Historical Context

(Poetry for Students)

A Long History of Civil Conflict
Alegría’s “Accounting” is the poet’s reflection upon the events and people that fill a lifetime. The content of the poem reflects an indeterminate point in time and the locations are many. Because of this, one way to approach her poetry is to try and understand the place that Alegría most closely identifies as her homeland, as well as its crucial influence on her work. Nicaragua was colonized by the Spanish early in the sixteenth century, but it gained its independence from Spain in 1821, as did all of Central America. After 1855, the United States took an active part in controlling Nicaragua, with U.S. troops actively training and supervising the Nicaraguan military forces, which in turn controlled the government of Nicaragua. Alegría’s father opposed this U.S. military interference and supported the rebel forces, and as a result, the family was forced to flee in 1925. The rebellions in Nicaragua did not end with the establishment of a U.S.-supported dictator, General Somoza, in 1934, but they were better suppressed under his leadership. After Somoza was assassinated in 1956, his sons continued as dictators, and like their father, bled the country of its wealth and resources. As the Somoza regime became wealthier, the people became poorer and more ravaged by the lack of the most basic necessities. The Samozas allocated little money to education, and since most Nicaraguan children needed to work to help support their families, few children were able to attend the few schools that were available. The government spent almost no money on basic infrastructure. Besides the malnutrition that afflicted the poor, lack of proper sanitation and limited access to health care led to many outbreaks of dysentery, which was a leading cause of death. Children also died of many of the diseases that modern medicine now prevents, such as tetanus and measles. Because of the economic oppression of the people, opposition to the Samoza...

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Literary Style

(Poetry for Students)

Committed Generation
La generacion comprometida, also known as the Committed Generation, was created as an attempt by the intellectual sectors of the middle and upper classes of Central America as a way to use literature to achieve social justice. Alegría’s ideological approach to her poetry reflects this literary movement. “Accounting” contains references to both social justice and human rights issues.

In its origins in Greek and Latin poetry, the elegy was a meditation that might focus on death, but might equally call to mind love or almost any list of events. During the Elizabethan period, the English used the elegy as a love poem, often as a lover’s complaint. During the seventeenth century, the elegy was most commonly used as a poem of mourning to honor the dead and to reflect upon a life that had ended. Since that time, the elegy has also been used as a poem to reflect on solemn events. In “Accounting,” Alegría uses the elegy to reflect on her life. Just as an elegy might honor the dead, for this poem, the poet uses the format to evaluate and consider the events of her life.

Imagery refers to the described images in a poem. The relationships between images can suggest important meanings in a poem; with imagery, the poet uses language and specific words to create meaning. For instance, “skipping puddles” suggests an image of a child at play, perhaps just after a rain. The “first wail of my daughter” creates an image of birth and the joy that a new child brings. Images allow the...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Poetry for Students)

Agosín, Marjorie, “The Volcano’s Flower,” in Americas, Vol. 51, No. 1, January–February 1999, pp. 48–53.

Alegría, Claribel, “Accounting,” in Fugues, Curbstone Press, 1993, p. 31.

—, “Summing Up,” in La Mujer del Rio (Woman of the River), translated by D. J. Flakoll, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989, p. 89.

Boschetto-Sandoval, Sandra Maria, “Alegría, Claribel,” in Contemporary World Writers, 2d ed., edited by Tracy Chevalier, St. James Press, 1993, pp. 14–16.

Engelbert, Jo Anne, “Claribel Alegría and the Elegiac Tradition,” in Claribel Alegría and Central American Literature: Critical...

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Compare and Contrast

(Poetry for Students)

1990s Nicaragua: In May 1997, university students begin a more than two-month protest of the government’s decision to cut university budgets by nine million dollars. While the protests are initially peaceful, they soon escalate into street wars with many injuries and arrests resulting.

1990s United States: While in the past there have been some localized student protests on U.S. campuses, most frequently about tuition raises or cuts in student aid, few students undertake a lengthy months-long protest over budget concerns. In recent years, protests over U.S. involvement in foreign wars elicit the strongest non-economic based protests on university campuses.

1990s Nicaragua: In 1998, Nicaragua has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any country in Central America. It is thought that forty to fortyfive percent of all pregnancies involve girls aged fourteen to nineteen. Pregnant girls are not able to complete their education, and are thus unable to find employment to support their children. Teenage pregnancy also results in social exclusion and rejection by the girl’s family.

1990s United States: Teenage and unwed pregnancies also increase in the United States during the last two decades. Many school districts encourage pregnant teenagers to stay in school and, in many instances, offer special programs to adapt schooling needs to fit the requirements of the pregnant teenager. In addition, several local...

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Topics for Further Study

(Poetry for Students)

Make a list of ten to twelve of your own memories. These should be the things that first come to mind when you think of your life. You might try to pick one or two items from each of the past several years. After you have a list, arrange them in some order of importance. This order does not have to be chronological, but it can be. When you have brought some sort of order to your list, rewrite it as a poem. Alegría writes her poem as a narrative lyric, but you can use a different poetic format, if you wish.

Research the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero, whom Alegría mentions in her poem. Consider why she thought him such an important figure in trying to call attention to human rights violations in El Salvador.

Choose one poem by another Central American poet, and compare his or her work to the poetry of Alegría. What similarities do you notice? Are there differences in theme or content? You might consider using poetry by Magdalena Gomez, Sandra Maria Esteves, or Ricardo Morales.

Research the role of both men and women in the Nicaraguan revolution. Consider in what ways the contributions of women differed from those of men.

Alegría’s poem is a memoir, recounting the events of her life. Most people who write memoirs do so as prose writing. Choose a memoir by any other writer and discuss the differences between prose and verse memoirs.

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What Do I Read Next?

(Poetry for Students)

Published by Curbstone Press and edited and translated by Alegría and her husband, Darwin J. Flakoll, On the Front Line: Guerilla Poems of El Salvador (1996) is an anthology of poetry written by El Salvadorian revolutionaries.

Sorrow (1999) is a collection of poetry that Alegría wrote after the death of her husband.

In Alegría’s collection Casting Off (2003), many of the poems deal with death and with the poet’s thoughts about approaching the end of her life.

The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets (1995) contains the transcripts of more than 30 interviews that Bill Moyers conducted with contemporary poets. This book is a companion to Moyer’s public television series The Language of Life.

Nicaragua: The Sandinista Revolution; A Political Chronicle 1855–1979 (1982) is a nonfiction account of the revolution, written by Alegría and her husband, Flakoll.

Latin American Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology (1996), edited by Stephen Tapscott, includes poetry by more than 75 Latin American poets.

After the Revolution: Gender and Democracy in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala (2001), written by Ilja A. Luciak, provides data and interviews about the democratization of guerilla movements and the link to gender inequality in this region.

Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs: Gender Identity Politics in Nicaragua, 1979–1999...

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