San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Poet Jorge Debravo’s Birthday Honored

JAN. 31 is Día Nacional de la Poesía, orNational Poetry Day. The date commemoratesthe birthday of Jorge Debravo, CostaRica’s best-known poet.Debravo was born Jan. 31, 1938, inGuayabo, Turrialba, to a very poor family.He had to work hard even as a child, and hisfirst writings were scratched onto bananaleaves. As a young adult he worked for theSocial Security System (Caja), going aroundto workplaces to see that workers wereinsured, and he observed how exploitedmany poor workers were.Debravo’s 11 volumes of poems are ofthe people. He writes about their lives, their problems and their surroundings,which is the reason for his popularity. Debravo’s life wascut short when he was killed by a drunk driver on Aug. 4, 1967.Poetry is a popular art form in Costa Rica, and many communitiessponsor activities such as workshops, poetry readings or competitionsfor National Poetry Day. But one community, San Ramón, acoffee town northwest of San José, boasts the nickname City ofPoets. Why?Because los ramonenses (natives of Ramón) have a cultural historygoing back to 1870, when a disillusioned priest, Fr. JoaquínGarcía Carrillo, a nephew of former President Braulio Carrillo (1835-1842), published a book called “Testamento de Judas” (“The LastWill of Judas”), a satire made up of 1,000 verses shaming some of thecanton’s leading citizens for their neglect of church affairs. The bookfound an eager audience and gave the city a literary reputation.A few years later, Julián Volio Llorente, an illustrious personalityin banking, government, law and education, moved to San Ramónand founded literary and cultural groups that further encouragedaspiring poets and writers, and drew writers from other parts of CostaRica and Central America.The new century saw two newspapers and a theater establishedin San Ramón, further establishing the city as a center for the arts.Among the first nationally known poets were ramonenses LisimacoChavarría (1878-1913), Felix Ángel Salas (1908-1948), RafaelEstrada (1901-1933) and Carlomagno Araya (1897-1979). Theirwork stood out because, like Rubén Darío’s in Nicaragua, it represented“modern” literature, based on American experience ratherthan European. Prior to that time, American literature, from Alaskato Argentina, was in its infancy. The new style idealized the localscene, the land and the people, and encompassed patriotic feelings.Each succeeding generation has added more poets to the city’sroster. But is San Ramón really distinguished as a city of poets?“It’s a myth,” said Magdalena Vásquez, a literature specialist atthe University of Costa Rica’s western campus in San Ramón, “butit’s a myth we want to continue. San Ramón as a center of culture andpoetry was a social phenomenon in its time, but it’s our identity andpride too.”The university, the regional museum, the José Figueres FerrerCultural Center and cultural organizations perpetuate interest in poetrythrough readings, workshops and tertulias, or discussion groups.So the myth and the title live on. This year, the community held achildren’s poetry competition to stimulate creativity and interest inchildren, said Vásquez, who organized the competition.But people all over Costa Rica and from all walks of life writepoetry; older people, students, housewives, workers and lovers fillnotebooks of verses, some of which are kept hidden away, accordingto Vásquez. National Poetry Day activities give them an opportunityto share their poetry with others.

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