Saturday, March 24, 2007

Nicaragua: Nation of Poets

Travellers have experienced Nicaragua's beauty once again, since the 1980s when the Sandinistas were ousted from power via a series of successful elections. Let's go.


"We turn outward, attracted by the beauty we see in created things without realizing that they are only a reflection of the real beauty. And the real beauty is within us."

- Ernesto Cardenal

Literacy and poetry workshops established throughout the "nation of poets," as it has been known since the early twentieth century, are well-attended by people whose concerns had been previously unheard. Most workshops are led by government-paid instructors in cultural centers, while others convene in police stations, army barracks, and workplaces such as sugar mills, Valle reports. In these sessions, Romantic and Modern poetry is considered below standard; Ernesto Cardenal denigrates socialist realism, which he says "comes from the Stalinist times that required that art be purely political propaganda." The "greatest virtue" of Cardenal's own poems, says a Times Literary Supplement reviewer, "is the indirectness of Cardenal's social criticism, which keeps stridency consistently at bay." In addition, says the reviewer, Cardenal's poems "are memorable and important both for their innovations in technique and for their attitudes." In this way they are like the works of Ezra Pound, whose aesthetic standards Cardenal promotes.

Review contributor Isabel Fraire demonstrates that there are many similarities between Cardenal's poetry and Pound's. Like Pound, Cardenal borrows the short, epigrammatic form from the masters of Latin poetry Catullus and Martial, whose works he has translated. Cardenal also borrows the canto form invented by Pound to bring "history into poetry" in a manner that preserves the flavor of the original sources — a technique Pablo Neruda employed with success. Cardenal's use of the canto form "is much more cantable" than Pound's Cantos, says Fraire. "We get passages of a sustained, descriptive lyricism … where the intense beauty and harmony of nature or of a certain social order or life style are presented." Pound and Cardenal develop similar themes: "the corrupting effect of moneymaking as the overriding value in a society; the importance of precision and truthfulness in language; the degradation of human values in the world which surrounds us; [and] the search through the past (or, in Cardenal's poetry, in more 'primitive' societies, a kind of contemporary past) for better world-models."

Following his conversion to Christianity in 1956, Cardenal studied to become a priest in Gethsemani, Kentucky, with Thomas Merton, the scholar, poet, and Trappist monk. While studying with Merton, Cardenal committed himself to the practice of nonviolence.

-Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, The London Times, Times Literary Review