Inmates share their work at annual Costa Rican poetry festival

October 25, 2013

On Thursday afternoon, seven poets arrived at the Alianza Francesa in San José with a cadre of armed guards wearing flak jackets. The poets were dressed in unremarkable attire, looking ordinary and giving no indication that security was required because they are also inmates at La Reforma Prison north of the capital. Another surprise was the eloquence with which they wrote about their lives behind bars.

Smiling poet Roberto Guadamúz took the microphone and said, “Thank you for coming out this afternoon, and thank you for the opportunity.” Then he began to read.

“After 18 years/I return to the village/to recover something/nothing is like yesterday./Known things/are gone/now I will be a stranger.”

One by one, the seven men read their works, and the audience followed along in printed chapbooks, which were handed out for free. The booklet, “Harvest on the Other Side of the Sun,” is a 25-page anthology, collected and edited by Norberto Salinas, director of the 12th International Poetry Festival.

Since 2009, Salinas has taught classes on a volunteer basis at the penitentiary, where he cultivates the inmates’ literary talents. The project is a collaboration between the prison’s Departments of Psychology and Education and Salinas’ own organization, The House of Poetry Foundation. To whit, the reading at the Alianza Francesa was more than an opportunity to publically share their work; the event punctuated the Poetry Festival, which has been unfolding throughout the Central Valley since last Sunday. As in past years, the festival has featured a variety of poets, including local writers such as Ana Istarú and far-flung authors like Javier Bosalongo of Spain and Muhsin Al Ramli of Iraq.

Readings have taken place in a variety of towns and venues, from the Palestra Theater in Ciudad Colón to the Museum of Costa Rican Art in La Sabana, yet the Alianza Francesa reading was the most unconventional. The presentation had a profound impact on its audience: During a talkback session, one woman stood and said, “This isn’t a question, but I am so grateful to hear your words.”

A young man added, “It seems so important to hear about your reality.”

At the conclusion of the reading, Salinas spoke passionately about his work with the inmates and the group migrated to an adjacent art gallery, where a buffet table of pastries and drinks awaited. The corrections officers lingered in the background, keeping a watchful eye, but the inmates mingled openly with guests, answering questions and posing for pictures.

A final presentation is scheduled for tonight, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m. Poetry fans will have to travel some distance for the closing ceremony, as it takes place in Parque Vargas in the Caribbean town of Limón, but for connoisseurs of Spanish verse, the journey should be more than worthwhile.

poetry2

Readers from the inmates’ poetry workshop present their work at the Alianza Francesa.


Robert Isenberg

You may be interested

Our High Season Print Edition is here! Here’s where to find it
The Tico Times
233 views
The Tico Times
233 views

Our High Season Print Edition is here! Here’s where to find it

Katherine Stanley - December 11, 2017

In the weeks since the relaunch of The Tico Times on Sept. 1, we’ve been hard at work to reconnect…

Bright Lights Boat Parade inaugurates holiday season in Quepos
Events
329 views
Events
329 views

Bright Lights Boat Parade inaugurates holiday season in Quepos

Elizabeth Lang - December 11, 2017

The Bright Lights Boat Parade marked the official kickoff of the holiday season in the Central Pacific town of Quepos…

Strong winds cause three deaths in Costa Rica, one in El Salvador
Weather
2739 views
Weather
2739 views

Strong winds cause three deaths in Costa Rica, one in El Salvador

AFP - December 10, 2017

Three people have died in Costa Rica, includiing two Swiss tourists, and one in El Salvador as a result of…