Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Slavery, Cimarronaje, and Poetic Refuge in Nancy Morejón1

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Slavery, Cimarronaje, and Poetic Refuge in Nancy Morejón1

Article excerpt

Del siglo dieciséis data mi pena y apenas lo sabía parque aquel ruiseñor siempre conta en mi pena.

-Nancy Morejón, "Mirar adentro"2

'Vamos a andar,' me dijo alguna vez, con su aliento amoroso, aquel esclavo.

-Nancy Morejón, "Mundos"3

Because Nancy Morejón is a Cuban poet still living in the island, and one who has explicitly associated her success as a poet, and indeed her access to publication, with the changes ushered in during the early years of the Cuban Revolution, many critics have been content to read her works in the fields of poetry and prose as unequivocally aligned with the revolutionary project. Caroline A. McKenzie writes, for example, that "Nancy Morejón's poetry is a revolutionary act" ("Language, Culture" 84). Others, such as William Luis, have associated this revolutionary voice with certain collections of poetry, and remarked on its absence in other works, namely Piedra pulida (1987) and Paisaje célebre (1993) ("The Politics of Aesthetics" 35). Miriam DeCosta-Willis enlists a similar categorical process, classifying publications as either "revolutionary," such as Parajes de una época (1979), Octubre imprescindible (1982), and Cuaderno de Granada (1984)), or "lyrical," as in Morejón's other major collections from 1962 to 1993 ("Introduction" 1-2). While both critics have made valuable contributions to our understanding of Morejon's poetic trajectory, 1 want to suggest a somewhat different way of reading her work, one that cuts across a poetics seemingly marked by disparate political postures or responses to cultural and racial politics in Cuba. My principal contention is that the themes of revolution and race in Morejon's work ultimately come into play in service to the poetic project, and not the other way around.4 This can be demonstrated, I believe, by paying close attention to how Morejon addresses the topic of slavery.

1. Revolution and the Poetic Impulse in Nancy Morejón

Undoubtedly, the period immediately following Fidel Castro's victorious arrival in Havana must be seen as a benchmark moment in the author's overall engagement with the contemporary Cuban and Caribbean condition, and several of her poems and essays enlist a triumphant tone to express the successes and hopes of the post-revolutionary moment, particularly her best-known poem "Mujer negra," (Looking Within 200-203). Morejón herself has insisted, "I couldn't explain my personal life nor my literary work without the Cuban Revolution, without this period of Cuban history. One could not explain the phenomenon called 'Nancy Morejón' without the transformations which occurred starting from 1959" (Abudu 38). As Luis has pointed out, though, situating Morejón's work exclusively in the context of the post-1959 moment is a mistake.5 The Revolution and revolutionary idea(l)s in Morejón's oeuvre should be considered within a broader temporal frame that stretches back into the history of the African diaspora in the Americas, back to the era of slavery. A close reading of a battery of poems that explicitly or implicitly highlight the experience of slavery, such as the frequently anthologized "Mujer negra" and "Amo a mi amo" ("I Love My Master"), as well as lesser-known works such as "Humus inmemorial," ("Humus Immemorial") and "Madrigal para cimarrones" ("Madrigal for Runaways"), provides us with an entire gallery of portraits of slaves, their masters, and the descendants of both,6 revealing an understanding of Cuban history in which the events of 1959 and after must be understood in relationship to a time frame at least as early as the mid-nineteenth century.7 This poetic exhibit dramatically re-frames colonial and contemporary history and recasts figures previously portrayed as marginal subjects-or objects-as key agents in that historical narrative.8

2. Facing the Black Woman

Morejón's most significant contribution to Cuban, Caribbean, Latin American, and African-American letters (broadly understood to include African diasporic expression throughout the Americas) has been to foreground the role of black women in the workings of local and diasporic history in various moments of the emancipatory process during and after slavery. …

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