Section: Arts

Poetry reading addresses Cuban culture and personal life

Poetry reading addresses Cuban culture and personal life

“She’s the original bada–,” Professor of Spanish Katherine Hedeen said when she introduced poet Margaret Randall. Originally from New York State, Randall spent eleven years of her life in Cuba, where she drew inspiration from the country’s many poets, including Haydeé Santamaría and Nicolás Guillén. In two events on Monday and Tuesday, Randall read selections from both her anthology of Cuban poets and a book of her original works.

On Monday in the Gund Gallery Community Foundation Theater, Randall read from her bilingual anthology of Cuban poetry, Solo el Camino / Only the Road, which features the works of more than 50 Cuban poets across the span of eight decades. On Tuesday in the Cheever Seminar Room in Finn House, Randall read selections from She Becomes Time, a compilation of her own poems that was published last year. The events drew students with a passion for Spanish and literature, as well as many faculty members, forming an audience of just over forty people each.

Randall’s reading of her anthology on Monday stressed the diversity of perspectives among Cuban poets. She read one work by Gastón Baquero that was formatted like a drink recipe and included themes of culture and coming of age. She also read a poem called “Ancestral Poverty” by Georgina Herrera, an Afrocuban poet who came to Havana, Cuba as a maid. Other poems that Randall read addressed exile, a common theme in post-revolutionary Cuban art and literature.

At one point, Randall invited Professor of Spanish Víctor Rodríguez-Núñez, a distinguished Cuban poet, to read one of his poems. Written in Spanish, it told the story of a prisoner who logged his thoughts and experiences in a green notebook. After his reading, Randall followed up with the poem’s English translation, which she included in her anthology.

On Tuesday, Randall read from her own poetry, which touched on her fascination with Cuba, her distress following the U.S. presidential election and identity as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. One poem in She Becomes Time described Mexico, where she lived for eight years when she was young, as “always dying, always rebirth itself.” It was not until her time in Mexico, Randall said, that she discovered she wanted to be a poet. “I knew I wanted to be a writer as soon as I could write,” she said Tuesday. But writers of long, narrative poems like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and William Wordsworth were taught poorly in Randall’s school. At a party when Randall was twenty years old, that changed. “We’d all just been smoking pot and were very relaxed,” she said. Someone took out a book of poems, which Randall thinks might have been Howell. “That’s when I knew I wanted to be a poet,” she said.

Today, Randall draws inspiration for her poems from a variety of sources, including the news, although she added that she has less and less of a desire to read the news these days. Inspiration also stems from nature and love of all kinds, from romantic to familial. After a lifetime of living in different countries and fostering relationships with a variety of people, Randall no longer suffers from the writer’s block she once did.

“I just write,” she said.

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