Delicates by Wendy Guerra Translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson and Esperanza Hope Snyder
$17.00 | Seagull Books | 72 pp. | June 2023 | ISBN: 978-1803091662
“and even if I say it all it would not reach your senses intact
You don’t understand You would have to learn to undress me”
– Wendy Guerra, Delicates, Trans. Nancy Naomi Carlson and Esperanza Hope Snyder
Wendy Guerra’s Delicates is a lyrical exploration of Cuban culture, intimacy, and womanhood. I met with Esperanza Hope Snyder, one of the translators of this edition, to talk about bringing it to English speakers for the first time.
With a collection as nuanced and layered as Delicates, Snyder said one of the most vital aspects is the cultural perspective of the speaker, a Cuban woman writing from inside Cuba. Those unfamiliar with Cuban culture may not recognize the references to Yoruba traditions and Santeria present in poems such as “On Your Knees.” Thus, the goal of the translation was to communicate cultural components to a new audience.
Beyond the Cubanidad of these poems, what struck me was their diasporic nature, which initially attracted Snyder to the collection. “This is unique,” she said, “ a female poet living in Cuba writing as if she weren't, as she already missed Cuba.” Recurrent throughout are images of oceans and the speaker’s yearning to cross them: “I drown pianos on the shore / attempting to get there attempting to make up another possible geography.” Although she hadn’t left, Guerra’s writing reflected a longing to return. “She could definitely connect to the diaspora,” said Snyder, “but she was also there. The one who stayed.” The speaker’s desire speaks to her role as a bridge between worlds, which is conjured in different contexts throughout Delicates.
Snyder called the speaker “a person caught between two…a bridge between perhaps mother and father, art and the reader, the public, interior, exterior world.” The speaker also bridges femininity and masculinity. Her overt descriptions of sexuality are feminine in sentiment (“rose water and wax drippings from vanilla-scented candles”) and masculine in their brazenness (“Don’t tremble before my masculine side the culprit summoning me to be daring”). Part of this comes from the restraint she exercises in revealing herself, which Snyder characterized as “I know everything but this is as much as I'm going to tell you…she at the same time wants her privacy as a writer.” Throughout Delicates, the speaker asserts that to understand her, one must read her: “I already know they are reading my Diaries…They dig their hands into my delicates as if touching my sex.” Thus, her nakedness in these poems is both physical and literary.
The tendency toward writing comes in part from the speaker’s mother, whose notebook she keeps: “While I recover dust from her books / she leaves me behind and escapes.” In Latinx literature, the mother/daughter relationship is complex, contradictory: I love you but I don’t want to be you so I have to leave you. According to Snyder, the speaker recognizes that her mother marked her in ways she will always carry, “so there's great devotion, admiration.” This is due in part to cultural gender expectations, yet another theme present in each poem in Delicates.
In a layered, sensual, collage of Cuban womanhood, Wendy Guerra eschews a unilateral portrayal of femininity and dares women to control their stories.
Brittany Torres Rivera is a bilingual, Puerto Rican writer. She graduated from Florida International University with a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing in the Spring of 2021, becoming the first in her family to attend college. Brittany was awarded prizes in poetry and fiction at the FIU Student Literary Awards in 2020 and 2021. She is a Fulbright Grantee and is currently an English Teaching Assistant in Madrid, Spain.