Tag Archives: spain

Poems of Ana Rossetti

A Note from the Translator

I discovered only recently that Ana Rossetti (1950-) was the pen name of Ana María Bueno de la Peña, who also writes children’s books, along with operettas, novels and diverse prose works. I have been a fan of her work for years and have enjoyed getting close to her texts and getting to know them better. I think she should be more widely read and it would be wonderful to achieve that through a bilingual version of a collection of her poetry. With unique and varied voices, Ana Rossetti’s poetry forms an important part of the youthful Spanish avant-garde movida, which had its epicenter in Madrid (often referred to as the movida madrileña), but quickly expanded nationwide. The movement was popularizedas the country transitioned to democracy from the dictatorship which ended with the death of Francisco Franco in 1975, and began creating a new Spanish identity. Spaniards, even politicians, were supportive of the movement in an attempt to modernize Spain.

The radical and often hedonistic cultural revolution boomed in the 1980s and incorporated many genres of art including music, film, visual arts and literature. Radio airwaves all over Spain played music which quickly spread the movement. Within the music scene some of the most important musicians were Alaska y los pegamoides, Hombres G, and now internationally famous director Pedro Almodovar, who sang, wrote and started creating films during la movida.

Within Francoist Spain, which lasted from 1939-1975, the people and artistic expression was repressed, sexually as well as politically. Women were not allowed a job, driver’s license, or a bank account without the express permission of their husbands or male family members. Publications were heavily censored and restricted, “art” was often used to further the goals of the fascist regime. “Commercial popular culture in all its forms was perceived as useful to the regime because, […] it was seen as pacificatory, offering malnourished and unhappy Spaniards a form of–ostensibly depoliticized–‘escapist’ entertainment” (Graham, 238). In the outpouring of artistic expression of the movida nothing was truly sacred, instead of escapism they discussed political and social issues which had been silenced under Franco. Rossetti creates art as part of a dialog about and with the ever-changing world around her.

Ana Rossetti’s collection of poetry, Yesterday (1988), contains poems written for other publications and earlier works, including a prize winning publication in 1980 (for which she won the Premio Gules). She is included among some of the very first movida artists. Her poetry is erotically charged and transgressive, especially after the male dominated 1960s, but even within the revolutionary atmosphere of Madrid’s literary community which was still heavily dominated by male artists (though female musician Alaska is the first name which comes to mind when discussing music). She criticizes capitalism and the boom of commercialism, patriarchal society, as well as religion, which had a powerful place in Francoist Spain. Many of her poems are erotic/homoerotic and some have a lyric voice which can be read as queer. She criticizes the objectification and sexualization of female bodies throughout historical literature, using patriarchist and patriarchal themes, often shifting the gaze to objectify a male figure, giving agency to the female or male speaker in what one article calls “equal opportunity objectification.” She plays a lot with familiar voices from the past, especially those of mystic and profane love poems.

Some poems are originally titled in English or reference international branding or songs, like “Calvin Klein, Underdrawers,” “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” and “Chico Wrangler” which expose the commercialization, coming from outside of Spain, and the sexualization and almost pornographic advertisements which were appearing in Spain. She revises the Petrarchan style, used famously in poems from Spain’s “Golden Era” in the 16th and 17th centuries by Garcilaso, Lope de Vega and Quevedo, and depict a silent female figure without agency. She inverts these roles. Ana Rossetti especially echoes the styles of Golden Era religious and/or mystic female poets like Teresa of Ávila, Cecilia del Nacimiento and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, especially focused on religious aspects. As Pablo García Baena writes in his introduction to the original, her poems go “del oratorio al boudoir galante solo un paso, un pequeño paso de chapines de tacón rojo y borla de avestruz sobre pieles salvajes” [from the chapel to the coquettish boudoir in just one step, a small step in red heeled chapines[i] with ostrich tassels over wild animal skins] (12). Connecting the past and present, she ironically uses tropes easily recognized by the Spanish reader to discuss multiple themes and figuring into the stylistic values of la movida, which “made fun of authority (whether Franco, parents, religion, or local government); it used and abused cultural clichés such as bulls, flamenco dancers, bourgeois taste; and it imbued a sense of meaning […] real or imagined–through the use of metaphor and irony” (Dent Coad, 377).

There are nuances in the play with gender and words that I attempted to pull through into the English translation, which allow for a queer reading of many poems, leaving the lyric voice and at times its object of desire purposely vague. With the allusions to other poets and poems, songs, historical figures; I tried to be brief in my endnotes when I found it essential to the understanding of the verse. The original book is prefaced by Pablo García Baena, an Andalucian poet who beautifully introduces her poems in his own poetic manner (and I would love to translate it in the future, as it works well to poetically add some background). I developed a deeper reading of these fantastically shocking, exceptionally multilayered poems through many readings and a few discussions with university professors and colleagues. The original was not published with footnotes, allusions or much historical background or any explanations apart from an introduction that requires some unpacking and study. So, much of what I pull into my translation is my own reading of Ana Rossetti’s wonderful poetry. Because of the complexity of her poetry, I found myself spending a lot of time with the Real Academia Española de la Lengua dictionary and a Merriam-Webster thesaurus and dictionary. I hope I have been faithful to the tone and captivating style of Ana Rossetti’s work, but this is a work in progress and one with which I am not sure I will ever completely finish.

[i] chapines are both modern flamenco shoes, similar to tap dancing shoes and shoes from the 15th century worn by women in Spain and mentioned in poetry from the era