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'Intranquila, poseedora': An Introduction to Venezuelan Avant-Garde Poetess María Calcaño

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Giovanna Montenegro
San Francisco State University

Grito Indomable

Cómo van a verme buena
si me truena
la vida en las venas.
¡Si toda canción
se me enreda como una llamarada!,
y vengo sin Dios
y sin miedo...

¡Si tengo sangre insubordinada
y no puedo mostrarme
dócil como una criada,
mientras tenga
un recuerdo de horizonte
un retazo de cielo
y una cresta de monte!

Ni tú ni el cielo
ni nada
podrán con mi grito indomable.

 

Indomitable Scream1

How will they see me as good
When life in my veins
Thunders
When every song
Tangles up like a sudden blaze
And I come without God
And without fear...

When I have insubordinate blood
And I can't pretend to be
Docile like a servant,
While I have
a memory of a horizon,
a remnant of sky,
and a crest of weeds!

Neither you nor the sky
Nothing
Will stand my indomitable scream.

 


 

Carne

Carne...,
difunde el aliento
de tu pecado más hermoso:
tú eres como un jardín.

Vacíate
en el que quiebra
el tapiz de oro de tus vellos.
Dócil
como las criaturas que esperan a Dios.

Prende
como rosas desnudas
las cien cabelleras desordenadas.

Carne ... ¡Carne mía!,
intensamente llama,
intranquila, poseedora
¡abre!
Tu eres como un jardín...

 

Flesh

Flesh...
spread the breath
of your most beautiful sin:
you are like a garden

Empty yourself
unto the one who breaks
the golden tapestry of your down.2
Docile
like the creatures that wait for God.

Light,
like nude roses,
the hundred heads of disheveled hair.

Flesh ... My flesh!
intensely ablaze
anxious, possessor:
Open Up!
you are like a garden...

 


 

Madrugada

De madrugada
la casa en sombra
me desespera,
y dejo el lecho
pesado y triste
y llego al patio
como una alondra.
Y es entonces
cuando la aurora
prende en mis hombros
su cabellera.

¡Me siento bella como ninguna!
con un aliento de primavera
sobre los labios
sobre los senos
mal escondidos
bajo la túnica.
¡Qué de belleza!
¡qué de frescura tiene mi cuerpo!
¡cuando la aurora llega y me toma
media desnuda
sobre la yerba!3

 

Dawn

At dawn
the house in shadows
makes me despair,
and I leave the bed—
heavy and sad
and come to the patio
like a skylark.
And it is then
when the daybreak
sets alight its head of hair
on my shoulders.

I feel beautiful like no other
with a breath of spring
on the lips
on the breasts
sparsely hidden
below my robe.
Such splendor!
Such freshness my body has!
When the dawn arrives
and takes me
half naked
upon the grass!

 


 

Explication

María Calcaño was born in the Venezuelan town of Maracaibo, which borders the oil-rich lake by the same name and is located in the north-western state of El Zulia. She lived on the lake's shores for most of her life. She only completed an elementary school education, was married off at the age of fourteen, and had six children by the time she was twenty-seven. She was first introduced to a circle of South American intellectuals by her friend Héctor Cuenca, ambassador of Venezuela, whom she visited in Ecuador and Peru. She married Héctor Araujo Ortega upon her return to Venezuela. Ortega was a journalist and novelist, and one of the principal members of the literary group "Seremos" [We will be] with which Calcaño was distantly associated. Calcaño not only wrote poetry but also published articles in Venezuelan newspapers, El Universal and Ahora.

Her published volumes of poetry include: Alas Fatales (1935), Canciones que oyeron mis últimas muñecas (1956), and Entre la luna y los hombres (published posthumously in 1961). Her name was hardly mentioned until Cósimo Mandrillo prepared her first anthology, Obras Completas, in 1983. She is now revered for her absolute embrace of eroticism and her use of the Avant Garde. Interest in Calcaño's work has grown in Venezuela and she is anthologized in works such as Antologia de la poesia Venezolana and El hilo de la voz: antología crítica de escritoras venezolanas del siglo xx; however, none of her works have been translated into English. I here introduce her work to readers of English in the hopes that her raw eroticism and anguish manifest themselves as they do in the original Spanish. Calcaño's voice is one that is unusual for a Venezuelan woman of her time, especially one writing about feminine insubordination and desire under Gomez's dictatorship.

The period of the 1920s represented a very important time in the history of the nations of Latin America. While many other countries were undergoing the furor of democratization and modernization, Venezuela was experiencing its own very peculiar form of development. The roaring twenties in Venezuela were cast over by the long dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gómez (1908-1935). Calcaño's "Grito indomable" was most likely written in the early 1930s and published in her first volume, Alas Fatales, the same year of Gómez's death. I find that the dates have some importance. On the eve of Gomez's death, a veil of conservatism was lifted and a new epoch, bearing Calcaño's modernist "Indomitable Scream," was born. That she wrote these early poems while Goméz ruled is highly unusual and fortunate for her readers. No other woman at the time wrote in the same raw, sexual manner as Calcaño.

"Grito indomable" is a wonderful example of the unleashing of the poetess's voice. In its seventeen verses split into three stanzas, Calcaño conveys the image of a woman (shown by the feminine adjective buena or good) that is ready to let loose her passion, desire, and anger through her scream. I see the subject and the poetess as having a unified goal, that of releasing the feminine voice. It is a voice that has been quiet too long and will no longer speak but scream. The poetess, through her words, releases the subject's scream. The narrator's "insubordinate blood" pumps "through the veins" like thunder. Unlike most Catholic women inhabiting Maracaibo in the twenties and thirties at the time, she comes unbelieving, "without God and without fear."

The poetess uses images of nature—the horizon, the sky, the grass, and blood—to reveal the natural sources she uses to gather strength for her scream. As the female body's presence becomes more prevalent so does her voice. (Blood thunders in her veins and every song is tangled-up in a blaze). In fact, the poem's structure is similar to a voice rising in tone. The repetitive use of the "S" in the first stanza, (Si me truena, Si toda canción, Se me enreda, Sin miedo) along with the "V" (van, verme, buena, vida, venas, vengo) is the affirmation of her body's existence and visibility. It begins with a question: "Cómo van a verme" [how will they see me], that transforms into an exclamatory remark in the middle of the stanza "¡Si toda canción! [When every song] and then quiets down.

The second stanza explodes in a sudden outburst of "insubordinate blood" and unwillingness to be docile. The third and final stanza is the last reminder or threat of any attempt to stop the subject's scream. It is characterized by the abundance of "N" (Ni tú, ni el cielo, ni nada, podrán con mi grito indomable). The denial of the individual (tú), the immense (the sky or God) and everything (nothing-nada) is confronted as the poetess finishes her poetic mission—to stand alone and scream. Similar themes are explored in the poems "Madrugada" and "Carne." "Madrugada" takes the metaphor of dawn and spring to show the sexual awakening of a woman who screams with joy at being taken down onto the grass by the dawn: "Such freshness my body has! / When the dawn arrives / and takes me / half naked / upon the grass!" Likewise, "Carne" evokes the most beautiful sin, that of being enveloped in warm flesh, and uses it to compare the object of her desire to a blooming garden. Calcaño's poetic voice is at times as loud as her "Indomitable Scream" and at times barely more audible than a whisper. However, it is the voice of a woman who will not be silenced. Calcaño's words penetrate and cause physical reactions with their pained and urgent desire.

Notes

1 I have decided to translate the conditional "si" to the temporal "when" and not the conditional "if." "When" describes the time or at what point things happen. The use of "when" better captures the urgency of the "grito" or scream in a manner that the hypothetical "if" does not. The "Grito Indomable" is a scream ready to burst from the poet's throat and "when" conveys a sense of pressing importance that would be lost in translating "si" to "if."
2 The original vellos refers to fine body hair.
3 "Grito indomable," "Carne," and "Madrugada." First printed in Alas Fatales Santiago de Chile: Edit. Nascimiento, 1935. Reprinted in El hilo de la voz: antología crítica de escritoras venezolanas del siglo xx. Eds. Yolanda Pantin and Ana Teresa Torres. Caracas: Fundación Polar, 2003.

Works Cited

Lucca Arráiz, Rafael. Antología de la poesía venezolana. Vol. 1. Caracas,
        Editorial Panapo, 1997. 345-346.

Calcaño, Maria. Alas fatales. Santiago de Chile: Edit. Nascimiento, 1935.

---. Canciones que oyeron mis últimas muñecas. Caracas: Cuadernos Literarios de
        la Asociación de Escritores Venezolanos, 1956.

---. Entre la luna y los hombres. Maracaibo: Ediciones Amigos, 1961.

Pantin, Yolanda and Ana Teresa Torres, eds. El hilo de la voz: antología crítica de
        escritoras venezolanas del siglo xx.
Caracas: Fundación Polar, 2003.

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