity and then “lack of profundity” and “superficiality of thought.” She’s primitive, she’s ardent, etc. It’s a classic example of what (in How to Suppress Women’s Writing) Joanna Russ calls denial of agency. It’s as if the poetry just flowed unconsciously from Ibarbourou’s “brain”… not that Rosenbaum thinks she has a brain, so I should probably say “flowed unconsciously from her very being.” As soon as Ibarbourou writes about anything other than “take me now, i’m nubile and willing!” then the critics slam down on her for being a) pretentious b) boringly intellectual c) pretending to have understood suffering d) being obscure e) being too complicated. Even though they were previously saying she wasn’t complicated or mature ENOUGH.

Well, it’s endlessly annoying.

My point is, in part, that I have a strong impulse to slam the people who are trying to make anthologies of women writers and who do it in a way that exacerbates the entire sexist discourse of what women write and how and why and whether it’s “really” any good or not.

This means that as I leap into publishing my thoughts on the subject I will be criticizing pretty much everyone else in my field.

Luckily most of them are dead.

Related posts:

List of poets in the anthology

Here’s the list of women poets that I have translated so far (some, many poems; some, only one).

limitation is that they should have been publishing or writing between 1880 and 1930. I have another list of many more poets from the same era – some that I want to translate and expand into a really big book. I will probably put the bios of the poets online. In fact I feel like I could have more of an effect by making Wikipedia pages for all these poets, and by tagging them up. But I would like a book.

The long list (not posted yet) is only a few of the many hundreds of women whose work I’ve seen.

*Luisa Pérez de Zambrana (Cuba)
*Jesusa Laparra (Guatemala)
*Maria Luisa Milanes (Cuba) (1893-1919)
*Maria Villar Buceta (Cuba) (1899-1977)
*Salomé Ureña de Henríquez (Dominican Republic) (1850-1897) “Herminia”
*Elisa Monge (Guatemala) (18XX-1932)
*Adela Zamudio (Bolivia) (1854-1928) “Soledad”
*Mercedes Matamoros (Cuba) (1851-1906)
*Nieves Xenes (Cuba)
*Aurelia Castillo de González (Cuba) (1842-1920)
*María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira (Uruguay) ( 1875-1924 )
*Emilia Bernal de Agüero (Cuba) (1884-1964)
*Delmira Agustini (Uruguay) (1886 – 1914)
* Antonieta Le-Quesne (Chile) (1895-1921)
*Juana de Ibarbourou (Uruguay) (1894 – 1979)
*Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva (Venezuela) (1886-1962)
*Gabrela Mistral (Chile) (1889-1957)
*Emma Vargas Flórez de Arguelles (Colombia) (1885 – )
*Alfonsina Storni (Argentina) (1892-1938)
* Adela Sagastume de Acuña (Guatemala) (18XX – 1926)
*Magda Portal (Perú) (1901-1989)
*MARIA MONVEL (Chile) (1897 – 1936)
*Nydia Lamarque (Argentina) (1906-1982)
*Olga Acevedo (Chile) (1895-1970)

Related posts:

Fitting and not fitting

While I was doing my research I pretty much ignored Chile and in fact I have completely ignored Gabriela Mistral because I figure everyone else has written about her already, and she’s well known. Ultimately I have to go and read her poems and read something about her life – in fact, probably I’m being stupid and there’s a biography of her out there in English that would be easy for me to find, with pointers to lots of other good poets.

My poet this week has been Olga Acevedo, a Chilean born around 1895. Acevedo fits firmly with the other women I’ve been translating, all the ones who are “not quite modernists”. Well what if they’re not? Why not call them something else? Because there was definitely something. Why not call it a genre? For god’s sake.

My special favorite, Juana de Ibarbourou, doesn’t fit strict definitions of modernismo in her early work mostly because she’s not quite rigorous and formal enough. I read somewhere in an interview with her that until after her second book, she didnt’ even know what a sonnet was. She’d read plenty of them, and written them, but had never studied the rules of verse. (All the poets did not study the rules of verse, but the ladies DO roll their eyes.) She just DID it – but slightly “wrong”.

Back to Acevedo. I got very excited at her early poems. Acevedo mentions silence a lot. There’s a lot of not-speaking, and dot-dot-dot ellipses, ghosts and statues that can’t speak but who want to speak and paradoxically ARE speaking through the poem. The sort of poem that goes like this, “I’m totally mute, I’m a statue, I can’t speak! Oh, the sadness!” (Not an actual line.) It’s a beautiful rhetorical strategy that makes me aware of all the things they’re not saying. Despite my writing ALL THE TIME there is plenty I’m not saying and can’t say because of social convention or attempts to be private — and I don’t always feel comfortable with that. Show me a wall and I want to break it. Reflex! But these early 20th century women, their silent speaking statues are all talking to Rodó, in response to his essay “Ariel” in which a philosopher explains to his students (gatherred around a statue of Ariel) all about their duty as artists.

I wondered about the phrase “la tristeza de ser”, which was in quotes in Acevedo’s poem “Serenata”. Is it a quotation/translation from French? Or Kierkegaard? I could translate it as “existential despair” but I’m not sure if I want to be anachronistic if it’s an anachronism. If you’re going to say “sadness of being” you might as well say “existential despair”. Anyway, Acevedo’s angst is expressed thusly: She’s passionately addressing a ray of pure white moonlight as it streams into her room, and she wants to hide her face in its gauzy negligee and melt away into perfumed nothingness like a ravished bride. Hot stuff!

In other early poems by Acevedo, I noticed a lot of blue which is now a red flag, or really a blue flag, for me that something is going on about Art and Poetry with capital letters. Anything that’s blue, or anything about fountains or swans, and the poet is definitely talking to/about Darío and “Azul” — and so is addressing the ideas of modernismo; the poem should be read in the context of modernismo whether you “count” it or not in that genre. Pure art, inspiration, beauty — Beauty — as a way of being. These women, these adherents of maenidismo, saw themselves as living their lives as art. I feel like the more I read, the more I am in their dream-world. Edith Södergran is there — and the Comtesse de Noailles — and I’m sure so many more from other countries and languages. I want to put my Latin American women together with them in a lovely anthology, someday, to show the connections.

My own dreamworld is still this imaginary, beautiful data structure of all the texts in the world. I want it to be easy to see relationships between books. I want people to be viewable as nebulous clouds of text-production and consumption or maybe those are the wrong words; texts and people have conversations and relationships.

How much happier I am to be putting all this out into the world, instead of just in private notebooks! And not to be a lonely super-reader autodidact freak anymore. I mean, I still am, but the value of it is different once I’m not talking to the air.

Related posts:

Genre classifications and sexism

I come up against this again and again. Critical literature focuses on defining a genre, and women end up just outside that definition. So it always looks like they just miss the boat because they’re not quite good enough. Really, though, if you look at the moments when the genre is being defined, the boundaries are arbitrary. Other genres could be declared.

I need to read more widely…

So check this out.

With respect to her poetry in particular, critics have often failed to recognize the modernity of its lyric voice on account of its traditional verse patterns. Reflecting a dual attitude of competition and cooperation with her cultural world, Noailles held a similarly double-voiced discourse toward conventional interpretations of woman. Her classification in literary history as a belated French Romantic further obfuscates the significance of her work. While recognizing her predecessors, Noailles was frequently unable to find adequate models in their works for a distinct poetic identity. In seeking new versions of the feminine self, she acknowledged women who were unable to write and, more broadly, she attempted to provide a formerly silent Muse with voice and presence. (Catherine Perry)

She’s not quite a romantic… or she’s a “late” romantic… but she’s not quite a modernista either – like de Ibarbourou, Bernal, Vaz Ferreira, Elisa Monge, Mercedes Matamoros, and so many women poets of the 1890s to the 1920s.

I’ll be looking for Perry’s book. She has more to say on her brief website on de Noailles:

A discrepancy between form and content, reflecting Noailles’ situation at the cusp of the antithetical world views of nineteenth-century Romanticism and twentieth-century Modernism, characterizes her poetry, where dynamic concepts and images strive to dissolve a largely classical structure. By actively engaging with her French literary heritage while finding a source of inspiration in Greek paganism and in Nietzsche’s radical thought, Noailles constructed an original poetic world view. Her work is best described as Dionysian–ecstatic, sensual, erotic, playful, sometimes violent, and always marked by a tragic undercurrent which becomes more apparent in her later poetry.

“Dionysian” describes Agustini, de Ibarbourou, Bernal, and Matamoros very well. I would prefer a different name if we are going to declare a new genre… Imagine the articles as we define Maenidic poetics and make brief offhand mention of Ruben Darío – and how he doesn’t quite fit the Genre. A pity, really, as his work contained echos of Maenidism, traces which can’t help but reflect the prevailing spirit of the time.

***
It occurs to me that I have had a giant epiphany about this, but I’m reinventing the wheel. I did a little poking around and found this excellent bibliography: Gender and Genre. My god! right up top we have “Benstock, S. (1991). Textualizing the feminine. On the limits of genre. University of Okla. Press.” Looks perfect! I’m still 15 years behind in academic literary theory. Though I think it might be more like “feminizing the textual” than “textualizing the feminine” – that’s what’s going on in a lot of the criticism I’m reading. The poets are textualizing the feminine. The critics feminize in order to denigrate and marginalize. *sigh*

Related posts:

Damned with machista praise

From an essay by José Carlos Mariátegui – cited by Daisy Zamora in the intro to her anthology, La mujer nicaragüense en la poesía:

“Los versos de las poetisas generalmente no son versos de mujer. No se siente en ellos sentimiento de hembra. Las poetisas no hablan como mujeres. Son, en su poesía, seres neutros. Son artistas sin sexo. La poesía de la mujer está dominada por un pudor estúpido. Y carece por esta razón de humanidad y de fuerza. Mientras el poeta muestra su “yo”, la poetisa esconde y mistifica el suyo. Envuelve su alma, su vida, su verdad, en las grotescas túnicas de lo convencional” (Zamora 22).

“The verses of poetesses generally aren’t women’s verses. One doesn’t sense in them any female feeling. The women poets don’t talk like women. They are, in their poetry, neuter beings. They’re artists without sex. The poetry of women is dominated by an idiotic modesty. And that’s why they lack in humanity and power. While the male poet displays his “I”, the poetess hides and mystifies herself. She wraps up her soul, her life, her truth, in the grotesque tunics of the conventional.” [translation by Liz Henry]

I don’t know the year that Mariátegui wrote this essay, but most likely sometime in the 1920s. It’s fascinating to contrast his criticism of women with that of other (male) critics who run off at the mouth about the oversexed women poets who go too far with their passion and who can’t seem to write about anything important, anything other than love. I had just been writing about him in conjunction with Magda Portal, María Wiesse, Angela Ramos, Alicia del Prado, and other women who were publishing in Amauta, a Peruvian magazine. He was the only man mentioned in conjunction with these very political, activist women, and I wondered if he had some interesting take on feminism. Well, he sure sounds jerky in that one excerpt, kind of like he wants a free show from these un-neuter women who boldly strip themselves of their tunics…

Last week I translated Magda Portal’s poem “Liberación”. And check out these lines:

Un día seré libre… Seré libre presiento,
con una gran sonrisa a flor de corazón,
con una gran sonrisa como no tengo hoy.
Y ya no habrá la sombra de mi remordimiento,
el cobarde silencio que merma mi Emoción.
Un día habré logrado la verdad de mi Yo!

One day I’ll be free… I’ll be free, I know it,
with a huge smile that flowers from the heart,
with a huge smile that I don’t have today.
And then I won’t have the ghost of my shame,
the coward silence that tamps down Emotion.
Someday I’ll have achieved the truth of my Self!
[forgive the translation… a crude first draft.]

Wow! That just can’t be a coincidence. It sounds like she wrote it in response to Mariátegui. A little bit of poking around on the web and I found this fascinating essay by him all about Portal’s poetry, comparing her to Agustini, Ibarbourou, and others: 7 Ensayos de Interpretación de la Realidad Peruana, from 1928. Mari&ategui has a huge crush!

I find it annoying how he says her work isn’t “descended” from any other women — as if feminist geneologies would demean the work or the poet, and as if she sprung up out of nowhere and as if no other woman anywhere were writing like that. Praise becomes isolation; isolation becomes tokenization. I understand that his motivations were partly nationalist, but from my perspective, I see every introduction to women’s work from this era saying “How come this woman poet has no equal, no precursor? Where did she come from? ” as having a subtext of assigning freakishness to women writers.

But then, the more I look, the more I find that these women writers often were surrounded by other writing women. They’re not left out because they’re trivial; they’re left out because non-triviality is defined to be male.

Tags: , ,

Related posts:

Anthologizing; standards of selection

I’ve been working on my anthology project for over a year. It’s of poems by Latin American women writers – well, Spanish America – and is focused on work published between 1880 and 1930. My goal is to give a fair representation of what was being published by women in that era. I’ve done a lot of research! And I could spend years expanding this project; it’s fascinating and there is a ton of material. To do this project right, I would need to go spend a couple of months in various big libraries. I’d like to visit the Benson Latin American collection in Austin; I’m familiar with it because I used to work in that library system. I’d like to go to big libraries in Buenos Aires and Uruguay and Cuba and Guatemala, to look at copies of women’s magazines and other literary magazines from the turn of the century.

For now, I have quite a lot to work with. I have good work from about 40 or 50 poets, and many more I haven’t yet been able to judge. I’ve translated a smaller core group of 21 poets, made short bios for them, and compiled lists of their work, where I could find that information. Most of these poets are not well known. You have your famous ones in roughly this order:

– Gabriela Mistral (Won the Nobel Prize)
– Delmira Agustini
– Alejandra Storni

I’d say that’s it for the “known” writers that you would expect from an academic who is a latin americanist, or is from Latin America. Storni, especially, was hip recently. And a few poets in the U.S. will have read selected translations of Mistral. Usually the dippiest and stupidest of her poems.

Beyond that, people seem to know Juana de Ibarbourou; Salome Ureña, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda. Correct me if I’m wrong! The other writers are either little-known even to most literary people, or they’re known (or known of) by people from their own countries. This is not surprising; academia rewards specialization. People tend to become experts in a particular time, place or “literary movement”; even so narrow as to study a particular writer. The mindset of the ambitious anthologist must be quite different.

I find most of my “unknown” women poets only in anthologies that are country-specific, and often only in old anthologies from 1930. There is a certain sentimentality attached to them, as they might have been poems memorized in grade school for recitation…. again, the poems best known are not the best poems.

So what do I mean by “the best poems”? On some level, I have an absolute artistic standard, a very traditional “golden bookshelf” one, that I’m judging by. It’s elitist and snobby. I like density of language and meaning, a “leaping” quality, and intertextuality. I like a surprise. I value poems that are exciting to me as a poet – and value them over poems that might be more exciting to a general audience. This kind of discernment is good to have, but it can also be a liability or an obstacle to interpretive vision and judgement; it can be blatantly classist; it’s like wearing blinders. Steeping myself in non-elite traditions gives me other standards to judge by; like with literary genre, you can’t judge one sort of thing by the standards of another. In other words, I believe that literary critics, anthologizers, and teachers have to get over that sense, or not be limited by it.

On another level, I want to find “what’s interesting to people now” including anything that I think will be unexpected. If I see (and I do) that “latin american women’s writing” is being marketed in the U.S. as having a certain kind of eroticism, then I want to find poems that are metaphysical and abstract. When I read prefaces to other anthologies that say that women mostly write love poetry that’s overly sentimental and twee, and that men’s poetry is more important because it’s political, then I want to find some political poems by women. Whenever I make up my mind to look for something that I’ve read doesn’t exist, frankly, I’ve found it! That is very satisfying to my notions of feminism.

Overt feminist content often interests me in a poem, so while Adela Zamudio’s “Nacer Hombre” doesn’t make my snooty elitist filter, it is boldly feminist. It has also been an extremely famous poem for over 100 years. That alone gives it historical interest. And when I show it to people, they tend to respond with surprise and pleasure that such a poem was written at all in 1887:

Cuánto trabajo ella pasa
Por corregir la torpeza
De su esposo, y en la casa,
( Permitidme que me asombre).
Tan inepto como fatuo,
Sigue él siendo la cabeza,
Porque es hombre!

Actually, these sentiments were not so rare as people think. It is a sad symptom of the state of history, and of feminist history, that it should be so surprising.

I look for works that are representative of a particular kind of writing. Here’s a perfect example: Emma Vargas Flórez de Arguelles, born in 1885 in Colombia. I found a few of her poems in an old anthology of Colombian women poets. She never published a book, but had poetry in magazines and newspapers and was part of a family of poets. That’s all I know about her. If I could go to Colombia, or if I spent a week digging, I’m sure I’d find more about her life and more of her work. The poem I am including in the anthology is called “Manos femeniles.” It’s totally barfy. I’ll give you some of my English translation:

Professional hands that instead of a needle
take up the pen, driven by longing,
and instead of embroidery, shape verses;
you’re the busy secretaries of the soul,
that in happy times, peaceful, create
harmonious verses from honey and vinegar.

It gets worse. Lilies, mothers, children, Christ, butterflies, shy maidens, fragility, embroidery, stars, pearls, honor, and “holy obedience” all make cameo appearances and one is slightly tempted to think of the word “doggerel”. But then I think back to Longfellow and Tennyson, who are just as barfy and doggerel-prone and yet who are still judged to be “good” though out of fashion. If they were women they would disappear into the mists. How unfair! And Emma Vargas actually fits the stereotype of “women’s verses” that make people roll their eyes. Shouldn’t we actually take a long hard look at such poems before we judge them?

Indeed when I look deeper at “Manos femeniles”, it’s got something going on. I realize now, from reading a lot of poems like this, that there’s something similar to the U.S. women’s temperance movement going on; that Vargas is part of the feminism that thought of women as essentially holy and better than men; the famous “angel in the house”. The poem addresses famous men directly, challenging them to think of women poets as interpreters of a sort of fragile women’s dream-world, as if women are more directly in touch with the land of fantasy and imagination than men can be. In a modernist aesthetic, this is like saying that men can’t be good poets! They’re too sullied by gross impurity of the world and of just being men, apparently. Men sin a lot, and have battles and make a lot of noise. Women care for the wounded and for children, and are Christlike, while also sort of magically channelling poet-energy from the stars, from flowers, jewels, and from, you know… modernist fairyland. Then she winds up the poem with a rousing call to sisterly action:

Women of America, sisters of dreams,
for new songs, our hands together all
shall weave a laurel wreath,
and – united – we’ll add from our gardens
fresh violets, exotic jasmine,
leafy lilies, red carnation!

You have to admit that’s kind of cool! And while by my absolutist golden-bookshelf standards, I would sneer at it if it were written last year and read at a poetry slam, when I picture it in the context of its time, it’s interestingly radical.

This is getting to be a very long post. I will continue tomorrow.

Related posts: