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  • Luanda in Santiago and Santiago in Luanda:Trans-Atlantic Dimensions in Cuban and Angolan Poetry
  • Lanie Millar

What is lost when we ignore the poetic in political poetry? What insights arise when we read poetry with attention to the spaces in between the political and the literary? This article analyzes several groups of twentieth-century Cuban and Angolan poems with attention to two dimensions of transnational exchange. First, it considers American and African cultural geographies that are read as the source of different poetic languages and forms that reverberate across the Atlantic. Second, it posits that reading political poetry, even or especially that which appears simplistically political, can open up compelling questions about the role of art in the public sphere. While the Cuban intervention into Angola is one of the island nation's most significant post-revolutionary international events, critics have paid very limited attention to Cuban literature about the Angolan war; similarly, few studies have sought to place Angolan literature into larger trans-Atlantic conversations.1 However, intercultural exchange [End Page 1277] is a central component that thematically links a series of both Cuban and Angolan poems from the mid-to-late twentieth century, focusing on two moments of trans-Atlantic collaboration that forefront political engagement: the negritude movements of the mid-twentieth century and the Cuban-Angolan joint venture of the 1970s-1980s. Recent works of history examine a range of interests and motivations leading to Cuba's and Angola's public expressions of solidarity across the Global South, the rearticulation of Cuba as an "Afro-Latino nation" and a longstanding commitment to collaboration between the two nations that continues into the twenty-first century (Castro 1976). Cuba's support for Angola's independence war as it escalated into an international and civil conflict went beyond military collaboration to include joint film ventures, educational missions, journalism, and literature in support of the collaboration. On their end, Angola's writers and intellectuals, founders of the anti-colonial movements, saw their role as a mandate to create the new nation via politically engaged letters. Angolan revolutionary poetry, refracting Cuba's look toward the African continent, frequently vacillates between a nationalized and localized sense of the revolutionary struggle and a look out to the rest of the continent and the worldwide African diaspora in order to cast the intersections of artistic and political revolt in terms of an international collective of actors.

Poems by Cubans Nicolás Guillén, Víctor Casaus, and Antonio Conte as well as Angolans Viriato da Cruz, Agostinho Neto, and Manuel Rui, and their paratextual material, evidence a focus on what I call historical analogy. The poems conceive of experiences of slavery and colonization, independence, and revolution in the Caribbean and Africa as analogous, portraying the Cuban revolution of 1959 and the Angolan revolution of 1975 as historical counterparts. Yet, careful examination of the works where this trans-Atlantic exchange is the explicit theme undermines two dominant framings of the mid-twentieth-century encounters: first, the Negritude trope of blackness as the common factor that links Africa to the diaspora, where Africa is posited as origin/original and the diaspora as copy; and second, how the over-determination of the political allegiance between the two nations after 1975 leads to notions of political iteration—the revolution repeated in two locales. Rather, reading poems about the encounter together reveals a system of dense poetic entanglements that relies upon prior moments of a primarily poetic exchange, rather than solely a racial or political one. These poems thus suggest an alternate territory of contemplation that is not adequately perceived when we reduce them to [End Page 1278] transparent political messaging. Both the Angolan poetry of the 1940s to the 1960s and the Cuban and Angolan poems written during the 1970s and 1980s explicitly show the poets as readers of the Négritude/negritude/negrista movements of the 1930s to 1950s in French, Portuguese, and Spanish. Earlier poetic figures and movements continue to frame the later poetry's engagement with their present, especially for white Cuban poets who call upon the foundational Afro-Cuban figure of Guillén to engage with Africa. This article will proceed in three parts...


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