Madwomen: The “Locas mujeres” Poems of Gabriela Mistral, a Bilingual Edition


Madwomen: The Between the concept of the collection, that this is the bilingual edition, and that it has a short biography of the author, it’s kind of a one stop shop for this great poet. Showcasing women who are at the edges of their ability to cope and in a variety of situations, this collection is also surprisingly relatable.

A schoolteacher whose poetry catapulted her to early fame in her native Chile and an international diplomat whose boundary-defying sexuality still challenges scholars, Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957) is one of the most important and enigmatic figures in Latin American literature of the last century. The Locas mujeres poems collected here are among Mistral’s most complex and compelling, exploring facets of the self in extremis–poems marked by the wound of blazing catastrophe and its aftermath of mourning.
From disquieting humor to ballad-like lyricism to folkloric wisdom, these pieces enact a tragic sense of life, depicting “madwomen” who are anything but mad. Strong and intensely human, Mistral’s poetic women confront impossible situations to which no sane response exists. This groundbreaking collection presents poems from Mistral’s final published volume as well as new editions of posthumous work, featuring the first English-language appearance of many essential poems. Madwomen promises to reveal a profound poet to a new generation of Anglophone readers while reacquainting Spanish readers with a stranger, more complicated “madwoman” than most have ever known.

Gabriela Mistral is one of the Nobel Laureates for Literature and given the premise of challenging myself to Read Nobel Women, how can I not choose this one for her? It also helps that this totally counted as “a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love” for Read Harder 2017.

I am working on improving the amount of poetry I read, especially by women, and this is definitely my kind of poetry. Some of these women are mad, but that doesn’t mean insane.  They have been thwarted by life in a variety of situations and they aren’t all hanging around in a lovesick stupor either, though some were in love. Even for those madwomen who were in love, that’s not what the poem is about.

I read both versions of each poem, even though I understand Spanish anymore. I used to understand a lot  when I was in a community that spoke it but I’ve lost so much of my vocabulary and the little grammar that I had begun to grasp, so I did it for nostalgia’s sake more than anything else. I could pick out some words I had forgotten, and would read aloud sometimes so I can remember the cadence of some words, but it wasn’t helpful for enjoying the book. But it was nice to get the bit of refresh for me.

There is a note from the translator, Randall Couch, who explained some of his process. As mentioned above, the beginning of this particular volume also includes a short herstory of the life of Mistral. It was interesting to read about how she grew up and the progress of her career, both in poetry and education. The inclusion of the biography really helped me to understand her place in  the world and the impact of her poetry.

My favorite poem was Clytemnestra, who is a character from Greek mythology that I had never heard of. Altogether, the book has me convinced that I have been a madwoman and that it’s okay and I’m not alone and every madwoman has a different story. If that’s not a reason to check out this collection of poems, than I don’t know what is.

Okay, okay, Read Harder 2017 and Nobel Women are good reasons too, but that’s not the point. This is a great collection that any woman could relate to. I read a Scribd copy but if you prefer to purchase, click on the cover and it will take you to the book page on BookLikes.


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