At a poetry reading last week in Boulder, I thought I was hearing an April Fool's line. The owner of Innisfree Books, Brian, announced that Saturday afternoon, April 23rd, Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal would read at the bookstore. My jaw dropped and I challenged Brian: "THE Cardenal?"
Brian smiled and nodded. The first break in the reading I swiveled through the audience to Brian. Did he really mean it? Yes, really. Did he have a bilingual collection of Cardenal's poems? Yes, just one, although he had a number in English. I had a twenty-dollar bill in my wallet, meant to be my mad money for the weekend, but I'm mad about Cardenal's poetry, so Brian got the twenty, I got some change and a copy of Flights of Victory / Vuelos de victoria. I've carried it with me since then, challenged to read as much of the Spanish as I can before glancing right to the translation.
My excitement over this find is two fold. I like the poems for their exteriorismo, what the introduction explains as poetry made of "narrative and anecdote, made with elements of real life and with concrete things, with proper names and precise details and exact data . . ." And I admire and respect Cardenal for his bravery and his concern for his people. He says in "Canto nacional" that "From the womb of the oppressed the Revolution will be born. / It is the process." This sort of statement is made more powerful by Cardenal's active involvement in the revolution that freed Nicaragua from the dictatorship of Somoza. This is political poetry with teeth. He's earned his right to speak on national issues. He's wise enough to express these ideas through concrete images--men and boys who left home for work or an errand and never came back, mothers and lovers left with only a picture of their sons and husbands. This poetry tells a tragic truth, and I cannot help but almost hold my breath till the 23rd. (I'll post the details on the News page at www.kvdbooks.com)