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A Celebration of Women in Poetry

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(The Following is a post by Catalina Gómez, Reference Librarian, Hispanic Division.)

As Women’s History Month comes to a close and National Poetry Month approaches, this moment presents itself as the perfect opportunity to honor the work of women in poetry. For this, we have chosen to highlight three of the most beloved women poets of the Luso-Hispanic world: Gabriela Mistral from Chile, Ida Vitale from Uruguay, and Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen from Portugal. We celebrate the lives and work of these three towering figures of the 20th century, but more importantly, we honor their voices (along with those of women poets everywhere) by sharing the recordings that each of them did for the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape (AHLOT) here in the Library of Congress. The AHLOT is a collection of audio recordings curated by the Library’s Hispanic Division since 1943, and featuring poets and prose writers from Latin America, Spain, and Portugal, and the Hispanic community of the United States reading from their works.

Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957)

Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral (Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress).

Gabriela Mistral recorded for the Library’s Archive in 1950  in the Thomas Jefferson Building’s Recording Laboratory. Her birth name was Lucila Godoy Alcayaga and she was born in Vicuña, Chile, in 1889. Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1945), she is considered one of Latin America’s most prominent figures in poetry.  She authored throughout her life twelve books of poetry, including “Desolación” (Desolation) (1922), “Ternura” (Tenderness) (1924), and “Tala” (Felling) (1938). Her poetry dealt with themes such as nature, love, motherhood, childhood, and travel, and stylistically Mistral’s work attempted to merge Western and Native American influences. In addition to her work as a poet, she was a fervent educator and a humanist. She worked as a teacher and principal in rural Chile, and was dedicated to girls’ education.

In her recording, Gabriela Mistral reads from her book “Ternura” (Tenderness) (1924).

Ida Vitale (1923-)

Uruguayan poet Ida Vitale (courtesy of the poet’s family).

Ida Vitale recorded for the Library’s Archive in 1986. Vitale is one of the most widely recognized poets of Uruguay, a country known for producing the greatest number of women poets in Latin America. Born in Montevideo in 1923, she is the author of more than a dozen poetry collections, including “La luz de esta memoria” (The Light of this Remembrance) (1949), “Palabra dada” (Expectant Words) (1953), “Cada uno en su noche” (Each in His Own Night) (1960), “Jardín de sílice” (Garden of Silica) (1978), and “Reducción del infinito” (Reduction of the Infinite) (2002). Vitale, together with other noteworthy authors like Mario Benedetti, Juan Carlos Onetti, and Idea Vilariño, was part of the literary movement Generación del 45, which longed for a revitalization of modernist poetics. She has been the recipient of literary prizes such as the Octavio Paz Prize for Poetry and the Reina Sofia Prize for Ibero-American Poetry, among other honors.

In her recording, Ida Vitale reads selections from some of her books of poems, including “Cada uno en su noche” (Each In His Own Night) (1960), “Jardín de sílice” (Garden of Silica) (1980), and “Sueños de la constancia” (Constancy’s Dreams) (1988).

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (1919-2004)

Portuguese poet Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (courtesy of the poet’s family).

Finally, we have the Portuguese poet Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, whose recording took place in 1985, also here  at the Library of Congress. Born in the city of Oporto in 1919, Breyner Andresen is the author of thirteen books of poetry, including “O nome das coisas” (The Name of Things) (1977), “Geografia” (Geography) (1967), and “Ilhas” (Islands) (1989). “Poetry,” Sophia said “is my understanding of the universe, my way of relating to things, my participation in reality, my encounter with voices and images.” The sea and marine life in general are constant elements in her poems. Aside from her poetry, Breyner Andresen wrote many collections of short stories, essays, plays, and children’s books. She was awarded the Camões Prize, which is the most prestigious award for poetry in Portugal, along with many other honors. In addition to her literary contributions, she was elected Member of Parliament by the Socialist Party of Portugal. She died in 2004 and was awarded National Pantheon Honors posthumously in 2014.

In her recording, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen reads selections from some of her books of poems, including “Dia do mar” (1947) and “Coral” (1950).

We hope that even if you aren’t a Spanish or Portuguese speaker, you’ll enjoy listening to the voices of these three most cherished poets. And don’t hesitate to let us know who your favorite women poets are!

Click here to listen to more recordings from the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape. The material featured in this online presentation represents a sample of the entire Archive. This site will provide access to additional items from the collection on a yearly basis.

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