Claribel Alegría is one of the most respected and prolific writers of Central America. Since the late 1940s she has written more than forty books across many literary genres, including novels, novellas, stories, essays, testimonios(testimonials), children’s stories, and poetry. Her works have been published in more than fourteen languages throughout Europe, Latin America, and the United States. With Darwin J. “Bud” Flakoll, her husband and partner in writing, Alegría has translated and edited other writers’ work, produced anthologies, and cowritten novels, testimonios, and journalistic exposés. She has lectured and read widely from her work in diverse international media and academic forums, especially during the 1980s, when she was recognized unofficially as cultural ambassador of El Salvador in exile. In “The Writer’s Commitment” (which first appeared in the journal Fiction International in 1984) Alegría identified herself as a profoundly “committed writer,” one who envisions social change, struggles for human rights, and produces a transformational “literature of emergency.” Tracing her own political and literary transformations, she explains that, early in her life, she wrote poetry without knowing “what was happening in my country—El Salvador—or my region— Central America.” The Cuban Revolution in 1959, the Sandinista Revolutionary Period in Nicaragua from 1979 to 1989, the Salvadoran Civil War from 1979...
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Sorrow in Her Own Life
As she approaches the period that she calls “old age,” Claribel Alegría responds by composing her own elegy, “Accounting,” for which she uses a traditional poetic form to reflect upon the events of her life. In an interview with Bill Moyers, Alegría described this poem as having been created as a result of a period of reflection in which she asked herself, “what have been the crucial moments in my life?” In reflecting on her life, she chose “a few electrical instants” so that she could create a poem that would, as she related to Moyers, “sum up all my life.” This poem accomplishes this goal, transforming determinate elements of time—“six hours in Macchu Pichu,” “the ten minutes it took / to lose my virginity,” and “fifteen minutes in Delft”—into a timeless eternity. The poet ensures with this poem that the indeterminate moments of her lifetime will not be lost when she has died. “Accounting” demonstrates Alegría’s ability to transform the elegiac form to not only reflect upon the life she has lived, but also to honor that life. While the traditional mourning elegy can be used to honor and defend a life, Alegría demonstrates how the elegy can be altered to proclaim the poet’s own life within the lines of her poem.
In “Accounting,” Alegría composes a list of the crucial moments of her life. The people and places and the moments of joy and sorrow show individual moments from a lifetime of nearly seventy...
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Life Transformed Into Verse
Fugues (1993), Claribel Alegría’s collection of elegies and love poems, contains the poem “Accounting,” a tally of experiences singled out as “electrical instants” in the aging poet’s life. As a reviewer commented in Booklist, the collection is “lyrical” and “speaks of the solitary self and the self that is lost and found in love.” Likewise, in “Accounting” the poet draws on past experiences in order to gather this self back to the present moment of composition, through which she desires to be transformed. Alegría wants to transmogrify herself “into a verse,” to change her form into something surprising and perhaps strange, like a “shout” and “a fleck of foam.” In this poem, Alegría uses her craft to achieve a metamorphosis. Arranging sensory images in lines that create dramatic tension, the poet’s goal is a complete change in appearance and character. Sixtyeight years old at the time of the poem’s writing, Alegría faces her own mortality, so by the end of the poem, she releases herself into the poet’s domain— the natural world of sound and images.
Born in Nicaragua in 1924, Alegría is the leading poetic spokesperson in support of the Sandanista movement (FSLN) to restore democracy to her homeland, which fought against and overthrew the U.S.-backed Somoza regime in 1979. Because of her father’s close alliance with Somoza himself, from early childhood on she was raised in exile in El...
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Claribel Alegría and the Elegiac Tradition
In the post-Matanza era, elegiac poetry in Central America is eloquent through stark simplicity. The great cathedral organ of Hispanic tradition is sparingly intoned or renounced in favor of an unamplified voice that is at once personal and collective. Death in the Central American isthmus is not cortés, as elegized by Manrique; Death as personified by Alegría is the implacable god Tlaloc demanding blood; his victims are the dispossessed, stripped of land, customs, dress, language, and history. The language of elegy must faithfully reflect this; a lament for the children of the Woman of the River Sumpul must of necessity be as pure as water, uncompromised by reliance on the codes of power.
It is not merely the diction of elegy which is problematized by La Matanza, but the very function and nature of this poetry. In the very midst of chaos, who can pretend to comfort, to reconcile? Who perceives an order to be restored or a power capable of restoring it? Classical resignation and spiritual quietude are often replaced in this latitude by exhortation to action. Boccanera (1981, 15) observes, “En pueblos donde la represión y Muerte son ya una costumbre de la barbarie, la poesía pasa de la elegía a la denuncia, de la clandestinidad al exilio, y nada contra la corriente para no perecer ahogada en la sangre del pueblo agredido” (In countries where repression and death have become the praxis of barbarity, poetry moves from elegy to denunciation, from...
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Claribel Alegría: Human-Rights Activist and Poet
“My main concern, rather than to talk about me, is to talk about my countries,” says Claribel Alegría in the Fall 1989 issue of Curbstone Ink. “To talk about what is happening in El Salvador and Nicaragua is important,” she continues. “Just to let people know what is happening right there, right then: that’s my main concern. Nicaragua and El Salvador. I consider them both my countries.”
Alegría, who was born in Nicaragua on 12 May 1924 and grew up in El Salvador, is one of the major contemporary voices in the struggle for liberation in Central America. As a poet, novelist, essayist, storyteller, translator, and indefatigable humanrights activist, she combines both love and revolution, the personal and the political, in her work. It reflects not only a strong commitment to Latin- American social change, but also her concern for the status of Latin-American women. As Nancy Saporta Sternbach observes, “Women of all ages and stages of growth and personal evolution populate her work. Whether Alegría is writing testimony or fiction, poetry or essay, the voice, the heart, the mind of women—Latin American women—are central and omnipresent. From an early age, Alegría defined herself as a feminist, as her work amply demonstrates.”
Alegría divides her work into two categories: literary-poetic and letras de emergencia (emergency letters). The first category refers to the sentimental, introspective, lyrical poetry...
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