Poetry for the Peeps! Georgina Herrera, Cuba

This is a continuation of my previous blogs in which I present my translations of the AfroCuban poet Georgina Herrera. I find her an amazing poet whose economy of language and simple words belies the deep and complex essence of her feelings and poetry. She balances a righteous anger with a hope for wholeness, with regard to both self and community. Her early life was one of deprivation and sadness. But her talent for writing defined her adult years. All the translations are done by me, with the original copyright belonging to Georgina Herrera, who has kindly given me permission to translate them. Wikipedia says:

Aged 20, Herrera moved to Havana in 1956, and worked as a domestic; it was in the homes of her wealthy employers that she met writers, who encouraged her to publish. Early in the Cuban Revolution she became involved with the “Novación Literaria” movement, and began working as a scriptwriter at the Cuban Institute for Radio and Television. …Her first poetry collection, G.H. appeared in 1962, since when she has published several books, characteristically using themes that centre on gender, Afro-Cuban history, and the African legacy: Gentes y cosas (1974), Granos de sol y luna (1974), Grande es el tiempo (1989), Gustadas sensaciones (1996), Gritos (2004), África (2006), and Gatos y liebres or Libro de las conciliaciones (2010). Although best known as a poet, Herrera has also worked as a scriptwriter for radio, television and film. With Daisy Rubiera she has co-authored a memoir entitled Golpeando la memoria: Testimonio de una poeta cubana afrodescendiente (Ediciones Unión, 2005).


(Viendo una cabeza terracota de mil años, excavada en Ifé)

¿Dice alguien que no es
mi rostro este que veo?
¿Que no soy yo, ante el espejo
más limpio reconociéndome?
O…. ¿es que vuelvo a nacer?
Esta que miro
soy yo, mil años antes o más,
reclamo ese derecho.
Mi mano va
desde ese rostro al mío
que es uno solo y de las dos,
asciende, palpa
el mentón purísimo,
la espaciosa boca. Sí,
con mucho espacio, así que un solo beso
de ella basta
para pedir la bendición al viento,
la tierra, el fuego y la llovizna.
Ahora toca mi mano la nariz.
De un lado a otro va sobre ese rostro
de las dos. Esa nariz… mi dios; en la pradera
para mí sola, esa que llaman Universo,
en la que ando a mi albedrío,
atrapa olores.
Olor a fuego, a tempestad,
a tierra y agua juntos,
olor de amor, de vida inacabable
entra por ella; es
el total alimento de mi sangre.
Mi mano, al fin, a lo más alto
de ambos rostros llega:
los pómulos, la frente, baja
un poco nada más hasta los ojos
que yo miro y me ven.
Ojos tremendos
en los que apaga y aviva sus fuegos la tristeza.
Soy yo. Espejo o renacida.

de Gatos y liebres o libro de las conciliaciones, Ediciones Unión, La Habana
(1978, 1989, 1996, 2006, 2007)

First Time Before a Mirror

(on seeing a terracotta head, excavated in Ife)

Can anyone say that this 

is not my face I see?

That it is not I before the mirror

more clearly recognizing myself?

Or… is it that I have been born again?

She that I see

Is I, a thousand years before or later,

I reclaim this right.

My hand goes

from that face to mine

which is one, alone and then, to two

it travels up, touches 

the purest forehead,

the spacious mouth. Yes,

with much space, so much that only one kiss

of hers

is enough to ask blessings of the wind,

the earth, the fire, and the drizzle.

Now I touch my hand to my nose.

From one side to another over this face

of the two of us. This nose…my god; on that prairie

 of mine alone, that they call Universe,

where I wander at my whim,

trapping smells.

Scent of fire, of storm

of soil and water together,

scent of love, of endless life

enters my nose; it

is the total nourishment of my blood. 

My hand finally, touches the peaks of 

both faces:

cheeks, forehead, lowers a bit just to the eyes

that I see and that see me.

Tremendous eyes

in which sadness, puts out and revives, fires. 

I am. Mirror or reborn.

Mirror, Mirror, Kaushalya Bannerji 2019

Sobre el poeta, el amor, la poesía

Los poetas
Hacemos democracia con la intimidad.
Quitamos falsos techos,
abrimos las ventanas,
descorremos cerrojos fabulosos…
Surge así el poema,
nuestro modo
de hacer saber hasta qué punto hicimos grandes
a momentos, a seres tan pequeños.

On the poet, love, poetry

The poets
We make democracy with intimacy
We remove false roofs,
open windows
unscrew fabled bolts…
that’s how the poem surges into being,
our way
of knowing to what extent we made great,
for a moment, such small beings.

Sin Titulo

Estas palabras, aparentemente
suaves y tranquilas,
palabras transparentes, sí, pero
Llegan, entran, se quedan para
Son mi manera.
Así es que grito,
y sé que me hago oír

de Gatos y liebres o libro de las conciliaciones, Ediciones Unión, La Habana
(1978, 1989, 1996, 2006, 2007)

Dream, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021


These words, apparently
soft and calm
transparent words, yes, but
They arrive, they enter, they stay for
It’s my way.
That’s how I shout
And I know I have made myself heard.

The Great Wave, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

3 thoughts on “Poetry for the Peeps! Georgina Herrera, Cuba

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