from: singing the song of the cosmos
by Grevel Lindop / The Dark Horse issue 31
i’m standing to attention, singing the Nicaraguan national anthem: singing it sincerely and with passion. ‘Salve a ti Nicaragua,’ I sing; ‘Hail to you, Nicaragua! No longer roars the voice of the cannon, no longer does the blood of brothers stain your two-coloured flag!’ As anthems go, the Nicaraguan one has its weak points. The words don’t rhyme, the tune is a rambling series of inconclusive fanfares. Never mind. I love this country, and, reading the words from a florid mural at the front of the school hall, I put my heart and soul into the song, along with the two or three hundred students who know it so much better than I do.
Soon it’s time for me to go up onto the platform and read my poems, in English first and then in Spanish. I have enough Spanish to read the translations myself, and can’t help feeling that they sound much better in that mellifluous, percussive language. I roll my r’s with relish, gazing at the sea of earnest young faces. Can they understand what I’m saying? Who knows? But they clap keenly, and I return gratefully to my place, ready to watch a student couple in traditional costume (long ruffled skirt, broad-brimmed straw hat) stepping onstage to perform a folkdance in a baffling 6/8 time.
Six months ago, I couldn’t have placed Nicaragua correctly on a map. To work out how I come to be here, I have to go back to the StAnza festival in 2010. There I read a poem about Havana, and the Cuban poet Victor Rodriguez Nuņez came up to talk to me. The following year Victor came to Manchester for the Literary Festival, and during the visit he mentioned something about Nicaragua, a poetry festival, a carnival—in the midst of all the excitement I didn’t entirely take it in. I probably muttered that it sounded great, and then forgot it. That is, until the late summer of 2012, when an invitation arrived (‘Dear Poet Grevel Lindop’) to ‘The Ninth International Poetry Festival of Granada, Honoring Ernesto Cardenal’. Every year, the letter explained, the festival brings together poets from more than one hundred countries, to give readings in ‘atriums of churches, public squares, colonial buildings, markets, universities, police stations and in neighboring small towns.’ This began to sound interesting. More than interesting. ‘The festival,’ the letter continued, ‘is the most important cultural event in Nicaragua.’
I pondered the practicalities. The letter offered ‘food, lodging and internal transportation’. But how would I get to Nicaragua? An air ticket would cost nearly a thousand pounds. I decided to apply to a new Arts Council scheme—the Artists’ International Development Fund—and to my amazement (since I’m not a youthful Faber superstar) they offered me a grant...
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