San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Big Crowd Expected for Poetry Festival

In an international celebration of poetry that has quickly become a worldwide calendar event, more than 100 poets from 55 different countries will descend upon Granada next week to celebrate the Fifth Annual International Poetry Festival.

Under the banner “Poetry is the Consciousness of the Earth,” this year’s festival will be dedicated to famed Nicaraguan poet Alfonso Cortés (1893-1969), considered one of great post-modern Leonese poets who came along in the wake of Rubén Darío.

Cortés’ most emblematic work, a short poem called “Ventana” – also known as “Un Detalle” – will be engraved on a statue unveiled next Tuesday in Granada’s Park of Poets, next to the old train station.

As the annual event grows, making Granada “The World Capital of Poetry,” it has continued to attract some of the biggest names in poetry from both Nicaragua and abroad.

Event organizer Fernando López, a poet from Granada, says the invite-only event seeks to bring the best poets from each country. Headlining this year’s event will be such internationally known poets as Russia’s Yevgeny Evstushenko, Spain’s Luis Antonio de Villena, Iraq’s Salah Hassan, Nigeria’s Obi Nwakanma and the United States’ Anne Waldman, among others. Nicaragua, meanwhile, will again be represented by its international poet icons Ernesto Cardenal and Gioconda Belli, among several newer voices in Nicaragua’s poetry scene.

Despite the well-known political positions of some of Nicaragua’s better known poets – including an international outpouring of solidarity last year for Cardenal, a catholic priest who claims he is being politically persecuted by the Sandinista government of President Daniel Ortega – López said the festival organizers are trying to keep this year’s event as non-political as possible.

“We are asking all the poets to refrain from making political manifestations” or using the festival as a political platform, said López, whose own aspirations to run for mayor of Granada last year were cut short when the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) outlawed his political party, the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS). However, López acknowledged, it is difficult to take politics out of poetry.

In addition to the nightly poetry readings, artisan and book fairs, folkloric dance exhibitions and live concerts from famous Nicaraguan folk and reggae artists, the main attraction for this year’s event is once again expected to be the carnival/poetry parade held the afternoon of Wednesday, Feb. 18. The carnival has become a bigger event each year, with elaborate costumes, street theater, dancing, music, political manifestations and other forms of popular expression. There, of course, will also be poetry readings on every street corner.

As part of the carnival, each year the poets carry a coffin down to the shores of LakeCocibolca to stage a symbolic funeral. This year’s theme is “deceit and lies,” which will be stuck in the coffin and buried at the end of the parade.

“And I said the festival wasn’t going to be political,” López said with a laugh. The annual poetry festival is the biggest week of the year for Granada’s tourism industry. Though event organizers say they haven’t been able to calculate how much money the festival brings into the city each year, López said that during last year’s festival “not a single hotel room was available in Granada.”

As the festival grows each year, it has also become the target of artistic protest and parallel events. During the early years of the festival, a group of young Nicaraguan poets who felt excluded staged a parallel “antipoetry festival” to showcase their work and snub the establishment.

Many of those younger poets have since been incorporated into the official festival, so now the parallel events have more to do with artistic expression than protest.

Emila Persola, who’s organizing a parallel event this year called “Poetry in Construction,” said her festival – which will include a mock fashion show and other theatric events Feb. 20 at Bar Maconda – is just “art for art’s sake.”

However, she said, “Don’t rule out that other unknown groups will do something more politically charged, probably at the carnival.”

López said the alternative events and parallel poetry readings are all welcome as long as they don’t interfere with the official festival calendar. “It would be great to fill the city with poetry,” he said.

The international poetry festival, which has a budget of around $130,000 that is spent mostly on lodging, food and in-country transportation for the visiting poets, is also trying to spread the wealth to the rest of the country. Following on past years’ success at decentralizing the festival and bringing poetry readings to different surrounding municipalities, the festival this year will expand to 10 municipalities on the afternoon of Feb. 19.

By 2011, when the poetry festival will be dedicated to Nicaragua’s legendary poet and National Hero Rubén Darío – considered the “prince of Castilian letters” and the “father of modernism” – organizers hope the poetry festival will be a nationwide event, reaching all the way to the Caribbean coast and interior of the country, López said.


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