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.
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.
Al Despertar, Fina Garcia Marruz , Cuba
uno se vuelve
al que era
al que tiene
el nombre con que nos llaman,
uno se vuelve
al uno mismo
al uno solo
lo que olvidan
en su dulce despertar.
Upon Awakening, Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji, 2022
to what one was
to what one has
the name by which they call us.
of one's self
only one's self
what they've forgotten
in their sweet awakening.
María Isabel Granda Larco (3 September 1920 – 8 March 1983), known as Chabuca Granda, was a Peruvian singer and composer. She was a trailblazer as a woman lyricist and composer, drawing on Peruvian Criollo music, as well as Afro-Peruvian rhythms, which were much devalued in high society of Lima at the time. It was a world which was plagued (and continues to be) by racism and classism toward Indigenous and Afro-descended peoples while highly dependent on their labour, particularly domestic labour provided by women workers who are often racialized as non-white. In this song, Chabuca shows her continual break with convention by centering the experiences of a working class woman and her labour. Enjoy some poetry put to music and sung by one of Peru’s most noted singers of the late 20th century!
Maria Lando by Chabuca Granda, Peru
La madrugada estalla como una estátua Como estátua de alas que se dispersan por la ciudad Y el mediodía cánta campana de agua Campana de agua de oro que nos prohibe la sóledad Y la noche levanta su copa larga Su larga copa larga, luna temprana por sobre el mar
Pero para María no hay madrugada Pero para María no hay mediodía Pero para María ninguna luna Alza su copa roja sobre las aguas…
María no tiene tiempo (María Landó) De alzar los ojos María de alzar los ojos (María Landó) Rotos de sueño María rotos de sueño (María Landó) De andar sufriendo María de andar sufriendo (María Landó) Sólo trabaja María sólo trabaja, sólotrabaja, sólo trabaja María sólo trabaja Y su trabajo es ajeno
Maria Lando, Chabuca Granda, Peru, Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji
Dawn breaks, exploding like a statue, like a statue of wings scattered All through the city And noon sings like a bell made of water A bell made of golden water that forbids loneliness And the night lifts its large goblet, its large goblet, large, an early moon over the sea
But for Maria there is no dawn But for Maria there is no midday But for Maria there is no moon raising its red goblet over the waters
Maria has no time to raise her eyes Maria ,to raise her eyes, broken by lack of sleep Maria, broken by lack of sleep ,from so much suffering Maria, from so much suffering, all she does is work
Maria just works and works, Maria only works, and her work is all for another.
It’s been ages since I have posted on the blog. Pandemic fatigue and the onset of winter and lock-downs have exacerbated SADness and made writing a difficult chore. While I have been doing some drawing, I haven’t mustered up the focus to write. This blog, pays homage to the work of two poets, February birthday boy, Bertolt Brecht (10 February 1898 – 14 August 1956), whose relevance and sardonic humour, make his poetry, equal to his fantastic play-writing skills. Reading Brecht brought me to my second author in today’s blog, Nuyorican Boricua poet, Pedro Pietri (March 21, 1944 – March 3, 2004). Famed for his humour, commitment to anti-colonial liberation and his great poetry full of macabre and witty insights, like Brecht, Pietri found great moments of poetry in the little things, and on the side of the little people.
Additionally, in honour of February as Black history month in North America, Pedro’s approach to writing as an Afro Puerto Rican was underscored by his solidarity with a number of colonized and immigrant groups in New York City where he spent much of his adult life. As both an Afro-descended and Spanish/English speaking writer, as a member of a reluctant occupying force conscripted as a U.S. veteran for an imperial war; he was able to interweave these aspects of his life in his frequent use of “Spanglish” and tongue in cheek references to cultural practices and icons from his various experiences.
Wounded by chemical exposure during the Viet Nam war, he suffered a great deal from his time in service, and it served to open his eyes to the plight of the poor and the colonized, people of colour, internationally. This internationalism while understanding the contradictions and ironies of his particular moment, link Pietri and Brecht across ages and political epochs and seminal wars of empire. While the trumpets of war sound off in the distance, this is an important time to remember and imagine that we are part of a great movement of people through-out time that believe another world is possible. In the meantime, skill, humour and critical thinking in all the arts– poetry is no exception– are necessary to survive the Neo-liberal bio-security, racism, war mongering, and financial finagling!
As poets and play writes, Brecht and Pietri deserve to share a virtual stage ! I have shared the art of some ground breaking visual artists to accompany these pieces.
More than fifty years ago, a young singer songwriter burst on to the exciting and boundary breaking music scene in Brazil, a country grappling with the legacy of cruelty, colonization, migration, and above all, enslavement. Burgeoning movements for racial and regional equality, along with student and feminist movements, workers, and small peasantry, found themselves clamouring for both more and just representation in Brazilian social, economic and political life. In response, the ruling oligarchs and their allies and offshoots in the media, banking, land-owning, and other sectors brought in a military junta whose tank-laden shadows lay heavily across the streets of Brazil for twenty long years. Those were years of active repression of progressive social movements and artists and intellectuals.
The period 1964-85 saw Brazil, Chile, and then Argentina, in the grips of repulsive comprador elites who could not hurry fast enough into the arms of the U.S. military-industrial complex. During this period, we may have heard of the many Chileans and Argentinian artists and musicians who were persecuted or even assassinated for their political views, such as Victor Jara, Mercedes Sosa, Quilapayun, Inti-Illimani, Fito Paez, etc. To this list, we must add some of the greatest proponents of the Brazilian Popular Music (MPB) group, loosely comprised of Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque de Holanda, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimiento, Gal Costa, Maria Bethania, and so many others. The fusion of African, Indigenous, U.S. and European influences found in the Tropicalia music scene, was matched by a desire to write lyrics which resonated with the public and youth of the time.
Censorship, military crackdowns on the left and student organizing, inattention to the needs of the poor and the landless, over-policing and under- provision of social services were the norm under the Generals. Meanwhile, artists and intellectuals were also challenging ideas about race, racism, and class and respectability, ideas of gender and sexuality; all of these were part of a dynamic and vibrant wave of Brazilian culture in the 1970s. The chanson traditions of France and Europe migrated across the Atlantic ocean as troubadours and folk-singers brought styles of music that melded over time to local sounds and rhythms, producing a musical syncretism that sets Brazilian music with its nasal vocals and complex rhythms into a distinctly recognizable sound of its own. Samba and Bossa Nova are only parts of a vast spectrum of Brazilian music comprised of rock, funk, jazz, forro, rap, and other influences. But they are hugely important because they gave rise to a new understanding of nation-state in the minds of Brazilians themselves– a nation comprised of ethnic plurality in which African elements were inescapably tied up with Brazilian popular expression and identity. This admission of biracial demographic composition or mestizaje in national identity forced a constant confrontation with the past, as Brazil was the last country in the Americas to forbid slavery, as late as 1888. This preoccupation with racialized and national identities characterized many countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, along with the great economic upheavals that reliance on mono-crop agriculture brought with the Great Depression, in the world economy. By the 1960s, racialized and classed stereotypes about afro-descended peoples and aboriginal nations, abounded, along with regionalist stereotypes. The young artists of the era hoped to dismantle and deconstruct the elitest image of Brazil as a land of playboys and trophy girls, drinking caipirinhas and swaying to the sunsets of Rio. Indeed, novelists like Jorge Amado had already begun articulating a new vision of working class and racialized Brazilians as the real heirs to the nation through their blood, sweat, and tears. Musicians were part of this rich contestation of the meaning of the “popular”, as they tried to portray a culture of the “people”, in opposition to the massification and commodification of shallow and superficial cultural values.
In 1971, poet, novelist, and singer-songwriter, Chico Buarque de Holanda (1944) wrote the song “Construction”, a homage to the every day construction workers and working class men of Brazil. This song’s own amazing construction is beautifully expressed in the original Portuguese and also in Spanish translation. Each line is repeated in the next verse but given a different last word. It’s a marvel of symmetry, compassion, and cadence in the original Portuguese, with a dramatic musicality that characterizes Chico Buarque’s songwriting. Even Cuba’s Silvio Rodriguez pays homage to his fellow musician and poet, in his beautiful song, Quien Fuera? or Who’s the One? The two songwriters share a love for surrealism and social justice that does not lend itself well to translation! I’ve tried to convey some of the meaning of this iconic song, on it’s fiftieth anniversary; when Brazil is again confronted with a choice between popular democracy (Lula) and dictatorship (Bolsonaro). I’ve shared a recent version by Chico and a version in Spanish by Pedro Aznar, that showcases the guitar’s rhythmic capacity.
Wikipedia tells us that
“ (Chico) wrote and studied literature as a child and found music through the bossa nova compositions of Tom Jobim and João Gilberto. He performed as a singer and guitarist during the 1960s as well as writing a play that was deemed dangerous by the Brazilian military dictatorship of the time. Buarque, along with several Tropicalist and MPB musicians, was threatened by the Brazilian military government and eventually left Brazil for Italy in 1969. However, he came back to Brazil in 1970, and continued to record, perform, and write, though much of his material was suppressed by government censors. He released several more albums in the 1980s and published three novels in the 1990s and 2000s.
In 2019, Buarque was awarded the Camões Prize, the most important prize for literature in the Portuguese language.”
Construcao, Francisco Buarque de Holanda 1971
Amou daquela vez como se fosse a última
Beijou sua mulher como se fosse a última
E cada filho seu como se fosse o único
E atravessou a rua com seu passo tímido
Subiu a construção como se fosse máquina
Ergueu no patamar quatro paredes sólidas
Tijolo com tijolo num desenho mágico
Seus olhos embotados de cimento e lágrima
Sentou pra descansar como se fosse sábado
Comeu feijão com arroz como se fosse um príncipe
Bebeu e soluçou como se fosse um náufrago
Dançou e gargalhou como se ouvisse música
E tropeçou no céu como se fosse um bêbado
E flutuou no ar como se fosse um pássaro
E se acabou no chão feito um pacote flácido
Agonizou no meio do passeio público
Morreu na contramão atrapalhando o tráfego
Amou daquela vez como se fosse o último
Beijou sua mulher como se fosse a única
E cada filho seu como se fosse o pródigo
E atravessou a rua com seu passo bêbado
Subiu a construção como se fosse sólido
Ergueu no patamar quatro paredes mágicas
Tijolo com tijolo num desenho lógico
Seus olhos embotados de cimento e tráfego
Sentou pra descansar como se fosse um príncipe
Comeu feijão com arroz como se fosse o máximo
Bebeu e soluçou como se fosse máquina
Dançou e gargalhou como se fosse o próximo
E tropeçou no céu como se ouvisse música
E flutuou no ar como se fosse sábado
E se acabou no chão feito um pacote tímido
Agonizou no meio do passeio náufrago
Morreu na contramão atrapalhando o público
Amou daquela vez como se fosse máquina
Beijou sua mulher como se fosse lógico
Ergueu no patamar quatro paredes flácidas
Sentou pra descansar como se fosse um pássaro
E flutuou no ar como se fosse um príncipe
E se acabou no chão feito um pacote bêbado
Morreu na contra-mão atrapalhando o sábado
Construction, Francisco Buarque de Holanda (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021)
He loved, that time, as though it were his last
He kissed his wife as though she were the ultimate
And each child of his, was like his only one.
He crossed the street with his timid gait
Climbed the construction site as if he were a machine
He built four solid walls on the landing
Brick by brick in a magical design
His eyes encrusted with cement and tears.
He sat down to rest like it was Saturday
He ate his beans and rice as if he were a prince
He drank and sobbed like one shipwrecked
He danced and laughed as if he heard music
He stumbled across the sky like a drunk
He floated in the air like a bird
He ended up on the ground like a limp package
He agonized in the middle of the public boulevard
He died against the grain, hindering traffic.
He loved that time as though it were the last time
He kissed his wife as if she were the only one
And each child of his, was a prodigal son.
He crossed the street with his drunken gait
He climbed the construction scaffolding as if it were solid
He built four magic walls on the landing
Brick by brick in a logical design
His eyes encrusted with cement and traffic.
He sat down like a prince to rest
He ate beans and rice as though it were the best
He drank and sobbed like a machine,
Danced and laughed like he was next
And stumbled across the sky as if he heard music
He floated in the air as if it were Saturday.
He ended up on the ground like a timid package
He agonized in the midst of a shipwrecked ride
He died against the grain, disturbing the public.
He loved, that time, like a machine
He kissed his wife as though it were logical
He built four flaccid walls on the landing
He sat down to rest like a bird,
And he floated in the air like a prince.
And he ended up on the ground like a drunken package
I’ve slowed down on my blog due to health and other very important circumstances. But I have not stopped… I have been, like so many of us in Canada, overwhelmed by the physical forensic evidence of a genocide so recent that it is actually on-going.
Kamloops Residential School, Cowessess First Nation Marieval Residential School, and other Residential schools have provided evidence of over 1300 deaths in the last two weeks. That is in addition to the approximately 4000 deaths recognized by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission had recommended the forensic examination of all residential schools for indigenous peoples, but that was denied by the federal government of Canada on the basis that a $1.5 million price tag at the time was “too high”.
This callous indifference characterizes the Canadian State’s approach to First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples when it is not engaged in the antics of the Indian Act or helping its corporate partners in resource extraction.
I fear there may be thousands more children found before this is over. And as an ally of colour or person in solidarity with indigenous nations in this settler country, I feel we need to use all our means of protest to say that this Canada we have built is rotten, from and to, the core. Supporting both treaty and unceded nations, we have to add our voices to the Landback movement. Taking our cues from the demands of Indigenous people, water, and earth protectors from various parts of the country shows us how interconnected abuse and genocide of people is to dispossession from their lands
I am sharing below the art and haiku I have created in homage to these living struggles on our current lands. Justice must not only be seen to be done, it must be done. And words like “reconciliation” are hysterically cynical in my humble opinion. Where are the words, “accountability”, “due process”, “law enforcement”, “justice”? Some of the perpetrators of abuse and worse, are still alive– protected by the Catholic Church and Canadian state.
Why are aboriginal peoples incarcerated and survivors of a social apartheid at inhuman rates, while those who squeeze their life blood out of them, get to run free? All of us who tread this soil, who weep at the dehumanization of children and entire peoples, who struggle for equality, respect and liberation in our own lives, must realize that all of that is meaningless without a fundamental shift in what it means to live on Indigenous land.
Home, weeps this land, fenced by greed disguised as civil- ization. Landback.
Home, they cry, you have taken the ground beneath. Give us back our souls.
Thousands of children home. Weeping parents shattered. Kkkanada fed blood.
Home, they wept, take us back. Hug these small bodies back to families, lands, names.
This week, I’ve been trying to get through the winter blues and the covid blahs by reading some humour. Over a hundred years ago, journalist and humorist Don Marquis created some of funniest free verse around. Wikipedia tells us:
Marquis’s best-known creation was Archy, a fictional cockroach (developed as a character during 1916) who had been a free-verse poet in a previous life, and who supposedly left poems on Marquis’s typewriter by jumping on the keys. Archy usually typed only lower-case letters, without punctuation, because he could not operate the shift key. His verses were a type of social satire, and were used by Marquis in his newspaper columns titled “archy and mehitabel”; mehitabel was an alley cat, occasional companion of archy and the subject of some of archy’s verses.
Archy and Mehitabel, Don Marquis 1916
this is the song of mehitabel of mehitabel the alley cat as i wrote you before boss mehitabel is a believer in the pythagorean theory of the transmigration of the soul and she claims that formerly her spirit was incarnated in the body of cleopatra that was a long time ago and one must not be surprised if mehitabel has forgotten some of her more regal manners
i have had my ups and downs but wotthehell wotthehell yesterday sceptres and crowns fried oysters and velvet gowns and today i herd with bums but wotthehell wotthehell i wake the world from sleep as i caper and sing and leap when i sing my wild free tune wotthehell wotthehell under the blear eyed moon i am pelted with cast off shoon but wotthehell wotthehell do you think that i would change my present freedom to range for a castle or moated grange
wotthehell wotthehell cage me and i d go frantic my life is so romantic capricious and corybantic and i m toujours gai toujours gai i know that i am bound for a journey down the sound in the midst of a refuse mound but wotthehell wotthehell oh i should worry and fret death and i will coquette there s a dance in the old dame yet toujours gai toujours gai i once was an innocent kit wotthehell wotthehell with a ribbon my neck to fit and bells tied onto it o wotthehell wotthehell but a maltese cat came by with a come hither look in his eye and a song that soared to the sky and wotthehell wotthehell
and i followed adown the street the pad of his rhythmical feet o permit me again to repeat wotthehell wotthehell my youth i shall never forget but there s nothing i really regret wotthehell wotthehell there s a dance in the old dame yet toujours gai toujours gai the things that i had not ought to i do because i ve gotto wotthehell wotthehell and i end with my favorite motto toujours gai toujours gai boss sometimes i think that our friend mehitabel is a trifle too gay
Today marks the shortest daylight in our hemisphere, and the arrival of winter’s official season. But as of tomorrow, the days will lengthen again imperceptibly, and for those of us who need the light, like morning glories or sunflowers, hope will gradually be born anew. Indigenous and pagan peoples celebrated and celebrate the energies and magic of this day when the darkness must be propitiated for the sun to rise again. I share a poem by Wendell Barry and some drawings I’ve been doing. I’ve added a musical interlude, Victor Jara’s haunting instrumental La Partida / The Departure. A gentle honouring of this moment in our earth’s revolution!
TO KNOW THE DARK BY WENDELL BERRY
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,