“One night I dreamed an octopus loved me. / Oh, the unspeakable anguish of that aberration! / I have never suffered so much; when the day dawned / he said he had lost his mind …”
We don’t know what the author of that poem, the Barcelona poet Elisabeth Mulder (1904-1986), would have thought of such issues as empowerment of women and visibility of female writers. Or, indeed, whether women’s poetry exists. She is one of the fifty-four authors included in the Antología de poetas españolas (Alba). That collection proposes a radical revision of the canon—from the fifteenth century to the “generation of 27”—in order to restore the position of many female writers unjustifiably excluded from critical volumes. This is not the only initiative of this sort. Elena Mede is getting ready to publish a forthcoming anthology with Ariel: Todo lo que hay que saber sobre poesía [Everything you need to know about poetry], featuring one hundred women poets of the twentieth century. She notes, “They suffer double marginalization—as poets and as women. When I was young, I couldn’t find any women poets in the library and I couldn’t understand why; I now know many existed—the canon is broadening .” Thanks, for example, to the Genialogías collection (Tigre de Papel), which aims to make great writers more visible, bringing out two new titles a year, a project undertaken by the eponymous poets’ association.
Miriam Reyes acknowledges, “When I started writing, I had practically no references to women: educated in a patriarchal environment as I was, with the exception of Juana Ines de la Cruz and Rosalía de Castro, it took me a long time to find out about them.” The editor of Alba’s anthology, Gonzalo Torné, confesses, “I knew very few of the authors included—except Saint Teresa and a couple of others, of course, even though I thought I had read a lot of poetry. Many of these women should have been read in secondary school—not because they were women, but because of their quality of their work—as Virginia Woolf had wanted, asking to be judged as severely as a man. Some people want to eliminate machista or racist authors from the canon, but ideological criteria in literature are very complicated: we could say that Jane Austen’s novels support slavery or that Aristotle has written unpalatable texts denigrating slaves and women. Ideally, we should be guided by quality and then explain that such and such was a trait of that person or of his or her time. Twentieth-century women have written a narrative in which, for the first time, what is portrayed belongs to us.”
“Poetry now plays the same role as in the third century BC”, says Ana Gorría (Barcelona, 1979). “Looking towards the horizon is not productive.” Thus, “When neoliberal policies and criteria of profitability structure us as individuals and as a part of society, [we should] distance ourselves from the ideology of mere performance, [we should] play, enjoy ourselves, observe without expecting anything in return; this is no small consideration.”
The term poetisa [poetess] is rejected today by many people on account of its association with a certain disparaging attitude. To Concha García (La Rambla, Córdoba, 1956), “Too much has been written about suicidal women poets, as if that and disease were the emblems of our poetry”.
As for the current cohort of poets, it is impossible to talk about groupings or tendencies, but Sergio Gaspar, a former DVD editor, notes “We can identify common themes, such as the body; erotic desire with women as a subject, rather an object; abortion; and child care.” Isabel Navarro emphasizes that “Increasingly, more is being written about motherhood because we have re-appropriated an experience that was previously not considered relevant to culture. Twenty-first century women are writing a new narrative concerning female identity, in which the pieces still do not fit, but—for the first time—they are ours.” On the other hand, to Teresa Shaw, “What is biographical has no interest in and of itself unless it leads to a clear understanding of what is knowledge, ‘Poetize knowingly and understand poetizing’, as the philosopher used to say”. Begoña Ugalde believes that women’s poetry exists, because “There is a feminine sensibility, not exclusive to women, that has to do with being in the world from a more receptive, less competitive stance, distant from the winners who have the power, with a particular experience of one’s body and a keen awareness of being a source of life”. Social reality is also a factor: Navarro writes poems about the real estate bubble. Esther Zarraluki does not like to talk about “women’s poetry” and hopes that “Soon they will stop calling on us to contribute to anthologies of women poets, or to include our work simply because we write in Spanish while living in Catalunya, and they will include our work only because of the quality of the poems in question”.
“Some 84% of the jurors judging poetry awards or competitions are men, and the recent national awards have been given to five women out of forty.”
Genialogías analyse all poetry prizes with awards of 5,000 Euros or greater: 84% of the jurors are men. Prior to 2016, the Loewe Prize had been given to one woman and to twenty-seven men; the House of America Prize went to two women and fourteen men, while the national awards went to 5 women out of a total of 40 laureates.
García believes that women poets in Spain and Catalunya “have not had a generational replacement—there are hardly any now. We are institutionally residual, we feel like we are in no-man’s land”. She laments that “In recent years there has been a very deep cut in funding on account of policies that confuse [our presence in Catalunya and language preference] with manifestations of Spanish imperialism.”
There are several anthologies of women, such as A: woman, language and poetry (Stendhal Books). The most recent is Sombras di-versas [Di-verse Shadows] (Broken Glass), in which Amalia Iglesias selects seventeen current women poets. These include Reyes, Gorría and Medel, as well as Pilar Adón, Raquel Lanseros, Leire Bilbao, Berta García Faet and Luna Miguel. These women are examples of the vitality of a genre that many consider has an old-fashioned image. But these observers ignore the fact that this vitality is manifest today in songs and publicity and that poetry hybridizes with technology—even though the results might be difficult to understand. There is an infallible antidote to such prejudice: read contemporary poets, for example, the women shown in the photo above.
A few names of Spanish women poets to include in future textbooks:
FLORENCE OF PINAR XV Century
Little is known about the first Spanish woman poet. She was a lady of the court of Isabel I of Castille and she took part in literary competitions. Her verses were included in the General Songbook (1511) by Hernando del Castillo, which preserved them from oblivion.
HIPÓLITA DE NARVÁEZ XVI Century
Very little infromation about her is available. One of her sonnets begins like this:
Leandro, with gallant effort, breaches
the confused sea as it bellows magnificantly;
and the sky, between lightning bolts, spills
heavy rain with violent fury. [my trans. — DE]
[Leandro rompe, con gallardo intento, / el mar confuso, que soberbio brama; / y el cielo, entre relámpagos, derrama / espesa lluvia con furor violento.]
SOR MARCELA DE SAN FÉLIX 1605-1688
Daughter of dramatist and writer Lope de Vega and the comic actress Micaela Luján, she retired to a convent in Madrid when she turned 16. There she received frequent visits from his father.
ROSA GÁLVEZ 1768-1806
Malagueña moved to the United States with her husband, a militia captain, whom she later divorced. Also a dramatist, she maintained a close relationship with [Spanish Prome Minister] Alfredo Godoy, who protected her from accusations of immorality and used public money subsidise the cost of publishing her work.
CONCEPTION OF ESTEVARENA 1851-1878
A Sevillan and orphan of very humble origins, she moved to Jaca, where she became ill with tuberculosis.
ÁNGELA FIGUERA 1902-1984
This parapatetic Republican from Bilbao is “the great Spanish poet of the 20th century”, according to Elena Medel, who adds, “She published very late in life like so many others, whose emergence usually coincided with their release from family responsibilities.” Her work ranges from landscape poetry to social themes, passing through existentialism and the experience of being a wife and mother. She published Belleza cruel [Cruel Beauty] in Mexico to avoid censorship, and her Complete Works were published in 1986.
DOLORES CATARINEU 1914-2006
A Madrileña, her poetic champion was Juan Ramón Jiménez. She was married to the painter Hans Bloch.
SUSANA MARCH 1918-1990
A Barcelonesa and also a novelist. Together with her husband, Ricardo Fernández de la Reguera, she continued the series of historical novels Los Episodios nacionales by Benito Pérez Galdós, which enjoyed great public success.
MAROSA DI GIORGIO 1932-2004
A Uruguayan. Her collected works are published in the two volumes of Papeles salvajes [Wild Roles] (1989 and 1991).
PALOMA PALAO 1944-1986
A diplomat from Madrid, her published works include El gato junto al agua [The Cat Beside the Water], Contemplación del destierro [Contemplating Exile] and the postumous Hiel.[Bitterness] She died in a car accident in Eivissa.
CHUS PATO Ourense, 1955
One of the most important current Galician poets. She transgresses genres to go beyond the traditional concept of poetry. Hordas de escritura [A Cache of Writings] was awarded the Premio de la Crítica 2008 [Critics’ Award 2008], and her Poesía reunida [Collected Poems]. Volume 1 collects work from 1991 to 1995.
In the photo: 01 Neus Aguado (Córdoba, Argentina, 1955), 02 Lola Nieto (Barcelona, 1985), 03 Laia López Manrique (Barcelona, 1982), 04 Belén García Nieto (Seville, 1982), 05 Teresa Shaw (Urioste , Uruguay, 1951), 06 Marina Oroza (Madrid, 1960), 07 Miriam Reyes (Orense, 1974), 08 Carolina Jobbágy (Buenos Aires, 1975), 09 Begoña Ugalde (Santiago de Chile, 1984), 10 Isabel Navarro (Petrer , 1977), 11 Anna Roig (Barcelona, 1976) and 12 Esther Zarraluki (Barcelona, 1956)
Translation © Dick Edelstein / Image La Vanguardia