Excilia Saldaña: La Latina Matriarch of Cuban Poetry
Award winning Cuban poetess Excilia Saldaña is the Wise Poet of this week. Born in on August 7, 1946, she was raised in Havana by her grandmother and her young teenage mother, and being raised in a matriarchal family like that, Saldaña became the poetic voice of those women born into into the Afro-Cuban tradition. She wrote about such issues as motherhood and the role of Afro-Cuban women in Cuban society, and the guilt and shame inherently associated with being born a woman. And being a Black Cuban national descendant of West African enslaved people, she must have been keenly aware of violence against woman in the history of her people and the shame of being a victim of such violence.
According to statistics 62% of the Cuban population is of African decent and of the Afro-Cuban tradition of the Santeria religion, meaning The Way of the Saints, which is a hybrid of the original religion of the Yoruban people of West Africa and Roman Catholicism. They believe that there is only one God but that the forces of nature are overseen by lesser godlike beings called corishas, spirits which are pleased through divination. Saldaña’s family roots were dug deep into this tradition of religion and culture, music, dance and literature. She was most known as an academic and a children’s author, but she was also an accomplished poet whose poetry was translated from Spanish into both French and English, and she was recognized by the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba for her excellent writing, and her first book of poems entitled Enlloro was unpublished during her lifetime but won acclaim from the Casa de las Americas Prize board shortly after her death on July 20, 1999.
Her poem entitled Anonymous Landscape is a poem about the shame of just being an average woman and not famous or a man and is the voice of a woman feeling quite insignificant.
The woman sits
before an open window
guilty of not being air, water
–or at least a wing that flies-
of being only a woman before an open window.
the sky hangs itself out to dry
beyond the open window
ashamed of not being man, flesh, body
—or at least earth—
of being only sky beyond an open window,
Secret passion of guilt and shame:
a golden woman of violet sky
every afternoon through an open window.
Although this poem about feeling insignificant initially reads plain and almost prose-like in style in the beginning and the body of the piece, it ends with the vivid imagery of a golden woman and a violet sky and signifies the true significance of a mere woman who is not a man, This poem flares up into color at the end.