BOOKS & THE CULTURE Literary Liberation Latina Poets Break the Sound Barrier BY DAVE OLIPHANT FLORICANTO Si: A Collection of Latina Poetry. Edited by Bryce Milligan, Mary Guerrero Milligan, and Angela de Hoyos. Penguin. 303 pp. . $14.95. 1 n 1967, Penguin Books issued an important volume entitled Latin American Writing Today, edited by J.M Cohen. Most of the writers included in that collection are now well known to readers of world literature: Jorge Luis Borges, Alejo Carpentier, Julio Cortazar ; Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda, Nicanor Parra, Octavio Paz, Juan Rulfo, and Cesar Vallejo, among others. Yet only two women were among the writers included in that 1967 selection: Gabriela Mistral and Rosario Castellanos. Like. Penguin’s other volumes in its series of international writing, the publisher’s Latin American edition was intended to break the “sound-barrier of inertia, language, culture, and tradition” by introducing what, at the time, was still a little-known literature outside its home countries. To Penguin’s credit, the firm has once again broken the sound barrier by issuing Floricanto Si, a collection of mostly unheralded Latina writers. Their voices deserve to be heard around the globe. Aside from the fact that this new collection is devoted exclusively to women writers, another important difference is that it contains both Spanish and English originals Cohen’s 1967 edition having been limited to English translation. Not all the women poets in Floricanto Si write in Spanish, but when they do, a translation accompanies the original poem. While a number of the poets are originally from the Caribbean \(Cuba, the Dominiothers are from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico, the majority are natives of the United States. Texas is represented by nineteen out of the total of forty-seven Latina writers. Perhaps not surprisingly since the editors all reside in San Antonio the Texas contingent is dominated by eleven poets from the Alamo City. But this apparent imbalance is not the result of parochial prejudice, since the San Antonio poets are some of the strongest writers in the collection: Rosemary Catacalos, Enedina Casarez Vasquez, Sandra Cisneros, Celeste Guzman, Carmen Tafolla, and Evangelina Vigil-Pition. Regardless of the poets’ origins, most tend to concern themselves with feminist themes. This can be characterized by Norma E. Cantu’ s “Decolonizing the Mind,” with its urge to “let decolonizing mist into the brain cells / where blood knows no allegiance / except its own capillaries,” and to “precision-cut the words that oppress, / that control, words bad and good / that enslave and hinder, / manacles of the colonized mind.” Another common motif is the need to contemplate and connect with such fig”highly intelligent and gifted linguist … who helped Cortes.” \(The description comes from the editors’ “Notes on Historical and Mythological Characters,” which also discuss “La Llorona,” the legendary weeping woman who searches for her lost child and is the subject of several poems in Floricanto Through her association with the conquistador, Malintzin was branded a traitor to her Aztec people, and is still referred to, from that perspective, as “La Malinche.” As Beverly Sanchez-Padilla expresses it in her poem on Malintzin: An identity problem is obvious. Who was this woman who has been blamed for opening up her Native people’s legs for all the Spanish warriors to enter … 500 years of punishment by some, glorification by others. Answering later in the poem, she writes that Malintzin was” a woman of savvy. Street, slave savvy. Who never liked the bloodletting of Montezuma. Never liked the lack of education for female natives. Compulsory only for the males. 0 ne of the most revealing poems in the collection is by Endenina CaSarez Vasquez, who writes in “Bad Hair” that when she wanted to ring the bell at church she learned that girls were not allowed to do so, “Or help with communion / Or go near the altar … Or hold the Baby Jesus for all to kiss,” and so she cut off her hair in protest. A number of these Latina poets envision a different world order, one ruled by or presided over by the feminine spirit. “In My Country,” as Ana Castillo’s title has it, she is: not made ashamed for being…. In my world i am a poet who can rejoice in the coming of Halley’s comet, the wonders of Machu Picchu, and a sudden kiss. Likewise, Chilean Marjorie Agosin’s “Titania’s Creed” declares that in the world ruled by Titania, “There would be no borders, / only the eyes / of the just.” More unusual is the work of Cuban poet Silvia Curbelo, whose award-winning poem, “If You Need a Reason,” relies on a greater use of metaphorical association: The way some stories end in the middle of a word, the words themselves, galaxies, statuaries, perspectives, the stone over stone that is life, never mind hunger. The way things move, road, mirror, blind luck. The way nothing moves sometimes, a kiss, a glance, never mind true north. A telling simile is at the center of Alma Luz Villanueva’s “Warrior in the Sand”: “fingering my solitude / as a child runs ahead, singing.” In Pat Mora’s “La Migra,” every word works on several levels, to achieve the poem’s dual vision of a culture clash between the Border Patrol and a Mexican woman. Mora imagines the con 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JULY 31, 1998
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