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[Poetic Attack] Nancy Morejon, the most widely translated woman poet of post-revolutionary Cuba

June 05, 2018 at 06:00 pm | Culture

Nduta Waweru

Nduta Waweru | Contributor

June 05, 2018 at 06:00 pm | Culture

Photo: Bocas Lit Fest

Born in Havana in 1944, Nancy Morejon is an Afro-Cuban poet whose work has been translated into various languages including English,  German, French, Portuguese, Gallego, Russian, Macedonian, among others.

She attended the University of Havana in 1966 to study Caribbean and French Literature, becoming the first Afro-Cuban woman to gain a BA in her country.   She started writing in 1962 when she was 18.

Her poetry is an exploration of Cuban identity, ethnicity, gender, history, and politics. She is seen as a proponent of integration of the Spanish and African cultures to make a new Cuban identity.

Her popular poem, Mujer Negra, (Black Woman), published in 1975, explores what it means to be a black Cuban woman. Of the poems she says:

[Mujer Negra] is almost the emblem of a history of displacement forged in this case by the condition of race. It is the epic vision of that displacement which was the forced transplant of millions of African slaves to American lands. I wrote it in a dreamlike state. Its wide distribution and success do not inhibit me from saying that I wrote it in a spontaneous manner with no forethought. When this poem was useful for antiracism movements, to elevate racial awareness, I felt satisfaction and joy. While writing the poem, I never thought it would have the reach it has nowadays.

Aside from writing, she is also a translator, translating from French and English to Spanish the works of notable authors such as Edouard Glissant, Jacques Roumain and Aimé Césaire, René Depestre.

She has also won a number of awards including, Critic’s Prize in 1982; Cuba’s National Prize for Literature in 2001: she became the first black woman to win the prize;  Golden Wreath of the Struga poetry evenings in 2006.

Here is Mujer Negra as translated by Kathleen Weaver

 

I still smell the foam of the sea they made me cross.

The night, I can not remember it.

The ocean itself could not remember that.

But I can’t forget the first gull I made out in the distance.

High, the clouds, like innocent eyewitnesses.

Perhaps I haven’t forgotten my lost coast,

nor my ancestral language.

They left me here and here I’ve lived.

And, because I worked like an animal,

here I came to be born.

How many Mandinga epics did I look to for strength.

I rebelled.

His Worship bought me in a public square.

I embroidered His Worship’s coat and bore him a male child.

My son had no name.

And His Worship died at the hands of an impeccable Englishlord.

I walked.

This is the land where I suffered

mouth-in-the-dust and the lash.

I rode the length of all its rivers.

Under its sun I planted seeds, brought in the crops,

but never ate those harvests.

A slave barracks was my house,

built with stones that I hauled myself.

While I sang to the pure beat of native birds.

I rose up.

In this same land I touched the fresh blood

and decayed bones of many others,

brought to this land or not, the same as I.

I no longer dreamt of the road to Guinea.

Was it to Guinea?  Benin?

To Madagascar? Or Cape Verde?

I worked on and on.

I strengthened the foundations of my milllenary song and of my hope.

I left for the hills.

My real independence was the free slave fort

and I rode with the troops of Maceo.

Only a century later, together with my descendents,

from a blue mountain

I came down from the Sierra

to put an end to capital and ursurer,

to generals and to bourgeouis.

Now I exist: only today do we own, do we create.

Nothing is foreign to us.

The land is ours.

Ours the sea and sky,

the magic and vision.

Compañeros, here I see you dance

around the tree we are planting for communism.

Its prodigal wood resounds.

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