Tina Modotti, know to a few as the beautiful Italian actress in Erich von Stroheim’s silent film Greed, was also a dedicated political activist and photographer whose best work has a powerful dignity and integrity. She lived with Edward Weston in postrevolutionary Mexico in the 1920s. During the Spanish Civil war in the 1930s she was a nurse in Madrid and on various fronts. In Spain she knew Antonio Machado and Pablo Neruda, who wrote a poem about her after her death in Mexico in 1942.
Margaret Gibson’s Memories of the Future is based on Modotti’s vivid but enigmatic life. Drawn from daybooks that Gibson imagines Modotti to have kept at the end of her life in Mexico City, these poems give us the reflections of a woman whose intensity and vision, evident in her own photographs, are matched by the depth and breadth of her experience and personal transformation in times of deep social and political upheaval.
If we could look into the future, would we go there?
In the spiral of hunger’s discontent, would we go?
Somehow we go. New societies are born
much wider than our minds. And if for a moment
we doubt, our bodies remember. They believe.
We make our bodies available to death,
and therefore live. It is the hero’s way—
every woman knows it.
In their attention to beauty and sensuality, light and detail, these poems capture the life of the photographer. In their unhesitating confrontation with pain and loss, they reveal the harsh realities of revolutionary life. Memories of the Future skillfully unfolds the political and artistic consciousness of a woman of sensibility and strong beliefs. It is a major new effort from one of America’s best young poets.
Margaret Gibson is the author of ten books of poems including Long Walks in the Afternoon, a Lamont Selection; The Vigil, a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry; and One Body, winner of the Connecticut Book Award in Poetry and one prose memoir. A native of Virginia, she lives in Preston, Connecticut.
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