Well, this was supposed to be published last week (the end of April) but looks like my publish scheduler isn’t working. My apologies, here it is now. I work with predominantly Mexican and other Latin American people when I volunteer at the public library once a week for an English Conversation program. I understand a little bit of Spanish, mostly owing to taking Italian in college (as they are very similar languages), though not enough to converse fluently. As with most things I get fascinated with, I want to know more about Latin American culture, art and history. One way, which is rather appropriate as it is National Poetry Month is through poems. I will admit, I am not well-versed in Hispanic/Latino poetry. The first person that comes to my mind is Pablo Neruda, who is not only the most famous writer from Chile (the second most famous being Isabelle Allende of course!), and a Nobel Prize winner for Literature, but one of my favorite poets. I fell in love with his Love Sonnets (especially Sonnet XVII) after watching the film Il Postino. I was trying to come up with one last poetry post to do and at first I thought, why not do some other famous Hispanic/Latino poets in addition to Neruda? I found some information on Ruben Dario and Octavio Paz, which I will probably post on in the future. Then I thought “Hey, it would be cool if I could find some famous female Hispanic/Latino poets.” After some brief searching, I came up with Sandra Cisneros and Gabriela Mistral, as I thought they were the most fascinating.
Sandra Cisneros is a Mexican-American writer born in Chicago, though she spent most of her childhood going back and forth between the Spanish-speaking part of that city and Mexico City. She never felt at home in either one, and she did not make friends easily. According to this biography of the author, Cisneros said “We’re always straddling two countries, and we’re always living in that kind of schizophrenia that I call being a Mexican woman living in American society, but not belonging to either culture.” According to Deborah L. Madsen,
“Cisneros wishes to break the longing of Chicanas to be accepted by American or Mexican culture, because it is almost impossible if you are a Mexican-American. Cisneros reveals the conflict between society and women, between women and women, and between women and men. She emphasizes that in Mexican culture, for women, there are two main roles: the virgin or the whore. Cisneros uses main female characters to portray the border between culture and self, and the different identities that come with being a woman of mixed race.”
Gabriela Mistral (literary pseudonym of Lucila Godoy Alcayaga) is famous not only for being a poet, but for being the first Latin-American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1945. She is still the only Latin American woman to receive the award. She was born in Chile in 1889. According to this blog post, the early part of her life “was dotted with abandonment by her father, a marriage lasting only three years due to sudden widowhood, and more loss than many young women endure. Gabriela maintained her sense of self through her faith, and the body of her poems.” She was a teacher from early on, and taught in Chile and Mexico, and taught at Columbia University, Vassar College and Middlebury College in the US. She was the Chilean Ambassador to cities in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Brazil and the US.
According to the Poetry Foundation, she was
“Mistral defended the rights of children, women, and the poor; the freedoms of democracy; and the need for peace in times of social, political, and ideological conflicts, not only in Latin America but in the whole world. She always took the side of those who were mistreated by society: children, women, Native Americans, Jews, war victims, workers, and the poor, and she tried to speak for them through her poetry, her many newspaper articles, her letters, and her talks and actions as Chilean representative in international organizations. Above all, she was concerned about the future of Latin America and its peoples and cultures, particularly those of the native groups.”
I had never read anything by the Sandra Cisneros, although I have heard of her book The House on Mango Street. After finding this poem Loose Woman, which is also the title of one of her collections of poetry, I am interested in reading more of her work. For an in-depth examination of the poem, check out this webpage. I knew nothing about Gabriela Mistral’s poem The Stranger and really all of her work, but she sounds like an amazing woman and I would love to read more of her poetry. This webpage is the only interpretation of the poem that I could find.
Ode to a Lemon
by Pablo Neruda
Out of lemon flowers
on the moonlight, love’s
lashed and insatiable
sodden with fragrance,
the lemon tree’s yellow
from the tree’s planetarium
the harbors are big with it-
for the light and the
of a miracle,
and a clotting of acids
into the starry
so the freshness lives on
in a lemon,
in the sweet-smelling house of the rind,
the proportions, arcane and acerb.
Cutting the lemon
leaves a little cathedral:
alcoves unguessed by the eye
that open acidulous glass
to the light; topazes
riding the droplets,
So, while the hand
holds the cut of the lemon,
half a world
on a trencher,
the gold of the universe
to your touch:
a cup yellow
a breast and a nipple
perfuming the earth;
a flashing made fruitage,
the diminutive fire of a planet.
by Sandra Cisneros
And feast on it. When all along
I thought that’s what a woman was.
They say I’m a bitch.
Or witch. I’ve claimed
the same and never winced.
They say I’m a macha, hell on wheels,
viva-la-vulva, fire and brimstone,
but I like the compliment.
The mob arrives with stones and sticks
to maim and lame and do me in.
All the same, when I open my mouth,
they wobble like gin.
Diamonds and pearls
tumble from my tongue.
Or toads and serpents.
Depending on the mood I’m in.
I like the itch I provoke.
The rustle of rumor
I am the woman of myth and bullshit.
(True. I authored some of it.)
I built my little house of ill repute.
Brick by brick. Labored,
loved and masoned it.
I live like so.
Heart as sail, ballast, rudder, bow.
Rowdy. Indulgent to excess.
My sin and success–
I think of me to gluttony.
By all accounts I am
a danger to society.
I’m Pancha Villa.
I break laws,
upset the natural order,
anguish the Pope and make fathers cry.
I am beyond the jaw of law.
I’m la desperada, most-wanted public enemy.
My happy picture grinning from the wall.
I strike terror among the men.
I can’t be bothered what they think.
¡Que se vayan a la ching chang chong!
For this, the cross, the calvary.
In other words, I’m anarchy.
I’m an aim-well,
I’m Bitch. Beast. Macha.
Ping! Ping! Ping!
I break things.
The Stranger (La Extranjera)
She prays to a formless, weightless God,
Aged, as if dying.
In our garden now so strange,
She has planted cactus and alien grass.
The desert zephyr fills her with its breath
And she has loved with a fierce, white passion
She never speaks of, for if she were to tell
It would be like the face of unknown stars.
Among us she may live for eighty years,
Yet always as if newly come,
Speaking a tongue that plants and whines
Only by tiny creatures understood.
And she will die here in our midst
One night of utmost suffering,
With only her fate as a pillow,
And death, silent and strange.