I went to Nicaragua as a poet, with the question of how poetry could matter in a place where the people who write poems are often the only ones who can afford to buy books. What meant the most to me while traveling were the intimate meetings with flesh-and-blood writers, some involved in the revolution, and some who were emerging writers. All spoke openly of the challenges to create art and culture in a place where choices are limited and where pop culture imported from the United States overshadows small, personal acts of creation.
On our trip, we often met writers in their homes or workplaces. One writer, Michele Najlis, recounted that her daily decisions during the revolution were whether she would stay up all night on guard duty, or work on the new chapter of her novel. Which was more important? She told us how the revolution became a nightmare, and how, after it ended, she lived with depression and the loss of a dream. She said, “I started to live two hours, three hours … I began to defend my life as a political act, to reconstruct myself as a political resistance.”
The diminutive Claribel Alegría told us poetry had used her; on the advice of Carlos Fuentes (You have to write the story), she began using her poems to denounce the atrocities she saw during the revolution and in the poverty that exists today and take on the responsibility of the poet as witness.
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