What the heck do you call this, if not “modernismo”?
|La poesía esclava
a Aurelia Castillo
Con túnica de nácar, pasa pura
Es un ángel con alas estrelladas,
Tú eres esa beldad tierna y sombría
¿Cuál es tu culpa, ¡oh cándida acusada?
to Aurelia Castillo
In her pearl-pale tunic, she endures, pure
She’s an angel with starry wings,
You are that lovely maiden, tender and serious
What is your crime, oh innocent accused?
White ethereal ideal marble jasmine maidenly starriness. Check. Art and Beauty internalized by Artist as a sort of metaphysical/aesthetic/political method of acheiving The Good. Check. Parnassian tendencies. Yup, got that too.
Perhaps the sticking point is the idea that modernismo is about exact form. This is true for one strand of it, but even Darío gets to be modernista in his long Whitmanesque rambles. Critics of the early 20th century were in surprising agreement for such a waffly topic that they were just making up anyway – that there were various strains of modernismo, formal and free verse, symbolist/imagist or symbolist/parnassian. Over time, this evolved to a more and more patriarchal geneology, where Darío sort of fertilized everyone else; but this is not true since plenty of other poets were reading the same things he was reading in Paris and elsewhere.
Perhaps the sticking point is the artist’s life-myth? As the poet of modernismo had to embody Art in their entire life and whatever they did. Perhaps Pérez de Zambrana was too old and had too much of a reputation for stuffy elegies and elaborate patriotic verses. But then I turn to her elegy for Mercedes Matamoros, which also seems like a paragon of modernismo. In her elegy, “Ya Duermes!” she hits every point… Matamoros is hanging out in a tunic, dead and ethereal, like a lily… lyres are mentioned.. muses… silver and blue, sublimeness, infinity, alabaster, and finally Matamoros kind of waves farewell as she steps lightly out among the stars. As for being too old… That should not matter. Besides, Pérez de Zambrana was hangin g out with all the modernista chicks (whose existence seems in dispute of course) in Cuba, in the 1890s, and with Julian de Casal and that whole gang.
It irks me!
So why care? Actually, my ultimate argument is that we shouldn’t care. But since stuff is getting published in “modernista” anthologies and bigger anthologies seem to need that handle to make poetry of that time hip and cool and valuable, it does matter that all the women (except maybe sometimes Agustini, with caveats) are excluded. If you think it’s important, I’m gonna argue that plenty of women fit it. But fitting into a genre should not be all-consumingly important.
I would also note that another force is in play. Pérez de Zambrana gained some fame as a Romanticist, and then moved on to write in other styles. When male poets do this, it makes them versatile. When women do it, it’s because they haven’t mastered any one thing, they haven’t focused, and they have no depth. Ah, fickle Woman!