Now That I am a God…

On April 28th, one of Cuba’s outstanding women poets, among many, Fina Garcia Marruz, celebrated her 99th birthday. This writer was part of the cultural and literary circle of the Origenes magazine in the pre-revolutionary period and remained committed to the spirit and ideals of Jose Marti, making her home in Cuba after the 1959 Revolution. Along with producing many volumes of poetry, she was part of the editorial committee working on Marti’s Collected Works.

Life partner of poet and writer Cintio Vitier, she inhabited a rich and cosmopolitan cultural world. Fina Garcia Marruz has received numerous awards including the 1990 National Literature Prize, Cuba, Pablo Neruda Ibero-American Poetry Award in 2007 and the Reina Sofia Prize for Ibero-American Poetry in 2011. Additionally she has received the Federico Garcia Lorca Prize in 2011 and numerous distinctions and honours in her native Cuba.

I attempted a translation of two of her most deceptively simple poems, only to find they were not so! I was first introduced to her name and work in Josefina de Diego’s beautiful book of nostalgia and Cuban childhood, Grandfather’s Kingdom (Tarjama Press, 2012)/El Reino del Abuelo, Collection Sur, 2020.

Josefina Garcia-Marruz Badia, April 28, 1923, Havana

El Joven, Fina Garcia Marruz, Cuba

Ahora que soy un dios, dame la mano.
Vamos juntos. No me importa morir.
Perdamos una tarde, una mañana. Toda la vida.
Dialoguemos sobre cosas fútiles y bellas.
Oh, abrazarlo todo locamente¡ Vamos a ver el mar,
sin detenernos para nada a contemplarlo.
Vamos a ver el mar, con la nuca vuelta de espalda,
ignorándolo como él, cuando nos mira.
Mira como tengo los bolsillos vacíos!
Ahora que soy un dios, dame la mano.

The Young Man, (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji, 2022)

Now that I am a god, give me your hand.
Let’s go together. I don’t mind dying.
Let’s lose an afternoon, a morning. A lifetime.
Let’s talk about futile and beautiful things.
Oh, hug everything madly! Let’s see the sea,
without stopping at all to contemplate it.
Let’s go see the sea, with the nape of the neck
ignoring the sea like the sea does, when he looks at us.
Look how my pockets are empty!
Now that I am a god, give me your hand.

Fina Garcia-Marruz, Poet, Cuba

Al Despertar, Fina Garcia Marruz , Cuba

Al despertar

Al despertar
uno se vuelve
al que era
al que tiene
el nombre con que nos llaman,
al despertar
uno se vuelve
seguro,
sin pérdida,
al uno mismo
al uno solo
recordando
lo que olvidan
el tigre
la paloma
en su dulce despertar.
Upon Awakening, Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji, 2022
Upon awakening
one returns
to what one was
to what one has
the name by which they call us.
Upon awakening
one becomes 
confident,
without loss
of one's self
only one's self
remembering
what they've forgotten
the tiger
the dove
in their sweet awakening.
April Moon, 2022 Kaushalya Bannerji




To the Land of the Maroons! Commemorating Georgina Herrera

Dear all, it is with a heavy heart that I am letting you know Georgina Herrera has passed on yesterday. She was an inspiring and much beloved poet whose  glittering sparseness was a counterpoint to the Spanish classical flowery formalism of older Cuban writers. Her personal story centers  Afro-Cubanhood as the location, from where, and for whom, she wrote. 

Her experience of the formative years of the Cuban revolution was instrumental in her joining writers’ groups and writing as a profession. Her poems, unlike Nicolas Guillen’s work, do not try to forge a mestizaje or biracial identity as the foundation for Cuban nationhood. Perhaps because she came from a line of more working -class people than the lawyer’s son, Guillen. Herrera herself laboured as a domestic worker through her teens. It is through working for the entitled white cuban middle-class, that she began to have access to a literary and cultural world that drew her into its ambit. Within that circle, she brought a voice of defiance and fierce independence that makes her work still so relevant today.

Viscerally, she describes the reality of being Black in Cuba, where, unlike George Lamming’s work, her writing exists, not “in spite of” as Lamming would put it , but “because of“. It is precisely that centering of her reality that makes Georgina’s work so relevant to other Black women and women of colour. As a scriptwriter, poet and mentor to many others, especially in the Afro-descended community, Georgina Herrera’s legacy will live on the hearts of her readers and friends and family.
 Her motif acknowledges that self-definition is rooted in material lived freedom, a bitter truth harvested from her ancestors’ enslavement  in Cuba. Born, in 1936, to a Cuba where the formerly enslaved were still alive, Georgina Herrera, or Yoya, as she was known to her friends, was a remarkable presence whose poetry explored the experience of black women in a society highly uncomfortable with talking about raced gender and racism in open terms within their own history. 
She herself, rejected the pretences of mestizaje, for maroon-hood, (cimarronje) which she defiantly and repeatedly came back to in her writing and self-definition. In this way, her writing speaks to the universality of Black experience in the Caribbean, North, and South America as a result of brutal worlds built on trading in persons. But she celebrates the rehumanization -as Lamming himself does– of barren colonial landscapes of fear, deprivation, and demonization of Afro-peoples, by any means necessary– even poetry…I leave you with her own words, and join with Cubans and poetry lovers in wishing her a safe journey. Ashe.

Bridge, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Grand Eulogy for Myself- Georgina Herrera/trans. Kaushalya Bannerji

I am the fugitive

I am she who opened doors

Of the dwelling quarters and “headed for the hills”.

There are no traps into which I fall.

I throw stones, break heads.

I hear complaints and curses.

I laugh furiously

And in the nights

I drink the water of the mangroves,

because in them,

The moon shines, for me alone,

All the glory of her light.

A Little Somethin’ for Megan Markle?

I’ve not been able to watch the fall of the British Monarchy and the Republican Revolution as televised by Oprah. Just not happening! Every time I think of the British royal family, I am reminded of Sue Townsend’s classic, The Queen and I, a masterpiece of Republican humour. As you’ve guessed, I haven’t succumbed yet to the Crown!

Instead, I returned to the influences of Black culture in my own life. The poetry, music, and yes, real struggles, of the hoi-polloi! Struggles that are in flux , ebbing and flowing at particular historical moments, like these blood-stained times we live in. Bob Marley told us, “if you know your history, you won’t have to ask me, who the hell do you think I am?”. So it’s in that spirit I share what’s on my mind . A reaction to the current mainstream furor over the shock about racism in the British monarchy. If you want to check out an insider’s view of the British aristocracy, you can check out Jessica Mitford’s Hons and Rebels, an autobiography of opposing political views and dedication to fascism among the lords and ladies!

Without further ado, I want to share the poetry of Georgina Herrera , a contemporary poet living in Cuba. This writer assumes her Black identity both as humanity and as a weapon, forged in the resistance of rebellion to enslavement. Cuba experienced the end of slavery as late as 1886. I have complemented the words of Herrera with the contemporary music of Ibeyi, an AfroCuban/ French duet of sisters, daughters of the renowned Cuban percussionist Anga Diaz. And to these I have combined my paintings inspired by these songs, poems and struggles. I hope you enjoy thinking about the multifaceted nature of women’s contribution to history, in this Women’s month!

Oral Portrait of Victoria by Georgina Herrera, Cuba

(Translation by Kaushalya Bannerji)

What a great-grandmother of mine, that Victoria.
Rebelling and head-down,
she passed her life.
They say I look like her.
That fifth of November
of 1843, Fermina, when all those
downward gazes were not
able to lower her spirits…

What love put that astuteness in her brain,
that fury between her hands?
What memory
brought from that land where she was free
like light and thunder
gave strength to her arm?

Valid is the nostalgia that makes powerful
a woman’s hand so
that she can cut the head off her enemy.

Tell me, Fermina. Then what
did you miss most?
What happiness did you recover, when
you flew more than ran, over the green abysses of cane
where you were defiled?

A pity
there doesn’t exist a photo of her eyes
They would have shone so hard.

Obeisance, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Retrato oral de la Victoria

Qué bisabuela mía esa Victoria.
Cimarroneándose y en bocabajos
pasó la vida.
Dicen que me parezco a ella.  
El cinco de noviembre
de 1843, Fermina, cuando
todos los bocabajos fueron pocos
para tumbar su ánimo…
¿qué amor puso la astucia en su cerebro,
la furia entre sus manos? 
¿Qué recuerdo
traído desde su tierra en que era libre
como la luz y el trueno
dio la fuerza a su brazo? 
Válida es la nostalgia que hace poderosa
la mano de una mujer
hasta decapitar a su enemigo.
Diga, Fermina. ¿Entonces
qué echaba usted de menos?
¿Cuál fue la dicha recuperada, cuando
volaba más que corría por los verdes abismos de  las cañas,
dónde tuvo lugar su desventura?
Lástima
que no exista una foto de sus ojos. 
Habrán brillado tanto. 

Blue Moon, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021
Amazing Musical Sisters
River, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

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).

PRIMERA VEZ ANTE UN ESPEJO

(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
tenaces.
Llegan, entran, se quedan para
siempre.
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

Untitled

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

The Great Wave, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Poetry for the Peeps! AfroCuban Poetry in Translation

The following three poems are by the contemporary Afro-Cuban poet and scriptwriter, Georgina Herrera, who has graciously given permission to share and translate her work . Author of numerous collections of poetry and radio and television scripts. I have done the English translations you see below. I’ve included a biography from Wikipedia, to give you some idea of the achievements of this great poet, who reminds me faintly of Langston Hughes.

“Georgina Herrera was born in Jovellanos, the capital of Matanzas Province, Cuba. She began writing when she was nine years old, and when she was 16 her first poems were published, in such Havana periodicals as El País and Diario de la Tarde. As Miriam DeCosta-Willis has noted, “Many of her later poems capture the pain and loneliness of her growing-up years”, during which she endured poverty, an absent father and the death of her mother when she was 14.

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.”

Wikipedia, Georgina Herrera

Eruption, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Esa Manera de Morir

Amor le llaman
los que a su sombra grande se tendieron.
Yo le diría:
piedra marina, donde
mi corazón de peces fue golpeado,
tierra
tremendamente dura
que le negó humedad a mis raíces.
Creo que despidió mi estrella
y la hizo errante.

This Manner of Dying

Love they call
it, those who shelter in its great shade.
I would call it:
sea stone, where my heart of fish was battered,
earth
tremendously hard
that denied water to my roots.
I think it bade farewell to my star
and made her a wanderer.

Shooting Star, Kaushalya Bannerji 2021
Ocean Sunset, Kaushalya Bannerji

Elogio Grande Para Mi Misma

Yo soy la fugitiva
soy la que abrió las puertas
de la casa-vivienda y “cogió el monte”.
No hay trampas en las que caiga
Tiro piedras, rompo cabezas.
Oigo quejidos y maldiciones.
Río furiosamente
Y en las noches
bebo el agua de los curujeyes,
porque en ellos
puso la luna, para mí sola,
toda la gloria de su luz.

That Obscene Bird of Night/Insomnia (With Thanks to Jose Donoso), Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Grand Eulogy for Myself

I am the fugitive
I am she who opened doors
Of the dwelling quarters and “headed for the hills”.
There are no traps into which I fall.
I throw stones, break heads.
I hear complaints and curses.
I laugh furiously
And in the nights
I drink the water of the mangroves,
because in them,
The moon shines, for me alone,
All the glory of her light.

Autorretrato

Between, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Figura solitaria transitando
un camino inacabable
Sobre los hombros lleva
su mundo:
trinos,
sueños,
cocuyos
y tristezas.

Self Portrait

Solitary figure walking
an endless road.
On her shoulders, carries
her world:
trills,
dreams,
glow worms,
and sorrows.

Dome, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Water Finds its Own Level

I’ve decided to focus on 2 poems today, They are short and remind me in some ways of the poems of Langston Hughes. Their author is woman who I had the pleasure of hearing once, a member of UNEAC(National Union of Artists and Writers, Cuba), and an inspiration herself, to a younger generation of Afro-Cuban women poets. Below, Wikipedia gives a succinct account of her career as a writer:

Georgina Herrera was born in Jovellanos, the capital of Matanzas Province, Cuba. She began writing when she was nine years old, and when she was 16 her first poems were published, in such Havana periodicals as El País and Diario de la Tarde. As Miriam DeCosta-Willis has noted, “Many of her later poems capture the pain and loneliness of her growing-up years”, during which she endured poverty, an absent father and the death of her mother when she was 14.

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.

Wikipedia, Georgina Herrera

I’ve only read a couple of short poetry books by Georgina Herrera both in Spanish, and thought I would share 2 verses that I especially like. Her fame beyond Cuba has been limited until this century, when interest in Cuban Black culture and history has burgeoned in terms of literature, arts, and social sciences. If you are interested in more of her work you might check out the following bilingual collection below. In these current pieces, the English translations are my own.

Afrocubaweb, Georgina Herrera Cardenas

A bi-lingual Spanish/English collection of Herrera’s work, entitled Always Rebellious/Cimarroneando: Selected Poems (published by Cubanabooks, a US-based non-profit company specialising in Cuban women’s literature), won the 2016 International Latino Book Award for Best Bilingual Poetry Book. Herrera has said of the collection, whose title references maroons, Africans who escaped from enslavement in the Americas: “The inspiration for the book was my life experiences, it is a definition of me.”

Wikipedia.
Las Aguas Van Cogiendo Su Nivel

Mis orishas y mis negras viejas
no necesitan
que en un rincon les pongan alimentos
ni agua para la sed.
Lo que les quema la garganta
son ganas de justicia
visto asi,
 los he puesto a viajar
no en estos barcuchos, atenazados por traficantes.
El viaje ahora es al reves. 
Puse alas a mis palabras
y en las palabras estan ellos. 

Water Finds its Own Level (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji)

My orishas and my old black women
don’t need
a nook where they are given food
and water for thirst.
What burns their throats
are desires for justice.
Seeing them like this, 
I set them travelling
No, not on those big boats, in the grips of traffickers.
The journey now, is the reverse.
I have put wings on my words
And in my words, they are.
Water Finds its Own Level, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
GRANDE ES EL TIEMPO

Grande es el tiempo a transitar
como un camino
si de las penas partes, yendo
hacia la dicha.
Y llegas y te instalas, pero
no permaneces, vuelves, irremediable,
al primer sitio, cual si fuera
el de tu origen, donde
algo perdiste y buscas incansable
pero
no sabes qué.

Georgina Herrera, de Grande es el tiempo, La Habana, UNEAC, 1989

Great is the Time (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji)

Great is the time
We walk as though on a road
of sorrowing parts, going
toward happiness.
And you arrive and you stay, but
you don’t belong, you return, incurable,
to the first site, as if it were
that place of your origin,
where you lost something and you look tirelessly
but don’t know
for what.
Icarus, Kaushalya Bannerji, September 2020