Last night, I was privileged to be able to attend a poetry reading by one of my favorite writers alive today, the Nicaraguan poet Father Ernesto Cardenal. He read some of his Cántico Cósmico, musings on the creation of the world and the state of the world today, and finished with the poem Viaje muy jodido (“A Very Screwed Up Trip”, according to the translation I have), written upon the death of his friend and fellow guerilla Laureano. My favorite part: hearing Cardenal himself utter the words:
Poeta hijueputa decí a esos jodidos mis compañeros de Solentiname que me mataron los contrarrevolucionarios hijos de la gran puta pero que me male verga.
(“Poet, son of a bitch, tell all my fucked up compañeros from Solentiname that the sons of the great whore counterrevolutionaries killed me but I don’t give a fuck.”)
Afterwards, during the Q&A, I jotted down some paraphrases of the translation:
When asked whom he is inspired by, Cardenal said that he was most inspired by more modern North American poets, from Walt Whitman until the present day.
Another member of the audience (the father of one of my best friends, who I didn’t expect to run into that night at all!) asked whether Catholic revolutionary theology (aka Liberation Theology) was still alive in South and Central America.
Yes, but it is wounded. When Pope John Paul II came to Nicaragua, a journalist asked him about Liberation Theory and he said that Liberation Theory is no longer dangerous because communism is dead. But a bishop in Brazil has said that as long as there are poor people there will be Liberation Theory.
When asked whether literature should primarily fulfill a social role in order to be considered “good” literature?
It’s not necessary to have a literature that is social literature. I prefer literature that treats on politics and social issues. But if it is good literature it is revolutionary literature. As Mao said – Art that is trying to be revolutionary, but is not good art, is not revolutionary.
When speaking about the state of the revolution in Venezuela and other Latin American countries, Cardenal insisted that “the revolutions that have happened in Latin America have been authentic revolutions. Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Paraguay, and all other progressive and revolutionary governments have been authentic. The case in Nicaragua is different because the government isn’t revolutionary, it’s a lie.”
Nicaragua, now ruled by President Daniel Ortega, has only a shell of a revolutionary government, according to Cardenal. Instead, it’s become a “corrupt government and a dictatorship of a family,” of Ortega, his wife and his children. Along with many other revolutionaries, Cardenal says, he left the party because of corruption within it. The revolution in Nicaragua is finished, but Cardenal remains hopeful because there are still people fighting against the corruption in the government, “the false revolution.”
Cardenal concluded on a note that sums up his hopes for the Americas in the future:
I have heard Hugo Chavez say that the people of Venezuela are brothers to the people of the United States, and the people of the United States are the brothers of the peoples of Latin America … Once Bush predicted that the United States and Latin America would be one people. But this has to happen without any kind of domination, political or economic, but instead with love.
Seeing Ernesto Cardenal speak was truly a great experience. I’d encourage anyone interested in poetry, politics, human rights, or modern Christian theology to pick up some of his poetry. He is truly a revolutionary, in more ways than one.