I’m Going to Sleep

I’m Going to Sleep

Teeth of flowers, hairnet of dew
hands of grass, you, my gentle nurse
have laid out the earthy sheets for me
and the eiderdown of well-cleaned mosses.

I’m going to sleep, my nurse, lay me down
and put a lamp beside my head. Give me
a constellation- whichever one you choose
for they are all good; lower it a little.

Leave me now: you can hear new sprouts breaking
a celestial foot rocks the cradle from above
and a bird traces out the beats to help you

to forget… Thank you. Ah, one last thing,
If he calls again on the telephone
Tell him not to keep on. Tell him I’ve gone out.

This poem is by Alfonsina Storni (1892-1938). She achieved recognition in Buenos Aires where she was a regular contibutor to newspapers and magazines and published several collections of poetry including La Inquietud del Rosal (1916). Although she worked as a primary school teacher she came to know Horacio Quiroga, the great short story writer, and took an active part in literary life. Quiroga committed suicide in 1937. Storni committed suicide in 1938.

The legend says that she walked out into the sea at Mar de Plata, though her biographers suggest she probably threw herself off the breakwater. Her body was discovered the next day. This is her last poem and was published in the newspaper La Nación immediately.

Storni’s suicide, like Sylvia Plath’s, casts a retrospective shadow over the rest of her work. It has been celebrated in the song Alfonsina and the Sea, which you can listen to here, sung by Mercedes Sosa:

Alfonsina and the Sea.

Here is a translation of the lyrics:

On the soft sand, licked by the sea,
the trace of her footsteps does not return.
A path only of pain and silence led down
to the deep water
A path only of mute pains led down
to the breakers.

God knows what anguish went with you,
what old suffering silenced your voice
for you to lie down with the lullaby song
of the sea-shells
the song sung in the depths of the sea
the sea-shells

Alfonsina you are leaving with your loneliness
what new poems did you go looking for
an ancient voice of wind and salt
breaks your soul and carries it off
and you head on out as if in a dream,
sleepy Alfonsina, clothed in the sea.

Five mermaids will carry you
along paths of seaweed and coral
and phosphorescent seahorses
will dance around beside you
and the denizens of the water
will play beside you soon.

Turn the lamp down a little more,
nurse, let me sleep in peace.
And if he calls, don’t tell him I’m here;
say Alfonsina is not coming back
And if he calls, never tell him I’m here.
Say I have gone.

Alfonsina you are leaving with your loneliness
what new poems did you go looking for
an ancient voice of wind and salt
breaks your soul and carries it off
and you head on out as if in a dream,
sleepy Alfonsina, clothed in the sea.

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Santiago- a Poem by Lorca

imageTonight Santiago went by
On his path of light through the sky
The playing children say so
a gentle brook’s burbling water.

Where to, celestial pilgrim,
riding that infinite clear path?
He’s heading for distant dawn’s shine
on a horse as white as the sky.

Little children in the field, sing!
May your laughter drill into the wind!

 

imageA man says he has seen Santiago
with a company of two hundred men,
they were covered all over with lights
with garlands of bright green stars
and the horse Santiago was riding
was the brightest star shining.

The man who tells this story
says, There in the sleeping night
the silvery shuffle of wings
carried off on waves of silence.
Is it that he saw paradise?

The knights they saw were angels.

Federico García Lorca
Libro de Poemas (1921)

from
El Camino de Santiago en la Literatura
José Luis Prieto ed.
(Edilesa: León, 2004)

In the Protestant north we are used to seeing the saints as rather dull men who spend a lot of time with their books.  But there are saintly heroes.

You might not know much about Santiago, or St James. He has a bit part in the Bible but became the patron saint of Spain, and particularly of the north west corner, Galicia, when his tomb was found there in the ninth century. “Santiago y cierra España” is the battle cry of the Spanish army. Devotion to Santiago is linked into the fabric of traditional Spanish life.

Can you understand England if you have never heard the story of Robin Hood? We’ve cut down the woods and live in hock to modern-day King Johns and bad sheriffs, but the jesting figure who emerges from the woods is embedded in the popular culture of the country. Something similar is the case with St James in Spain. Are there any good books about Robin Hood? I haven’t found one. Are there any good books about St James? The same is true. St James is a fairy tale figure who prances across the pages of history on his magical white horse.

You might be more familiar with St James from the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, which drew millions of pilgrims in the middle ages to do reverence to one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ. There is precious little detail about him in the Bible, although he was one of the inner circle with Peter and John and was present at the Transfiguration and the Agony in the Garden. In the legend he came to Spain to preach the gospel after the Ascension. The Virgin Mary came to visit him in Zaragoza transported by angels and the Basilica there is one of the grandest churches in Spain.

When the tomb of St James was found, the obvious question was: how did the body of the saint get from the Holy Land to this far western corner of Europe? His disciples, we are told, loaded his body into a stone boat that was guided by angels to Galicia, the land that he loved best.  The fantastic elements pile up like the accretions around a diode.  Magical journeys, riding down on his horse at the Battle of Clavijo and an eternal vigilance for his beloved pilgrims.  It is no wonder that people came to love their magical defender- a saintly Superman on the side of the poor and needy;

Lorca wrote many ballad-like poems with the incantatory charm of nursery rhymes that deftly manage the symbolic culture of the Spanish gypsies. His Romancero Gitano is one of the all-time greats of Spanish poetry: everyone recognises a few lines from the poems; he is written into the Spanish heart. His attraction to children’s literature, his innocent vision and his ability to manage the grand symbols make him the ideal poet to write a poem about Santiago.

It is like a nursery rhyme. It is gentle and charming.

Hope you like it.

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Letter to My Wife

Letter to my wife

My love, don’t forget it, there are words
that are sinful to say these days.
Words that you shouldn’t pronounce
nor even think them, stutter them
ponder and praise them, write them…
Much less scream them.
My wife, take note and don’t forget:
do not say, “Freedom”- a sad word
with the threat of death and skulls.
If it is true you love me, you’ll never say
this stupid word
that has teeth and bites like a wolf.
Don’t even say the verbs that derive from it,
however distant and vague
their etymological derivation may be,
such as, for example, free spirit,
free and easy, freed, free change.
Instead, say often, “Viva, viva,
yes sir, many thanks, God be with you.”
Then you will see how happy we will be.

Celso Emilio Ferreiro

Celso Emilio Ferreiro

Celso Emilio Ferreiro
Larga Noite de Pedra (1962)
(Xerais: Madrid, 1990)

When the Nationalists under General Franco won the Spanish Civil War, Galicia went under a drak cloud. Up until that point there had been a dynamic culture in Gallego, the language of Galicia. The Nationalists were only interested in cultivating a greater Spain and had no interest in what they saw as regional nationalisms: publishing in Gallego came to a standstill; it seemed that the language would return to the villages where it had been dormant for centuries up until the rexurdimento, or renaissance of Gallego in the later nineteenth century.

Many intellectuals and poets were ideologically compromised and fled the country. Castelao, who held office in the Republican government, went into exile in Buenos Aires and became the focus of the Galician intellectual resistance, which included a publishing industry that eventually saw the emergence of Galaxia, the number one publishing house for writing in the language.

Celso Emilio Ferreiro changed the course of writing in Galician. The irony of this poem is that the poet is writing precisely the words that he is forbidding his wife to speak. Neither the nature poetry of poets such as Noriega Varela, nor the sub-Surrealist poets such as Álvaro Cunqueiro, addressed their existential situation with the same force as Ferreiro and once Long Night of Stone, the collection from which this poem is taken, was published, it began to seem like an impardonable avoidance not to have mentioned the word freedom.

What is the role of art and poetry after all? Can you go about your business producing bucolic visions of the countryside ignoring the electricity pylons that stretch across your view in order to focus on the pretty old house behind them?

imageI am thinking about this today because I went to see an exhibition in Avilés by a young painter who calls herself Bitxo: Carne, Pelo y Polvo (Flesh, Skin and Dust). Avilés is a steel city. You can ignore this fact and pootle around the historic town centre visiting the chichi shops and drinking coffee at a terrace cafe by the town hall. If your taste is for the modern you can go across the estuary to the Niemeyer Centre and engage in more modernist reveries about formal values and international art.

What the exhibition of Bitxo shows, however, is something different: ugly little paintings of deformed entities that are affected by the pollution of the environment. In the accompanying flier it says that she is:
IMG_1759-0.JPG“On a constant search that comes from the need to promote and generate our own means of resistence and attack. In this case, Creativity as a tool for social transformation.”
In this case, “the monstuous represents the consequences, the beings that are born of that industrialised, abandoned and grey setting. Wood symbolises the cleanliness of the air inside that bubble of dust and red clouds. A purifying channel from a sky saturated with dirt that is fed by political and economic interests.”

If in 1962 resistance was expressed against the monolithic state of Franco, today there is a resistance to a different kind of big state that is making profits for a few whilst polluting the environment for the rest of us. I find it interesting that the resistance is expressed in Asturianu: if the exhibition guide is in castellano the title, at least, is not!

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I dig you

I dig every bit of you, all, the lot,
not ‘cos your damp skin burns up with fire
nor for your breasts’ warm cinnamon
nor even your sinful rhythm of hips.

I dig every bit of you, all, the lot,
not for your full mouth when I kiss it,
nor for the urgent calls of your flesh
that feverishly burn in your veins.

I dig every bit of you, all, the lot
not ‘cos you’re mine, belong to me,
and I can feel others’ envious looks
as though the envy were really my own.

I dig every bit of you, all, the lot,
Not ‘cos when I’m with you I spend the time
drinking in your breath, chewing over
the scraps of love you deign to throw me.

I dig every bit of you, all, the lot,
for that skin-ripe smell you have
that smell of the skin of a woman
‘cos no one in the world smells like that.

I dig every bit of you, all, the lot,
‘Cos that smell is yours and I found it for me.

César Díaz Martínes

http://unpoemaparacadaocasion.blogspot.com.es/2012/10/tu-me-gustas-total-entera-y-toda-cesar.html

I found this poem on Tumblr. I liked its adolescent passion and feeling so it seemed appropriate not to give it too much seriousness in the translation.

I have been reading a little too much about serious issues, such as a “project for identity”. There is nothing wrong with this simple passion though, is there?

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Mariana Yonusg Blanco

imageI got lost in those generic terms
that passed over my gender
I got lost when I spoke through their mouth
I got lost when their word was my voice,
I got lost when in some failure
they condemned me to silence and negation.
They all muted my voice,
sharp, metallic,
of sweet words that they called childish,
of furious voices they called hysterical,
and they failed to hear my reasons,
and now I didn’t care about naming myself
or anything that was named by me.

Mariana Yonüsg Blanco

This fragment of a poem came to me in my reading of Teresa Moure, who I promised to introduced to you yesterday when I wrote about the poet Yolanda Castaño. I recommend you to read that poem if you haven’t already.

Teresa Moure

Teresa Moure

I was introduced to Teresa Moure by Marisa who works in one of the hotels I use on the Camino de Santiago. I have known Marisa for years and, as she is a reader, she usually has some good recommendations for me. She has seen Yolanda Castaño, for example, and had some pithy comments about her style. She suggested I read Teresa Moure because I had been talking to her about a particular problem I was having in my work.

I am a guide taking small groups on the Camino, the ancient pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela. At the end of the season the owner of the business asked me to evaluate the people who work for him. The work involves sorting out the logistics of hotels, meals and transport as well as the softer skills of managing diverse groups, ensuring that there is good conversation at the dinner table and listening to the issues of the clients.

There are nine guides: six men and three women. I was faced with the uncomfortable realisation that the ones who were most difficult were the women. It bothered me. “Can it be,” I asked myself “that these observations I am making hide a deeper problem? Is it possible that the problem is not them, but me?” I had asked around and people I knew thought it was just the way the dice rolled, that it was coincidental and that I should not bother too much about it. “Either they do the work or they don’t,” they said. “You can’t start thinking it is you causing the problem.”

In fact, this is not what I thought. I was thinking something a little more complicated. I was thinking that there is something in the world these women live in that makes them misjudge the tone in communications, fall back on their dignity when their work is criticised and assume a bossy attitude at the first opportunity. It seemed to me that there was a problem in communication here and that these problems are the equal responsibility of all partners in the dialogue. So it wasn’t me or them, it was me and them.

I started to investigate what I might be doing wrong and came across a wealth of valuable advice about “micro-aggressions”. These are presuppositions that you are hardly aware of but that worm their way into your manner of speaking and presenting yourself. There are some great lists of micro-aggressions on the internet designed to help men communicate better with women. I am currently working on myself with regard to some of these ideas. More earth-shaking than the work I am doing on myself, however, is my growing awareness of the world in which women live. I watched a shocking video of a woman walking down the street in New York who receives over one hundred sexist comments in one day. There is nothing provocative about her dress or her attitude. If the video is shocking the responses in the commentaries are even more so.

“It seems to me that I don’t understand the world that women live in,” I said to Marisa.

“You should read Teresa Moure,” she said. “I love her books. In fact, I have given out my copy of A Palabra das Fillas de Eva to so many people now that I don’t even know where it is.”

Teresa Moure is a Professor of Linguistics at the University of Santiago. The Word of the Daughters of Eve (Galaxia: Santiago de Compostela, 2005) is “an essay about women and language. The author sets out to defy gender by going past the formulas of academic discourse to create a polyfacetic tale in which, while she puts across her ideas, she inserts stories into the text. Renew language to create a new world. Liberate the word, to liberate, not only women, but all human beings.” (From the back cover.)

I loved the little stories in the book. It starts with the story of what happens to a woman in a hospital giving birth: sharp, accurate, perceptive and funny.

It seems particularly appropriate to be reading Moure with Yolanda Castaño fresh in my mind. Depth of Field is full of questions and doubts. It is powerfully intelligent whilst being distinctly feminine. She is not a woman who has neutered her female voice, but she is conscious of her own manoeuvres in the game of communication: toying with playing the victim, worrying about being pretty, making lists of questions.

Here is a passage from the middle essay of Teresa Moure’s book, Feminine Language Set Against Male Language. I think it helps us to understand Castaño:
“On the one hand, women look at questions as a means to keep the conversation going and to ensure the flow of sympathy with their interlocutor, whilst men look on them only as a request for information. Aside from questions, women use expressions that serve as a bridge between what their interlocutor is saying and what they have to say themselves, avoiding the position where arguments would be seen as confrontational and reinforcing the idea that they are listening. Finally, the most interesting point, in my opinion… , is that women enjoy discussing their problems, sharing experiences, feelings and secrets and achieving a certain emotional security. For this reason the subculture of women has a marked literary value.”

These points are taken from a study by Daniel Maltz and Ruth Borker,

Moure enlivens the driness of the academic ideas with some well-chosen anecdotes from her own life. She is listening to a phone-in programme on the radio and starts to notice the differences in the way the men- who are mostly truck drivers- and the women- who are mostly housewives- express themselves. I won’t take the words out of her mouth. Here is what she says:

“For the most part the women, who are taking part of their own free will, start what they say with such phrases as, “Sorry, I’m a bit nervous…”, “You know, since I’ve never spoken on the radio, I’m a little… you understand.” This kind of humble justification never, or very rarely, comes in male contributions. Often these men who offer their opinions show a certain crudity; their opinions can be superficial, conventional or constructed by the ideology of power, but the men who formulate them, are sure of these opinions and the form they take as they express them. Although a whole series of phonetic, lexical and grammatical signs could demonstrate that the women are more “educated” (according to the measurements of culture that come from academic artefacts), the women insist on raising their lack of familiarity with the medium, as in the examples above and, especially, draw attention to their supposed linguistic failings (“Well… I don’t understand that issue… this is what we people on the street think”, “You will forgive me if I can’t find exactly the right word”, “People who know more about it will explain it better than me”). The peculiar intensity of the insecurity and anxiety of women regarding linguistic matters (as well as aesthetic matters, of course) can be explained in this sociological context. Bourdieu argues that women, condemned by the gender divide in work to wait for social progress to raise their symbolic capacities of production and consumption, are particularly aware of the acquisition of legitimate competencies. I very much fear that for this reason women are more sensitive than men to the lustre conferred by university titles (to be a graduate, doctor or architect), the opinion the adminstrators of social selection can have of them (to be a very interested, very hard-working student, although this good opinion of teachers does not translate directly into material benefits or better qualifications) or the opinions of others in general (“the child cannot go around dirty… If he does, what will they say about me? That I am not a good mother”).”

This passage seems to me to reflect upon Yolanda Castaño’s “project for identity”. I detect the same anxieties about the opinion of others. Everything about Castaño’s poem suggests that it is a conversation even though the convention of written verse can only allow us to guess at the responses of her imagined interlocutor.

Getting back to my own case, I read Moure and came to some realisations. In my women colleagues I can see the investment in “legitimate competencies”, for example. It is one of the things that does not convince me when it comes to doing the work at hand. What do I care if she has a degree, if she is not doing the work? On reflection I can see this as a male response. My focus on the work to be done- and not on all the subsidiary and, to me, irrelevant social markers- defines me as much as it defines them. It is more important to a woman to have a degree, and for that degree to be valued, than it is for a man, perhaps.

I struggle with some of the implications of Moure’s writing. There is certainly an element of cultural difference. I don’t recognise myself in her description of the man who is so taciturn in expessing his feelings that his partner knows next to nothing about him:

“And there she was, so many years later, attempting to rethink her personal history in the light of the brilliant theory of men’s lack of education in feelings… She knew little about him. Although more than enough to be certain that he loved her. In reality he knew much more about her. And what did she know about him? Just the rough texture of his hands and the profound magnetism of his smile. She knew that he loved her but hid the slightest indication with which he could pay attention to her feelings so as not to startle him. Every man is a child for a woman. And she never wanted to put words into his mouth.” (p.50-51)

“Every man is a child for a woman.” This certainly rings true of my experience in Spain. The attention to the details of domestic arrangements, the desire to control the family, the heavy investment in the emotional well-being of all the members of the family, the critical eye towards minor elements of dress and fashion, the bad habit of mindreading: these are all parts of the Spanish female psyche. Is it petty to say you don’t buy into it? I certainly don’t. I don’t because I don’t want a partner who thinks she is my mother. I don’t especially want to work with my mother either!

I have a friend who lives in Madrid. He is well-educated, urbane and modern. He looks after the children whilst his wife is at work because his job allows him that flexibility and is proud of his role as a parent. A modern man. Yet he said to me, “It is always going to be more difficult working with women than with men. Es lo que hay. That’s all there is to it.” His pet theory is that women mutate when they have children. He says that they are not aware of it themselves, but as a man you are painfully aware of the transformation: they are no longer women; they are mothers. I was ready to dismiss this idea. I don’t want it to be true. Yet, women are capable of saying things such as, “Nosotras como madres somos así… we mothers are just like that.” This comes from one of those female colleagues.

Queeremos el Mundo- another Teresa Moure on my reading list.

Queeremos el Mundo- another Teresa Moure on my reading list.

What is the best response to this? I’ve got to fifty thinking that a woman would not want to be defined as a mother and certainly not by a man. I guess this comes from my education at the hands of feminist friends in the eighties who were struggling against inequality and refused to be defined by their ability to bear children. This is not to deny the mother/child bond in all its beauty and mysterious significance, but… well… I really do not know what to think.
In the context of work I am still struggling with what Yolanda Castaño calls the “project of identity”. You see, it seems to me that there are many good things that my women colleagues offer to the work. The work itself seems to cry out for female qualities of empathy, attention to detail and, even, mindreading. And I do not want them to feel that they get lost because their words are not sufficient: I don’t want to speak through their mouth or make my word their voice.

It will take patience at the least. What do you think? What are the problems and what are the solutions? I’d love to hear some good ideas.

I have deleted the links: this post disappeared and I think it might be to do with the linking process.

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Henrique Rabunhal- Dialogue with the Beloved

IMG_1500Dialogue With The Beloved

Listen!
Can you feel the wind, shaving the windows?
It is my body that goes around sticking to you,
coursing blood in the dream that scales the buildings,
bitten like the hours and like the snow,
surrendering at last to survival.

Listen!
Can you feel the wind, shaving the windows?
Come and embrace it,
you will notice my watery hands
writing a caress through your pores,
maps of love, all of life.

Listen!
Is it nothing you hear now?
That’s me as well,
That silence
That wants to
Stab you
With light
And words

Henrique Rabunhal
Poemas da Luz e Da Locura
(Espiral Maior: A Coruña, 1992)

I have not looked at Henrique Rabunhal for a long time. I remember that last time I struggled to get past what I saw as macho posturing. I am prepared to give him another go today because, following along with Yolanda Castaño’s project for identity, I have been looking around the internet at masculinism. It has me confused.

What do you make of this poem?

The first thing that really strikes me is that, although the poem is called Dialogue, there is no kind of dialogue at all. What kind of dialogue has the speaker calling out “Listen” so impetuously. It is violent from its inception. The dialogue that takes place here is at the level of touch, not words. The metaphors are violent also, the bleeding dream scaling the building makes the rain on the window into a horrific image.

The full horror of the poem comes through in the final image, however. “Listen!” he commands and then stabs her with silence and words.

This weekend Carmen was in England and I watched a movie, Te Doy Mis Ojos (Take My Eyes). Ay-ay-ay, as they say in Spain. A young woman escapes from her abusive husband to go and live with her sister, then returns to him once he starts going to counselling. She studies to be a museum guide explaining pictures and he goes to see the talk. It fills him with a furious rage to see her so beautiful and so animated and imagines other men looking at her with the same eyes.

IMG_1712At the same time she is explaining a painting of Danae by Titian. Her eyes and her sensitivities open the eyes of the audience, which we can see consists mostly of women. In the painting Danae reclines with her legs open as Zeus descends upon her in a shower of gold coins, looking up longingly to the descending god. I think you get the picture that the title “Take My Eyes” has many levels of meaning in the film.

I was particularly struck by a scene in which Antonio is sitting at the table with Pilar, his wife, explaining what he wants. The only word he can come up with is “normal”. We have a clear sense of what this normality is: when he is forced to court his wife again because she has run away from him, he is all charm; once he has her back in the house, she becomes a domestic slave, bringing him beer at the end of his working day: normal is dull. There is an amusing scene where the psychologist for the group of men to which Antonio belongs tries to get them to imagine something they could ask their wives when they come in the door at the end of the day. Beyond asking what is for dinner they are stumped.

There are some men out there who try to defend this kind of male behaviour with reference to the tired old cliché of the Alpha male. Indeed, there are even women who buy into the game, justifying what in any rational discourse would just be bad behaviour with a whole load of psycho-babble. If you doubt me, read this absurd article in Psychology Today. Sonya Rhodes is a couples therapist: oh dear.

If you raise any doubts about this nonsense as a man, you run the risk of being characterised as Beta. There is a lot at stake in the debate. Well, call me Beta but I am more convinced by the feminist arguments on We Hunted the Mammoth. I live in a village where there is plenty of scope for observation of genuine “We-Hunted-the-Mammoth” opinions and behaviours. These, however, are not educated people who ought to know better. It is profoundly disquieting to have people who have been to university using these retrograde arguments to support their bad behaviour. It always seems to me that, if Alpha means power it doesn’t matter how big your shovel is: if you don’t read you are consigning yourself to a weak postion eventually. You can cause a lot of damage, like Antonio in Te Doy Mis Ojos, but not understanding Titian makes you weaker, not stronger.

There is a lot riding on this. There seems to be a crisis in relationships out there. I was reading one of my favourite blogs The Culture Monk and was as stunned as he was by the conversation he had with a young woman. She admits that the one thing that attracted her to her partner was that he did not want to have sex on the first date. That is rather extraordinary, isn’t it? For men to be prancing around spouting nonsense about Alphas and Betas is just absurd when they can’t even get past the first steps in engaging in a real dialogue with women.

Am I exaggerating? Not in Spain. Look at these appalling statistics for domestic violence. 140 000 reported cases of domestic violence per year is extraordinary. If you watch that movie and reflect on what happens to Pilar in the police station you will probably come to the conclusion that this is only a small part of the problem.

Now, it is unfair on Henrique Rabunhal to plump all of this on the back of what is essentially a love poem. I hope you understand that this comes about through my thinking over what a “project for identity” might be and that I selected Rabunhal, because I wanted to draw attention to how male his “dialogue” is. I am still shocked by his closing metaphor, but perhaps that is the intention.

 

 

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Yolanda Castaño- (RE)SER(VADO)

IMG_1700A
A slow knife is the project for identity.
An indigo celebration is re-cognition.

How did I let all this happen to me?
My own dream went away from me with me
I cannot allow them to misinterpret me one more time
Why do you affect me? Why do you still affect me?
An absurd insurmountable dispossession.

But I would be fine, worries never end, as you know, because in the end I
would be fine, always fine, although I am still not understood
although I lose my health when I am young.
I also thought I could control it.
Why do you drive me to despair? Why do you still drive me to despair?

A well of sustained notes,
a mechanical nightingale is the evening
How did I have the courage to take on your strategy?

B
When I stop being a flower
I’m a nuisance.

But the hard thing was just to be, the
tirelessly ill-fated.

If I could contract some serious ailment
it would greatly favour my literary image.

As I have no work, I am off to Las Vegas.
In the USA I am more beautiful than anywhere else.

But I have been acid and pretentious,
I have smiled for my own purposes,
the busy, sexy capitalist;
I made up for my days of impotence.
To be
is what’s hard.
When I spoke they only looked at my lips.

If I take a break will that
make me irresponsible?
If I am vulnerable
will they walk all over me?
If things went worse for me
would you all love me more?

An extravagant knife is the project for identity,
a mechanical nightingale in the evening.
So much souvenir will be the death of Notre Dame.
Where were you when I needed you?

C
Hanayo understands me. I don’t know
if perhaps I would be better understood in Japan.
The weak fish the current will carry it to a safe place.
The strong fish will be alone in the mutliplying force.
The easy thing
is not being.

I would not have promised so much
for fear of making you scorn me,
I would not have been so self-destructive,
I would not have done without necessities,
I would not have denied my own business.
If I am pretty will I have
less chance of being alone?

D
I didn’t want to do more than draw an amulet
but when I spoke they only looked at my lips.

Ask the lilies, the screens, the thermal papers,
Ask the others who the devil it is that was me.
I ran the risk of losing myself- me, which is all I had-
shy little pale girl in a blue uniform.

Would success turn our house into a failure?

The privilege of misery is to have its own place.
Since I have no work I am off to Las Vegas.
The volume of all my figures falls upon the spores I tend towards.

I swear to you I would not have submitted so much
for fear of not being up to that level.
If I don’t want does that mean I don’t want?

The weak fish the current will take it to a safe place
The strong fish will be alone in the multiplying force.
Merciful is the prize. I want to be sick.
Where were you when I needed you?

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This poem comes from a collection by Yolanda Castaño called Profundidade de Campo (Depth of Field) (Espiral Maior, 2007). What do you see in the cover image? The collection explores the project for identity. The photograph, also by Yolanda Castaño, is a brilliant depiction of what is going on in the poems themselves as she vacillates between weakness and strength, health and sickness, success and failure: same person different image.

It is a poem about being a poet, specifically about being a woman poet. She obsesses about being understood, about people watching her lips but not understanding what she is saying. She worries about submitting too much of her work and even about the merciful prize, reminding us that this collection one the XV Esiral Maior prize for poetry. Hanayo understands her, she says. If you want to understand what that might mean look at Hanayo’s website: http://www.hanayo.com.

Having spent some time reading blogs and internet effusions I can relate to the idea that a serious illness could represent a writer’s career break or the anxiety over taking a break, appearing weak, wanting to be loved. “Would success turn our house into a failure?” suggests that there are sacrifices to writing.

At the same time as I read these poems I am reading Teresa Moure who is educating me in a whole different way of reading. More of that later. For the moment I hope you enjoy this poem.

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