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ENIGMAS, poems by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, reviewed by Justin Goodman • Cleaver Magazine
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz remains Mexico’s greatest mystery. Born in 1651 out of wedlock and between social classes, intensely devoted to knowledge—having had discussions with Isaac Newton—and to Catholicism, she died forty-four years later despised by the male authorities of the church, but canonized as part of the literary godhead of the Spanish Golden Age. The haziness of these seeming contradictions evoked in the glorious 20th century Mexican poet, Octavio Paz, a sensation of the enigmatic which he captured in “Wind, Water, Stone”: “Each is another and no other.” It’s appropriate, then, to see Enigmas publication; it is a work whose title is a reflection on both de la Cruz’s existence and poetry, and also on the amorphous gulf between language and meaning that translators of poetry attempt to concretize. At least that’s what Stalina Emmanuelle Villarreal seems to get at in her manifesto-ish “Translator’s Not-(Subtractive Letter).” Much as she describes her aesthetic decisions, “through Neo-Baroque deletion of first person yet a postmodern acceptance of my identity,” the note evokes the characteristically astringent intellect of poststructural feminism. Also in Villarreal’s note, she insists her “polar associations to sound and form” embodies Gloria Anzaldúa.” I could go deeper down the spiral, citing Villarreal’s interest in “all of Sor Juana’s enigma translations…hyperlinked to each other” and her obligation “to pick a unifying aesthetic that would point to naked sound.” All I’ll say, however, is that Engimas is szygy: the rare coincidence of planetary alignment.