Professor To Publish Paper Examining Popular Cuban Art Form

Portrait photo of Donna Woodford Gormley

Donna Woodford-Gormley

Las Vegas, N.M. – A New Mexico Highlands University English professor will publish a paper about a popular Cuban art form called repentismo or improvised poetry.

Donna Woodford-Gormley, the only Shakespeare scholar conducting research in Cuba and is internationally known for her work, wrote the upcoming paper for the Shakespeare Survey.

“Cuba is at the forefront of repentismo, the improvisation of poetry using a 10-line stanza called the décima,” Woodford-Gormley said. “What interested me about this Cuban poetry is that they use Shakespeare as the inspiration for the poem. For instance, a group of poets are told, ‘You are friends of Romeo. What advice would you give him about Juliet?’ and they improvise poetry on the spot.”

Woodford-Gormley studied two documentary film collaborations of the internationally acclaimed Cuban poet and writer Alexis Díaz Pimienta and Italian director David Riondino that explore Cuban repentismo poetry inspired by Shakespeare.

The films are the 2010 Shakespeare in Havana and the 2009 Otello all’improvviso.

“What really grabbed me about this film work is that collectively they turned around the term that Shakespeare is universal and instead used Shakespeare to educate the world about this unique Cuban poetry,” said Woodford-Gormley, who chairs the English Department at Highlands.

She said her paper, Cuban Improvisations: Reverse Colonization Via Shakespeare, helps fill the gap in the dearth of scholarship on Latin American Shakespeare.

“While Cuba does not have a lengthy history of British imperialism to overcome, it does have a proud traditional of preserving and promoting its own artistic forms and of bringing in outside forms, like Shakespeare, only when it can do so on its own terms. These two films do just that,” Woodford-Gormley said.

She said that much of the Cuban improvisation poetry takes place at gatherings of poets and musicians, which are often not recorded. They are, however, sometimes broadcast on radio and television.

“These films were in part a way of documenting the process of creating this art form that is deeply engrained in Cuban culture. When I teach Shakespeare I often focus on global Shakespeare and use these films as examples of one way that Shakespeare is adapted,” Woodford-Gormley said.

In 2014, the Highlands and Las Vegas community had the opportunity to learn about Alexis Díaz Pimienta’s work and Cuban culture firsthand when he visited for 10 days of free public programming and teaching. Woodford-Gormley wrote the Ballen Visiting Scholar grant that brought the renowned poet to campus.

Woodford-Gormley earned her Ph.D. in English from Washington University in St. Louis and joined the Highlands faculty in 2004. At Highlands, Woodford-Gormley teaches courses such as Latin American Shakespeare, Global Shakespeare, and Shakespeare and Shakespeare Spinoffs.

Woodford-Gormley, who is fluent in Spanish, has studied Shakespeare in Cuba since 2004 and is widely published in other scholarly journals such as Shakespeare International Yearbook as well as chapters in several scholarly Shakespeare books.

Her book in process, Caliban’s Books: Shakespeare in Cuba, explores Cuban adaptations of Shakespeare. Woodford-Gormley’s previous book, Understanding King Lear: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents, was published in 2004.

She presents at scholarly conferences such as the World Shakespeare Congress in London, the International Congress on Medieval Studies, and the Shakespeare Association of America.