"I Can Write the Strongest Verses ..."

I can write the strongest verses of my life,
And split the earth in two all the way to the plains.
I can write the strongest verses of my life,
And melt the frozen and frigid mountains.


… from “I Can Write the Strongest Verses” (Puedo escribir los versos más fuertes), by Violeta Hernandez – written as part of the Bridge Program literature class.

The Bridge Program connects Adelante Mujeres and the Center for Gender Equity of Pacific University to offer a class in Hispanic Literature to adult women studying in the Adelante Mujeres program.

The women in the class are incredibly enthusiastic to set foot on a college campus (the first time, for many of them) and to study the poetry of such great writers as Pablo Neruda.

At the end of each course term, the students in the class present works of poetry or short fiction that they have written in reaction to the literature they read in class.

Through odes to rice, love poems, and exposés about the hardships of poverty and immigration, the women celebrated the end of their term yesterday with a poetry recital at Marsh Hall on Pacific University. Dr. Nancy Christoph, their animated professor, MC’d the event, welcoming the women to read their poems and giving the audience the contextual background for poems like …

“Ode to the Knife” (Oda al cuchillo) by Blanca Erika Ríos, translation provided Mariana Valenzuela

In the kitchen
sharpened with a firm point
about to attack
without compassion.
You move thus
towards the weakest:
the onion, without weapons
to defend itself.
It awaits you in the corner,
trembling, awaiting
the moment when you’ll
attack, without mercy,
crying, hiding amongst its white and juicy layers.
And you, knife, with your shining blade,
proud of your triumph.
And the poor, sad onion,
with its heart
destroyed and confused.


“The Need of the Poor” (La necesidad del pobre) by Irene Hernandez, translation by Mariana Valenzuela

The need of the poor
Is to leave one’s hart lonesome at home,
While one searches for food,
Food that is not enough
Hunger you cannot fill.
The need of the poor
Is to wake and not have
Not even a tortilla on the table.
A preoccupied mother who suffers
And cries as she looks into innocent little faces
Who ask and do not know a thing.

The need of the poor
Is having to work from childhood,
Mistreated, humiliated and exploited
By those who of poverty
Do not know a thing.
The need of the poor
Is to walk without shoes
Through an endless path.

That is why I invite you
To turn your eyes
And give a hug, or a greeting
Because the need of the poor
will always, always, be.


Of course, not all the poems were of such a serious and heavy nature. There was also a great deal of inspired strength in the poetry of these women.

A crowd favorite was "Adelante Mujeres", written by Violeta Hernandez and read by Susana Bribiezca. English translation provided by Mariana Valenzuela.

Adelante mujeres, you can fight
Adelante mujeres and give all your strength
Adelante mujeres do not stop, you are here
With Adelante Mujeres a better world will come
To give to your family all prosperity.

Adelante mujeres, go on and you will triumph
Making true your wish of finishing school
And to show the world that, although poor,
Great you will be.

With Adelante Mujeres we fight to improve
And to change the world.
Children, men and everyone good will be
And we will live without violence in our homes.

And when you become a professional, remember
That Adelante Mujeres taught you to talk
Through all roads without falling.


So moving was this poem that after Susana finished reading, one audience member stood up and encouraged the whole room to recite it together. An inspired scene, indeed.

Adelante!