by Rowena Hill
Excerpted and edited by Terri Carrión from the original published introduction.


An anthology of women poets is in itself is a statement which, inevitably, contains a challenge. The challenge in this case is not aimed at the old outright discrimination against women, but at a less obvious and more persistent deafness toward them.
The sensitive awareness revealed in women's poetry is something that men, and the world that men have made, are still in this century, unable to allow into full recognition. Even the well-disposed men, the ones who are trying to listen to what women have to say, often seem not to really hear. And of course there are women who don't hear either. It is frustrating to work at refining a voice which will be muffled at the moment of reception.

I hope this collection, by bringing together many powerful voices, will help to break through the resistance. May there be strength in unity, however great the diversity it is composed of and may it penetrate the deafness of those who do not want to recognize truths alien to their preconceptions.

An important part of the background to women's writing in Venezuela is a sad history of relationships between men and women in the society in general. Starting with the conquistadores, men, first Spanish and then mestizo, fathered children on large numbers of native (and then mestizo) women, for whom they took no responsibility. These women survived however they could, often living with many different men in turn and having children by all of them. At the same time, the women of the upper classes were supposed to live as models of Christian virtue and modesty. In the battle that relationships became, men have traditionally fought to preserve their "freedom" to follow every whim, and women have fought to hold on to them and make them answerable.

This anthology is not a history of women's poetry in Venezuela. It is a selection of the poems that speak to this translator, in the hope that they will speak to others also.


Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva, the oldest writer in this anthology (she was born in 1886) is also one of the greatest poets Venezuela has known, although this was not recognised until many years after she started publishing in the '30s.  Enriqueta Arvelo lived most of her quiet life in Barinitas, a small town at the foot of the Andes and open to the great plains. She was aware of her isolation as a poet, and suffered it without anger; although she called herself "a bit of a savage" and refused to consider she had "a poetic career" {1}, she was fully aware of what she was achieving in her poetry, both in form and in ideas. Many of her poems reflect on her "voice".

María Calcaño, is a poet whose small - and uneven - body of work has only recently been taken into serious account. She was born in 1906 in the country near Maracaibo and had little formal education. She was in contact with literary circles, but her work was her own, spontaneous, outside the movements of the day. Her themes are mostly erotic - nakedness, passion and desire, the connection between body and landscape..

Luz Machado, born in 1916, is a prolific poet whose work achieved considerable recognition from the start of her career. She was born in Ciudad Bolívar, on the Orinoco river, and the vitality and multifariousness of the tropical landscape can be felt in the profusion of images in her earlier works. As an adult she settled in Caracas.  She is chiefly remembered for the collection LA CASA POR DENTRO (THE HOUSE INSIDE), written over a period of twenty years (and published in 1965), where, in plainer language, she meditates on domestic objects and obligations, raising them, by an acute effort of awareness, from banal hindrances to creativity to components of a poetic and intimate order.

Ana Enriqueta Terán was born in 1918 into a talented and original Andean family with strong literary interests. Her attachment to Spanish literature has often led her to use strict classical forms, especially sonnets; these, unfortunately are, at least for me, untranslatable.

She is above all a poet of "inspiration", or of yielding to the power of the word, to her a literal reality. It is not always possible for a reader to follow each step in the patterning of language in her poems, but the rich music never falters and the archetypal images ("telluric mythology, physically connected with racial mixing") perform the function of guides and constellate the poet's vision, in a sphere where sense and spirit are inseparable.

Ida Gramcko (1924-1994) was hailed in her youth as the "tenth muse", for the strong lyricism and depth of thought in her poems. A prolific writer, she wrote many plays as well as poems, prose poems and essays. The book of prose poems POEMAS DE UNA PSICOPATA (1965) is an admirable and moving account of a severe mental breakdown; but most of her work deals, in rich language and powerful rhythms, with an attempt to possess the universe through philosophical reflection and mystical participation.

Emira Rodríguez, born in 1929, must also be considered separately, not only for her seniority but also for the uniqueness of her work. MALENCUENTRO, PERO TENIA OTROS NOMBRES (ILLMET, BUT HE HAD OTHER NAMES) is an exploration, beyond reason and even sanity, of the writer's unconscious mind - of the feelings and meanings to be found in the lost worlds of childhood and of her Amerindian ancestors (the ancestors of many Venezuelans). It speaks from inside the mind, below it, in contact with earth and ghosts, in words, images, and rhythms which are necessarily strange and original and of great power. It was preceded by a book of lesser intensity, and followed by silence.

There is obviously no dividing line between more recent poets and the ones I have briefly introduced - the elder are precursors of the younger.


the poet is a very incomplete being, who needs an understanding of the world.

                                                                                                     — Cecilia Ortiz


I often stop writing because I don't know how to turn something into language.
That's where the consciousness of literature arises –
in order to evolve – to reach the deepest knowledge
– it is in language...

Then I read voraciously.
                                                                                            – Yolanda Pantin


a special way of feeling the absence of man –
Venezuelan men don't know how to appreciate woman's nature –
they don't understand that women are entering another age.

                                                                                           – María Clara Salas

I write as an exorcism, to get rid of what is harming me, what I don’t want to happen
– it’s not an affirmation[…] What harms me is what I name[…] 

                                                                                           – Maria Auxiliadora Alvarez

As writing is formulated, reality changes –there are changes in perception
according to the moment you are at in writing – you reorder yourself in a book

                                                                                            Edda Armas


Love is lack, difficulty... impossible…
…the suffering of love can be a way of knowledge.

                                                                                           – Maritza Jimenez


…There is no speech, logos or expression if there is no contact with the sphere of the nocturnal…{2}

                                                                                           –Hanni Ossott

I polish [language] so much,
that what is left in the end is the bone. {3}

                                                                                           – Elena Vera



Venezuelan literary criticism habitually connects writers with particular groups and movements, but most of these writers have not belonged to movements, and even in the case of those that have, it is their own literary personality that defines them.

Critics like to stress that most women's poetry deals with experience specific to women. If it is true it is not so in any superficial or selfish sense. "Women's experience" includes a great variety of themes, and writers intentionally go through and beyond the personal to social and universal significance.

One of these themes is the female body and its sensations, explored with total frankness.

Relationship to men (in the context it is hardly possible to call it "love") is another recurring subject.

Loneliness, of course, is not new in women's poetry (or poetry in general). Emily Dickinson calls "Loneliness - The Maker of the Soul"; and many of the poets in this collection would agree.
These contemporary writers mostly agree also that poetry is a form of relief from suffering - that it creates a more perfect world than the barren world of every day. But they are not escaping "reality" in the solitary space of the poem, they are approaching it from inside.

Women critics have objected to the notion of the Eternal Feminine being applied as a measure to women's writings. Where it has been used restrictively, they are obviously right, but it still makes sense to me to speak about what is going on in women's poetry in terms of the archetypes of the Goddess-Muse. The precept of Robert Graves, that woman as poet should speak for the Muse in the voice of her "old and wise" phase, {4} seems to be realized by many women writing today. This is not a time for the voice of the innocent maiden or the fulfilled lover and mother, but the wise crone, with as much compassion as she can muster.

There is danger in taking on the powers of the crone, the dark phase of the moon. They easily overflow the poem and the mental control of the poet and engulf her life, making her not the weigher but the sacrifice. Women's writing in Venezuela has its share of mental breakdown, alcoholism and suicide; and of strident bitterness. But many writers have developed a powerful vision in the dark dimension.

The victim and the sacrificer are two poles of the same desire.

Not all women poets, of course, look chiefly to the shadows (and the darkest among them have moments of playfulness and humour). But, there can be no doubt that among contemporary Venezuelan women poets it is the dark side that predominates.

What they have to say —and they speak fully aware of their responsibility toward words and toward their readers—highlights absence, pain and destruction because they are real and only in facing them, recognizing them down to their deepest roots, can there be any hope of overcoming and transmuting them. If more people were capable of making their own ‘women’s awareness’ of this time, it could become, in the words of Hanni Ossott "a making night toward the attainment of another, different clarity". {5}

I am grateful to: Alicia Torres, whose idea this anthology was; Julio Miranda, Anna María Leoni, Alberto Arvelo Ramos, Juan Liscano, "la Negra" Maggi, who helped me with information and advice; and all the writers who discussed with me their work and poetry as life. To those that, for various reasons, I could not interview, my thanks also for their collaboration and the company of their words.

The translations are not "recreations". I have been as faithful as possible to the originals, while trying, at the same time, to make them readable as poems in English.



{1}  Italicised quotations, except where otherwise stated, are from conversations with R.H.
{2} Hanni Ossott, IMAGENES, VOCES Y VISIONES, Caracas:Academia Nacional de la Historia, 1987
{3}  Reflections for a Poetics, MS, library of the Instituto de Investigaciones Literarias, Universidad de Los Andes
{4}  Robert Graves, THE WHITE GODDESS, London: Faber, 1961


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