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Marjorie Agosin: The Poetry of Transformation

Updated on June 17, 2014

Mexican Woman, circa 2002


Women, Identity, And Power

Marginalized demographics often undergo similar oppressions and face similar struggle. Whether one is black, Chicano, female, homosexual, or in some way a social and cultural outsider, the struggles all have a certain similarity in tone and in experience. As Cherrie Moraga writes in regards to her homosexuality, " Likewise , in male-dominated society, from a history of disempowered women, Marjorie Agosin speaks in her writing about issues of identity, loss, and the fundamental struggle of reclaiming one's inner power in the face of social marginalization. For both Moraga and Agosin, this predicament the joys of looking like a white girl ain't so great since I realized I could be beaten on the street for being a dyke" (Moraga 30). "How have I internalized my own oppression?" writes Morraga, as she turns her process inward to examine the territory of her inner being (Morraga 31). Marjorie Agosin is a master poet at exploring does not have to end in tragedy, and both feminists speak boldly about the beauty and wisdom that comes from reclaiming one's sense of self. It is this personal growth that is fundamental to every person in our society if we are to end the centuries of hegemony's negative consequences. this inner territory. In her book, Melodious Women, that details the journeys of different female heroines, both real and mythological, Agosin answers with verse the plea of Morraga: "We need a new language, better words that can more closely describe women's fear..." (Morraga 31). It is the purpose of this paper to describe the different themes one finds in Melodious Women: loss as a means of transcendence, confusion and beauty in exile, and feminine power as a form of magic for reclaiming the self.

Loss echoes through Agosin's work like an eternal chime, casting the soul out of its perceived safety into a liberating sadness, where the spirit is free at last to find its true identity. The women in her poems are written in the sands of history, but their stories do not have the same victory of conquest that characterizes the masculine. Instead they are thrust into doubt, sorrow, and loneliness, reaching to the skies with empty prayers for an answer to the pain that throbs uncontrollably in their memory. Her poem, "Eve," elucidates this, at once the biblical character yet in turn as an archetype for the journey of women everywhere, Agosin re-envisions the patriarchal mythology into something more befitting as a testimony of psychological truth. Cast out of metaphorical garden, "she dressed herself,/she walked as if ephemeral/...she wrote her life in the bowing waves" (Agosin 37). Even though the male opressors "beat her," and "expelled her from the clubs," she found her true home in the earth itself. The loss of patriarchal support led to a deeper sense of identity. The loss of a home that was superficial to begin with has led to the discovery of a home that is deeper than all, the earth itself. In doing so, transcendence is achieved: "Suddenly/she became/the most fragrant of all/the countries/and the most victorious/star of the night/in the days of blood/and sun" (Agosin 37). Here woman is restored to her natural home that was never in Adam or in his garden. Here woman becomes whole.

Agosin writes a poem about Josephine Baker, an African-American woman who fell in love with France and gained the adoration of notable legends like Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway. She found her voice, her inspirational home, and her embodiment of feminine mystery, though, in Europe, and her critical praise was never as high in her homeland of America. Agosin writes: "what valor in exile,/to leave America/and to be black again." Her ethnic and mythological identity had to be found in exile, in leaving her original birthplace, just like Agosin's Eve leaving the garden. Josephine Baker is "like the butterflies that/do not blink before the surprise" (Agosin 19) This is a story of courage, and the more courageous choice was made in leaving America, as her courage blossomed in full abroad. She made things happen, rather than passively conforming to gender oppression. Her body "shivers and never watches" (19). To return to Morraga's principles, Baker is doing the work of personal transformation. Yet there is still a sense of confusion, or at least a sense of not being totally grounded. Josephine moves through this poem in rapid flashes, yet if one is always moving, one is never quite reconciled to one's self. There is a courage, true, but there is a whole in between the lines, where something indeed may be missing. Is it the pain of her American past? Is it that she had no choice but to live boldly and fiercely because personal peace of mind was not an option? The actor on the world stage pulls of the part, but behind the scenes, what is really happening inside her mind? Agosin no doubt in this poem is present to the gaps in Baker's spirit, but as a champion of female power, Agosin does not mention it explicitly and chooses instead to merely celebrate this legendary woman for doing what so many women in her time were afraid to do: separate from the forces of oppression in a voluntary exile.

In her poem "Leonor of Aquitaine," Agosin demonstrates with mystical language the right and just use of feminine power. It is a form of magic, but magic here is intended more as a metaphorical model than literal witchcraft. A Spanish queen, Leonor governs not with the same weapons of that her patriarchal counterparts do, but with the presence of the feminine in her legend. Agosin makes it clear that her spiritual power was ostensibly feminine:

"Translator of omens,

of the chloroform of dreams

and the women in love

you lived in all the gestures of the kiss

and its fragrances" (Agosin 41).

Leonor's power rested in the kiss and fragrance, things often associated with the feminine. It was an authority used carefully and subtely, "With the restraint of the/illuminated" (Agosin 41). Unfortunately, femine qualities of sensitivity and care were used against women by a fear-based male hegemony across the centuries, to keep women from achieving social authority. Here Leonor achieves an authority, but not by playing the same game as men. Her victory occurs both in real time and in a mythological reality where the feminine spirit persists and develops by true to itself. This, perhaps, is the real meaning of magic, and the patriarchal Church no doubt feared it, calling it withcraft and burning women. But Leonor in her life, as exhibited by this poem, shows that this feminine magic can be just and powerful and benevolent. She shows that there is no inherent flaw with woman itself, only with a world that prevents it from fully actualizing.

Like Morraga suggests in her essay, Agosin does in these poems what amounts to a personal alchemy, of womanhood, of history, of the poetic truth found in these heroines. And this work is done best in poetry. As Morraga had bemoaned, "we have let rhetoric do the job of poetry," and this is unfortunate. Agosin, then, does not use rhetorical truth but poetic truth to reclaim what has been lost in hegemony and oppression. These poems are discoveries, victories, and also sad stories of loss and beauty. Agosin brings woman out of the realm of political debate and into the flesh of humanity. Her poems no doubt reverberate with a truth that only good poetry can ascertain.

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