Voices from the Center of the World: Contemporary Poets of Ecuador

Voices from the Center of the World: Contemporary Poets of Ecuador

by Margaret Randall

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In VOICES FROM THE CENTER OF THE WORLD, Randall has gathered 25 poets born in Ecuador between 1926 and 1993. These include some cultural heroes of the 20th century, and many of the voices that define Peruvian political dissent. It also focuses on a new generations of poets, especially women and indigenous poets born after 1950. Especially exciting are poets writing in the Kichwa language, Ariruma Kowii (1961) and Lucila Lema (1974) who serve as custodians of indigenous knowledge and imaginations, at once political, historical, and ancestral. Margaret Randall's selection and translations are alert to the edges and cadences of an individual idiom, to the plural alignments with the long view of history, and to consciousness of the country's literary dynamism. Often overshadowed by the literatures of Colombia, Argentina and Chile, VOICES FROM THE CENTER OF THE WORLD brings the literature of Peru -- fully engaged in contemporary issues like human rights and climate change, yet infused with a wisdom drawn from its ancient mountain cultures.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609406127
Publisher: Wings Press
Publication date: 02/17/2020
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 176
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Margaret Randall, the EDITOR AND TRANSLATOR of this volume, is a feminist poet, writer, photographer and social activist. She is the author of over 150 books. She is the recipient of the 2019 Haydée Santamaría Medal from Casa de las Americas in Havana, and the prestigious 2019 Poeta de Dos Hemisferios, presented by Ecuador’s Poesía en Paralelo Cero. In 2017, she was awarded the Medal of Literary Merit by Literatura en el Bravo, Chihuahua, Mexico. The University of New Mexico granted her an honorary doctorate in letters in 2019.Born in New York City in 1936, she has lived for extended periods in Albuquerque, New York, Seville, Mexico City, Havana, and Managua. Shorter stays in Peru and North Vietnam were also formative. In the 1960s, with Sergio Mondragón she founded and co-edited El Corno Emplumado / The Plumed Horn, a bilingual literary journal which for eight years published some of the most dynamic and meaningful writing of an era. Robert Cohen took over when Mondragón left the publication in 1968. From 1984 through 1994 she taught at a number of U.S. universities.Randall was privileged to live among New York’s abstract expressionists in the 1950s and early ’60s, participate in the Mexican student movement of 1968, share important years of the Cuban revolution (1969-1980), the first three years of Nicaragua’s Sandinista project (1980-1984), and visit North Vietnam during the heroic last months of the U.S. American war in that country (1974). Her four children—Gregory, Sarah, Ximena and Ana—have given her ten grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She has lived with her life companion, the painter and teacher Barbara Byers, for the past 33 years.Upon her return to the United States from Nicaragua in 1984, Randall was ordered to be deported when the government invoked the 1952 McCarran-Walter Immigration and Nationality Act, judging opinions expressed in some of her books to be “against the good order and happiness of the United States.” The Center for Constitutional Rights defended Randall, and many writers and others joined in an almost five-year battle for reinstatement of citizenship. She won her case in 1989. In 1990 Randall was awarded the Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett grant for writers victimized by political repression. In 2004 she was the first recipient of PEN New Mexico’s Dorothy Doyle Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing and Human Rights Activism.Recent non-fiction books by Randall include To Change the World: My Life in Cuba (Rutgers University Press), More Than Things (University of Nebraska Press), Che On My Mind, and Haydée Santamaría, Cuban Revolutionary: She Led by Transgression (both from Duke University Press). Her most recent nonfiction works are Only the Road / Solo el Camino: Eight Decades of Cuban Poetry (Duke University Press, 2016) and Exporting Revolution: Cuba’s Global Solidarity (Duke University Press, 2017).“The Unapologetic Life of Margaret Randall” is an hour-long documentary by Minneapolis filmmakers Lu Lippold and Pam Colby. It is distributed by Cinema Guild in New York City. Randall’s most recent collections of poetry and photographs are Their Backs to the Sea (2009), My Town: A Memoir of Albuquerque, New Mexico (2010), As If the Empty Chair: Poems for the Disappeared / Como si la silla vacía: poemas para los desaparecidos (2011), Where Do We Go from Here? (2012), Daughter of Lady Jaguar Shark (2013), The Rhizome as a Field of Broken Bones (2013), About Little Charlie Lindbergh and other Poems (2014), Beneath a Trespass of Sorrow (2014), Bodies / Shields (2015), She Becomes Time (2016), The Morning After: Poetry and Prose in a Post-Truth World (2017), and Against Atrocity (2019), all published by Wings Press. Time’s Language: Selected Poems (1959-2018) was published by Wings Press in 2018. Many of Randall’s collections of poetry have been published in Spanish translations throughout the hemisphere.

Read an Excerpt



In my opinion Ecuador's most original and powerful poet, I have chosen Adoum to open this selection of his country's poetry. Previously known as Jorge Enrique Adoum, he began combining his two given names towards the end of his life. Adoum was born in Ambato. He held a number of positions in international organizations, visiting Egypt, India, Japan and Israel under the auspices of the United Nations, working in French radio and television, reading for that country's Gallimard Publishers in the 1960s, and collaborating closely with Cuba's Casa de las Américas from that decade until his death. One of his books was awarded the first poetry prize Casa gave. Pablo Neruda said of Adoum: "Ecuador has the greatest poet in [Latin] America."

Xavier Oquendo has written of him: "Without doubt he is the most influential poet of the second half of the twentieth century. Because of his important innovations in language and structure, he is considered our most international and complete (he wrote in all genres with the same quality and seeming effortlessness). In terms of morphology and semantics, Adoum was responsible for the most truly vanguardist poetry of his generation. [But] because he was Pablo Neruda's secretary, myopic critics accused him of writing in the shadow of Canto General ..." Edwin Madrid points out, however, that it was while working for Neruda that Adoum got to know Nicolás Guillén Miguel Ángel Asturias, Rafael Alberto, Violeta Parra." In other words, some of the greatest creative minds of his time. The experience undoubtedly gave him access to a rich and powerful world. Adoum also wrote novels, essay, and theater. Katherine M. Hedeen and Víctor Rodríguez Núñez have brilliantly translated three of his most important collections into English, making his work available here for the first time.

Among his poetry collections are: Ecuador amargo (1949), Carta para Alejandra (1952), Los cuadernos de la tierra: I. Los orígenes, II. El enemigo y la mañana (1952), Notas del hijo pródigo (1953), Relato del extranjero (1955), Los cuadernos de la Tierra: III. Dios Trajo la Sombra (1959), Los cuadernos de la tierra: IV. El dorado y las ocupaciones nocturnas (1961), Informe personal sobre la situación (1975), No son todos los que están (1979), and Poesía viva del Ecuador (1990).


Al comienzo, la patria fue una gran página en blanco:
la arena, el mar, la superficie,
la sombra verde, la tinta con que manchó el invierno la sabana.

Pero de pronto, sin que nada pudiera detenerlo, hay un hombre conduciendo a su familia por los márgenes,
entra, cae y escala hasta el renglón ecuatorial buscando vida.

Yo vengo desde allí: desayuné con ellos en la primera mañana de mi pueblo,
construimos sembríos contra el hambre,
un río de cereal llevamos a la harina y supimos las leyes del agua y de la luna.

De la segunda página hasta hoy día no hay sino violencia. Desde el segundo día no hubo día en que no nos robaran la casa y el maíz y ocuparan la tierra que amé como a una isla de ternura.

Pero mañana (mucho antes de lo que habíamos pensado)
echaré al invasor y llamaré a mi hermano e iremos juntos hasta la geografía
— el dulce arroz, la recua del petróleo —
y le diré: Señora, buenos días,
aquí estamos después de tantos siglos a cobrar juntas todas las gavillas,
a contar si están justos los quilatesy a saber cuánta tierra nos queda todavía.


In the beginning, the nation was a great white page:
sand, sea, surface,
green shadow, ink winter staining the sheet.

But suddenly, as if nothing could stop him, there is a man leading his family along the edges,
he enters, falls and climbs to the equator searching for life.

I come from that place: ate breakfast with them on my people's first morning,
we planted fields against hunger,
shaped wheat into a river of cereal and knew the laws of water and the moon.

From page two until the present there is nothing but violence. From the second day there wasn't one when they didn't rob our homes and corn and occupy this earth I loved like an island of tenderness.

But tomorrow (long before we thought possible)
I will vanquish the invader, call my brother and together we will find geography
— sweet rice, petroleum's flock —
and I will say: Good day, Madam,
here we are after so many centuries ready to gather all the sparrows,
make sure they weigh what they should and learn how much land we have left.

Yo me fui con tu nombre por la tierra

Nadie sabe en dónde queda mi país, lo buscan entristeciéndose de miopía: no puede ser,
tan pequeño ¿y es tanta su desgarradura,
tanto su terremoto, tanta tortura militar, más trópico que el trópico?
  Tampoco lo sé yo, yo que lo amo a pesar de mis jueces
(la Corte se reúne en el café las tardes,
y ni un testigo sino mi taza que pagaron una vez). Y, condenado a muerte en su dulce calabozo, abro los ojos de vez en cuando,
lo veo igual y le pregunto: ¿Qué siglo será hoy, dónde se esconde el corazón para hacerme doler?
  Si de la tierra no te quedara amar sino el paisaje, si solamente te faltara la espalda agresiva de la luz.
Pero no es ése el caso. Sucede que no estoy orgulloso de mi aldea, ni de su río, el único que sigue siendo el mismo bañándote en él cien veces,
ni de la cometa que enarbola el polvo en el mercado. No me dejan estarlo, no me han dejado nunca unos señores compatriotas, cincuenta años en la misma esquina calculando los mismos asuntos importantes — el mundo sólo va de su bolsillo a su bragueta — y ven pasar el tren y no lo toman, ven acercarse el día pero se acuestan, ven la vida pasar pero regresan y animal, voluntariosísimamente se amarran por el cuello al palo de la iglesia.

Debo estar orgulloso, ¿de qué si la ternura solteronas de ambos sexos me robaron en la infancia,
aprovechando que no estuve? ¿Y lo demás, cuando indagan si es aún una colonia pobrecita,
con la cabeza a un lado, mientras le abren la blusa democráticamente? ¿Qué puedo contestar si ven la fecha de hoy y notan que vive el encomendero todavía en su fósil,
si me miran llevando un indio de la mano,

aterido de patrón y tiempo, intacto en la obediente piedra, estatua para adentro, con que lo llenaron?
  Ah si fuera dable por un día limpiar el amor de todo cuanto es cierto,
como cuando nos toca los párpados el delirio.
Porque a veces no es posible tolerar a la madre con sus cosas.
  Quisiera entonces que no encuentren

la lupa, que no miren de cerca lo difícil, eso no nuestro, tan desprecio, tan asco. Pero insisten y como soy patriota digo: "Sucede que los Incas".

En dónde queda, di, di qué le hicieron.

I Carried Your Name Around the World

No one knows where my country is, they look for it saddened by their myopia: it shouldn't be so small, and could it be so shattered,
so earthquake, so military torture,
more tropical than the tropics?
  I don't know either, I who love it in spite of my judges
(Court is in session each afternoon at the café,
without a single witness except the single cup they paid for). And condemned to death in its sweet dungeon, once in a while I open my eyes,
it looks the same and I ask it: What century is it now, where has it hidden its heart to cause me such pain?
  If earth didn't let you love the landscape, if only you lacked the light's brilliant backdrop.
But that isn't it. The truth is, I'm not proud of my village, nor its river, the only thing still the same although I bathe in it a hundred times,
nor am I proud of the comet that raises dust in the marketplace. They won't let me be proud, they've never let me, my countrymen, fifty years on the same corner pondering the same auspicious events — the world only exists from their pocket to their fly — and they watch the train go by and don't take it, see day approach but go to bed, witness life pass but return and, like animals, so willingly tie their necks to religion's post.

I should be proud, of what, if old maids of both sexes stole my infant tenderness,
taking advantage of my absence?

And the rest of it, when they ask with downcast eyes if it's still a poor colony, even as they unbutton its blouse democratically? What can I say if they notice today's date and understand the messenger still lives in his fossil,
if they see me leading an Indian by the hand,
rigid with master and time, silent in obedient stone, statue inside and out,
what did they fill him with?
  Ah, even for a day if we were able to cleanse love of all that is true,
like when delirium brushes our eyelids.
Because sometimes it isn't possible to tolerate the mother and her things.
  That's when I wish they would lose the magnifying glass,
wouldn't scrutinize what is difficult or doesn't belong to us, such scorn, such disgust.
But they insist and I'm a patriot so I say: "It was the Inca."

Where they still exist, tell, tell what they did to them.


Born in Guayaquil into a family of writers, Donoso Pareja was active with other poets and writers of his generation from the early 1950s on. In 1962 he joined Ecuador's Communist Party, beginning a life of political activism which, in turn, led to his being accused of terrorism. In July 1963, Ramón Castro Jijón took dictatorial power and Donoso Pareja was forced underground. He came out of hiding one day to take two of his daughters to the movies, was discovered, captured and spent the following ten months in prison without a trial. He was finally able to seek refuge in Mexico, where he brought his family, a few at a time, and lived until 1981 when he decided to return to his native land. In 1987 he was elected president of the Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana in the province of Guayas and moved permanently to Guayaquil. His later years were plagued by his struggle with Parkinson's. Donoso Pareja's poems included here reflect the anguish of exile experienced by so many Latin American poets who were politically active during the 1960s through '80s.

Among Donoso Pareja's poetry collections are: La mutación del hombre (1957), Las raíces del hombre (1958), Los invencibles (1963), Primera canción del exiliado (1966, bilingual edition), Cantos para celebrar una muerte (1977), Última canción del exiliado (1994), and Adagio en G mayor para una letra difunta (2002).


a mi Madre

Estamos hoy muy cerca y sin embargo lejos.

En mis grises designios de amargas latitudes fui dejando tus besos sepultados de olvido.
Y me he quedado solo,
mirando la verticalidad pretérita de un poste desplomado,
o la horizontalidad en crisis de los senos de una moza olvidada.
Y como dos extraños,
sin besos y palabras hermosas,
separando un abismo nuestro amor verdadero,
voy alargándome hacia ti por el cordón umbilical de una mirada perdida,
como este puerto mío que se alarga en su ansiedad de océano vengo a rogar tu amor y a dejar mi promesa por un mejor mañana.

Tengo la sal de mi naufragio, tengo una piedra en el alma y en los ojos una ansiedad preñada de caminos,
una implacable sed; en las entrañas y sobre el corazón y en el cerebro tengo el azúcar de la tierra porque tú me la has dado.

Hay tantas cosas.

Tantas verdades que se escapan a los ojos porque un beso nos amarra, en la distancia, la mirada.

Tantas verdades que se niegan,
porque hay un mar que llora abrazado del alma,
... y un doler y una borrachera en la que vivo un mundo inaccesible,
como la ingenua sonrisa de una niña loca.

Madre hoy vengo a ti angustiado.
Con la angustia de un libro maltratado por un torpe o un hombre esperando en una esquina a la mujer de otro.
O el que escucha en la sala de una clínica,
su alimentado semen en el llanto de un hijo.

Vengo tímido y vengo avergonzado.
Con la timidez y la vergüenza de una sonrisa sin dientes o un joven masturbándose.
Con la vergüenza de una niña desnuda por primera vez ante los ojos de un hombre.
Con la vergüenza de un libro en la vitrina que no es comprado nunca.
Vengo llorando.
Dejando al viento mis lágrimas de hijo para que se unan al inmenso sistema de tu tanto formado por tus lágrimas de madre.

Estarás orgullosa porque seré otro hombre y he matado mi triste soledad y mi llanto y ahora son las distancias y las acciones buenas y aunque estamos muy cerca y sin embargo lejos yo haré que esta acidez se convierta en dulzura y de esta despedida sin viaje volveremos para darnos un beso cuando estemos de vuelta.


to my Mother

Today we are so close yet so far from each other.

On my gray journeys to bitter latitudes I left your kisses buried in oblivion.
I remain alone,
gazing at the vertical history of a fallen post or your breasts in the horizontal crisis of an abandoned boy.
And like two strangers,
with neither kisses nor beautiful words separating the vast expanse of our love I leave, wandering toward you along the umbilical cord of a lost look,
like this port of mine that moves off on its ocean of anxiety I come to plea for your love and promise you a better tomorrow.

I taste the salt of my shipwreck, there is a stone in my soul and in my eyes the fraught tension of this passage,
insatiable thirst; in my gut and heart and mind I hold the sweetness of my land, your legacy.

There is so much.
So many truths that escape my eyes because we are joined by a kiss, in the distance, by a look.
So many truths denied,
for there is a sea that cries embracing my soul,
... and pain and the drunkenness in which I exist in an inaccessible world,
like the innocent smile of a crazy little girl.

Mother today I come to you in anguish.
The anguish of a book tossed aside,
a man waiting on a corner for another man's wife.
Or one who in a clinic hears his fortified semen in the cry of his son.

I come to you hesitant and humiliated.
With the fear and shame of a toothless smile or young boy masturbating.
The shame of a naked young girl standing before a man for the first time.
With the shame of the book in the window no one ever buys.
I come in tears and deposit my tears of a son in the wind that they may join the immense system of everything created by your mother's weeping.

You will be proud because I will be someone else.
I have killed my sad loneliness and weeping and now there are distances and good deeds and although we are close yet far away I will turn this bitterness to sweet and from this motionless goodbye we will return to kiss one another when we are home again.


Ulises Estrella was one of the founders of the Tzántzicos in 1961. Tzánzicos, which means shrunken heads and refers to the reduction of human heads practiced in the past by several indigenous cultures, was part of a world-wide independent artistic renaissance that surged throughout the 1960s and included the Nadaistas in Colombia, Techo de la Ballena in Venezuela, El Corno Emplumado in Mexico, Hungryalists in India and similar groups across the globe, creating a powerful web of rebellious creative nonconformists. Estrella founded and for many years directed Ecuador's National Cinema. He was a longtime cultural reference in his country.

Among Estrella's poetry collections are: Clamor (1962), Ombligo del mundo (1966), Convulsionario (1974), Aguja que rompe el tiempo (1980), Fuera del juego (1983), Sesenta poemas (1984), Interiores (1986), Furtivos, poemas furtivos (1988), Peatón de Quito (1992), Digo mundo (2001), and Contrafactual (2014). He also wrote essay and theater, and a memoir, Memoria incandescente, came out in 2003.


MariAna es y no es

Aparece, casi estática,
ángel con su pecho apretado.

Oliendo su ciudad,
queriendo que vengan los temblores para empezar a comprender sin cilicios sin treguas,
abrazando a los humanos,
en su quebradura trastabillando en las calles,
viviendo en la quebrada,
cediendo su sangre a los diez mil.
Buscando convertir en música el estrépito.

Sainthood's Scent

MariAna is and isn't

She appears, almost motionless,
half angel clasping her breast.

Smelling her city,
wanting the earth's tremors to come so with neither hair shirt nor ceasefire she may begin to understand,
embracing humans,
stumbling through the streets in her rupture MariAna,
living in the gorge,
ceding her blood to the ten thousand.
Looking to turn the din to music.

Piedras Vivas

Si vinieron del Volcán estas piedras trajeron el Fuego

del contorno al centro,
muy adentro están fortificadas

desde los bordes llaman a las caricias,
a descubrir los impulsos apenas con el tacto de quienes quieran descubrir las fiebres internas.

Si fueron expulsadas desde el fondo de la tierra son quiteñas sustancias,
Piedras Vivas que acompasan los ritmos antagónicos de nuestros corazones.

Semejantes a cabezas humanas podrían haber salido de la Caverna en busca de espacios donde apoyarse.

Living Stones

If they came from the Volcano these stones brought Fire

from circumference to center,
deep inside they are powerful

at their edges,
calling on caresses to discover desire with the simple touch of those who search for hidden flame.

If they were expelled from the depths of the earth their substance belongs to Quito,
Living Stones in step with the antagonistic rhythms of our hearts.

Like human heads they might have emerged from the Cave looking for a place to rest.


Excerpted from "Voices from the Center of the World"
by .
Copyright © 2020 Margaret Randall.
Excerpted by permission of Wings Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Roberto Tejada ix

Prologue Margaret Randall xiii

Jorgenrique Adoum (1926-2009) 2

Miguel Donoso Pareja (1931-2015) 10

Ulises Estrella (1939-2014) 15

Antonio Preciado (1941) 20

Ana María Iza (1941-2016) 25

Raul Arias (1943) 32

Sara Vanegas (1950) 37

Catalina Sojos (1951) 42

Jennie Carrasco (1955) 49

Sara Palacios (1955) 54

Maritza Cino Alvear (1957) 61

Carmen Váscones (1958) 70

Raúl Vallejo (1959) 75

Edwin Madrid (1961) 80

Ariruma Kowii (1961) 87

Xavier Oquendo (1972) 92

Julia Erazo (1972) 103

Ana Cecilia Blum (1972) 110

Aleyda Quevedo (1972) 115

Carlos Vallejo (1973) 124

Lucila Lema (1974) 131

Luis Alberto Bravo (1979) 138

Santiago Grijalva (1992) 143

Rene Gordillo (1993) 148

Juan Suárez Proaño (1993) 151

About the Editor/Translator 156

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