Margaret Randall is an old-school feminist and socialist, and I recognized her name when this volume of Cuban poetry became available. Thank you to the author, Duke University, and Net Galley for permitting me to access the DRC, which I received free in exchange for this honest review.
Many people don’t know much about Cuba, the tiny island nation a mere 90 miles from the coast of Florida. The American media has distorted the Cuban Revolution for as long as I can remember. Before the revolution, which took place in 1959, Havana was like Bangkok, a place where little girls prostitute themselves so they won’t starve to death, where wealthy visitors can experience every pleasure, innocent or corrupt, known to humanity but where most citizens have little chance of even having their basic human needs met. Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet Union (USSR) helped the Cuban people defend themselves from US efforts to overthrow the revolutionary government, but the alliance also led to a period of Stalinist repression that darkened artists’ worlds for a period of time. Randall discusses all of this in her introduction. Following the period Cubans call the Rectification Period (reference mine), Stalinist practices were peeled away, and more freedom of expression created a more hospitable environment for artists, in addition to strengthening the revolution itself. In Cuba art is not privately sold as a general rule, and artists receive a salary for what they do, paid by the Cuban people.
Randall’s collection of poetry is encyclopedic, including a vast stylistic range representative of a range of generations, some little-known voices as well as a number of LGBTQ writers. Randall translates each poem and gives a comprehensive biographical note for each poet. If anything, I might have preferred a slightly more stripped down version, but what Randall has done is very scholarly she documents well.
Since this reviewer does not speak Spanish, I cannot evaluate the translations personally, but given that Randall’s background I would be astonished if it were not rock solid.
That said, I also found myself lamenting my lack of Spanish, because I know that the flow of sound is an important part of poetry, and even the best translator can’t rectify this. Those that speak Spanish will likely get more from the collection; both Spanish and English versions are included.
Those that love poetry and are interested in seeing the work of Cubans, and especially those that also speak Spanish, should get this excellent collection. It becomes available to the public October 14, 2016.