Puerto Rican poet associated with Guajana, a literary group that gained influence in the 1970s and was known mainly for cultivating revolutionary poetry of social engagement.
Marina Angélica Arzola was born in Guayanilla on July 12, 1939, the daughter of Federico Arzola Emmanuelli and Carmen Porcell. She attended primary and secondary school in her hometown and graduated from what was then the Arístides Calés Quirós High School in 1957. She enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras Campus and earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1961. Later, she worked as a teacher in Gabriela Mistral School in Río Piedras.
She was part of the Guajana Group, a movement of young Puerto Rican poets in the 1960s who were interested in producing poetry that engaged the political and social realities of Puerto Rico and the world. In 1962, they founded the journal Guajana, through which they proposed a revolutionary form of poetry with political and social criticism. They were not interested in “pure” poetry dedicated to aesthetics, nor the image of the solitary poet standing apart from the difficulties of daily life to produce poetry of dreams and tranquility. Instead, they sought a poetry that was active, human, and useful, more accessible, and at the service of the people.
The language of the Guajana poetry tended toward the use of clear, direct and simple forms, of popular expressions and words of African or indigenous origin. The Guajana topics reflected the concerns and interests of the revolutionary thinking of the 1960s: the anti-colonial struggle, class conflict, capitalism, communism, the Vietnam War, criticism of the social bourgeoisie, the condition of women and of people of African descent, love and eroticism, and universalism, among others.
According to some critics, Marina Arzola’s relationship with Guajana was more the result of her doubts about avant-garde movements than her ideological inclinations, although she shared the journal’s revolutionary sentiment. She published her first booklet, El niño de cristal y Los olvidados, in 1966. Her second book, Palabras Vivas (1968), shows how Arzola used the language: as a tool or instrument whose uses and sounds are constantly up for reinvention.
Four themes run through her work: God, homeland, love and the body. Some critics describe Arzola’s poetry as strange and reading her work as a pleasant experience, even when it is difficult to understand. She shows a preference for linguistic games. Her poems make extensive use of musicality (alliteration, puns, echoes). Her work is also full of neologisms (new words) produced through derivation, through composition (joining two words with clear meanings) and synthesis (words from both derivation and composition). She used words as a weapon to open a path to unexpected meanings, entering into psychological territories of dreams, fantasies and religious anguish.
Arzola’s techniques are derived from the Hispano-American avant-garde movement of the early 20th century, neo-romanticism (with Pablo Neruda and César Vallejo as models), creationism (Vicente Huidobro), religious existentialism and surrealism (Blas de Otero), among others.
It is believed that some of Arzola’s work has been lost and that others remain unpublished. Among her unpublished books of poetry whose existence are known, because she referred to them, are Tierra del eterno sueño, Plano altivo, Los almiares del tiempo, El padre de los cargos, Monólogo del sur al amado, Poemas de las circunstancias, Los niños y las abluciones, La sangre primitiva, Hablando en castellano, and Terriblemente ángel.
In addition to her work with the magazine Guajana, she regularly contributed to various literary journals such as Alma Latina, Prometeo, Bayoán, Surcos and Versiones, and also served as assistant director of the latter.
Arzola received various prizes and honors. In 1957, she won her first award with the top prize at the poetry contest organized by the University of Puerto Rico for her poem “Santa Teresa de Jesús.” In 1966, she won the Christmas Contest organized by the Puerto Rican Athenaeum for her book of poetry El niño de cristal y Los olvidados, published in 1977. The San Juan Women’s Civic Club awarded her second prize in its contest in 1968 for Palabras vivas.
She died December 4, 1976, at age 37 from complications from asthma. The Guajana Group, in its issue of November, 1978, which it dedicated to her posthumously, said that “Marina’s poems were not ‘understood,’ but rather perceived.”
Ciordia Muguerza, Javier. “La extraña y entrañable Marina Arzola”. Exégesis 37- 38 (2000): 19-28. Impreso.
Ortiz Salichs, Ana María. “Obra, crítica y biografía de Marina Arzola”. Exégesis 37- 38 (2000): 29-35. Impreso.
Rivera de Alvarez, Josefina. Literatura puertorriqueña: su proceso en el tiempo. Madrid: Partenón, . Impreso.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 16, 2014.
This post is also available in: Español