Clara Lair

Clara Lair

Modernist Puerto Rican poet. She mainly wrote erotic and love poetry. Clara Lair first became known as a poet in 1937 with the release of her book Arras de cristal, a work that, given the styles and manners of the era, made its appearance fully formed, with no signs of the ups and downs of a slow evolution.

Although there is little biographical information about her, it is known that she was born in 1895. Her original name was María de la Mercedes Negrón Muñoz. It is unknown who gave her the name Clara (her pseudonym) and it is said that she chose the surname Lair from “Villa Lair,” a mansion she was invited to but did not dare enter.

She completed high school in Ponce, where she also studied music. She moved to New York, where she learned typing and stenography. She found work in the office of a shipping company. It was also in New York that she wrote most of her poetry. She returned to Puerto Rico, where she wrote, in addition to a few new poems, some prose pieces for newspapers and magazines in the capital about the world of literature on the island.

The totality of her poetry consists of Un amor en Nueva York (14 poems); Arras de cristal (18 poems); Trópico amargo (6 poems); Más allá del poniente (8 poems) both awarded by the Instituto de Literatura Puertorriqueña and últimos poemas, which were just three in number. In total, the work of Clara Lair consisted of 49 pieces of poetry.

Her poetic voice is vocative. Most of her poems are addressed to multiple recipients: a real lover as well as an imaginary one; to an abstract love; to her own heart or to people specifically named, including herself in one desolate sonnet that is part of the poem “Trazos del vivir sombrío.”

All of the above leads us to conclude that the fundamental base of the poetic world created by Clara Lair was love, or, qualifying that a little more, the different manifestations of eroticism. But to reduce the poetry of Clara Lair to eroticism would be an unjust simplification, not only because there are some poems on themes that have nothing to do with love, but also because there are many kinds of elements that show an extreme complexity in the system of intuition, experiences, judgments and reflections that make up the reality envisioned by the poet.

The first collection of poems, Un amor de Nueva York, displays an ironic and distanced view of office life, of business deals and the game of finance, a vision built on the foundation of a love that is more intuited than fulfilled, a love that is “fleeting, elusive, and unsteady,” as she describes the men who are loved by women.

On the other hand, in “Gloria,” she addresses the topic of politics and the situation of Puerto Rico. The poem “Credo” is a kind of existential program, like a manifesto, not toward the future, but toward the past, to give constancy to that which has already been done.

The principal theme of all of her poetic work is eroticism. All of her biographers and critics agree. In Clara Lair’s view of love, there is no room for conjugal love nor motherhood. She was in love with love and believed that woman’s destiny was tied to the experience of love. As came out in her work, interpersonal love is a relationship based on dialogue and on equality of rights that only can be achieved through a total experience. She wrote critically about all aspects of love: boredom, the inconstancy of men, its ephemeral nature, deception, and vulgarity, the impossible resignation to the demands of love, non-conformity, exclusivity, and betrayal.

In formal terms (structure, meter, language), she was a modernist. She wrote alexandrine verse (of fourteen syllables). Her technical mastery and the maturity she demonstrated from the beginning in the use of meter, won acceptance from her readers. She was also known for precision, strength, texture and elasticity of her language.

References:

Tomé, Jesús.”Veinte poetas puertorriqueños del siglo XX”, Mairena Año XX No. 45-46, 1998. San Juan. p 45-53.

Author: Jesús Tomé
Published: September 15, 2014.

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