Monday, October 19, 2009

Interview with Ernesto Cardenal

Nicaraguan priest and poet Ernesto Cardenal has enjoyed new popularity since receiving the Premio Iberoamericano de Poesía Pablo Neruda 2009 earlier this year from the Chilean government. His fall schedule has included a huge open poetry reading in Mexico City's Zócalo (see video below) in connection with a book fair and a trip to the Canary Islands, during which he gave the following interview.

by Alberto García Saleh (translation by Rebel Girl)
La Provincia/ Diario de Las Palmas

- What would you say is the difference between the Sandinistas in earlier times and today?

- One has nothing to do with the other. The revolution in Nicaragua was one the most beautiful revolutions that have ever occurred. It was in solidarity with the whole world, it had great affection from all people and our people had great enthusiasm for it. It was a seven-year war against the United States and it won, making the U.S. occupation troops leave Nicaragua. Then some of the main leaders began to steal before handing over power and they lost the revolution. Now those same people that betrayed the revolution and Sandinismo are in the government.

- Does the responsibility of being the most important Latin American poet of the moment weigh on you?

- It's very arbitrary. I don't think I'm so important, and even if I were, being important is not important.

- But you've traveled all over the world and has visited the most unusual countries. Which countries have surprised you most?

- I have a book of poems entitled Pasajeros de tránsito ("Passengers in transit") that is about travels around the world. My poems are born of the experience of the country, and not of knowledge about the country.

- But your works have been translated into many languages.

- Yes, but that is no guarantee of excellence. It is true that it has been published in many countries but it has been read less than that and those that are excellent I think even less. An English poet said that the greatness of some great works of literature lies in something outside of literature. I'd say if there is a bit of grandeur in my work it is for extra-literary reasons because the themes of my poetry are the poor and love and humanity.

- You have a religious vocation that you consider late. What produced a religious conversion in you?

- I had always had a vocation to surrender to God, and that meant the renunciation of human support and many other sacrifices, and so I didn't dare to renounce [those things]. At one point in my life I decided to try, like the one who throws himself in jail, surrendering myself to God. Then I was filled with happiness and union with God. He entered me and from then on I have had a loving mystical union with God.

- But you do not share much with the representatives of God on Earth.

- I do not believe in the Vatican, but in Jesus, and the church that He tried to create, which is very different from the one now.

- There have been many rivers of ink spilled about the meeting you had with John Paul II and what he said.

- What John Paul II said to me was: "You should regularize your situation." I did not wanted to respond, and he repeated the phrase with the sharp tone he had. Simply he was scolding me because I was a priest in a post in a government in a revolution, and he was asking me to leave that post. But the Bishop of Nicaragua had allowed us priests who had government posts to continue in them for a while as long as it was necessary and the Vatican had broadcast it. He humiliated me publicly because he was at the airport with the junta and as I was Minister of Culture, the government decided that I should be present even though the Pope did not want my presence.

- And what do you think the Pope really wanted?

- He wanted a revolution that would persecute the Church, like communism had been in Poland, which was a hugely Catholic country with an unpopular anti-religious government. Nicaragua was very Catholic, but supporting a Marxist revolution, although a Christian one. And the Pope believed that by speaking out against the revolution in the square before 700,000 people at the papal Mass, the people would applaud him. And then people started shouting against him and disrespecting him to the point that the Pope had to yell "Silence!" several times.

- Did you answer the Pope when he scolded you?

- I could not. All the cameras were there and I was not going to start debating with the Pope.

- You are an exponent of liberation theology.

- I consider myself a disciple. Liberation theology has inspired me, among others, the Marxist poets.

- What has your latest accolade, the Pablo Neruda Award, brought?

- It was special because of being an idol of youth. In my acceptance speech I said that until that moment, I had taken pride in being the least decorated poet of the Castilian tongue.

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