On Wednesday, March 23, people gathered at Shiffman 219 to listen to students and faculty read poems by Latin poets with piano accompaniment by Alyssa Zylberger ’25. To celebrate Women’s History Month, Professor Zoila Castro (ROMS), Professor Lucía Reyes de Deu (ROMS), Professor Elena González Ros (ROMS) and academic administrators Katie Dickinson and Ellen Rounseville organized the first evening of Latin poetry.
The event aimed to highlight the courage of Latin women to express themselves through powerful poetry, help students practice their Spanish, celebrate the beauty of the Spanish language, and showcase the value of the arts. Castro first came up with the idea of a poetry night, and she approached past and current students for volunteers. Students could either recommend a poem or choose from a list prepared by Castro. They originally intended to have more readers, but some volunteers had to cancel due to COVID-19 issues.
As a bilingual event, Castro delivered a keynote address in English and Reyes de Deu delivered one in Spanish. Next, Reyes de Deu introduced the first group of poems that were published during the first half of the 1900s. She said that the first three poems “are a hymn to the freedom and autonomy of women. The three poems describe a cage that limits women’s freedom, and the three poets propose to break free from it. Sarah Eckstein Indik ’24 presented two poems: “Hombre pequeñito” (“Little man”) by Argentinian poet Alfonsina Storni and “Conversación entre Viajeros” (“Conversation between travellers”) by Mexican poet Rosario Castellanos. Annette Pinstein ’25 read Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos’ poem, “Río Grande de Loíza” (“The Great River of Loíza”).
Reyes de Deu said the second group of poems “celebrates the poetic word as an expression of deeply feminine feelings”. She explained that “the former deals with the relationship between a mother and her son, and the latter with literary creation and the power of the spoken word”. Castro recited the “Casa de Cuervos” (“House of Crows”) by Peruvian poet Blanca Varela. Lea Zaharoni ’25 performed “Gozos Cibernéticos” (“Cyber Joys”) by Nicaraguan poet Gioconda Belli.
Finally, Reyes de Deu explained that the last poem “rebels against the rules and expectations imposed on a young Dominican who sees herself as someone she is not. The poetic word gives him the power to reclaim his identity. Michaela McCormack ’23 featured Dominican-American poet Elizabeth Acevedo’s poem, “Hair.”
The judge asked Castro what she thought of the students’ performances. She recognized how difficult it was to stand in front of an audience and present a poem in their non-native language, and despite that, the students did a great job, and she deeply appreciated their hard work. The student lecturers had varying levels of experience in performing poetry. For example, this was McCormack’s first time reciting poetry, while Pinstein had previous experience participating in Poetry Out Loud and memorizing poems for her high school French class.
The poems that the students chose also appealed to them for different reasons. McCormack explained that “as a black person who had a similar relationship with my hair, the poem fits pretty well.” They liked how the poem dealt with the dynamics of racism, discrimination and colorism and found hair to be a central issue.
On the other hand, Pinstein chose Burgos’s poem because she liked the river references, the structure of the poem, and the natural imagery. She described the poem as “evocative”. When the judge asked Pinstein why this kind of event is important, she said, “It’s nice to have this kind of art on campus and to celebrate the art that we think represents us…[This event] With a bit of luck [helps] people feel seen [and] see themselves reflected in art.
The Department of Romance Studies hopes to make Latina Poetry Night a tradition and continue to create similar events.