Meira Delmar is the pseudonym that the fifteen year old Olga Chams Eljach used to conceal her real name when she published her first, beautiful poems, establishing herself immediately as one of the most sensitive of Latin American poets. She has published seven books of poetry – the first, Alba de olvido, when she was twenty; several anthologies have been made of her work, and in 2003 her complete poetic and prose works were published. She studied in Rome, has taught in universities, and for 36 years directed the departmental public library, which now bears her name. Her poems have been translated into several languages, and she has been awarded many prizes and a number of honorary degrees.
Born in Barranquilla, a busy seaport hostile to writers – most of them have left the city – Meira Delmar has always been loyal to her calling. She embodies a spirit of resistance that refuses to be defeated or ostracized. Her poetry, as traditional as it is new, cannot be easily divided into separate phases, as it has developed slowly and her world view has remained constant, although enriched by experience and by her mastery of all poetic forms. It is a selective, idealized vision of reality¸ heedful only of beauty – a vision that is expressed through carefully chosen language to create a poetry whose axis is love.
But looking carefully at her poetry, we detect two characteristics. The first is defined by her respectful attitude towards traditional as well as popular forms of poetry; she demonstrates her sensitivity to their musical qualities in an almost virtuoso way and her poems have deep roots in the great classical Spanish poets and the Generation of 27; talking about this aspect of her work, she once said it was “an algebra of metaphors”.
The other characteristic of Delmar’s poetry is the use of free verse in which she combines the intimate tone of conversational language with a subtle musicality based on alliterations and assonances. This feature of her poetry, freer, is also open to the influences of painting and music and is closer to the contemporary world and its history.
These two characteristics are present simultaneously in the three periods of Delmar’s poetry. The first period is that of her first four books, in which she slowly finds her personal voice and abandons her Spanish and Latin American models. There is a descriptive tendency in these books and nature tends to be bucolic. Her voice is somewhat anguished and sentimental, but never mawkish. However, there are also moments of plenitude and exultant, pantheistic joy, an almost mystical perception of the unity of the world in which everything moves with the harmonious rhythm of stars and souls.
Reencuentro, her fifth book, marks a subtle transition from her initial poetics to those of her later works, with their greater verbal economy, their prosaic expressions and a different attitude towards life – one that a much more complex vision of reality and does not exclude doubt . It is a book of anxiety and disappointment in which love, celebrated before, is now marked by separation; nature itself now conspires to efface the lovers’ footprints. But the poet never yields, she desperately searches for something to grasp: “I want to know if what I look for / is in a dream or in my childhood. / For I am lost and I must find myself, / face and soul, in another place.”
Language, in her last two books, is natural and has the courtesy of clarity. It is a poetry less concerned with formal perfection than the capacity for evocation, for moving the reader, opening the world up for him or her, in a renewed contact with nature and with others; indeed, the narrative perspective remains constant, resulting from precisely this interest in the other, not just the loved one but also history, the poets, the family, the ancestors, the city. There is also continuity with her previous poetics – poetry is still a canticle, a song, like the Song of Solomon – and the same fidelity to the interior world, bearing witness to the miraculous, retrieval of the happy past, and, above all, transcendence of linear time. By permitting this return, the poem evades contingency and recovers the joyful moment, transforms it in the eternal present and recreates original time.
Alba del olvido (Dawn of Oblivion), Author’s edition, Barranquilla, Colombia, 1942
Sitio del amor (The Place of Love), Author’s edition, Barranquilla, Colombia 1944
Verdad del sueño (The Truth of Dreams), Author’s edition, Barranquilla, Colombia, 1946
Secreta isla (Secret Island), Author’s edition, Barranquilla, Colombia, 1951
Huésped sin sombra (Guest Without Shadows), Anthology, Instituto de Cultura Hispánica, Bogotá, 1971
Reencuentro (Reunion), Collected Poetry, Author’s edition, Barranquilla, Colombia, 1981
Alguien pasa (Someone Passes By), Author’s edition, Barranquilla, Colombia, 1998
Pasa El Viento: Antologia Poetica 1942-1998, Prólogo by Fernando Charry Lara, Essay by Juan Gustavo Cobo Borda, Instituto Caro y Cuervo, Bogotá, 2000
Laúd memorioso (Memorious Lute), Author’s edition, Barranquilla, Colombia, 2000
Meira del Mar, Poesía y prosa, Ediciones Uninorte, Barranquilla, Colombia, edited by María Mercedes Jaramillo, Betty Osorio and Ariel Castillo Mier, Barranquilla, Colombia, 2003, ISBN: 958-8133-76-9
A Media Voz. Selected poems by Meira Delmar: http://amediavoz.com/delmar.htm
Palabra Virtual. Selected poems:
Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellín. Poems by Meira Delmar
Revista Taller. Review by José Ramón Llanos: http://www.pacocol.org/es/Taller/13/13.htm
Poemas. Selected poems by Meira Delmar:
La casa de Asterión. Interview by Alvaro Suescún: http://lacasadeasterionb.homestead.com/v3n9meir.html