October 11, 2002
Central American Poets Ernesto
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Marti Hobbes, email@example.com
and Claribel Alegría to Read at Smith
NORTHAMPTON, Mass.-Smith College will
present a bilingual reading by Central American activist poets
Ernesto Cardenal and Claribel Alegría at 7:30 p.m. on
Tuesday, Oct. 29, in Wright Hall Auditorium. Longtime friends
Cardenal and Alegría are both based in Nicaragua and rarely
appear in the United States. This event is free, open to the
public and wheelchair-accessible.
Cardenal's poetry is so deeply engaged with the historical, political
and spiritual landscape of his life that biography and bibliography
seem almost arbitrary distinctions. Priest, social activist and
the former Minister of Culture in Sandinista Nicaragua, Cardenal
is the most urgent and eloquent voice in a country of poets and
revolutionaries, a cultural icon whose life and writings have
From his years of contemplation at Thomas Merton's Trappist monastery
in Kentucky, to his support for the overthrow of the corrupt
Somoza regime in Nicaragua, to his founding of the liberationist
Christian commune Solentiname and his highly successful literacy
campaign during the Sandinista years, Cardenal has tied his poetry
to his life and brought poetry to the lives of many.
Over the length of his career, Cardenal has produced a kind of
poetic history of his homeland, narrating the rise and destruction
of successive waves of indigenous and colonial cultures in Latin
America and recounting the events of the Sandinista revolution,
including a fierce yet astonishingly generous critique of U.S.
foreign policy. Allen Ginsberg has said of his epic poem "The
Cosmic Canticle," "[Cardenal]...interweaves brilliant
political-economic chronicle with panoramic spiritual information,
updating post-Poundian verse for [a] late-20th-century narration
of the Americas' last half-millennium." Poetry, politics
and prayer join in Cardenal's work, which speaks a truth that
he himself embodies, rendering voice and message inseparable.
Alegría has been a formidable champion for Central America,
continuing the region's tradition of revolutionary poetry. Born
in Nicaragua to Salvadoran parents forced into exile during her
infancy for their human rights work and herself exiled from El
Salvador for her powerful poetic dissent, Alegría has
unflaggingly spoken for justice and liberty in each of 40 books
of poetry, testimony, fiction and nonfiction. In the poems, her
talent, courage and commitment to freedom emerge most strongly.
"Alegría mixes 'a panorama of iguanas,/ chickens,/
strips of meat' with the horrors of rape and revolution,"
writes the San Francisco Chronicle, "couching her story
of 'my et cetera country' with the unsettling imagery
and clarity only a poet could bring to the page."
In 1978, Alegría was honored with the prestigious Casa
de las Americas prize for her collection of poems "Sobrevivo"
("I survive"). Her work was featured in Bill Moyers'
PBS series "The Language of Life," and she has been
translated into more than ten languages, into English most notably
by the North American poet Carolyn Forché and by her late
husband, U.S.-born Darwin Flakoll. Alegria's most recent volume
of poems, Saudade ("Sorrow"), is an exquisite record
of her grief after Flakoll's death.
Absence is, paradoxically, one of the strongest presences in
Alegria's work. Her poetry bears witness to the successive waves
of loss experienced personally and nationally and to the absence
of loved ones, historical recognition and cultural identity.
Her willingness to plumb even the most unbearable of emotions-and
her deep commitment and hard-won hope in the future-make recognitions
of the failings of the present into manuals for recovery.
This reading-which is supported by Elaine Weschler Slater '47
and Jim Slater and co-sponsored by the Poetry Center, Office
of Multicultural Affairs and Nosotros-will be followed by a bookselling
and signing. For more information, call Cindy Furtek in the Poetry
Center office at (413) 585-4891 or Ellen Doré Watson,
director, at (413) 585-3368.