Nicolás Guillén

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This article is about the Cuban poet. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_0

For the documentarian filmmaker (his nephew), see Nicolás Guillén Landrián. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_1

Nicolás Guillén_table_infobox_0

Nicolás GuillénNicolás Guillén_header_cell_0_0_0
BornNicolás Guillén_header_cell_0_1_0 (1902-07-10)July 10, 1902

CamagüeyNicolás Guillén_cell_0_1_1

DiedNicolás Guillén_header_cell_0_2_0 July 16, 1989(1989-07-16) (aged 87)

HavanaNicolás Guillén_cell_0_2_1

GenreNicolás Guillén_header_cell_0_3_0 PoetryNicolás Guillén_cell_0_3_1
SubjectNicolás Guillén_header_cell_0_4_0 Black poetry (poesía negra)Nicolás Guillén_cell_0_4_1

Nicolás Cristóbal Guillén Batista (10 July 1902 – 16 July 1989) was a Cuban poet, journalist, political activist, and writer. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_2

He is best remembered as the national poet of Cuba. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_3

Born in Camagüey, he studied law at the University of Havana, but abandoned a legal career and worked as both a typographer and journalist. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_4

His poetry was published in various magazines from the early 1920s; his first collection, Motivos de son (1930) was strongly influenced by his meeting that year with the African-American poet, Langston Hughes. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_5

He drew from son music in his poetry. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_6

West Indies, Ltd., published in 1934, was Guillén's first collection with political implications. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_7

Cuba's dictatorial Gerardo Machado regime was overthrown in 1933, but political repression intensified. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_8

After being jailed in 1936, Guillén joined the Communist Party the next year, traveling to Spain for a Congress of Writers and Artists, and covering the Spanish Civil War as a magazine reporter. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_9

After returning to Cuba, he stood as a Communist in the local elections of 1940. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_10

This caused him to be refused a visa to enter the United States the following year, but he traveled widely during the next decades in South America, China and Europe. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_11

In 1953, after being in Chile, he was refused re-entry to Cuba and spent five years in exile. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_12

He returned after the successful Cuban revolution of 1959. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_13

From 1961 he served more than 25 years as president of the Unión Nacional de Escritores de Cuba, the National Cuban Writers' Union. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_14

His awards included the Stalin Peace Prize in 1954, the 1976 International Botev Prize, and in 1983 he was the inaugural winner of Cuba's National Prize for Literature. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_15

Early life Nicolás Guillén_section_0

Nicolás Guillén Batista was born July 10, 1902, in Camagüey, Cuba, the eldest of six children (three boys and three girls) of Argelia Batista y Arrieta and Nicolás Guillén y Urra, both of whom were of mixed-race, African-European descent. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_16

His father had fought for independence as a lieutenant. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_17

When his first son Nicolás was born, the father worked as a journalist for one of the new local papers. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_18

He introduced his son to Afro-Cuban music when he was very young. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_19

Guillén y Urra belonged to the Partido Libertad and founded the daily newspaper, La Libertad, to express its views. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_20

Government forces assassinated Guillén's father for protesting against electoral fraud and destroyed his printing press, where Nicolás and a brother were already working. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_21

Argelia and her children struggled financially. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_22

Nicolás and his siblings encountered discriminatory racism in Cuba similar to that suffered by African-Americans in the United States. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_23

Literary works Nicolás Guillén_section_1

Guillén drew from his mixed African and Spanish ancestry and education to combine his knowledge of traditional literary form with firsthand experience of the speech, legends, songs, and songs of Afro-Cubans in his first volume of poetry, Motivos de son. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_24

It was soon acclaimed as a masterpiece and widely imitated. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_25

In the 1920s, when Afro-Cuban sounds and instruments were changing the world of Cuban music, Afro-Cuban culture began to be expressed in art and literature as well. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_26

Initially, Afro-Cuban poetry, or "negrista" poetry, was mainly published by European Cubans such as Emilio Ballagas, Alejo Carpentier, and José Tallet. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_27

It was not until the 1930s that Guillén would appeal in literary terms by expressing a personal account of the struggles, dreams, and mannerisms of Afro-Cubans. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_28

Guillén became outspoken politically, and dissatisfied with picturesque portrayal of the daily life of the poor. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_29

He began to decry their oppression in his poetry volumes Sóngoro cosongo and West Indies Ltd. Guillen also wrote Cantos para soldados y sones para turistas, which reflected his growing political commitment. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_30

Guillén is probably the best-known representative of the "poesía negra" ("black poetry"), which tried to create a synthesis between black and white cultural elements, a "poetic mestizaje". Nicolás Guillén_sentence_31

Characteristic for his poems is the use of onomatopoetic words ("Sóngoro Cosongo", "Mayombe-bombe") that try to imitate the sound of drums or the rhythm of the son. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_32

Silvestre Revueltas's symphonic composition Sensemayá was based on Guillén's poem of the same name, and became that composer's best-known work, followed by José Limantour's suite from his film score for La noche de los mayas. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_33

Guillén later became acknowledged by many critics as the most influential of those Latin American poets who dealt with African themes and re-created African song and dance rhythms in literary form. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_34

Guillen made an international mark with the publication of Motivos de son (1930). Nicolás Guillén_sentence_35

The work was inspired by the living conditions of Afro-Cubans and the popular son music. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_36

The work consists of eight short poems using the everyday language of the Afro Cubans. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_37

The collection stood out in the literary world because it emphasized and established the importance of Afro-Cuban culture as a valid genre in Cuban literature. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_38

In Man-Making Words: Selected Poems of Nicolás Guillén, Angel Aguier, in reference to Motivos de son, wrote that Nicolás Guillén_sentence_39

This quote establishes how the son, such a profound musical genre of that time, initiated the fusion of black and white Cuban culture. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_40

Guillén's incorporation of the genre into his writings, symbolized and created a pathway for the same cultural fusion in Cuban literature. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_41

Guillén's unique approach of using the son in his poetry is expressed in his book Sóngoro consongo (1931). Nicolás Guillén_sentence_42

In this work, Guillén included poems that depicted the lives of Cubans and emphasized the importance of Afro-Cuban culture in Cuban history. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_43

Sóngoro consongo captures the essence of the Afro-Cuban culture and ways that the people deal with their personal situations. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_44

Guillén's poem, "La canción del bongó", from Sóngoro consongo, is a fusion of West African and Hispanic literary styles, contributing to his unique literary vision. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_45

Esta es la canción del bongó: —Aquí el que más fino sea, responde, si llamo yo. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_46

Unos dicen: Ahora mismo, otros dicen: Allá voy. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_47

Pero mi repique bronco, pero mi profunda voz, convoca al negro y al blanco, que bailan el mismo son, cueripardos y almiprietos más de sangre que de sol, pues quien por fuera no es de noche, por dentro ya oscureció. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_48

Aquí el que más fino sea, responde, si llamo yo. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_49

En esta tierra, mulata de africano y español (Santa Bárbara de un lado, del otro lado, Changó), siempre falta algún abuelo, cuando no sobra algún Don y hay títulos de Castilla con parientes en Bondó: Vale más callarse, amigos, y no menear la cuestión, porque venimos de lejos, y andamos de dos en dos. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_50

Aquí el que más fino sea, responde si llamo yo. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_51

Habrá quién llegue an insultarme, pero no de corazón; habrá quién me escupa en público, cuando a solas me besó... A ése, le digo: —Compadre, ya me pedirás perdón, ya comerás de mi ajiaco, ya me darás la razón, ya me golpearás el cuero, ya bailarás a mi voz, ya pasearemos del brazo, ya estarás donde yo estoy: ya vendrás de abajo arriba, ¡que aquí el más alto soy yo! Nicolás Guillén_sentence_52

This poem, like many in Sóngoro consongo, incorporates the rhythmic sounds of son. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_53

The poem has a rhythm that uses the marking of stressed and unstressed syllables in strong and weak beats, rather than simply the number of syllables. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_54

Dellita L. Martin says that "La canción del bongó" stands out as a poem because "it is the only one to indicate Guillén's painfully increasing awareness of racial conflicts in Cuba". Nicolás Guillén_sentence_55

Langston Hughes and Nicolás Guillén Nicolás Guillén_section_2

In 1930 José Antonio Fernández de Castro, publisher of the Havana daily, Diario de la Marina, and the first to translate American Langston Hughes’s poetry to Spanish, arranged for the two poets to meet. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_56

He was a white Cuban from an aristocratic family who loved black Cuba. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_57

He was a newspaperman, a diplomat, and a friend to Cuba’s artists. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_58

In February 1930, Langston Hughes traveled to Cuba for the second time, on a two-week mission to find a black composer to collaborate on a folk opera. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_59

He had been given a letter of introduction to José Antonio Fernández de Castro, his door to Cuba’s artistic world. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_60

At this time Hughes’ poetry was better known to Cubans than that of Guillén, so the American’s arrival created a stir in the artistic community. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_61

The next month, on 9 March 1930, Guillén published “Conversación con Langston Hughes”, an article describing his experience of meeting Hughes in Havana. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_62

The Cubans expected a nearly white, tall and heavyset man in his forties with thin lips and an even thinner English-style mustache. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_63

Instead they saw a twenty-seven-year-old, slight brown man without a mustache. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_64

Guillén wrote that Mr. Hughes "parece justamente un mulatico cubano” – looks just like a Cuban mulatto. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_65

Guillén was especially taken with Hughes' warm personality and enthusiasm for the 'son' music, which he heard on the nightly forays into Cuba’s Marinao district organized by Fernandez de Castro. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_66

Hughes was said to be a hit with the soneros. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_67

His enthusiasm for Cuban music inspired Guillén. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_68

Hughes immediately saw the similarities between 'son' and the blues, as folk music traditions whose form was based on the call-and-response structure of African music. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_69

Additionally, he was excited about its possibilities as an organic base for formal poetry. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_70

According to biographer Arnold Rampersad, Hughes suggested to Guillén that he make the rhythms of the 'son' central to his poetry, as the American had used elements of blues and jazz. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_71

Hughes drew not only rhythmic innovation from these folk music traditions, but used them as a means to express his protest against racial inequality. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_72

Both poets shared anger against racism, but Hughes impressed Guillén with his particular kind of racial consciousness. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_73

Although the Cuban poet had expressed outrage against racism and economic imperialism, he had not yet done so in language inspired by Afro-Cuban speech, song, and dance. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_74

He had been more concerned with protest than with celebrating the power and beauty of Afro Cubans. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_75

Within weeks of meeting Hughes, Guillén quickly wrote eight poems that were markedly different from his previous work. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_76

His new poems generated controversy and established Guillén's fame as one of the premier poets of the Négritude movement, which spanned the Americas. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_77

On 21 April 1930, Guillén sent Hughes the result of his inspiration, his book of poetry Motivos de Son. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_78

The author wrote on the inside cover, “Al poeta Langston Hughes, querido amigo mío. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_79

Afectuosamente, Nicolás Guillén”. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_80

Although Hughes did not find an Afro-Cuban composer to work with, he created a lasting friendship with Guillén; it was based on their mutual respect and convictions about racial inequality. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_81

Poetry and politics Nicolás Guillén_section_3

Cuba's dictatorial Gerardo Machado regime was overthrown in 1933, but political repression in the following years intensified. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_82

In 1936, with other editors of Mediodía, Guillén was arrested on trumped-up charges, and spent some time in jail. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_83

In 1937 he joined the Communist Party and made his first trip abroad, attending a Congress of Writers and Artists in Spain. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_84

During his travels in the country, he covered Spain's Civil War as a magazine reporter. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_85

Guillén returned to Cuba via Guadeloupe. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_86

He stood as a Communist in the local elections of 1940. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_87

The following year he was refused a visa to enter the United States, but he travelled widely during the next two decades in South America, China and Europe. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_88

Guillén's poetry was increasingly becoming imbued with issues of cross-cultural Marxist dialectic. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_89

In 1953, he was prevented by the Fulgencio Batista government from re-entering Cuba after a trip to Chile and had to spend five years in exile. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_90

After the Cuban revolution of 1959, Guillen was welcomed back by Fidel Castro, the new president. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_91

In 1961 he was appointed as president of the Unión Nacional de Escritores de Cuba, the National Cuban Writers' Union, serving for more than 25 years. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_92

He continued to write evocative and poignant poetry highlighting social conditions, such as "Problemas de Subdesarrollo" and "Dos Niños" (Two Children). Nicolás Guillén_sentence_93

He was considered the national poet of Cuba, who drew from its multicultural history and population for inspiration. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_94

Nicolás Guillén died in 1989 at age 87 of Parkinson's disease. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_95

He was buried in the Colon Cemetery, Havana. Nicolás Guillén_sentence_96

Legacy and honors Nicolás Guillén_section_4

Nicolás Guillén_unordered_list_0

Major works Nicolás Guillén_section_5

Nicolás Guillén_unordered_list_1

  • Motivos de son (1930)Nicolás Guillén_item_1_4
  • Sóngoro cosongo (1931)Nicolás Guillén_item_1_5
  • West Indies Ltd. (1934)Nicolás Guillén_item_1_6
  • España: poema en cuatro angustias y una esperanza (1937)Nicolás Guillén_item_1_7
  • Cantos para soldados y sones para turistas (1937)Nicolás Guillén_item_1_8
  • El son entero (1947)Nicolás Guillén_item_1_9
  • Elegías (1948–1958)Nicolás Guillén_item_1_10
  • Tengo (1964)Nicolás Guillén_item_1_11
  • Poemas de amor (1964)Nicolás Guillén_item_1_12
  • El gran zoo (1967)Nicolás Guillén_item_1_13
  • La rueda dentada (1972)Nicolás Guillén_item_1_14
  • El diario que a diario (1972)Nicolás Guillén_item_1_15
  • Por el mar de las Antillas anda un barco de papel. Poemas para niños y mayores de edad (1977)Nicolás Guillén_item_1_16
  • Yoruba from Cuba: Selected Poems of Nicolas Guillen (trans. Salvador Ortiz-Carboneres; Peepal Tree Press, 2005)Nicolás Guillén_item_1_17

Discography Nicolás Guillén_section_6

Nicolás Guillén_unordered_list_2

  • Antologia Oral: Poesia Hispanoamericana del Siglo XX / Oral Anthology: Spanish-American Poetry of the 20th Century (Folkways Records, 1960)Nicolás Guillén_item_2_18
  • Nicolás Guillén: Poet Laureate of Revolutionary Cuba (Folkways, 1982)Nicolás Guillén_item_2_19

See also Nicolás Guillén_section_7

Nicolás Guillén_unordered_list_3

Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page:ás Guillén.