El Ojo de la Matriz (Vision Libros, 2010)
Eye of the Womb (Power Press,1981) was published in Spain as a bilingual edition, El Ojo de la Matriz (Vision Libros, 2010). Translated by Milagros Salavador and Nancy Dale Nieman, the edition includes an introduction by literature scholar Beatriz Villacañas and cover art by Jacquline Bellon. A selection was published in the journal Piedra del Molino: Revista de Poesia (No 12, Spring 2010).
From the introduction by Beatriz Villacañas: “To celebrate maternity is not to glorify it. To celebrate maternity, as Susan Suntree does, is to pay homage to lucidity. It is being aware and showing the pain, the uncertainty, the fear associated with maternity… In Eye of the Womb, the wisdom of the womb’s eye is full of beauty, or better yet, impregnated with beauty. Plenitude and pain are resolved and integrated in magnificent verses.”
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Eye of the Womb: Poetry by Susan Suntree
Power Press (Nevada City, CA), 1981
Available in a limited edition silk binding hardcover or paperback
THE EYE OF THE WOMB by Susan Suntree
By Beatriz Villacañas
Translation by Nancy Dale Nieman
To write about Eye of the Womb is to write about light. Vision, the king of the senses, is intrinsically connected with light and, therefore, with lucidity and clarity. To see is to penetrate and understand; and the eye is, at the same time, a physical reality and a metaphor of perception and knowledge. Because of this, Susan Suntree has written a logical and, at the same time, necessary book; verse by verse, she has described precisely the journey through the essential reality of conceiving, gestating and giving birth. By means of this maternal adventure, she has written a work of wisdom. In Eye of the Womb we find primitive and primordial wisdom made verse in this woman’s unique and also universal odyssey. Therefore the eye is essential to this internal epic.
Gaea, the mother, our mother is the real and symbolic protagonist of this book written from the point of view of maternity. The “great laborer” Gaea, as Susan Suntree herself, as woman herself, sees with the faithful eye of the womb. If sight is the king of the senses, to see with the womb is the perfect view of earth and of the woman who sees inwardly, toward her own center where Life gestates; Life with a capital letter, a concrete life made flesh with a name. With the eye of her womb, Susan Suntree saw her daughter’s incipient existence, she sensed and saw her “Little Worm” without the necessity of using her eyes. This skillful translation of Milagros Salvador and Nancy Nieman acknowledges the feminine reality that the poet carries a child in her womb, the perceived and deep-felt child, Califia, desired long before her conception, loved in the claroscuro of life itself with its pain and joy. Because Eye of the Womb is not just a vital book, but also radically honest. The poet does not hide, nor avoid contradictory feelings, so that together with the plentitude of a lucid womb swollen with life, we encounter the pain and rawness of the renting like physical reality:
To find ourselves
we hunt our Mother
to find ourselves we swallow
we stretch, we shrivel, we stink
serene in the fold of her undulant lap
The reiterated expression (“Our Mother, Our Mother”) evokes the concentric circles of water, the constant generation of life, the fertile cleft (“the cleft in your thighs”), the very roundness of Gaea and her perennially swollen belly. A belly, always a woman’s belly (“Vision slit through skin”) is happy and bitter at the same time:
Harsh, happy, bitter, sure
your heat flashed through ripening cells
split sleep into offspring
who yowl and split again.
The woman poet moves in a cultural tradition that has consolidated the figure of the masculine creator spiritually linked to the muse, a feminine entity, as source of inspiration. The feminine has been polarized in body (desired and ready for impregnation) and idealized spirituality, like the muses of mythology or the ethereal Laura and Beatriz in the work of Petrarch and Dante. The muses inspire men to create. A woman poet cannot have this type of relationship with the muse; symbolically it is impossible for the woman poet to identify with these creative references. No wonder women poets, like the Irish Eavan Boland, show that they are aware of this conflict and address it in poems like the precisely entitled “Envoi”, referring to the muse (Select Poetry, 1989). Nor is it to wonder at all that women poets, at least an important number of them, write intentionally of their reality, of the vital experience of being a woman, exploring poetically everything associated with the condition, be it testimony, love, enjoyment, eroticism, dilemma or struggle. Only a few examples of this are Angela Reyes, the co-translator of this book Milagros Salvador, the classic Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, and the aforementioned Eavan Boland (we remember her poem “Night Feed”, where she gathers together the beauty and servitude of her son’s nocturnal nursing).
With Eye of the Womb Susan Suntree has fused two symbolic and often contradictory planes: that of the poet (and I purposely mean male poet) who uses words to create reality, and the plane of the feminine as the created entity or the entity to be created. From her vital desire to be fertile and to give birth, passing through gestation, birth and maternity, made reality in the presence of little Califia, the poet has created and symbolically fertilizeda work based on her own fertilization and maternity. As a woman, she is both Gaea´s daughter and Gaea herself, gestating and birthing. We associate the adjective “penetrating” with good vision, and also with the masculine in our world and in our language’s fundamentally metaphoric root. But the womb’s eye penetrates to the deepest part with its gaze, or better said with its inward vision. For sight, the king of the senses, is the equivalent of knowing. Because of this, writing about the Eye of the Womb is to write about light: the eye of the womb, through which Susan Suntree sees and feels and writes, is pure and essential wisdom, a wisdom manifested, in my opinion, in the knowledge and recognition of maternity’s contradictions as those of life itself. Above, I described Eye of the Womb as an honest book. To celebrate maternity is not to glorify it. To celebrate maternity, as Susan Suntree does, is to pay homage to lucidity. It is being aware and showing the pain, the uncertainty, the fear associated with maternity. Knowing the creature growing in your womb is also an invader of your space, the deepest part of your physical reality, as we see in the poem “Unborn”:
You round more than my body
sleeping fiber of possibilities
you, a large spider
In Eye of the Womb by Susan Suntree, the wisdom of the womb’s eye is full of beauty, or better yet, impregnated with beauty. Plentitude and pain are resolved and integrated in magnificent verses such as “What I know of the moon/ like blood cycling between us/ gels in your glistening bones”. The poet has conceived and also gestated a book of memorable poems such as the potent beauty of “Birthing Brings Me”, “Eye of the Womb”, which gives the book its title, or “Sunday”, the poem that closes the book. “Sunday” is a complete declaration of love for the man, companion and father of her daughter, as well as a recognition of the pain and misunderstanding, and, at the same time, of the unity and companionship of the road:
We meet as I never thought we would
we close a pain circle
releasing its weight.
let it roll
It is easy to see in the meaning and beauty of the Spanish version, that the translators, Milagros Salvador and Nancy Nieman, have accomplished a careful and professional translation. The necessary inspiration is not lacking, so the poetic translation is also poetry. Without doubt, it is another reason to celebrate this bilingual edition of Eye of the Womb.