From the archives: on two 'Lost' poems by Julia de Burgos.
While they did not yield more "lost poems," the celebrations in 2014 of the centennial of Julia de Burgos's birth elicited an outpouring of works by and about the seminal Puerto Rican poet. Exhibits, colloquia, workshops, poetry readings, and scholarly talks in honor of Burgos dotted the calendars of cultural institutes in Puerto Rico and on the U.S. mainland. The bibliography about Julia de Burgos was significantly enlarged with the publication of more than half a dozen new books of biography and criticism. (1) The centenary festivities also fomented the publication of some of Burgos's previously unavailable or hard-to-find writings: we now have a bilingual edition of Julia de Burgos' personal diary, which she wrote in April 1948 during her institutionalization at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City (Burgos 2015). We also have available for the first time in print the extensive correspondence of Julia de Burgos to her sister Consuelo, which spans a period of fourteen years (Burgos 2014a). And in Jack Agueros' papers, recently acquired and catalogued by Columbia University, we can access the copious files, notes and primary materials (including Julia de Burgos' FBI file) that Agueros gathered in preparation for his bilingual anthology. (2) Newly available texts and materials are not limited to archival materials and critical writings. In Puerto Rico, a new Julia de Burgos anthology with one hundred poems was released (Burgos 2014b), while, in Cuba, Casa de las Americas published a new edition of Burgos' poetry titled Obra poetica completa (Burgos 2013).
This wealth of new sources and scholarship would seem to bring us closer to a more complete understanding of Julia de Burgos and her oeuvre. Yet the wishful notion of completeness is precisely the idea Agueros questioned when he invoked the "myth" of Julia de Burgos and her missing poems. It is also an idea contested by some recent Burgos scholars, who criticize the possibility of reconstructing a coherent and complete "Julia," and who resist a single methodology or approach (whether feminist, nationalist, internationalist, etc.) with which to frame her biography and poetry. These non-essentializing views are particularly audible in the Fall 2014 special issue this journal dedicated to Julia de Burgos in commemoration of her centenary. The issue opened with an introductory essay, suggestively titled "Untendered Eyes," by the issue's guest editor, Lena Burgos-Lafuente, which stresses the untranslatable--that is, the unfixable--many "ojos/yoes" of Julia de Burgos (2014, 6). (3) The editor's elegant reflection on a poet whose corpus cannot be pinned down is characteristic of the overall thrust of the special issue, which is remarkable for its analysis of the profusion of Julias marshaled in her poetry.
The two hitherto "lost" poems I present here, "La novia del campo" and "Pequeno viaje a tu alma," contribute to this proliferation of Julias, whose biographical and poetic aggregations can never be complete. Escaping the attention of previous anthologists, the poems were published in a Spanish-language Christmas annual titled Aurora de Navidad, which was printed in New York towards the end of 1953--the year of Burgos' death. (4) Aurora de Navidad was overseen by Ramon Ruiz de Hoyos, the poet and managing editor of the New York Hispanic weekly Semanario Hispano, where Julia de Burgos first published her prized essay "Ser o no ser es la divisa" in 1945. (5) The Christmas annual featured monthly calendars for the new year, accompanied by poems, essays, and short stories. Writers ranged from well-known poets of the stature of Julia de Burgos, Luis Pales Matos, and Luis Llorens Torres, to less remembered figures in the diasporic community such as Poliana Carranza and Jose Davila Semprit. (6) Aurora de Navidad is an example of the thriving initiatives that shaped the diaspora's cultural development, while it also provides a trace of the many lost contributions of Julia de Burgos to the New York Puerto Rican community. In this vein, more than filling in the gaps of current "complete" editions of Burgos' poetry or helping us reconstruct a more thorough account of Burgos' biography, the two "lost poems" recovered, contextualized, reprinted and translated here aptly remind us that the incompleteness of the historical and poetic record are an integral part of any approach to Julia de Burgos' life and work.
La novia del campo
Julia de Burgos' prose poem "La novia del campo" appeared in the February section of Aurora de Navidad. The poem's use of prose, a rarity in Julia de Burgos' poetic corpus, and its theatrical qualities, including its use of dramatic speech, recall the short dramas Burgos wrote for the Puerto Rican children's radio program "Escuela del Aire" during 1936 and 1937. But the poem's title, themes and imagery also bear interesting resemblances to the poems that were part of her unpublished, lost manuscript Campo, of which only two poems survive: "Campo I" and "Campo II." It is possible that "La novia del campo" is part of this lost manuscript or is an early version in prose of a poem that would have belonged to this project. While "La novia del campo" is undated, Burgos' letters to her sister Consuelo help us chart her progress on the Campo manuscript. She began this project in Cuba in 1940. As early as October of that year, the poet expressed confidence in her ability to complete the manuscript in the coming months. (7) However, when she relocated to New York City in 1942, she professed herself still at work on the Campo poems. In June 1943, she affirmed to her sister that the book was done, although she would continue laboring on and revising the manuscript in the years to come. (8) At some point in the next decade or so, probably posthumously, the full manuscript was lost. Agueros, having translated "Campo I" and "Campo II," yearned for more; his unfulfilled "fondest wish," as he put it, was "to discover original poems and perhaps the manuscript of the book Julia refers to as Campo" (1997, xxiii).
Burgos' letters aid us in reading "La novia del campo" in relation to the two extant Campo poems. Rather than as a collection of poems, Burgos envisioned Campo as composed of about ten cantos that together would form one long poem. (9) Her correspondence confirms that "Campo I" was intended as the opening canto of the book. (10) Set in the early morning and describing a young country girl with "inocencia que [le] llena los parpados," "Campo I" is a paean to a countryside whose incendiary potential can transform innocent youth into revolutionary "hombres libertados" (Burgos 1997, 344). The vigorous optimism and rebellion of this poem are tempered by a more nostalgic tone in "Campo II," which continues to explore experiences of innocent childhood in the countryside. In "La novia del campo," the setting is remarkably similar to that of the other two poems: there is a countryside with a creek, gentle hills, cliffs, and lush local flora and fauna. But the young girl is now a "nina adulta," and her communion with the surrounding natural world has taken a threatening turn. She is separated from her childhood straw doll and her early dreams and is carried away from her familiar rural abode, "derrotada y confusa." Instead of the nascent possibilities suggested by a morning setting, in this poem, we are confronted with the endings signaled by sunset and engulfing night. The shouts of youthful rebellion of "Campo I" become here a mournful cry, an anguished whisper, and, finally, a deathlike silence. Given this temporal sequence, if "La novia del campo" were part of the Campo manuscript, it would have likely appeared at or near the end of Burgos' collection.
The theme of remembrance of a rural paradise lost in "La novia del campo," central to the Campo poems, raises many questions about Julia de Burgos' poetic dialogue with then dominant countryside tropes in Puerto Rican literature. Although rural imagery is recurrent throughout Burgos' poetic corpus, critics have generally stressed the bold ways in which the poet distinguished herself from the masculinist cultural imaginary proposed by the members of the Puerto Rican Generacion del 30, who celebrated the island's countryside and jibaro as the true and sole sources of national identity. From Juan Gelpi's groundbreaking 1995 essay "El sujeto nomada en la poesia de Julia de Burgos" to Vanessa Perez Rosario's important recent book Becoming Julia de Burgos (2014), which also explores the poet as a "nomadic subject," the inventive candor and expansive thrust of Julia de Burgos' poetry have been shown to subvert insular cultural confinements and parochial literary imaginaries. In this light, we can read Burgos' transformation of the traditionally male jibaro into a peasant girl as an expression of the omnipresent and at times subversive, gendered voice of her poetry.
And yet, "La novia del campo" and the two Campo poems also suggest continuities with the literary conventions of Puerto Rican jibarismo. Beginning with the exhortative first line of "Campo I" (and hence the opening of the manuscript)--"[??]Ese camino real abandonado!"--these poems represent the countryside of yore as a space of forsaken authenticity, as if rural paths were worthier roads not taken and now forever lost. The poems' nostalgic patina draws upon traditional visions of Puerto Rican life inland. In discussing the project early on with her sister, Julia de Burgos explained that the poems were based on recollections of their early country life. She also qualified the Campo manuscript as possibly her most "useful" collection, a rather mysterious word choice. (11) Why did the poet regard Campo in this utilitarian manner? And how did the nomadic Julia, drafting these poems from abroad, also see herself as Julia-jibara, spiritually anchored in a rural homeland? If found, the manuscript would serve to answer some of these questions while evoking many more.
Pequeno viaje a tu alma
The second "lost" poem, "Pequeno viaje a tu alma," provides an intimate snapshot of Julia de Burgos' emotional landscape towards the end of her life. Appearing in Aurora de Navidads December section, the poem is addressed to Minerva Munoz, the daughter of Olivo Munoz Arce, Burgos' last companion. (12) Although he has been described as an amateur writer who quit his craft when he met Julia, at the time they met, he had already published two volumes of short stories. These two collections coincidentally mirrored Burgos' own two printed poetry books--a synchronicity that did not escape her. (13) She met Munoz Arce in early 1948; shortly thereafter, in April 1948, she was hospitalized in New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, a physically and emotionally trying period documented in the journal she kept there. Surprisingly, there is no known correspondence between Julia de Burgos and her sister Consuelo from that year. "Pequeno viaje a tu alma," dated October 12, 1948, is thus one of the few pieces of writing we have from Burgos from that turbulent year.
Thematically, "Pequeno viaje a tu alma" is an addition to the subset of her poems that address thwarted maternal wishes. These include "Poema al hijo que no llega," "Poema al hijo no nacido," "Latigazos," and "Inquietud." Burgos' longing for motherhood and marriage has, for some critics, fit uncomfortably with her more explicitly feminist poetic voice, which forcefully challenges gendered expectations. It is possible, however, that even though Burgos' personal desire for a child was a recurrent theme in her writing, her understanding of the ideological valence of maternity evolved in significant ways across the years. If, as Vanessa Perez Rosario points out, in early nationalist speeches from the 1930s, Burgos embraced a rather traditional understanding of maternity as integral to the national role of women (2014, 32), a poem like "Pequeno viaje a tu alma" presents a more expansive conception of motherhood. Indeed, in asserting a non-biological maternal attachment towards a particular child, she also conjures "todos los ninos de la tierra." Consuelo Lee Tapia suggests this more ample understanding of the maternal in her recollection of a conversation with Burgos about the "concepto comercializado de la madre ... Hay muchas madres que nunca tuvieron hijos" (1977, 7). At all events, it is striking to read Burgos positioning herself in this poem as a beacon of maternal affection at a time in her life when many critics have solely thought of her as suffering and convalescent. While Julia de Burgos' last years are generally narrated with tragic pathos, "Pequeno viaje a tu alma" reminds us of the important affective bonds she also formed in New York.
The poem's emphasis on emotional ties is expressed by its conversational and interrogative construction. "Pequeno viaje a tu alma" is structured around two questions that commence and conclude the poem. The first question, in the opening quatrain--"mi alma / ha vibrado en silencio con la tuya. / [??]Me preguntas por que?"--allows the poet to establish the profound sense of communion between herself and Minerva that undergirds the poem, and that is mediated by their shared closeness to the child's father, Munoz Arce. Whereas in all the other poems by Burgos that focus on maternity, the longed-for offspring is implicitly male, here the recipient of maternal attachment is a girl, underlining the spiritual accord between these two females. The poem builds towards the second question in the final quatrain, which asks, "[??]Y por que esta locura de quererte?" Julia's response is the confession: "No ser madre es mi blanca desventura." This intimate disclosure further stresses her close identification with the girl. The flesh-and-blood Minerva cannot, of course, be disentangled from the mythological valence of her name, as the ancient goddess of the arts and poetry. Minerva is both daughter and muse, inducing Burgos' own birthing of the poem.
Ultimately, for subsequent generations of readers and critics, Julia de Burgos has herself become a Minerva-like figure. That is, while she was never a biological mother, she became a cultural muse and poetic "icon"--to borrow Perez Rosario's apt moniker--and engendered a lyrical tradition with innumerable offspring throughout Puerto Rico, its diaspora, and beyond. The newly discovered poems, "La novia del campo" and "Pequeno viaje a tu alma," offer yet another installment of Burgos' rich, if always destined to be incomplete, poetic legacy.
The Country Bride
By Julia de Burgos
And it happened ...
How? No one knows.
When? No one has determined the true time.
But the truth is she was descending, like unforeseen sylvan rain, toward the creek that kissed her every day.
"They take me! ... They take me! ..."
In the girl's voice was a cry of the hills ... and frightened bannaquits ... and anguished trumpet trees.
Where to? ... An echo was lost in space. The girl beheld the sky, still starless, and got lost, running through the air.
Light fell on a pile of rubble. But the shadows lingered in a short life.
Did the mountain withdraw? ... And the banks of fresh water? ... And the sun? ... And the hill? ... And the Job's-tears that witnessed her birth? ... All hid voluntarily.
She, the grown child, trembled in the shadows. She recalled ... recalled ... a shack, rundown yet inhabited by the soft affections of a sad family. A distant hammock where her spirit swayed with the stars ... some humble grass presided over by the morivivi, which taught her the secret of living and dying ...
The distance plunged and a cucubano, burning with nostalgia, wailed the mournful cry of the country bride.
The little village, a patch of happy hills and plains, also loved her. But the girl kept saying:
"They take me! ... They take me! ..."
The river stones bid her farewell, and the mountain was an indistinct murk, yearning for her.
Five days less a harrowing instant of doubt separated the innocent girl from the mountain, the stone, and the cliff. And from her sweet straw doll, clothed in her first dreams.
An echo sank on her wounded lips.
"They take me! ... They take me! ..."
They took her.
On her pilgrimage, she met many voices. Many voices repeated in her own voice.
"They take me! ..."
"They ta ...!"
"They ... take me!"
Hopeless echoes all!
Overcome and confused, the girl, kneeling at the cross of her soul, took pity even on the sun. Pillars of air rose. Flowers stretched to receive her. On earth her gesture elicited a loving kiss. And a faraway echo was lost forever. "They take me! ..."
There in the mirror upriver, a beloved mountain knelt to heed her silence.
Translated by J. Bret Maney
Short Trip to Your Soul For Minerva Munoz Still I haven't seen you, Flor, but my soul has sounded in silence with yours. You ask me why? You go in the image of he who gave life and form to your sculpture. From that poet father who in sleep hangs from you like the foam of some river that gulps down light, frolicking with love in your tenderness. Always you flit in his eyes like a lark made fresh of songs in flight. Your Hellenic name, Minerva, is the most intimate note of his muse. You came to me, a lily on his lips; from his wide eyed sweetness I learned your history, who you are today till the first cry from your crib. And why this madness of loving you? My white mishap is to be no one's mother; of all the children on this earth, I want to be, for you, the soothing breast. Julia de Burgos New York, October 12, 1948 Translated by J. Bret Maney
(1) See Vanessa Perez Rosario's Becoming Julia de Burgos (2014), a diaspora-centered analysis of Julia de Burgos's role as Latina icon; Nanette Portalatin Rivera's Julia de Burgos y la tradicion de poesia erotica femenina en Puerto Rico (2015) and Carmen Lucila Quiroga's Julia de Burgos (2014), both of which explore the construction of a female, feminist and/or erotic Puerto Rican poetic tradition stemming from Julia de Burgos' work; Yolanda Ricardo Garcell's Mas alla del tiempo (2016), which situates Burgos' life and poetry within a broader Caribbean and continental context; Alinaluz Santiago Torres' El lenguaje poetico en El mar y tu y otros poemas de Julia de Burgos (2014), a formalist study of Burgos' posthumous poetry collection El mar y tu\ Mayra Santos Febres' fictionalized biography of Burgos, "Yo misma fui mi ruta'--La maravillosa vida de Julia de Burgos (2014); and Jose Manuel Torres Santiago Julia de Burgos, poeta maldita (2014), which frames Burgos' life within the lens of the nineteenth-century French poete maudit tradition.
(2) Jack Agueros Papers; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
(3) Lena Burgos-Lafuente takes the phrase "untendered eyes" from Julia de Burgos' poem "The Sun in Welfare Island" (1953), one of only two poems Julia de Burgos wrote in English. Lena Burgos-Lafuente also develops this discerning analysis of the multiplicity of voices and subjectivities present within Julia de Burgos' writing in her introduction to Cartas a Consuelo (Burgos 2014a), titled appropriately "Yo, multiple
(4) The annual was preserved in the Jesus Colon Papers in the Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies See: Aurora de Navidad. 1954. Box 22, Folder 1. The Jesus Colon Papers, Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Centro de Estudios Puertorriquenos, Hunter College, CUNY. Courtesy Benigno Giboyeaux.
(5) Julia de Burgos' correspondence suggests she was regularly employed by Ruiz de Hoyos' Semanario Hispano when she penned "Ser o no ser es la divisa" as an editorial for said weekly. She also claims to have quit the job within a few months due to political differences with the editor. See letters dated 15 Oct. 1945 and 14 Dec. 1945 (Burgos 2014a, 200-202).
(6) Whereas the calendars and literature provide the substance of the publication, at eighty pages long, the bulk of the annual actually featured advertisements and holiday messages from cultural and political figures in the New York Hispanic community, as well as from Hispanic shopkeepers, members of the Hispanic professional class and other businesspeople catering to Spanish-speakers in the city. In this sense, it showcased the coming together of culture and commerce to affirm a collective Hispanic pride.
(7) See letter dated 28 Oct. 1940 (Burgos 2014a, 78). "Campo I" was published in New York's Spanish-language weekly Pueblos Hispanos in 1943, whereas "Campo II" was published in 1941 in the Puerto Rican magazine El dia estetico.
(8) In the letter dated 19 June 1943, she affirms that her Campo manuscript is finished (Burgos 2014a, 166). But in a letter dated 14 May 1945, she expresses her desire to move back to New York City from Washington D.C. in great measure to resume her poetic activity and, specifically, to labor on Campo (Burgos 2014a, 192).
(9) See letter dated 24 Mar. 1941 (Burgos 2014a, 107).
(10) See letter dated 8 Oct. 1940 (Burgos 2014a, 74).
(11) Original: "Ya veras nuestra vida campesina. Creo que sera mi libro mas util." See letter dated 8 Oct. 1940 (Burgos 2014a, 74).
(12) Among the private individuals who printed holiday messages to the Hispanic community in the annual Aurora de Navidad were Olivo Munoz Arce and his daughter Minerva.
(13) Rodriguez Pagan writes: "Segun lo expresa en el presente D. Olivo [Munoz Arce], el hacia su primera incursion en la literatura cuando conocio a Julia. Y fue tanto su asombro, respeto, y admiracion por su obra poetica que no se atrevio a escribir mas" (2000, 377). With respect to the synchronicity of their published work, Rodriguez Pagan cites a letter from Burgos to Munoz Arce, in which she lovingly invokes "la biblioteca companera de andanzas literarias y sentimentales, incluyendo mis dos libros, Poema en vente surcos and Cancon de la verdad sencilla y tus dos Moralejas del campo  and Cuentos y verdades " (2000, 377).
Agueros, Jack. 1997. Julia de Burgos: An Introduction. In Song of the Simple Truth: The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos. Compiled and Translated by Jack Agueros. ii-xl. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press.
Burgos, Julia de. 1997. Song of the Simple Truth: The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos. Compiled and Translated by Jack Agueros. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press.
--. 2013. Obra poetica completa. Introduction by Juan Nicolas Padron Barquin. La Habana: Fondo Editorial Casa de las Americas.
--. 2014a. Cartas a Consuelo. Introduction by Lena Burgos-Lafuente. San Juan: Folium.
--. 2014b. Y fui toda en mi: Antologia poetica en el centenario del natalicio de Julia de Burgos, ed. Judy Garcia Allende. Catano, PR: Ediciones SM.
--. 2015. El diario de Julia y otras verdades sencillas. Edited and Translated by Carmen D. Lucca. New York: Asociacion Pro-Cultura Hispanica-Puertorriquena / Lola Books.
Burgos-Lafuente, Lena. 2014. Untendered Eyes: Literary Politics of Julia de Burgos--Introduccion. CENTRO: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies 26(2): 4-25.
Gelpi, Juan G. 1995. El sujeto nomada en la poesia de Julia de Burgos. Nomada 2: 19-26.
Lee Tapia, Consuelo. 1997. Con un hombro menos. San Juan: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena. Perez Rosario, Vanessa. 2014. Becoming Julia de Burgos: The Making of a Puerto Rican Icon. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.
Portalatin Rivera, Nanette. 2015. Julia de Burgos y la tradicion de poesia erotica femenina en Puerto Rico. San Juan: Ediciones Callejon.
Quiroga, Carmen Lucila. 2014. Julia de Burgos: El desarrollo de la conciencia femenina en la expresion poetica. San Juan: Los Libros de la Iguana.
Ricardo Garcell, Yolanda. 2016. Mas alla del tiempo: Julia de Burgos. San Juan: Editorial Patria.
Rodriguez Pagan, Juan Antonio. 2000. Julia en blanco y negro. San Juan: Sociedad Historica de Puerto Rico.
Santiago Torres, Alinaluz. 2014. El lenguaje poetico en El mar y tu y otros poemas de Julia de Burgos. San Juan: Editorial Isla Negra.
Santos Febres, Mayra. 2014. "Yo misma fui mi ruta'--La maravillosa vida de Julia de Burgos. Carolina, PR: Municipio Autonomo de Carolina.
Torres Santiago, Jose Manuel. 2014. Julia de Burgos, poeta maldita. San Juan: Los Libros de la Iguana.
Cristina Perez Jimenez (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Assistant Professor of English at Manhattan College. She specializes in Caribbean and U.S. Latino/a literatures and cultures. Her current book project explores the emergence of a distinctive New York Latino cultural identity during the sociopolitical conjuncture of the 1930s and 1940s through appropriations of the era's transnational frameworks, including proletarian fraternalism, Pan-Americanism and anti-fascism.
J. Bret Maney (email@example.com) is an Assistant Professor of English at Lehman College, The City University of New York, where his areas of interest are American literature and culture, the practice and theory of translation, and the digital humanities. He is a past recipient of a grant from the PEN/Heim Translation Fund as well as several other translation awards. He translates from the French and Spanish.
Caption: Figure 1. Julia de Burgos. Courtesy Miriam Jimenez Roman. The Center for Puerto Rican Studies Library and Archives, Hunter College, CUNY.
Caption: From Aurora de Navidad, 1954.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Jimenez, Cristina Perez|
|Publication:||CENTRO: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2017|
|Previous Article:||Jesus y Concha Colon: a Puerto Rican story of love, tradition, migration and modernity in early 20th century New York.|
|Next Article:||Gender, homosexuality, the diasporic experience, and other key themes in Victor Fragosos theater.|