Fascinating and Feisty
Temporary Archives: Poems by Women of Latin America, edited by Juana Adcock & Jèssica Pujol Duran (Arc)
There is a marvellous legacy of Latin American women poets to which this collection adds. My copy of the Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature, published in 1997, has 18 entries for major Latin American female poets many of whom, such as Rosario Castellanos, Fina Garcia Marruz, Norah Lange, Cecilia Meireles, Gabriela Mistral, Silvina Ocampo, and Alejandra Pizarnik, continue to be held in high regard.
Others have subsequently joined them in that place including Cristina Peri Rossi, Piedad Bonnett, Yolanda Pantin, Carmen Boullosa, and Rossella Di Paolo, whose work features in The Invisible Borders of Time: Five Female Latin American Poets, also published in 2022. These five are reckoned to be among the most important voices in the poetry written over the last 60 years in Latin America.
Temporary Archives collects works by poets who would no longer be viewed as emerging voices but who do yet have the reputations of those listed above. As a result, it provides a fascinating and feisty insight into the contemporary scene, both those within it and the great diversity of styles, themes and voices found therein. The intent of the editors is to provide a glimpse 'into the huge diversity in styles, poetics, languages and experiences that exist throughout the continent.'
As such, they have worked with criteria that are as inclusive as possible and for that reason alone this volume provides an instructive addition to what has gone before. So, they do not limit their selection to Hispanic America and also include those who identify as non-binary. Nevertheless, they are aware that it is 'impossible to provide an exhaustive compilation of the poetries written by women throughout the continent of Latin American' and that much of value remains outside these pages as a result.
In these poems we encounter 'the violence of politics and economics, the strains of exile, the redefinition of gender and race, the violence inflicted on minorities and their languages, the violence of history and official narratives, but also the places reserved to love, happiness and celebration in these new contexts.' The poets they have selected have a 'shared capacity to capture, respond and signify issues that affect the everyday in a globalised world from a local perspective.'
The collection’s title derives from a line by Gladys Mendía and resonates with ‘the idea of the female body as a site of rebellion and memory, where the scars of the different violences inflicted upon it remain but are also healed by way of poetry’ and a myriad of ‘voices that rise.’ Mendía doesn’t just provide the title however, but, with her poem ‘Latin American Voice’, essentially provides the premise and criteria too:
the mosaic voice the fragmented voice the voice many voices layers of voices
shuddering ... voices to the extreme voices that rise on their backs to Heaven from Earth
Mendía is among several who write prose poetry, often with gaps or pauses used either to fragment or create polyphony. Josely Vianna Baptista gives us concrete poetry, an influence also on Luna Montenegro who, however, works more fully with the fluidity of the Fluxus movement. Neronessa, by contrast, responds more to the Spanish Neo Baroque. All are part of the mosaic voice excitedly and excitingly depicted here.
What unites within this diversity is, as is to be expected, the celebration of women and the challenging of patriarchy. In ‘Last Names on the Body’ Mara Pastor challenges the naming of parts of women’s body after male scientists, ending:
The day we erase those names
from women's bodies
another tongue will write their expansion.
Mikeas Sanchez begins ‘Mokaya’ in celebratory mood:
I am woman
and I celebrate every crease of my body
every tiny atom that makes me
where my hopes and doubts sail
In section 21 of ‘Abya Yala’, Rosa Chavez continues in celebratory mode while embracing many of the other themes found so compellingly within this collection – including patriarchal violence, female bodies, dance and song:
I am a brown woman
I am not afraid of the word that was ransacked from me by the war
I walk trusting that so many deaths will bring me back to life
I am a spirit from whom are born desires, thorns
roots, tree trunks, callings from this and other times
brown, sweaty, shameless, big-mouthed brown flesh
flesh that dances with open and closed eyes
that recovers movement
flesh and bones that dance for all the joy and the dancing
that were denied to my ancestors
mouth that chews mushrooms in the winter of the future
childish mouth that was plundered by brutality
mouth that reclaims its song, its roar, its saliva
In the words of Luna Montenegro, the poets and poems collected here are:
… recreating the
fiction, preventing the
erosion, processing the
light, creating spaces for
or as Katherine Bisquet puts it:
For those who don't know
believes she does
whatever the hell she wants.
© Jonathan Evens 2023