Rhythm, beauty and performance- Xánath Caraza on writing as a bilingual poet

Patience Kayira ‘20 Assistant Arts Editor

Xánath Caraza, a renowned poet, author and artist, integrated nature and art into a poetry reading on March 30 in Seelye 207. Originally from Xalapa, Veracruz, México, Caraza writes in Spanish, English and sometimes Nahuatl. Caraza recited a total of six poems; each poem was read first in Spanish and then in English. Throughout the reading, Caraza addressed the question, “What does it mean to be a Bilingual Poet?” by describing her writing process and encouraging audience members to actively participate by repeating words and names. Through this experience, audience members received the opportunity to listen, reflect and respond quietly to the meditative readings of Caraza.

All six poems explored aspects of being a woman. In addition to covering themes of womanhood, the vivid language of each poem resembled a painting. Caraza described her writing style as “ekphrastic,” meaning that her writing stems from her reactions to artwork. Thus, her poetry often includes descriptions and references to specific parts of a piece of artwork.

As a bilingual writer, Caraza often works with numerous people at a time in a collaborative writing process. For her poetry, she often works with Latino artists where she utilizes an ekphrastic writing style to craft a poem. In addition to artists, Caraza also works with a team of translators. Caraza explained that “translation involves rewriting the whole thing again.” The nuances and sounds of a particular language are often difficult to replicate in another language.

She began her reading by reciting the words in a melodious manner. Beginning in Spanish, Caraza’s voice read with beauty and meditation. The transition from Spanish to English was seamless. Caraza’s evocative statements about the condition of woman of color were linked with nature. In a reflective tone, she read, “I am/Conglomerated metallic voices/Chant of sirens with nowhere to go/Motors beginning the race/Noise from the streets/Morning rush/And traffic jam/I am/Woman of color/Digital image.”

Caraza’s first poem, “Imagen Digital/Digital Image” explored the meaning behind being a woman of color. Her inspiration for this poem stemmed from the different identity she gained upon her arrival to the United States. Caraza said, “My mom grew up bilingual, speaking both Spanish and the Aztec language; however, when I came to the U.S., I suddenly became a woman of color. I then had the question, ‘What does it mean to be a woman of color?’”

The second and third poems Caraza recited, “Mujer” and “Fuerza Ancestral/Ancestral Strength,” continued the connections between women and nature. Caraza stated that “‘Mujer” was written for International Women’s Day, “[and that she] placed all [her] concerns into the poem.” The language and words were all linked together smoothly. It ended on a strong note with “fear, faith, night and day, today, always mujer.”

Within Fuerza Ancestral, Caraza encouraged the audience to participate in reciting the poem. In a light tone, Caraza stated, “I reminded you that you will be challenged.” Fuerza Ancestral, translated as Ancestral Strength, presented the names of goddesses. With the repetition of each goddess’s name, the audience made efforts at pronunciation. At the same time, they were taught about each goddess’s strength and significance, communicating the importance of female empowerment.

In the last poem, “Yanga,” Caraza’s reading shifted from a focus on the condition of women to a focus on the connection between Latin America and Africa. She performed the poem in a rhythmic manner. She explained that “Yanga” was dedicated to a poet in New York, and that the poem’s subject matter itself refers to an actual person. Yanga, as Caraza described, was considered to be “a community organizer, who survived the Middle Passage.” Throughout the poem, Caraza’s voice was musical, and the combination of multiple languages within this piece communicated the diversity within identity.

With the light evening sun basking in from the tall windows of Seelye 207 and platters of cheese and wine, a calm ambiance filled the room as the audience listened carefully to translated works. Ultimately, Xánath Caraza’s poetry reading was a beautiful event that illustrated the power of language.