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Latin American Women Poets: Critical Remarks

Critical Remarks

I would like to share some thoughts about the selection “Latin American Women Poetry” curated by Kathia Ibacache. The selection includes 23 poems by an equal number of cisgender female writers (unless otherwise notified) from “Latin America” and spanning from the 19th to the 21st century. Although “Women” appears in the title of this selection, not every poem explicitly discusses issues pertaining to womanhood or gender identity. The themes include demands for equality (in gender, class, or ethnic dimensions), the exploration of intimacy and subjectivity, the passing of time, the experience of nature, and the reflection on their artistic work. Besides this thematic openness, all of the pieces challenge the reader through a critical and intense relationship with language.

Moreover, this is a multilingual anthology, including 16 poems originally written in the languages that arrived in the hemisphere due to the European colonization (Spanish and Portuguese). This part of the anthology follows the political divisions among contemporary nation-states (1 poet per Latin American country, with some exceptions and involuntary omissions.) On the other hand, there are 7 poems composed in the Indigenous Languages of the Americas (or what we must call “Abiayala” following the Guna People and Emil Keme), including Quechua, Aymará, Yucatec Maya, Nahuatl, Zapotec, and Mapudungun. Almost all of these poems were originally written in an Indigenous language, sometimes with a Spanish translation provided by the same author. The exception is “Los gansos dicen adiós, A mi abuelo Adolfo Huinao/Amulelafin tañi laku, Adolfo Huinao,” by Mapuche writer Graciela Huinao. A remembrance of a lost Indigenous grandparent, this poem was initially written in Spanish by the author but translated to Mapudungun by the linguist Clara Antinao. The fact that all of the poems in Indigenous language belong to contemporary writers is a testimony of the current revitalization of Indigeneity in the hemisphere.

The oldest piece of this anthology is “Nacer hombre,” originally published in 1887 by the Bolivian feminist-pioneer Adela Zamudio. This poem is a powerful manifesto for women’s rights when the patriarchy severely limited women’s autonomy (such as the right to vote). The militant nature of Zamudio’s poem resonates in other pieces included in this selection, such as “Pasaporte,” by the Mexican Rosario Castellanos; “Domingo 12 de septiembre, 1937,” by the Guatemalan Ana María Rodas; and “Adioses a las diosas,” by the Panamanian Lucy Cristina Chau. These poems actively reject traditional ideas about femininity and gender roles in patriarchal societies. The same vindictive tone reappears, but applied to race/ethnicity with an intersectional perspective, in “Ay, Ay, Ay de la Grifa Negra,” by Puerto-Rican mulatto writer Julia de Burgos, and “U yok’ol auat pek’ ti kuxtal pek’/El quejido del perro en su existencia/The growl of the dog in its existence,” by the Yucatec Maya writer Breceida Cuevas Cob.

The most recent piece is “Nechmatoca/Tócame,” published in 2019 by the Nahuatl poet Fabiola Carrillo Tieco. This is an erotic poem with references to nature and a ritual structure. A similar exploration of women’s desire and sexuality appears in other poems, such as “Es larga la tarde,” by the Nicaraguan Giaconda Belli; “Puka pulleracha/Pollerita roja,” by Quechua writer Lily Flores Palomino; and “Quiéreme Entera,” by the Cuban Dulce María Loynaz. By deploying a game of seduction, these pieces affirm the sexual autonomy of the poetic voice. On the other hand, other poems explore the subjectivity of the poetic voice without explicit reference to sexuality. For example, the experience of suffering and death is expressed in “Lo Inefable,” by the Uruguayan Delmira Agustini; and “Cenizas,” by the Argentinian, Alejandra Pizarnik. Furthermore, “Retrato,” by the Brazilian Cecília Meireles, deals with the pass of time and self-recognition, while “Ejercicios,” by the Peruvian Blanca Varela, explores the meaning of writing and the limits of knowledge.

It is impossible to cover all of the formal and thematic connections among these 23 outstanding poems in such a short space. As a cisgender male “mestizo” of Peruvian origin living in the USA, I am happy to know better the variety of voices, tones, and perspectives offered by this selection of Latin American Women Poetry. I hope that any reader, notwithstanding the linguistic and cultural barriers, could experience the same enjoyment and growth. - Javier Muñoz-Díaz, Ph.D.

Javier Muñoz-Díaz

headshot of Javier Muñoz-Díaz

Javier is a PhD graduate from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Presently, he has been appointed Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish at the Saint Lawrence University, position he will start this fall 2021.