New York Woman's Literary Salon

March 1982 Newsletter

Text of the Newsletter:
On the cover [not reproduced here]: photo of Meridel La Dueur (Photo: Jerome Liebling). Retrato de la phenix americana la Madre Juana Indes de la Cruz por Miguel Cabrera (1751)

Sat: March 6 - 7pm - Voices of Third World Women - Poetry from Chile, El Salvador, Indonesia, Mozambique, Egypt, Guatamala and Nicaragua

A celebration of International Women’s Day sponsored by Women’s International Resource Exchange (WIRE)

Sat - March 27 - 7pm - An evening with Meridel Le Sueur in celebration of her new book “Ripening”

We honor Elizabeth Fisher the founder of "Aphra" & the author of "Women's Creation" who died on New Years Day.

At the home of Erika Duncan:
463 West St. (Westbeth, between
Bank and Bethune Streets) Apt. 933B.

Calligraphy by Gwynne Duncan

If, almost 300 years ago, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (pictured here) railed against "the injustice of men," and Alfonsina Storni, Argentinian poet of 50 years ago, memorialized her mother, whose longing to be free culminated in "bitterness and tears," their spiritual sisters of today's Third World have replaced gentle mockery and despair with strength and anger. Many of their poet-descendants have emerged from the cloister--whether of nunnery or family habitat--and inevitably their poetry reflects the new landscapes they inhabit. It reflects also their awareness of a past that bound them to certain limited roles, that circumscribed their creativity, their autonomy, and even their right to adequate food, clothing, and shelter. From this has emerged poetry of protest, of affirmation, of discovery of new dimensions--of themselves and of the world around them. The locus of their writings is sometimes domestic, sometimes the factory or field, sometimes a guerrilla camp.

Thus, Nizar al-Qabbani, in "Love and Petroleum," tells her husband: You cannot numb me/with your rank and power”; an anonymous Mozambican poet addresses her sisters: "Woman, walk erect/walk ahead/not three feet behind your companhero”; and Lorna Dee Cervantes, Chicana, reminds her lover that it is intolerable for him to speak grandiloquently of revolution while ordering her to the kitchen or bedroom.

Perhaps the most significant link among Third World poets is their determined participation in their people's struggles--keeping in mind, for the most part, women's condition, needs, aspirations. Thus, a Nicaraguan poet looks back to the Somoza epoch of a few years ago and remembers the rape of the countryside near her village by the National Guard-- and the rape of the village women.

The struggles of women, of entire peoples, against the technology and the dollars emanating from Washington (El Salvador, South Africa, Chile, the Philippines, among others) have elicited an impressive corpus of women's poetry in solidarity: June Jordan, Margaret Randall, Carolyn Forche, Dorothy SoIle, Rebecca Cantwell, and many more. We, the women of WIRE, by means of this poetry reading on March 6 express our love and support for these courageous sisters everywhere.
Betty Ortiz (?) (for the WIRE Collective)

On the cover of our newsletter this month is a painting of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1651-1695)-- a Mexican nun who at the age of forty was forbidden to read and write anything for the rest of her life, an important writer and feminist thinker. The picture and also the connection with the women from WIRE were given to me by Myriam Diaz, who, in her introduction to our "Evening of Latin American Women's Writing” spoke of Latin American writers writing in Spanish as "a marginality within a marginality." "Because of different kinds of censorship and self-censorship," she told the Salon audience, "we have dressed our identities with the clothing of mystery and the exotic, or the remote, the mythological, historical, we hide in foreign languages, we explore the faux pas of the ship of fools, we look for the truly creative possibilities of language. All our writings, then, are in fact, coded messages for other realities. Through our work, we are struggling to transform different areas of society by way of a sharp criticism, at the same time, playing the games of language, with humor, parody, irony, intertextuality. For us politics and history are not simple abstractions; POLITICS AND HISTORY ARE A DIRECT EXPERIENCE, and we are fighting, struggling to continue writing, in spite of the dangers that implies."

Our March 27 Salon is for a fighter and one of America's bravest political writers. On that night we will welcome Meridel Le Sueur and honor the Feminist Press as they come together to publish a new collection of Meridel's works, RIPENING, with an extensive biographical introduction by Elaine Hedges. Born at the turn of the century, now turning eighty-two years old, Meridel Le Sueur was black-listed for more than thirty years. She came of age in the thirties, in the hey-day of the reemergence of the populist and workers movements, when her short stories won the enthusiastic praise of Sinclair Lewis, Nelson Algren and Carl Sandburg. But for many years she was forced to go underground, although her stories continued to be reprinted in leaflet form and distributed under the counter in butcher shops and grocery stores throughout Middle America, or given out on picket lines. Now suddenly she is being ressurected and hoisted into a position of celebrity by the unlikely union of old time leftists, feminists interested in matriarchal roots and goddess imagery, political thinkers, advocates of working class writing and lovers of the poetic lore of the mid-west. At the Nation Institute's American Writer's Congress which echoed the Writers' Congresses of the Depression Era where she also played an active part, in her keynote address, Meridel Le Sueur told the three thousand assembled writers:

"When writers are suppressed it allows the people to be won over to the oppressive ideologies. In Germany in the 1930s, writers were jailed, exiled and killed. The great poet Lorca was murdered in Spain. Victor Jara, the Chilean poet, had his hands cut off and kept singing until he was killed. They silenced Albert Parsons for crying out for an eight-hour day, and as they put the black hood over his face before hanging him, he cried, 'Let the voice of the people be heard!' Soldiers in the trenches in the Spanish Civil War wrote out Pablo Neruda's poems in their own blood.

"Our fight must now be fought on broad political lines with the struggles of all the people in the country. No more lone writers” ."

"The women today are doing such marvelous things," she said to me."We must find ways to meet, in a hole in the ground, or in the belly of a hollow tree.We must all get together.” She is currently working.on a book about three women in a pit beneath the earth who watch a saw give birth,a book which combines the language of the thirties labor stories and their special poetry of the mine pits with a new language celebrating birthing and the carnal imagery of the female life processes.

The evening will also be a celebration of the Feminist Press' tenth anniversary, and their important work over this decade in bringing to light the neglected works of writers such as Agnes Smedley, Zora Neale Hurston, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Margaret Fuller and Rebecca Harding Davis.

These two reading are also dedicated to Gloria Orenstein, who dreamed the idea of the Woman's Salon seven years ago and began it with four other women writers. She is now working in California, but she always felt strongly about March 8, International Woman's Day which is her birthday. She felt that she was somehow meant to start an international exchange of women's writing. Hopefully we are carrying on the tradition she begun. Also, when she began a multi-arts Salon, Salon Ceridwen, during her last year in New York City, she introduced the works of Meridel Le Sueur to that Salon audience.

Our two fiction and autobiographical writing workshops are still meeting on Tuesday nights and Sunday mornings, with room for one or two new members in each group. If you are interested call me at 691-0539. Karen Malpede is teaching playwriting in Brooklyn Heights on Saturdays, Call 788-7098.

Erika Duncan

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