Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Claribel Alegria: THE VOLCANO'S FLOWER

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Claribel Alegria: THE VOLCANO'S FLOWER

Article excerpt

Translated by Ruth Morales

One of the region's most fertile voices, this Nicaraguan-born poet captures the joy and struggles of the people of Central America

Claribel Alegria has a transparent face, just like her verses, clear and defined. Jose Coronel Urtecho, in his biography Lineas para un boceto de Claribel Alegria, remarked: "Her face, reflecting her entire person, is not only beautiful but untroubled and happy, wherever and whenever she appears, and at home when a visitor calls, never in any way contradicting the bold promise of her name. Claribel Alegria is not only her real name, rather than a pseudonym, but an anagram of the words clarity, beauty, and joy."

Alegria is a stirring presence both in person and in her poetry. Few have been able to re-create so passionately the struggle and resistance of the Central American people and few possess her extraordinary gift for naming the dead. This places her work within the framework of Central American political and social history as well as of history reconstructed from oblivion. She has written more than twenty books, including poetry, novels, and "testimonials." With translations into more than ten languages, she has become a central voice of Central American literature, a tireless cultural worker who has been able, through her dedicated efforts as an artist and defender of human rights, to provide a clear vision of peace and its processes in Central America.

Alegria's artistic creation is visceral, drawn from the deepest part of her being. It moves us and liberates us, not just to feel but also to think. She says that she writes by hand, that she cannot write any other way, because "there may be a connection between the hand and the heart."

When asked where her inspiration comes from and how her daily work is structured, Alegria responds, "I have what I call my seedbed, where I set down my dreams and illusions. When my mind runs dry, I turn to my seedbed. And every day I work with a purpose, that is, I connect with what I read. I note it and think about it." And what is her illusion? "Life," she says, with her delightful smile, "just this unique and marvelous life."

Luisa in Realityland (1987), a fictionalized autobiographical collection of prose poems, is both Alegria's celebration of life and an invocation of the dead. In this and other works she reaches far beyond any canonic concept of literature and its genres. With typical boldness she dares to write an autobiography that combines fragments, that recalls private sayings, that speaks of native trees such as the ceiba and of the landscape that evokes in young Luisa a poetry of suffering and rage produced by injustice. For Alegria, writing that testimonial occupied a special place in her life, enabling her to understand not only her own biography but also the collective lives of other Central American women.

Poetry and politics are two traditions inseparable in the Central American cultural imagination. Alegria was influenced by the work of Pablo Neruda, Ernesto Cardenal, and Roque Dalton, whose lives became symbolic, steeped in the vital tradition of writers wholly committed to the social struggles of their people. Nostalgia, exile, and the constant denunciation of war in Central America are the characteristic elements of Alegria's poetry. Rather than "political poetry"--she does not want it to be pigeonholed as "pamphleteering"--her poetry is a paean to love and liberation. There are, for example, the powerful poems in which she invokes the Esteli River to symbolize the history of Nicaragua:

Alegria's diasporic life appears as a kaleidoscope of nations and experiences in which innumerable places and cities invite poetic experience--Hammond, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; Majorca; Nicaragua; El Salvador; Mexico; Chile; and Uruguay. She was born in Esteli, Nicaragua, on May 12, 1924, the daughter of a Nicaraguan father and a Salvadoran mother. …

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