Poetry in Nicaragua

None of Nicaragua’s poets can match the striking simplicity of the metaphysical poet Alfonso Cortés, who spent most of his life in chains, but who, in an impossibly microscopic script, wrote some of the most beautiful poems the Spanish language has ever seen. Alfonso Cortés was born in León in 1893. He lived in the very same house that had belonged to Rubén Darío and which today is the Museo-Archivo Rubén Darío. It was in this house that Cortés went mad one February night in 1927. He spent the next 42 years in captivity, tormented most of the time but, for the good fortune of Nicaragua, with lucid moments of incredible productivity. Cortés was kept chained to one of the house’s colonial window grilles and it was from that vantage point that he composed what poet-priest Ernesto Cardenal called the most beautiful poem in the Spanish language, La Ventana (The Window):

"A speck of blue has more intensity than all the sky; I feel that there lives,
a flower of happy ecstasy, my longing

A wind of spirits, passes so far, from my window sending a breeze that shatters

the flesh on my angelic awakening"

Later, at the age of 34, Alfonso Cortés was committed to a mental institution in Managua, where he was to live out the rest of his life. In these incredibly adverse conditions, Cortés produced a number of great poetic works, most of which were published with the help of his father. When he was not writing he was tied to his bed, with only his guitar, hanging on the wall, for company. According to Cardenal, the poet spoke slowly while shaking and stuttering, his face changing from thrilled to horrified then falling totally expressionless. He used to say, “I am less important than Rubén Darío, but I am more profound”. Alfonso Cortés died in February 1969, 53 years later than Darío. Today, just a couple of metres separate these two great Nicaraguan poets, both buried in the Cathedral of León. 

Today, each February, Granada’s elegant colonial courtyards, historic houses, public squares and churches reverberate to the sounds of poetic verse. Since 2005, an annual festival of poetry has been attracting over 100 scribes and thousands of spectators from around the world. Concerts, art exhibits, theatrical performances and impassioned debates accompany the lyrical occasion, but it is recitals from some of the world’s finest poets, both Nicaraguan and international, that make it such an important event. Attended with all the vigour of a Catholic Mass, these recitals are a rousing testament to Nicaragua’s long-standing infatuation with poetic form.

Granada’s poetic roots reach back to the Vanguardia movement of the late 1920s, an alliance of formidable wordsmiths like José Coronel Urtecho, Joaquín Pasos and Pablo Antonio Cuadra, who would meet in the city’s public spaces to exchange ideas. Radical and confrontational, the Vanguardia’s contributions were important and lasting, and marked a significant departure from Rubén Darío’s modernismo. 

In the 21st-century, escaping the enduring shadow of this great ‘Father of Modernism’ is once again the challenge of Nicaragua’s newest generation of poets, who are striving to define themselves in a political climate that is largely unsympathetic to creative endeavour. The closure of UCA humanities programmes, the rising cost of books, the falling literacy rates and the growing popularity of television mean that they have their work cut out for them.

Still, Granada’s annual poetry festival, organized and funded privately, is a sign of impending cultural revitalization. The attending crowds of mainly working-class Nicaraguans demonstrate that public enthusiasm for literature has not abated, even if government support has. And the themes of Nicaraguan poetry – poverty, war, identity and nature – are as eternal as words themselves. Conceivably, Nicaragua’s love of verse will last forever.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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