Page last updated at 13:31 GMT, Sunday, 22 February 2009

Passion for poetry in Nicaragua

Dance display at Nicaraguan poetry festival
Concerts and dance displays conclude each day of the festival

By Clare Santry
Granada, Nicaragua

Nicaragua has a rich history of poetry, and a common passion for the spoken word which unites class and cultural divides.

This past week has seen the Fifth International Poetry Festival take place in the beautiful, old city of Granada, bringing together more than 130 poets from 54 different countries.

Poets from Uganda and Iraq have made the journey to this Central American nation - testament to the festival's credibility and commitment to the poetic cause.

Award-winning Nicaraguan poet Gioconda Belli was on hand to give the opening reading.

As vice-chair of the festival and author of 15 literary works, including seven poetry collections, she is one of Nicaragua's big literary stars.

She thinks the festival is important because it opens up Nicaraguan poetry to an international audience.

"It also provides a big showcase for the different poetic tendencies in the world today," she says.

Poetry in Nicaragua has often been, and still is, an outlet for political and social commentary.

Gioconda Belli
Poetry is still relevant today and can be used as both a celebration and a weapon
Gioconda Belli

In the years prior to the Sandinista revolution of 1979, it expressed many of the hopes and fears of the people.

And then,
we'll go wake our dead
with the life they bequeathed us
and we'll all sing together
while concerts of birds
repeat our message
through the length and breadth
of America.

This extract, from Belli's poem Until We're Free, contains both a political message and a paean to the joy of poetry.

Modern poetry could be said to get a bad press - or not much press at all - so it is interesting to see a small country in Latin America putting so much emphasis on this literary form.

"Poetry is still as relevant today as it has been in the past," insists Ms Belli.

"It can be used as both a celebration and a weapon in our society."

Rapt attention

For many of the visiting poets, this festival is an opportunity to get the attention and exposure normally reserved for novelists.

Martin Glaz Serup, from Denmark, is one young poet who has made the journey to Granada.

He had his first collection of poetry published at the age of 24 and is thrilled to share the stage with established names in world poetry.

Poetry is part of Nicaraguan identity
Luis Fernandez
Audience member

"I don't know of anything like this taking place in another country," he says.

"This is an amazing experience for poets of all standing."

This year's festival, entitled Poetry is the Consciousness of the Earth, sees poets read each poem in their own language, before a translator reads it through again in Spanish.

It is strangely touching to witness the rapt crowds as languages like Dutch, Arabic and Croat echo around the central plaza.

Audience member Luis Fernandez, 60, has travelled from the 40 or so kilometres from Managua each day to attend the festival.

"Poetry is part of Nicaraguan identity," he says. "To welcome all these international poets to our country is great for us and for them."

Political note

But notable by his absence from the festival is the country's leader, Daniel Ortega.

Though he was a poet in his youth and is married to Rosario Murillo, a highly-regarded poet, he did not attend the event.

The number of friends-turned-enemies from the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), Mr Ortega's political party, taking to the stage could provide an explanation.

Man with a T-shirt reading Poetry: Conscience of the Earth
Our objective is to teach a new generation to appreciate poetry
Francisco de Asis Fernandez
Festival organiser

One of them is the Nicaraguan poet, priest and revolutionary icon, Ernesto Cardenal.

Only last year there was strong international support for Mr Cardenal, one of this week's big draws. He says he is being politically persecuted by President Ortega's government.

Granada, with its grand, colourful buildings, is popular with foreign tourists.

Many of those listening to the recitals didn't plan for their trip to coincide with the festival, but seem very enthusiastic.

"I never knew that poetry was so popular and important in Nicaragua," says Eleanor Sykes, from the UK.

"I don't think there are many other countries in the world where you would see streets filled with people listening to poetry."

Francisco de Asis Fernandez, the president of the festival, seems determined to keep the art form's profile high.

"One of the key objectives of the festival is to reach out to the Nicaraguan people," he says. "To remind them of their poetic heritage, and to teach a new generation of Nicaraguans to appreciate poetry."

As another evening of public recitals gets under way in Granada, more crowds of Nicaraguans and foreign tourists fill the streets.

A passion for poetry is still alive and kicking in this small corner of the world.

Print Sponsor

Country profile: Nicaragua
22 Oct 08 |  Country profiles
Nicaragua timeline
09 Sep 12 |  Country profiles


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