Translation: Magda Portal

I have not looked further for poems by Magda Portal but she seems well worth a look. If you read the little biography I wrote up below, you will see part of why I get very annoyed at the ways the vanguard, ultraism, modernismo, etc. are described as being somehow essentially masculine!

Note here too that Portal’s early work was published under a pseudonym; this is very common for the women poets I was researching. Because of their gender and the pressures of family, they had to fracture their identity, which fractures their body of work as writers. With time and distance it becomes increasingly more difficult to piece together a picture of their work as a whole and its importance. Despite Portal’s stature as a writer in Latin America for most of the 20th century I have not seen her poetry in recent anthologies in Spanish or English.

Portal’s history of activism and leftist politics is very interesting!

Magda Portal (1901-1989)

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).

Liberación  (from “Los poemas torturados”)

Un día seré libre, aún más libre que el viento,
será claro mi canto de audaz liberación
y hasta me habré librado de este remordimiento
secreto que me hunde su astilla al corazón.
Un día seré libre con los brazos abiertos,
con los ojos abiertos y limpios frente al sol,
el Miedo y el Recuerdo no estarán encubiertos
y agazapados para desgarrarme mejor.
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, even freer than the wind;
my verse will be bright with daredevil liberation
after I've freed myself from this secret shame
that plunges its sharp splinter into my heart.
One day I'll be free with my arms open wide,
with my eyes open and unshielded before the sun,
Fear and Memory won't be hiding
crouched in ambush, the better to rip me apart.
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 my Emotion.
Someday I'll have achieved the truth of my Self!

5 thoughts on “Translation: Magda Portal

  1. Vengo de Perú y no sabia nada de la historia ni los escritos de Magda Portal. Así como ella tenemos muchos poetas que trabajan sin ser conocidos por la mayoría peruanos pero si por el circulo literario.

    Me parece muy interesante que hallas tomado el trabajo de traducir el poema, podría considerarse un pequeño homenaje a una poetisa que, como muchos, no llega a ser muy conocida dentro de su país.

  2. Interesting poem… I think it says a lot about how people view themselves. Think about it… we all try and fit in some times whether it be at work or at school or in the neighborhood. Everyone would like to be liked. Sometimes in order to be liked we put up a facade or pretend to be interested in things we aren’t football, motorcycles, anything and everything. It is liberating to just be yourself. Take me for who I am and that is it. Interesting… personally I prefer Frosts – Stopping by the woods on a Snowy Evening, It reminds of how I feel sometimes it is alright to stop for a bit but there is always someplace to be or something to be done.

    Well How would I share the prize. My sister in law is a Traveling Pediatric Nurse. Another would go to WMFE a Local NPR station that could use it for a prize to get more donations. One more would go to my Wife who is a returning student, unfortunately we are both students so I would get the very last one.

  3. Liberation is beautiful with imagery. I think it’s interesting how we as women in particular often feel we have to be something, someone other than who we truly are to be more acceptable. For eons, we’ve been trained to be meek, mild, to hold our emotional peace and although we have made great strides, there’s that gossamer, ghostly “shame” that lingers. Ah, to truly be able to be the fullness of the unique ones we were meant to be without lingering on shoulds or should nots.

  4. That’s an interesting perspective. My wife wrestles with that same problem, whenever my Mom comes to visit. She feels that she isn’t good enough or doesn’t match up to her standards. We’re an inter-racial couple and my Mom doesn’t support this union if you catch my drift.

    While I think that you are right in that women deal with this much more. I think everyone deals with it to some degree. I also believe that people to some degree fear being different or out of the norm.

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