From Our Soundbooth | October 09, 2019

This week, we are delighted to share with you “Doncellas” by Leah V. Gonzalez, which was selected by 2019 Guest Judge Cher Vincent as the Poetry Winner in the 2019 Miller Audio Contest. The Miller Audio Prize is open to artists composing in the genres of Prose, Audio Documentary, Humor and Poetry.

Of “Doncellas,” Gonzalez says:

The moment I scribbled the final “Clean” at the end of my first draft of Doncellas, I knew it was a sacred piece. Doncellas is different from anything I had ever written. It’s full of pride as opposed to pain, power in the form of assurance, culture in the form of universal existence. It’s a play on a lifelong stereotype: Latina women as housemaids. 

All of the maids in Manhattan siamese twinned together and robotically moving in unison…only they compare. The language used in that first verse is pure wordplay, used in order to introduce the immense magnitude that is women in my family. Watch the divinity of fabuloso all over crooks and crevices, miraculous miracles as unmesses. I’m celebrating this stereotype, this act of cleaning. 

As the poem proceeds, I introduce the players: my mother and sister and the men who celebrate them.  My father worships the woman he wed! Slowly, Doncellas is defying not just one stereotype, but all of the ones I face as a Puerto Rican American. But, there can be no defiance without an understanding of history. This is precisely why the tale of my ancestors has to be spoken. The shortest of summaries of my island’s history explains to the listener why this celebration is significant. You hear about the seemingly endless colonization, the difficulty of assimilating to a new country: when they struggled with the sounds of uncertain, closed curtain, illogical ingles / when they began to change the way they dressed / when they didn’t realize as citizens they remained oppressed. 

The poem comes to a close by declaring that my family and our people have risen, and will continue to rise despite all obstacles. Including that of my own, experienced today: [they] compared me to Sofia Vergara and I scrubbed that / my tongue contains multitudes / my linguistic skill is overused. Finally, Doncellas circles back to my mother and sister, this time not as women cleaning but instead as vital aspects of nature, of growth. My mother the sun, my sister the water… watch as I blossom into my ancestors wildest dreams. The final line quotes the infamous song about the Puerto Rican flag, a final declaration of pride: Que Bonita Bandera.

Doncellas was written to be heard. I used both alliteration and assonance, and strategically placed emphatic pauses throughout each verse. My good friend and audio engineer Max Rice put together an introduction mash-up mix of island oceans, shouting vacuums, and a dream-like echo to set the stage for the journey that is Doncellas. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I have. Visual coming soon!

Listen to “Doncellas” below:

Leah Vanessa is a Puerto Rican performance poet born and raised in the Bronx, New York. She began writing at the tender age of seven, having been drawn to Shel Silverstein and entranced by other New York City poets. After receiving her degree in English and Professional Writing, she began to submit for publication to various literary magazines. When faced with rejection, Leah began to experiment with spoken word poetry. She initially began her performance career by relentlessly attending open mic’s throughout New York City, most notably the historical Nuyorican Poets Cafe. As she continued to challenge her comfort zone, she experimented with collaborations with hip hop artists and musicians. Eventually, she discovered the organization she is currently Resident Poet for: the Inspired Word. Most recently, she’s headlined three shows at the Triad Theater. Leah’s work reflects upon the female identity, culture shock, eroticism, and generational history. You can follow her everywhere @LeahVspeaks and