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In any discussion on South American literature, the one poet’s name that crops up regularly is that of Pablo Neruda. There is more to it though. Do you know there are a number of female poets of South America who are worthy of your reading time?
When it’s time to add more books of poetry to your bookshelves, instead of diving right into the standard names, stack your pile of favourite books a little taller by including some of these female poets of South America.
To expand my poetic horizon, I have been reading a few of these women poets of South America who took me on an exhilarating roller coaster ride across the literary landscape of the continent. I think every poetry lover must read these stupendous female poets of South America who combined aesthetic form with content to give birth to some of the most compelling literature of all times.
“Love Beauty, it is the shadow of God in the universe.”- Gabriel Mistral
A Chilean poet and once the teacher of Pablo Neruda, Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga wrote on diplomacy, education and other fields under the pseudonym of Gabriel Mistral. It was her Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995, the first female South American to receive such an award, which made her “a symbol of the idealistic aspirations of the entire Latin American world”. Her poems advocated for the rights of women and criticized the homogenization imposed by North America.
Being one of the great female poets of South America, she was also featured on Chilean banknotes. Her best works include Piececitos de Nino, Todas Ibamos a ser Reinas and others. I have read the bilingual collection Madwomen: The ‘Locas mujeres’ Poems of Gabriel Mistral translated by Randall Couch which contains poems marked by the wound of blazing catastrophe and its aftermath of mourning.
“I am like the she-wolf / I broke the pack / I fled to the mountains / Growing tired of the flatland.”- Alfonsina Storni
One of the prominent female poets of South America, Storni always spoke with a voice informed by feminism even while the suffragist movement was putting down its roots in Western countries. She was awarded the Municipal Poetry Prize for her 1920 anthology Languidez. She regularly published her works in magazines while raising a child out of the convention of marriage.
The reflection of feminism can be observed in her works like Ocre, Mundo de sietepozos, Mascarilla y trebol, in which she painted a picture of the repression of women at the hands of men. Her impact on Latin American literature is undeniable. The song Alfonsina y el mar is about her mythologized suicide in a beach of Argentina.
I had grabbed a copy of My Heart Flooded with Water, a collection of poems from seven of her collections, translated by Orlando Ricardo Menes. I must mention the poem “I’m Going to Sleep”, which was written just before her suicide after battling cancer; if you absorb her painful words in this poem, you’ll find tears rolling down through your cheeks.
An ‘Ultramodernist’ female poet of South America, Lange was actively involved in the 1920’s and 1930’s avant garde of Buenos Aires. When Argentine critics considered poetry a male-dominated field, she proved them wrong with her explosive work. This exemplary literary figure published several prose volumes as well.
Her popular novels include Los dias y las Noches (Days and Night) and Cuadernos de infancia. Being a contemporary of Jorge Luis Borges, the renowned Argentine author, she wrote the 1925 anthology La calle de la tarde (The Street in the Evening) featuring a prologue written by him. I am planning to read this magnum opus by one of the spectacular female poets of South America during my next vacation.
“Don’t let the hand you hold hold you down.” – Julia de Burgos
Julia was a Puerto Rican poet whose work encompassed between feminism and social justice. Apart from writing, she was associated with several social activities for women and African/Afro-Caribbean writers. She was among the leading female poets of South America who got her own postage stamp.
Poema para Mi Muerte (My Death Poem), Yo Misma Fui Mi Ruta (I Was My Own Path), Alba de Mi Silencio (Dawn of my Silence) are some of her notable works. One of my favourite readings among various women poets is the collection of her complete poems, Song of the Simple Truth. The fact that she broke new ground in her poetry by fusing romantic temperament with keen political insights was very fascinating for me.
“I was an angel of the desert. In your arms I broke my wings.” – Carmen Buollosa
One of the contemporary female poets of South America, Carmen’s poems revolve around the issues regarding feminism, gender roles of women in Latin America, sexuality and socio-political injustice. She vastly dealt with feminist issues in Latin America in her eclectic and genre-spanning writings. Like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, she also praises ‘Magic Realism’ in her writings. I would love to go through La patria insomne the collection of her poems in future. Hamartia o Hacha, Salto de mantarraya, La bebida are some of her most noted poetic works.
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