Response: These Are Not Sweet Girls

25Feb14

This volume caught my eye while I was browsing for books in the International Poetry room. Between the title and the cover, I was pretty much hooked, and the contents did not disappoint.

Cover reproduction = "Weaver's Dream," by Emma Alvarez Piñeiro

Cover reproduction = “Weaver’s Dream,” by Emma Alvarez Piñeiro

Volume eight in the Secret Weavers series, this collection of work by Latin American women poets is edited by Marjorie Agosin.  Like the other series volumes, its goal is to illuminate women’s writing that has never appeared in English and is, in general, both under-read and critically ignored. Sometimes, as poetry fans know, there are good reasons for that; however, in this instance, Agosin’s project has served to expose a variety of excellent poems and poets to an English-reading audience.

The poets and their work are grouped into seven sections, arranged thematically–an excellent choice for an editor, as it allows her/him to juxtapose writers from various times and places, forcing the reader to ponder the similarities and differences in the work. Some themes–“These Are Not the Sweet Girls,” and “Close to Me,” for example–give pretty straightforward indications of what the content will be like. Others, such as “Like the Moon’s Cadaver” or “Like the Magic Glow of a Paradise,” are more evocative than descriptive, and the contents rely more heavily on imagery.

Basically the collection is a feast, especially if, like this reviewer, you’re coming to the subject matter cold. Each poet’s work is introduced with a one-paragraph biography, followed by a representative sample of work. I had a hard time picking out favorite passages, because they’re all sumptuous. Opening the book at random, we find Clarabel Alegria, of Nicaragua, and “Have Pity:”

Have pity on your brother

who has lost his wonder

and finds everything

just as it should be

and never defies

the forbidden.

Have pity because he is dead

and there’s nothing we can do

but send him flowers

and bury him as soon as possible.

Separated from Alegria by a chunk of pages, we find Mexico’s Perla Schwartz, touching on similar territory in this excerpt from “Snapshots of the Chameleon Woman”:

Today I will not bother

to cook small, succulent dishes

or mend the torn blouse.

Today,

I prefer to sit near the window

to wear out my quota of boredom.

Bracketed by an excellent introduction from Agosin that leaves the reader with tools for further research, and a list of translators who helped with the project (very interesting in their own right), These Are Not Sweet Girls is worth far more than the $20.00 price tag stamped on the back cover. I’m definitely going back for the other volumes in the series, and seriously considering making this part of my permanent home library. Open the book at random and you will hear cries of passion, boredom, frustration, love, and joy. Explore it in thematic order and you will get a wonderful cross-section of personal, political work from the women of Latin America.

Opening randomly again, let us give Colombia’s Anabel Torres the last word:

Now I am

a woman

rooted to life like a kettle,

a kettle rooted to the void.

Be that as it may, everything that I touch

blossoms

from “Kettle Rooted to the Void”

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