Spanish poet honors unsung Warsaw Ghetto heroine

Irena Sendler, who saved 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto, wins Spanish poetry prize.

May 26, 2011 12:11
3 minute read.
Warsaw Ghetto monument in Poland

Warsaw Ghetto monument Poland 311 (R). (photo credit: Agencja Gazeta/Reuters)


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MADRID - Spain's second-biggest poetry prize has been awarded this year to a volume honouring unsung heroines including Irena Sendler, who saved 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Sendler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, a year before her death. She lost to former US Vice President Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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"It is abundantly evident that she could have been a truly deserving recipient of the (Nobel) prize, no question," said Fatima Frutos, winner of the 2011 Kutxa Ciudad de Irun Poetry Prize, ahead of an international field of 204.

"The visibility of such women needs to be vindicated, the ones who have been deemed secondary, who have had no recognition but deserve that and so much more."

Frutos also recalls Artemisia Gentileschi, an eminent Italian 17th-Century painter, and Spanish 19th-Century writer Carolina Coronado, who both struggled to achieve recognition in fields then dominated by men.

In addition, she pays homage, amongst others, to Carl von Weizsaecker, a 20th-Century nuclear physicist who later became a philosopher.

"I start out with the anecdotes and build on them with lyricism and poetry, to vindicate them verse by verse," she said. "It's not just about giving visibility to invisible women, but also to 20th-Century geniuses whose work has yet to shake up 21st-century consciences."

The prize-winning volume "Andromeda Encadenada" (Andromeda Enchained) takes its title from the Greek mythological princess who was chained to a rock, but who Frutos sees as an inspirational figure rather than a victim.

It follows her 2009 volume "De Carne y Hambre" (Of Flesh and Hunger), which won the Ateneo Guipuzcoano Erotic Poetry international prize.

"The myth allows me uncover other women like her who in real life went through extremes but nonetheless came through, if not exultant, then at least hopeful and stronger," Frutos said.

"Andromeda" also adopts a topical pan-European perspective with poems dedicated to German 18th-Century philosopher Novalis, or 19th-Century lyrical poet Hoelderlin.

"Now there are many reasons to vindicate European culture, the European ideal, the sense that there are no first- or second-class Europeans, but that we all in this together," she said.

Frutos's main inspiration as a writer has been Miguel Hernandez, a Spanish poet who died in prison in 1942 during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

"Hernandez has inoculated us with the blessed poison of poetry so that we may grow without rancor, but with the strength to vindicate social justice," said Frutos, who works as a local government equality officer.

The Irun prize is the second most valuable awarded for poetry in Spain and is open to all writers in Spanish. When she collects the award on May 28, Frutos will dedicate it to her grandmother, who brought her up while reciting poems by Hernandez she had learned by heart, because she could neither read nor write.

"She awoke without rancor thanks to poetry. She knew how to cuddle me with verse-like hands and swaddle me with stanzas by great writers," she said.

"I am a poet because of her. It needs to be said that an illiterate woman who lived in poverty also knew how to raise an international award-winning poet."

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