Women, Poetry, New Nicaraguan Culture
At least two phenomena distinguish the Nicaraguan revolution: massive Christian participation and the importance attributed to the cultural dimension.
With this diagnosis, Guilio Girardi began his perceptive analysis Fe en la Revolución—Revolución en la Cultura in 1983.
envío has frequently written about the active participation of Christians in the New Nicaragua, and even the preamble to Nicaragua's new Constitution recognizes those "who, moved by their faith in God, have committed and dedicated themselves to the struggle for the liberation of the oppressed."
In this article, envío makes its first leap into the cultural dimension. Without that all-encompassing dimension, little of the creative effort of Nicaragua's people to move through the crisis of war and the anguish of a battered economy to reach peace with independence could be understood.
A tree in the forestSong, dance, crafts, primitive painting, fashionable dress, film documentaries, wall murals, oratory, posters, popular journalism, theater, religious festivals, cartoons, narrative, photography, tourist architecture, gardening and historical, political and sociological essays.... In each of these fields paths have been opened and heretofore unknown possibilities have been explored to affirm "a new person and new society."
"The cultured," clinging to old ideas as if "classic" were only valuable for being archaic, are inclined to condemn what has been done in Nicaragua in these nine years of youthful revolution. But "Art As Heresy"—the title of an essay with which Comandante Tomas Borge summoned poets and their rifles in 1981—is the challenge taken up in the search for identity and the affirmation of values that through their symbols, myths and rituals call both the knowledgeable and the ignorant to the mutual creation of a revolutionary culture.
Friends and detractors alike recognize that, among all the fertile fields, Nicaragua has made poetry the privileged expression of cultural creativity—the legacy of Rubén Darío.
The name Ernesto Cardenal is perhaps the most universally known: heir of the immediate heirs of Darío and undeniable pioneer of all those who, after him and with him, made the revolution and today sing its new hope with poetry.
In between Rubén Darío and Ernesto Cardenal have come legions of poets, some known only nationally and sons who have been recognized in international circles. The best-known poet of the early "Vanguard" Movement was and is Jose Coronel Urtecho. Then came "the generation of the 40s," poets—among them Ernesto himself, who survived the early days of the Somoza dictatorship and connected up with the revolution. The generations of the 50s, 60s and 70s, overcoming differences of age, sex, educational level and political affiliation, multiplied the columns of cultural supplements, hiding their best behind pseudonyms or nicknames to break the silence within Somocismo—their names too many to list here.
With them, the guerrillas "put flowers in the barrel of their rifles" and, like Ricardo Morales Áviles, sang from the mountains, when even to dream was forbidden. Some, it must be said, disowned the legacy, as Ernesto Cardenal wrote of Roberto Cuadra: "He was one of the most courageous and promising poets of his generation, but it seems he renounced poetry when he also renounced his independence." Others made even their death at the hands of the National Guard part of the poem to life being written in their young words from Solentiname, the island where the "fishermen-farmers-poets-fighters" initiated budding poets of eleven, seven—even five—years old with their example. After the triumph, that peasant school was reborn in the poetry workshops that multiplied in grassroots neighborhoods, towns, even police stations all over Nicaragua.
In that forest of the bold and living word, 1970 stands out as a symbol of how those who are sown are reborn in their brothers and sisters: on January 15 of that year, the 20-year-old poet Leonel Rugama, synthesis of Christian participation and nascent revolutionary culture, writer of "The Earth Is a Satellite of the Moon," was finally gunned down in a Managua house. As he fell, he shouted at the National Guard, which he had fought off single-handedly, "¡que se rinda tu madre!" (literally, may your mother surrender!; in popular culture, a defiant and blasphemous oath). Weeks later, Gioconda Belli burst onto the literary stage with her poem "And God Made Me Woman."
It is to her works* that we dedicate this article. A conscious choice, undervaluing no one, for being an example of what the cultural dimension signifies in Nicaragua—the defiant hope of this struggle and this people who, neither born nor completed on July 19, 1979, made of that date the lighting up of all that was dreamed before and afterward.
*Translations by Steven F. White, for From Eve's Rib, a book of Gioconda Belli's selected poems, to be published in the United States by Curbstone Press, 321 Jackson St. Willimantic, CT 06226.
To rebel and to reveal oneself; rebellion and revelation always go together, as José Coronel Urtrecho intuitively and poetically underscored when presenting Gioconda Belli’s book of poetry, Sobre la Grama (On the Grass), in February 1974.
Revelation without adjectives. Without the religious—although, yes, instinctive—connotation of divine revelation. Without the commercialization of yearly revelations in film festivals or the Latin American fiction boom of the 1960s. Revelation with the abruptness of one who tears away the veils and shows her nakedness like before that first couple invented the fig leaf.
I Bless My Sex, sings her first poem, "And God Made Me Woman."
Yearnings to be loved, affirmed, out not possessed: "I'm your gazelle that can't be tamed...I'm the woman who loves you."
To be together side by side, to be compañeros, is the original dream, the root of admiration and tenderness, as Gioconda describes in her poem, "Those Who Bear Dreams":
“worlds of brothers and sisters, of men and women who called each other compañeros, who taught each other to read, consoled each other in times of death, sealed and cared for each other, loved and helped each other in the art of loving and in the defense of happiness.”
AND GOD MADE ME WOMAN
And God made me woman,
with long hair,
nose and a woman's mouth.
and soft hollows
and dug into me,
and made me a workshop for
God delicately wove my nerves,
the number of my hormones,
composed my blood
and injected me with it
so that it would irrigate
my entire body;
and so ideas were born,
instinct. Gently created
by hammer blows of human breath
and the drilling motion of love,
the thousand and one things that make
me a woman every day,
that make me proud when I get up
every morning and I bless my sex.
But the art of loving is not only admiration and tenderness; it is not expressed only in the political or the cerebral. It is full exposure—revelation—"don't think you can do it in one day or night."
The cleanest discovery, full of pleasure. Youthful confession that makes of nakedness the return to a paradise without fig leafs, feminine revelation.
With poems such as "Brief Lessons in Eroticism I," Gioconda unmasks the larval Manichaeism of Nicaragua's cultural values. The struggle against Manichaeism, heresy to those who saw in matter the God of all-powerful evil, was resolute and clear; but it left the fear of discovering oneself sexed, genital. Ever since Eve bit the apple and tempted Adam to try it, instinct was seen as bad. Without ignoring evil, Gioconda goes beyond it.
With her poems she discovers the first and only secret of "culture": the act of cultivating, the fruit of cultivation. Permanent prototype, the peasant who breaks the land, bared of rocks and thorns, scatters the seed and makes life germinate. In complete nudity, within and without, is revealed the murmur of the womb, the clamor of the heart, the promise of the land. In only six lines all is summarized, in "I Am":
I am your bed,
I am your gourd
into which you spill without loss
because I love your seed
and I keep it
BRIEF LESSONS IN EROTICISM I
To sail the entire length of a body is to circle the world
To navigate the rose of the winds without a compass
Islands gulfs peninsulas breakwaters against crashing waves
It isn't easy, though it is enjoyable
Don't think you can do it in one day or night of consoling the sheets
There are enough secrets in the pores to fill many moons
The body is an astral chart in a coded language
Find a star and perhaps you’ll begin
To change course when suddenly a hurricane or piercing scream
Makes you tremble in fear
A dip in the hand you didn't expect
Go over the entire length many times
Find the lake with the white water lilies
Caress the lily's center with your anchor
Plunge deep drown yourself stretch your limbs
Don't deny yourself the smell the salt the sugar
The heavy winds cumulonimbus-lungs
The brain's dense fog
Earthquake of legs
Sleeping tidal wave of kisses
Place yourself in the humus without fear of wearing out there's no hurry
Don't hope to reach the peak
Hold back from the door of paradise
Rock your fallen angel let your usurped sword of fire lose itself in her thick hair
Bite the apple
Possession without merchandise or mercantilism. Without prostitution. Without pornography. With the myth of Eros, who existed from the beginning. No fight with Agape. Total communion in total revelation.
More than one critic—of the type who think poetry should be exotic, refined—has written off the poetry of Nicaraguans as prosaic. The condemnation focuses often on Ernesto Cardenal. To reproduce, as he did, the stock market telex reported by Associated Press, or to reminisce about empty beer cans, cigarette stubs, rusted iron, shards of crockery, broken tubes, twisted wires, ticket stubs, the sawdust barkeepers sweep out at dawn, old tires, cracked and faded plastic is the height of vulgarity: it screams of vulgarity, of poverty. They forget—or perhaps they never knew—that this "cemetery of spent things" needed the boldness of the poet to say that it is "awaiting as we are the resurrection." The duty—for poetry means that—to be clear that the tomb full of bodies will end up empty because death is converted into life. They forget—or perhaps they never knew—that the stock market panic about good or bad harvests wanted their money god to do away with the times in which "harvests were brought in with canticles and corn liquor."
Nicaraguan poetry, the new culture, is written with prosaic things. Gioconda sings on sheets of paper—"white virgins"—her ode to women's "sickness" ("Menstruation"). A decade later a man himself, the popular singer from Masaya, Hernaldo Zúniga, encourages woman to live the blessing "Once a Month": a little rose star, seed, holy water, red roses from a garden within you—"Woman, I love you, woman, my love."
Pain as well
Exchange glances saliva impregnate yourself
Roll over imprint of sobs skin that slips away
Foot discovery at the end of the leg
Pursue it look for the secret of the passage the heel's shape
Arch of each step bays shaping arched stride
Listen to the shell of the ear
How the dampness moans
Earlobe approaching the lip sound of breathing
Pores that rise up to form tiny mountains
Shivery insurrection of skin caressed
Gentle bridge neck go down to the sea breast
The heart's tide whisper to her
Find the grotto of water
Cut through tierra del fuego good hope
Navigate the madness where the seas join
Sail over the algae arm yourself with coral howl moan
Emerge with the olive branch cry undermining all hidden tenderness
Let looks of astonishment go naked
Throw down the sextant from the heights of the eyelash
Arch your eyebrows open the nose's windows
Breathe in breathe out
Die a little
Sweetly slowly die
Come to death against the eye's center let the enjoyment go on
Turn the rudder spread the sails
Sail on turn toward Venus morning star
—the sea like a vast mercuric crystal—
sleep like a shipwrecked sailor.
As unabashedly enamored of Maternity and of the life planted inside ("Fetus") as she is of the love between man-man and woman-woman (only their own adjectives can describe them when they are complete), Gioconda Belli is unencumbered by so many first-world women's equation of freedom with zero population growth.
For that she kept the seed. Later, all the suffering will be pleasure and grateful memory—of "Birth":
I remember when my daughter was born.
I was all fear and pain
waiting, watching between my legs
for an emerging dream of nine months
with a face and sex.
When the child contemplates her doll, when the young girl recognizes with her fingers the metamorphosis of her body, when the grown woman reviews in the sad solitude of a Sunday the memories of sweaty battles, when she defies the blue veins and the age lines around her eyes, when in exile she is happy to look back at her own history with all its obstructions, when her shout joins the shouting of thousands upon thousands of women, a whole people, who are making war to end tyranny and empire—all these ages and situations toured by Gioconda through her 18 years as a poet—the woman-woman goes on weaving the sweetest ballads, odes to simple communion between mother and child, such as "Nursing":
I sit down on the rocker,
and when she first cries,
I start giving milk like a peaceful cow.
Revelation of the woman. Song to the new life. So simple that it seems new. Identity and heresy.
The woman who rebels
The poetry of Nicaragua—and that of Gioconda Belli is no exception—is a song of trees: guanacastes, cotton trees, almonds, oaks, ocotes, palms. Like the borders of every highway in the country. Walls perpetually green with chilamates accompany the geography of words. The waxy white and fragrant flower of the sacuanjoche tree competes with lowly pine buds—which filled the church Sandino was married in with incense—as the national symbol. But the trees most celebrated in song are the malinches. Malinche, flower of May, red with blood.
There is in that symbol a double ambiguity that makes its meanings multiple. La Malinche—Hernán Cortés' woman/interpreter, who witnessed at the side of the conqueror the torture of Cuauhtemoc and the fall of the gods of Tenochtitlán—is, in her original land (Mexico), synonymous with La Chingada, the raped woman. Traitor or victim? And in Nicaragua the old military man Mascafierro repeats what he heard from his grandmother: "Marriage is like the malinche tree: one month of flowers and eleven of vainas*." The vaina of Malinche: bearer of seeds and life/ synthesis of all that is constraints and complaints.
*The Spanish word vaina itself has multiple meanings, the three most common being seedpod, nuisance or bother, and sheath, symbolically seen as a constraint.
are growing inside me
giving me a new dimension.
(You've increased my volume: when I
walk down the stairs I can't see my
feet. I have to get into cars with
care and walk slowly down the streets.)
At night you're already awakening me
with your gentle kicking
against the doors of my most secret house.
We chat without words
and then I sing you a lullaby
with the flowing of my blood
and the beating of my heart.
You hear the birds before I do
and your life bubbles with joy
like a dog's little tail in the morning.
You're my tiny inhabitant,
the one I live with face to face
and I am your amniotic sack.
Minute humanity with no sex,
you're the one I sometimes imagine
as a woman,
other times as a man,
the one I love without seeing,
and know without knowing,
nourishing you and awaiting
the moment of our date.
Defiant in her revelation, Gioconda, not unrespectful of painful memories, nonetheless shouts, "I believe in the countless roots of my song."
And what are the unburiable memories, the red pain and anger, of a woman come of age in the throes of insurrection and revolution? It is the "infinite scream" that cannot fill the emptied and growing space of so many beloved names like "Comandante Marcos" (Eduardo Contreras, who fell in battle against Somoza):
The sound of machine gun fire slammed
the door in our faces.
The door of your life suddenly shut
inside the wood that huddles you to
sleep in the earth's womb.
Time is going by
and the emptied space of your name grows larger,
the loaded minutes of your skin,
of your heart's rhythmic song,
of everything swimming now in my brain
carrying you and bringing you closer like the ebb and flow
of a tide of blood,
where I see red from pain and anger
and I write, unable to write, this infinite scream
that's round and circular like your symbol,
where I can't envisage your end
and all I feel comes from the strength of the embrace,
the fleeing horses,
Masculine the tree, feminine the flower. Communion of each with the other, only when there is blood and life. But the seedpods must be broken open.
Kisses don't wither
like the flowers of the malinche tree,
hard shells of seeds don't grow over my arms;
I'm always flowering
with this internal rain,
like the green patios in May
and I laugh because I love the wind and the clouds
and the singing birds that pass overhead,
even though I'm entangled with memories,
covered with ivy like old walls,
I go on believing in the secret whisperings,
the strength of wild horses,
the winged message of gulls.
I believe in the countless roots of my song.
Rebellion is thus the slogan. Against sheathes, constraints, nuisances—all vainas.
The first of these, with admirable honesty, the admission of insecurity and vulnerability that inevitably accompanies the throwing off of constraints; for class origins and the memories of happy childhood are both constraints and securities. "Surround me with joy, for I was not born to be sad," is her entreaty.
The best weapon, laughter. "And I laugh because I love the wind and the clouds/and the singing birds that pass overhead/even though I'm tangled in memories" ("May"). Nothing can conspire against joy and a smile. Thanks to a friendly hand that sustains, raises and sifts out the desires for life, it is possible to combat other constraints, other vainas.
The machismo, in particular, of Cortés—maybe also that of Cuauhtemoc—that labels woman as cook and diaper washer and shows her off to friends as a hunting trophy: possessed. It is well known that behind the exhibition of their conquests, men like Don Juan, lady-killer of the romantic period, hides and is discovered the double fear that makes them "lesser" men—homosexuality and impotence.
In her poem "Conjunction," Gioconda invites the inheritors of Cortés and maybe of Cuauhtemoc to feel within them, as she feels within her "the speechless women/ the ones my fingers illuminate/the ones the night carries about time/ writing themselves off in the moon's breath"; and her "women-friends/ scaring what's old shaking off the shadows to illuminate their faces/ and letting themselves be seen it Last/ stripped of all convention."
Women of the centuries inhabit me;
Isadora dancing with her tunic
Virginia Woolf, her own room Sappho throwing herself from the rock;
Medea, Phaedra, Jane Eyre
women enormous monuments encircle me
they recite their poems sing dance win back their voice;
they say: I couldn't study Latin: I couldn't
write like Shakespeare;
no one took pity on my taste for music;
George Sand: I had to disguise myself as a man;
I wrote hidden behind the masculine name.
And beyond, Jane Austen placing the
words "Pride and Prejudice"
in a notebook in the common room of the parish
interrupted endlessly by the visitors.
Dress me in love,
for I am naked,
for I am as a city
with no inhabitants,
deafened by noise,
shivering from the cries of birds,
brittle March leaf.
Surround me with joy,
for I was not born to be sad
and sadness suits me no better
than someone else's clothes.
I want to catch fire again,
forget the salty taste of tears,
the lilies' emptied spaces,
the dead swallows on the balcony.
I want the grinning wind to invigorate me,
I want to feel the breaking wave,
sea against the cliffs of my childhood,
star in my hands,
eternal lantern on the road toward the mirror
where I can see myself again,
someone holding my hand,
my green grass and volcanoes,
my hair full of sparrows,
fingers bursting into butterflies,
the air tangled in my teeth,
returning to its order
of a universe inhabited by centaurs.
Dress me in love,
for I am naked.
To participate openly means also to recognize self, the vainas of male stereotypes as well as female ones. Ultimately rebellion to also liberate man from himself and give him a hand to be a man-man. Then to draw the future in the sand..."a world with no divisions."
But liberating men and women to be their fullest revealed selves cannot be accomplished without liberating society itself: Let's draw ourselves "like two hurricanes that hold hands and draw the world over again."
She invites men to listen to the women, silently, with respect; to enter the women and be entered by them—an act of participation ("Let's Draw"), more than of observation- Shhh, let's listen:
Let's listen to the women
their feet are dancing on the sand
let's listen to them
and be silent.
Over there one is dragging her sandals
looking at her damp fingers
she‘s coming from the factory
with a handkerchief tied around her head
the machines still echo in her ears
In the place she dreams
there are children crowding noisily
around the chairs and the tables
a big bundle of clothes to wash
the raw vegetables
the pots familiar with no other hands but hers.
The other closer woman. Yes. Young
and walking in her floral dress
like a balancing artist in her high shoes
with long fingers and red fingernails
she came from the office
tired of the telephone's incessant ringing
the coffee in cups of all sizes
In the place she dreams there's a man
waiting for a smile
and the bundle of clothes to wash
the raw vegetables
the pots familiar with no other hands but hers.
Over there. Yes. The big woman who
looks like a monument against the light
Her hands are rough and never have
known the sweet oil of almonds.
They resemble the earth. Clotted. Deep.
She spent the whole day bent over
below the sun planting the
busy taking care of the seeds' germination.
In the place she dreams there are
Children crying. Children whose
Profiles resemble earthen jugs.
Children who appear when the moon is full.
And never stop appearing as long as the man
keeps returning from the fields, with dirty clothes,
hungry, and eyes that say fire in the hearth,
kindling in the kitchen,
corn for tortillas.
All the nocturnal bees are coming
with their honey hidden.
These women wanted to be butterflies and spread their wings
Inside the gentle walls of their homes when the day is over.
here comes the man with his bundle of work on his back:
he leaves it at the door of the house
the raw vegetables aren’t waiting for him
the pots aren’t familiar with his hands
the children are asleep
She is the one who comes to the door
With a smile on her face
the woman, with her bundle of clothes,
the raw vegetables, the hearth,
and the eternal tired smile.
Let’s draw the future in the sand
and men and women drawing
a world with no divisions
and a blue world where the sky isn’t compartmentalized
where love might leave the beds and the parks
and enter the bedrooms, the mops, the bundles of clothes,
the raw vegetables, the pots, and the children.
Let’s draw a man and a woman engaged in conversation
accompanying each other with their
eyes beyond the door
A man and a woman happily walking on
the sidewalks on Sundays
as if they had been born together.
Let’s draw a single world where even
small things are important.
Let’s draw a home that’s the same size as the factory
the same size as the best, most valiant battle.
Let’s draw love with big letters;
and men and women loving each other
let’s draw them like the angular stone of a beautiful building.
Let’s draw the strength of a man and a woman
and their love like that of lions for their cubs
Let’s draw a star of light
a bright star on the man’s forehead
a bright star on the woman’s.
Let’s draw ourselves with the colors we love most
the color of peace
the color of tomorrow
The swaying color of sugarcane
the color of that house that we call my house
Let’s draw ourselves
like two hurricanes that hold hands
and draw the world over again.
Nicaragua, my little girl rapedThere's no other way, no alternative but the struggle, says Gioconda Belli's poem "Nicaragua Water Fire." No other way for these "men and women who dreamt not of the world's destruction, but of building the world of butterflies and nightingales."
They are not like the living dead happy sad people who people her poem, "New York":
Living dead happy sad faces
people who want to chat to communicate
to speak amongst each other—
the woman screaming in the street
Por Dios ayúdenme
For God's sake help me
passing by her no one stops
They go home and drink coffee
morning noon and night
coffee brought from countries like ours
small poor countries that export coffee
countries that drink watered down coffee
so that in New York we pass by stores
where the smell of coffee fills the street
Old fascinating witch
Rebellion also against the sin of waste and hunger. For this are needed the new bearers of dreams. But, as "Those Who Bear Dreams" testifies, accumulators of wealth fear bearers of dreams and launch their armies against them.
"They are dangerous read the message that rolled off the presses
They are dangerous said the presidents in their speeches
They are dangerous murmured the makers of war
Those who bear dreams knew their power
and therefore were not surprised.
Fingers on triggers/ great wars/ pain the size of mothers' eyes; here come the cold dead little bodies; big white hands want to kill us; flesh and blood of people who are sometimes right and sometimes make mistakes/ who try and try again. Lovers making love/ making children making bread making trenches/ making uniforms making letters for those making war"; set fire to the malinches ("Nicaragua Water Fire").
Thus Nicaragua is fire and water, volcano and lake:
where women shout the births
we pass the whole day throbbing
tum tum tam tam
veins of Indians repeat history:
We don't want children who are slaves
flowers rise out of coffins
no one dies in Nicaragua
The Indian knew and cried for his betrayed Malinche. And the woman who rebels with the indigenous tenderness of an incredible mother cries and caresses and summons to battle.
Christian influence without doubt. Biblical. More than once Hellenic. Promoted by literature that by being universal is ours: from Quixote to Rayuela; from Lope de Vega to Mark Twain, Oppenheim, Lewis Carroll, Benedetti.... But the taproot is that of the warrior, hunter of jaguars, before whose tomb, Indian, she accepts the legacy.
Rebellion on the gatepost of hopeHistorical and positivist literary criticism left to the contemporaneous critic the obligation of situating in his or her own context the author, the creation of the work, the meaning of the symbols. The historical-social context in which Gioconda Belli was born as a poet is not obscure; we assume it is known. At the end of this article, we have the advantage of the author's own words in an interview given in 1984 to Margaret Randall. If there is something autobiographical in her writings, let it be said by her. We want to comprehend the revolution here as revolutionary culture.
The psychoanalytic current, so laboriously created by Freud, offers an in-depth appreciation of not only the significance but the meaning of symbols. But the psychic, sensual-sexual connotation of forms like water, tower, seedpod, tree, hills, labyrinth, sword, trench, red, yellow, tomb, is so obvious that Gioconda herself employs them with no semi-consciousness whatever. For the rest, Sartre already unmasked the danger of this school: the artistic and symbolic work is much more than a review of our pathologies, if it is ever that. The culture that Gioconda revolutionizes with her verses glows with health.
Nonetheless it is worth taking up one of the most useful contributions of the process proposed by Freud: human maturity and health is achieved to the degree that one confronts, accepts and takes on who one is. Only thus is one's own identity affirmed and only based on it is one capable of pushing others to confront, accept and assume theirs. This is the meaning—beyond the significance—of the corporeal and sexual images of Gioconda’s poetry: with them she succeeds in saying "I am." Re-velation* is, then, a beautiful and concrete form of affirming her own identity and assuming the responsibility of defending it against all aggression. Of rebelling.
*In Spanish, revelar (to reveal) takes on a double meaning when hyphenated as above, since velar is to keep vigil, watch over.
As the genetic-structural school postulates, the artist is the highest possible consciousness of a social class. In the totality of relations generated by these same symbols of the artistic work, social relations—their tendencies toward change, their struggles, Utopias and expectant dreams—are both manifested and promoted. Marxologists like Lukacs and Goldman have rigorously applied this postulate and affirm what seems evident: the artist is at the center of social influence, both conditioned by and promoter of the social dynamic of his or her time.
If the revolution in Nicaragua has affirmed anything, it is the poet's involvement in the construction, to use a line from Gioconda's "Problems of Transition," "not only of new relations of production/but also of new relations of love."
The social reflection of the revolution and its promotion in culture, concretely in Gioconda Belli's works, is not found in any declaration of her principles, or even in her poems that narrate or sing the drama of struggle, victory or US aggression. It is quite natural that Gioconda, and so many other Nicaraguan poets, would dedicate a few pages to the history of the general strike, the triumphant entry into Managua on July 19, the literary crusade, the slogan. The value of such poems—perhaps not the best of Gioconda's collected works—is not in the political narration of what took place, but in the revelation and rebellion to which we are summoned by the occurrence of such events.
To go back to one of the questions at the beginning, then: Is Gioconda Belli's poetry mere eroticism? We believe it is much more than that: it is the dynamic of Nicaragua in search of a new human being and a new society, of new relations of love.
In both a personal and a metaphorical sense it is a revolt against the conqueror who, like any macho complicated by his impotencies and his regressions—not only sexual, but also political, economic and social—wants to impose what he always imposed: his command as emperor or king. He who violates laws and ignores the very courts that, in the consortium of nations he himself had supposedly created for just and human communion, basis of culture. Rape and usurpation of all law. As Nicaragua lived under the dictatorship, he wants to make it live with piranha boats in its waters and mines on its borders. Without anyone judging the rapist.
It is revolt against the devils of pardon that invite the victim to feel guilty and forgive, without daring to condemn the rapist, without struggling against the weapons of oppression that make the land barren and kill the peasant who works it. Against a false and deceptive ethic that—like the leaves printed in the afternoon, with their lies—makes a great fuss because a people shout for new life. Revolt against those who, willfully or by force, would leave Nicaragua uninhabited, without identity.
Against those who, in the name of revolutions already made, want to hinder the people from going to their roots, from those Indian, Hispanic, Christian, universal, even at times Greco-Latin roots—to reinvent themselves, become heterodox, previously unknown, never before born. Without accepting that any revolution faithful to its name could ever say "done now" like some product for export.
Against everyone and everything that stands in the way of the affirmation of their own identity; of the right to choose what they want and who they love, gaining sufficient power to establish the rules of their relations and friendships; of awareness of their weaknesses and their greatness; of the fraternity of all those who are humble and all people who make solidarity the expression of their tenderness; of the geography of lakes and volcanoes, of fire and water, like a triangle open to be looked at from all angles; of the certainty that at the birthing pains of this hour—their hour—will be the committed presence of those who gave their lives to be reborn again and again in the revolution.
NICARAGUA WATER FIRE
Indians' veins repeat history:
We don't want children who are slaves
flowers blossom from coffins
no one dies in Nicaragua
Nicaragua my love my raped little
girl picking herself up straightening her skirt
walking behind the murderer following him
up and down mountains
they won't cross our borders say the little birds
they won't cross our borders say the lovers making love
making children who make bread who make trenches
who make uniforms who write letters
for the mobilized troops
Nicaragua the woman I love Black Miskita Suma Rama
May pole in Laguna de Perlas
hurricane winds coming down from San Juan
they won't cross our borders and it rains on the little hats
tracking the scent of the beasts
never letting them rest following them kicking them
out of the country on their asses
uprooting them like weeds
never letting them strike
we want corn rice beans
seeds taking root in the land
where a peasant keeps his Land Reform title in a wooden box
the devils won't cross the border
announcing the news of the pardon
to the people who saw farms burn
and a neighbor murdered in front of his wife and children
Nicaragua my little girl
What are you, Nicaragua, in your culture? We started with this question. In these pages, we have tried to answer with what Gioconda herself "told us," in answer to her own question, "What Are You Nicaragua?"
Faced with the theoretical dilemma about whether the duty of the revolution in culture consists of making the masses "cultured," or of having the people engender their own culture, Nicaragua has given its answer. We simply leave testimony that the new culture is so valid that what the poet Gioconda Belli, as a prophet of life, defines in "Nicaragua Water Fire" as the source of the rage of the mummies will always be true:
the sounds of life against the mummies
speaking of death hoping to earn their passage back
on printed pages that come out in the afternoon with their lies
and their rage of an hysterical frustrated woman
envious of the girl who swaggers and struts her stuff
winks sells tamales sells paintings
joins the militia goes to the park invents love
sets the flowers of the malinche tree on fire
hides to confuse
comes out marching amidst the fixed bayonets
takes part in the circus and fairs and prays
and believes in life and in death
and prepares swords of fire
so that the only choice is
Symbol of everything, the woman who reveals herself and rebels on the gatepost of hope, of expectation. This is poetry: Duty. This is revolution: Heresy.
WHAT ARE YOU, NICARAGUA?
What are you—
a little triangle of earth
lost in the middle of the world?
What are you—
a flight of birds
What are you
a roar of rivers
bearing polished, shiny stones
leaving footprints of water in the mountains?
What are you—
A women’s breasts made of earth
Smooth, pointed and threatening?
What are you—
Singing of leaves in gigantic trees
Green, tangled and filled with doves?
What are you—
Pain and dust and screams in the afternoon
“screams like those of women giving birth”?
What are you—
Clenched fist and loaded gun?
What are you, Nicaragua
To cause me such pain?
Risking a Somersault—an Interview Gioconda Belli
There is history, autobiography, captured in an interview with Gioconda Belli in Margaret Randall’s Risking a Somersault in the Air—Conversations with Nicaraguan Writers, (Solidarity Publications, San Francisco, 1984). For our non-Nicaraguan readers, we offer glimpses of her times—her own rebellion and self-revelation. For reasons of time and space, we do so without Margaret Randall’s permission, but, we trust, with her generous approval.
“...I've had a very fortunate life. And I think my greatest fortune lies in having been able to be a part of the Sandinista National Liberation Front since 1970.... If that hadn't happened, I really can't imagine what my life would have become. Because I was born into a well-to-do family in Nicaraguan "high society." And that gave me a great many privileges. I studied in Europe and in the United States, where I specialized in advertising and journalism. When I was eighteen, I married "well." And I guess I really did marry "well" because I have two beautiful daughters from that union. But there came a time when I began feeling an intense contradiction between the life I was leading and what I saw going on around me. I noticed these contradictions first of all because my Christian upbringing made such great injustice intolerable to me, and secondly because my family were traditional Conservatives and anti-Somoza. And I grew up in an atmosphere of opposition to the regime. But I could never see a way out. 1 didn't know what I might do. All I knew was that I couldn't go on living the kind of life I was living.
“In 1969, I was lucky enough to meet a group of compañeros who began ...raising my consciousness little by little, and introducing me to a few simple tasks I might do. And then I made contact with Camilo [Ortega, brother of Nicaragua's president, later killed in the fighting] in 1970 and began collaborating with the FSLN. I was more frightened than anything else, to tell the truth! But what happened? That whole process of discovering a meaning to my life, meeting a different kind of person, also motivated my beginning to write. So the two came hand in hand, you might say. And I began to write. I wrote out of all the euphoria I felt at being alive, at being a woman, a mother—it was a deeply erotic poetry, in the broadest sense of that term. Not only in the sexual sense to which it's often limited. I was singing out of my pleasure at being alive, of feeling glad to be a woman and living in a time when things were happening which promised such important changes.
“I was also rebelling against the hypocrisy of society. Because at first I spoke very innocently of the things I was feeling, I saw nothing wrong with talking about my body or about such beautiful and daily things as making love. Men had been writing about those things for centuries. But it became scandalous that a well-bred girl... would use words like belly, breast, and so on. Or say she wanted to run naked through the hills... that a woman would dare speak in that way of her body, of her sensuality. When I began to feel the effects of the scandal and heard the commentaries being made, I realized I had encroached upon one of society's "sacred areas," where it was "immoral" to speak of physical love. But poverty, prostitution, and crime were not immoral. Those who were so scandalized by what I was writing felt quite at home with all that.
“I intuitively understood that what I was doing was rebelling. Coronel Urtecho once said that the woman who reveals herself rebels. And I kept it up, although it cost me the disapproval of many...even people close to me, in my own family. I had to put up with a sort of myth that was created about me, as if I were the only woman in the world who felt those things that all normal, healthy women feel.... That’s simply primitive hypocrisy, the product of a hypocritical and deformed society.
“Of course, that experience also helped me realize that rebellion was the way. And that the revolution was primary: the dream we had to make reality, the most urgent poem all Nicaraguans had to help write in order that we could begin building a more just society; in order to be able to create the material basis, the new relations of production, which will allow a new man and a new woman to come into being.
“So I threw myself wholeheartedly into political commitment, and I was lucky to be able to work with comrades who taught me so many things, who helped me grow. It was a difficult process for me, in many ways, because I had to break with a whole way of life, with a whole series of values which had been inculcated in me. I'm still breaking with them. But it was through that whole process of pain and joy that I found the way to my integral development as a human being, as a social being who can only change herself insofar as she actively participates in changing society.
“...Exile* dried me up as a poet. I went for a long time without writing anything because I needed my roots: the lakes, the volcanoes, the heat, the faces of the people, the smells, the clouds. When I returned to Nicaragua—you can imagine how marvelous, how fantastic it was to see the reality one had dreamed of for so long, for which so may people had given their lives, so many beloved friends—to know that those deaths, all that suffering had not been in vain.
*Exile was forced on Gioconda Belli, condemned in absentia by a court-martial, in 1975. Línea de fuego, which won the Casa de la Americas poetry prize and made her name outside the country, was written during her first four months of exile in Mexico.
“…[After the revolution] there was a process of poetic maturation… and also a process of internal revolution, which becomes more intense during peacetime—even during this relative peace—because it’s a search for the revolution on other levels, deeper levels. The revolutions from the inside out, the search for one’s authentic identity, for new human relations, which are difficult because one knows that it’s necessary to destroy much of the past, but we don’t really know what we’re going to replace it with. I’m talking about the more intimate level; the traditional man-woman relationships, for example.
“That whole process can really hurt. Because sometimes I think it’s easier to face an enemy army in combat than to confront the inheritance of concepts and prejudices we carry inside ourselves and to transform it. It's tremendously difficult for all of us. It produces enormous contradictions, and we don' t have any models at hand because it's something new that has to be created. So those are the thunderclaps, the thunder: those blows from our own inexperience. But then there's always the rainbow, the hope, the collective transformation that's taking place and that we are part of. The beautiful experiences, the volcanic energy of this people, which gives us new lessons every day.
“This people, of whom we are a part.
“...I think this revolution has made women grow in a direction for which quite possibly we are not yet prepared. ... I'm not going to speak about the problem of women in general, but about professional women, working women... who have gained a certain consciousness of themselves both as women and as social beings.... Here women have a level of social involvement won during the war. We have equal opportunities, and our opinions are taken into consideration. But this has made us live "like men." We have taken on a series of responsibilities which has given us a life that corresponds more to the pattern of life which has traditionally been the realm of men in our society.
“So this has left us with a great many unresolved aspects, still. The whole emotional, part. Because while, on the one hand, professional women are recognized and stimulated in their work—and I think there's a great deal of liberation in Nicaragua in this respect—on the emotional side, a great many old patterns are maintained. The woman who has won her place in society—in ways in which only men did previously—now lives like a man, but alone. Because what happens? The ordinary man sees her as an "equal" and therefore not as a woman. Because his idea of a woman is not yet that of "equal." A woman for most men here is still someone who is submissive, who stays home, who behaves in a completely traditional way. So a woman who has freed herself in this way may have excellent men friends, close relationships, compañeros who tell her their troubles, who confide in her, and who share many things with her, but never occurs to think of her as a possible companion. The minute that idea comes up, they begin to back off. They can't deal with it.
“...I've spoken to many of the compañeros about this problem. And they realize it's a problem, they understand that it's a manifestation of machismo, of their own insecurity. But they don't yet know how to deal with it, really. They don't yet know how to overcome their fear of a woman who is their "equal." Who is their equal, but a woman. So the revolution has given us many things, but on the plane of emotional relationships between men and women there are still unresolved problems. We women must remain in the vanguard around this.