Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Imaginary argument with anyone who might care

In everything I've read about Cuban women writers, Luisa Pérez de Zambrana is either called a romanticist (and dismissed for it) or a not-quite-romanticist or post-romanticist-but-not-a-modernista (and dismissed for that too). I see the romanticism in a lot of her work, though I haven't found, much less read, everything she's ever written. And I see the not-quite-romanticism. But then, in other poems, I see modernismo. As far as I can tell there's no reason to call her not also a modernista.

What the heck do you call this, if not "modernismo"?

La poesía esclava
a Aurelia Castillo

Con túnica de nácar, pasa pura
una dulce, una espléndida figura
más blanca que el jazmín.

Es un ángel con alas estrelladas,
un ángel celestial que lleva atadas
las manos de marfil.

Tú eres esa beldad tierna y sombría
¡adorable y celeste Poesía!
¡prisionera inmortal!

¿Cuál es tu culpa, ¡oh cándida acusada?
-¡Sobre mi frente pálída y sagrada
llevar la Libertad!

Poetry Enslaved
to Aurelia Castillo

In her pearl-pale tunic, she endures, pure
and sweet, a splendid figure
whiter than jasmine.

She's an angel with starry wings,
a celestial angel,
her marble hands in chains.

You are that lovely maiden, tender and serious
adorable and heavenly Poetry!
Immortal captive!

What is your crime, oh innocent accused?
"On my pallid, bleeding brow
I bear the mark of Liberty!"

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!

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1 comment:

Liz said...

This translation became:

Poetry Enslaved
to Aurelia Castillo

In her pearl-pale tunic, sweetness
steps lightly, pure, a splendid figure
whiter than jasmine.

She's an angel with starry wings,
a celestial angel, her ivory hands
in chains.

You are that beauty, tender and grave,
adored and heavenly Poetry!
Immortal prisoner!

What is your crime, oh innocent accused?
"On my pallid, sacred brow I bear
the mark of Liberty!"

In particular I realized the form would be better if I kept the short "pie quebrado" lines short in English. Alos, I mistranslated "marfil" as marble when it should be "ivory"!

Er, it's all in the interests of the exposure of process, right? So I leave up my mistake, and correct it as best I can here.