Latin American Women Poets by Diana Ferraro

Women poets belong to a specific and not always acknowledged brotherhood. The endless discussion aboutthe existence or not of a female literature is enriched when we read or listen to the actual powerful voices of women across countries and centuries, discussing men, lovers, art, spirituality and all the themes which seem to have been their lot since the beginning of times. The permanent wondering about the different choices available to human beings in general and women in particular, along with the delicate and intricate musing about possible behaviors, weave the fabric ofwhat looks like a unique, long poem of the world sung by a universal female soul.

“Marriage is the grave of wit," claimed in English the feminist avant-la-lettre Margaret Cavendish (1661 -1717) while Lady Chudleigh (1656-1710) advised ladies: “Value yourselves, and men despise /You must be proud, if you'll be wise." / of all places, a voice from Mexico, listens and follows the litany in Spanish: “Silly, you men-so very adept/ at wrongly faulting womankind,/not seeing you're alone to blame/for faults you plant in woman's mind." It’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648/51-1695) who now takes the lead in her famous poem “Hombres necios que acusais sin razón."

A nun, at a time when women could only get an education from the church, and a member of the court in the Vice-Kingdom ofNew Spain (Mexico) Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz starts the lineage of Latin American women poets. They will express themselves in Spanish or Portuguese, and establish across the ocean a newterritory of poetical womanhood. In the Americas, they will join their English speaking sisters in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean, and create a very select club ofwomen poets, a group characterized by its perception of the extremes, in an enlarged human consciousness. A gathering of chosen souls, quite different from the other group of Latin American women writers of novels or short stories, women poets in the Americas have experienced in their own lives not only extreme social constraints because of their gender and their struggles to oppose and overcome them, but the same acute feeling men poets expressed, of being misfit to the new imperfect, unfinished colonial and post-colonial societies.

Latin America, which as a whole never achieved to develop as a mature, productive and fair society, has been decoded by women poets both like the promise of a future paradise on Earth and the unexplainable punishment they had to endure for being born there. If Emily Dickinson could seclude herself and rise over a new but quickly established and prosperous society to the high ground of spirit and metaphysics, her peersin Latin America had rather to face, in spite of themselves, a disorganized and impoverished society with allthe prejudices of an established one and none of the advantages. They had to fly higher, to uncertain regions. Their spirits looked for freedom and fulfillment, and while they sometimes found them in the mystery of anarchy, they often ended in irreparable despair and even in suicide.

Because of their quest of beauty and fairness, of freedom and full expression, many of these women poets have had radical views and lives. Sor Juana was a permanent rebel to her condition, (recommended reading: Octavio Paz’ extraordinary biography “Sor Juana de la Cruz o Las Trampas de la Fe) and her example was followed by every woman poet from there on. They wrote about all the issues related to the gender-sex dreamt or lived, husbands, family and children, sexual choices, home life and social life, self-worth, work--but above all these issues always floated the main one, the need of freedom, enhanced by the belonging to a continent also looking forward to its freedom and independence.

Sor Juana is the first and most important woman poet of colonial times. After the wars
forIndependence from Spain, each new country in Latin America soared in its literary production, and each of them has left its own legacy ofwomen poets to the world. Besides Sor Juana, there are many other names from the past to remember and add to the list of the great poets of all times. Coming from less well-known countries, we should also underline where these talented women poets came from, to enhance our perception of the world, as all of them would have wished.

Chile: the main Chilean poet, as respected as Pablo Neruda, is the excellent Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957) who was the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1 945. A teacher and a diplomat, as a poet her preferred subjects were nature, betrayal, love, a mother's love, sorrow and recovery, travel, and, because she was herself ofBasque and Aymara descent, all the themes related to Latin American identity.

During the last years of her life she made her home in the town of Roslyn, New York; in early January 1957 she transferred to Hempstead, New York where she died.

From her poem “La Extranjera“/ "The Stranger":

“She speaks in her way of her savage seas
With unknown algae and unknown sands;
She prays to a formless, weightless God,
Aged, as if dying."

Brazil: Cecilia Meireles (1901 -1964) is a canonical name ofBrazilian Modernism, and one of the great female poets in the Portuguese language. She’s widely considered the best woman poet from Brazil. She traveled in the Americas in the 1940s, visiting the United States, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. In the summer of 1940 she gave lectures at the University of Texas, Austin. She wrote two poems about her time in the capital of Texas, and a long (800 lines) very socially aware poem "USA 1 940", which was published posthumously. Her themes address spirituality, tradition, and mystery. A friend ofGabriela Mistral and the author of twelve collections of impeccable, limpid poems, she was twice nominated to the Nobel Prize.
From her poem “Introduction":

“Here is my life:
This sand so clear
With drawing that walk
Dedicated to the wind…"

Uruguay: this small country in South America has given several outstanding women poets, Juana de Ibarbourou (1892-1979) also known as Juana de América, was a feminist, as most of her contemporary
colleagues and sought her inspiration in nature to compose highly erotic poems; Delmira Agustini (1886-1914) is the most famous Uruguayan woman poet, maybe because of her short tragic lifes--she was
murdered by her ex-husband who then committed suicide--during which she wrote remarkable poems
dealing mostly with woman’s sexuality; Idea Vilariño (1909-2009) who was a member of the Generation
of 1945, with Juan Carlos Onetti and Mario Benedetti, among others, is the most important contemporary poet; and finally the poet and troubadour Marosa di Giorgio (1 932-2004) fond of nature and mythology and revered by the younger generation.

From Idea Vilariño’s poem: “Ya no." “It won’t."
“It will not happen/it won’t/we will not live together/I will not raise your child/I will not sew your clothes/I will not have you at nights/I will not kiss you when leaving/ you will never know who I was/why other men loved me.
“Ya no sera/ya no/no viviremos juntos/no criaré a tu hijo/no coseré tu ropa/no te tendré de noche/no te besaré al irme/nunca sabras quién fui/por qué me amaron otros.
(Translation: DF)

Cuba: Dulce Maria Loynaz (1902-1997) the daughter of the famous General Enrique Loynaz del Castillo,
a hero of the Cuban Liberation Army and author of Cuban National Anthem lyrics is the best known woman poet, widely published and awarded several literary prizes, among them the Premio Cervantes, considered the Nobel of literary work in Spanish. A lyrical poet with a discreet temperament, she lived in a sort of internal exile after the Revolution in 1959, and finally acknowledged and awarded in 1987 Cuban National Award of Literature, she died in Havana.

From her poem: “Carcel de aire" / “Air Jail"
“A net woven with invisible threads/A jail made out of air/where I barely move/A trap made oflight not looking like a trap/where my foot was caught- between ropes/ also made oflight- and well-tied."
“Red tejida con hilos invisibles, /carcel de aire en que me muevo apenas, /trampa de luz que no parece trampa/y en la que el pie se me quedó-entre cuerdas/ de luz también. . . -bien
(Translation: DF)

Argentina: as a country rich in literary tradition, it has delivered an important constellation of women poets.
From Alfonsina Storni (1892-1938) to Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-1972), the two major and canonical
poets with extreme difficult lives which ended in suicide; from the exotic and wild Norah Lange (1905- 1972, married to the poet Oliverio Girondo) and the pampered Silvina Ocampo (1903-1993, wife of Adolfo Bioy Casares) both close friends of Jorge Luis Borges, to the amazing and multi-awarded
Olga Orozco (1920-1999) these Argentine women drew their inspiration from the universal literary
reservoir of Buenos Aires, the place of all places. Mythology, nature, love, gender, the plain and the sublime, the true and the false: as brilliant amazons ofwords, they have ridden every possible theme.

From Norah Lange’s poem “La noche entró por la ventana." -- “The night Came Across the Window."
“The night came across the window/ the moon velvets my room/Slumber feeds every corner/while a
candle hangs in the shadow/ like an impervious sun.
“La noche entró por la ventana. /Mi alcoba est suave de luna. /Los rincones se nutren de Sueño/y la
bujia cuelga en la penumbra/ como un sol insenasible.!
(Translation: DF)

Links to Translated Poems:
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: http: //
http: //
Gabriela Mistral: http: //
Cecilia Meireles:http: //
Juana de Ibarbourou: http: //
Delmira Agustini: http: //
Idea Vilariño: http: //
Dulce Maria Loinaz: http: //
Alfonsina Storni: http: //
Norah Lange: http: // (In Spanish; not translated)
Silvina Ocampo: http: //
Alejandra Pizarnik: http: // 391 2698/Poem_for_my_father
http: // 2/02/06/interlitq-is-delighted-to-publish-its-poem-in-english-for-06-
02-1 2-a-translation-of-alejandra-pizarniks-para-janis-joplin-for-janis-joplin-by-suzanne-j ill-levine-acontributor-
to-issues-1 -an/
Olga Orozco:
http: //

Al que ingrato me deja, busco amante...
de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Al que ingrato me deja, busco amante;
al que amante me sigue, dejo ingrata;
constante adoro a quien mi amor maltrata,
maltrato a quien mi amor busca constante.
Al que trato de amor, hallo diamante,
y soy diamante al que de amor me trata,
triunfante quiero ver al que me mata
y mato al que me quiere ver triunfante.
Si a éste pago, padece mi deseo;
si ruego a aquél, mi pundonor enojo;
de entrambos modos infeliz me veo.
Pero yo, por mejor partido, escojo;
de quien no quiero, ser violento empleo;
que, de quien no me quiere, vil despojo.

He who, ungrateful, leaves me, I desire as a lover...
by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

He who, ungrateful, leaves me, I desire as a lover
And, ungrateful myself, I leave the lover who escorts me
Steadfast, I adore who mistreats my love
And he who steadfastly seeks for my love, I mistreat.
I consider a diamond whomever I trade love with
And a diamond myself to who trades love with me.
He who kills me, I want to see victorious
And he who wants me victorious, I kill.
If I pay this one, he suffers my desire
If I beg that other one, my modesty I offend
In both ways unhappy I am.
But, as the best pick, I choose to be
the passionate duty ofwhom I don’ t love
and the vile remainders ofwho doesn’ t love me.
(Translation: DF)

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