Cuban Erotic Poetry Turns 90

Fernando Ravsberg

Carilda: “No one taught me to live, many people taught me to die, but they haven’t succeeded.” Photo: Rigo

HAVANA TIMES — Carilda Oliver Labra, Cuba’s most popular and most erotic poet, just turned 90. During her life she stirred up much controversy with the content of her poems, which dealt with how she has faced her own life, love, marriage and sex.

“Unlike the poetry of other major Cuban poets, Carilda’s reaches everyone. She has followers everywhere,” explained Miguel Barnet, the president of the Union of Artists and Writers of Cuba.

He asked, “What Cuban doesn’t know?:”

I go crazy, love, I go crazy
when I go into your mouth, slowly,
and almost without wanting, almost for nothing,
I touch you with the tip of my breast.

I touch you with the tip of my breast
and with my abandoned solitude;
and perhaps without being in love
I go crazy, love, I go crazy.

And my kind of prized fruit
burns in your lubricated and turbid hand
like a bad promise of poison;
and though I want to kiss you on my knees,
when I go in your mouth, slowly,
I go crazy, love, I go crazy.

Transgressive poetry

Miguel Barnet, a friend and researcher of the work of Carilda, explains: “She has experimented with all of the registers and forms. She is one of the few who still writes sonnets, silvas, redondillas, quatrains and decimas, in addition to extraordinary free verse.”

The writer affirms that “she is a transgressor; a woman who did with her life what she felt like. She gave a kick to the upper middle class to which she belonged – she married who she wanted to marry, she had the lovers who she wanted, and she wrote the most daring erotic poems.”

I now order you to forget it all:
that breast of cream and tenderness,
that breast raising up in a way
that could serve you as hard ground;
that obedient but fierce thigh
that would come from ancient serpents;
that thigh of meat that I die for
summoning in the solitary afternoon;
that gesture leading me into madness;
that journey of love, of my waist
that lust for the skin of that strange lily
that small name under the name,
that sin of becoming a man
in the happy vice of hurting me.

Fusing poetry and life

Miguel Barnet: Carilda assumed the risks of living life in the magical dimension of poetry. Photo: Raquel Perez

Carilda “assumed the risks of living life in the magical dimension of poetry,” says Barnett, adding that this implied spending “a lot of time isolated, not by the political authorities, but by her own peers and contemporaries, who wanted to present her as a figure from the past.”

In one of her latest interviews the poet confessed that she “had a hard life” – though “every morning I wake up and thank the sun. No one taught me how to live, many people taught me to die, but they haven’t succeeded.”

The poet transgressed the Catholic morality of republican Cuba and after 1959 she also adapted her poetry to “socialist realism.” What was even more scandalous was that her husband is 50 years her junior. She has been married four times and had many lovers, which she revealed in this verse:


Sometimes she goes along the street, sad
Asking for the canary not to die
And hardly realizing that they exist
A traffic light, bread, spring.

Sometimes one goes down the street, alone,
-Ah, not wanting to find out if he’s waiting-
And the noise of a face that sacrifices itself.
It makes us sob in another way.

Sometimes in the street, entertained,
There goes a person, against the grain of life
With hunger for everything, almost fierce.

Sometimes one proceeds like this, helpless,
Like being able to love nothingness,
And the miracle appears on the sidewalk.

“That time of the jungle”

Miguel Barnet:” En su poesía Carilda ha experimentado todos los registros y formas, es una de las pocas que todavía hace sonetos, silvas, redondillas, cuartetas, décimas, y un verso libre extraordinario. “

Carilda regrets that stores don’t sell ribbons for typewriters anymore, because she doesn’t manage very well with computers. In that interview, she confessed that as a nocturnal woman she “prefers writing manuscripts late at night.”

For many years, the poetry of Carilda contested any monkish bigotry or narrow ideologies, and in the 1990s she continued driving her countrymen “crazy” because Cubans — particularly Cuban women — could recognize themselves in her verses:

Last night I slept with a man and his shadow.
The constellations knowing nothing about this case.

His kisses were bullets that I taught to fly.
There was a cardiac arrest.

The youth
was swimming like the waves.

He was gloomy,
He hammered my joints.

We experienced this time in the jungle
that choleric health
that kills us with the hunger for another body.

Last night I had a castaway in the bed.
The bastard defiled me.
Wrapped in God and the sheets
he never asked permission.
Even still his laser is piercing me.

We talked about the cosmos and iconography,
but it all fell apart
when he gave me the watchword.

Today I found that spot in the bed,
so deep
I started thinking seriously:
life fits in a drop.