Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Happy Birthday, Ernesto Cardenal!

Today is Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal's 85th birthday and, for the occasion, we have translated an interview with him.

Ernesto Cardenal turns 85, with new poems and "censored" email

by Gabriela Selser, (dpa)
Diario Digital Nuestro País

Managua,(dpa) - "I don't like to talk about myself, don't ask me those things," replied the poet faced with the recorder, weary of being asked for reflections about life. On the verge of his 85th birthday, Ernesto Cardenal prefers to speak of the herons and lizards he has carved in wood or the new book of poems by children with cancer that will come out this week in Nicaragua.

He takes off his black beret and puts it on the desk in his sober office in the Casa de los Tres Mundos gallery, in Managua, where books of poetry, paintings by Salvadoran artists and the well-known winged sculptures by the priest, which sell for 100 to 150 dollars depending on the size, are exhibited.

"I don't tend to the gallery. I am completely devoted to writing, reading and making sculptures," says Ernesto Cardenal (b. 1/20/1925) in an interview with dpa. His long time assistant, Luz Marina Acosta, comes into the office and writes her phone numbers and e-mail in a booklet.

"Yes, better note down her e-mail because mine is censored by the government", the poet says. Acosta agrees. "And they also took away my personal computer in a supposed robbery almost a year ago," he adds.

In February 2009, unknown individuals entered Casa de los Tres Mundos and only took Cardenal's computer, where he kept his important documents. They did not take the television or the new computer, or the valuable paintings and sculptures. They left without leaving a trace.

"This was a professional job, there is not a single fingerprint," the police experts who came looking for clues commented, according to Luz Marina. "Thank God we had backup for all the archives," she says.

In his typical attire of jeans, a white "cotona" (peasant shirt) and leather sandals, Ernesto Cardenal calls himself a victim of political persecution by the government of Daniel Ortega. "Like many others, because what happened with the computer they didn't just do to me, but also to a former mayor of San Juan del Sur, who was a party Sandinista," he comments.

The conflict erupted almost two years ago, when the irreverent priest criticized President Ortega and his influential wife, poet Rosario Murillo, in Paraguay. A local judge then dusted off a slander complaint filed long ago by a German businessman, and the author of "Epigrams" was forced to pay a fine of one thousand dollars.

Since he refused to do so because he considered it to be political revenge, the judge "froze" his bank accounts, including 2,500 dollars donated by a Nicaraguan millionaire for the poetry workshops for children with cancer.

Rosario Murilllo, meanwhile, lashed out against the intellectuals from around the world who sympathized with Cardinal, authors of the stature of the Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano, Argentine Juan Gelman, Cervantes Prize, and Portugal's Jose Saramago, Nobel Literature. Not even the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) was spared.

"Only the disinformation that the United States applies to Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua can explain that our brothers in UNEAC ignore the political reality of certain figureheads who have been fighting for more than a decade in right-wing oligarchic movement," wrote the first lady on the government website.

Ernesto Cardenal has accused Ortega of installing a dictatorship like that of Anastasio Somoza, the dictator he faced more than three decades ago from his famous Solentiname Island, a hotbed of the Sandinista guerrillas where peasants wrote poetry, preaching "liberation theology".

But he says the struggles with Murillo date from the '80s, when Cardenal was Minister of Culture and Doña Rosario, then more dedicated to procreation than creation, vied with him for control of artistic activity from her "Sandinista Cultural Workers Association".

Without even resolving the problem of the bank accounts, last December another judge ordered the seizure of the Mancarrón hotel in Solentiname, whose administration he gave to Nubia Arcia, a former employee of Cardenal and wife of the German Immanuel Zerger, the same person who filed the libel suit.

Built in the 80s with a donation from the German steelworkers union, the hotel was initially thought of as a training center for peasant leaders, but it became a tourist center after the Sandinista electoral defeat in 1990.

The property belongs to the Solentiname Development Association (ADS), which Cardenal directs and through which he manages funds to finance the secondary education of youth with limited means. The first graduation on the island took place a month ago.

"We don't know where all this is going to end," states the poet, who in spite of it all has not stopped going to the "La Mascota" children's hospital every Tuesday. In the workshops with the children who are sick with cancer, they convert poetry into healing therapy.

From this work came the poetry book "Sin arcoiris fuera triste" ("Without a rainbow it would be sad"), published in 2006 with the support of UNICEF, and the new compilation "Me gustan los poemas, me gusta la vida" ("I like poems, I like life"), financed by the Swiss municipality of Villa de Lancy and which will be presented this week.

The publication is part of the cultural festival for the 85th birthday of the poet, a week of activities including presentation of books, a poetry recital, an open lecture at the university and an exhibition of his sculptures.

Ernesto Cardenal is also busy right now with a long poem which he prefers not to talk about yet. "I have the belief that if I tell what I'm writing, then I am no longer writing it," he says, cutting the questions short.

But then he adds complacently: "It is on a science topic, what most inspires me now ... the cosmos, the origin of life and species, the fate of man on Earth". He says that it will follow along the line of "Cántico Cósmico" ("Cosmic Canticle"), a poetry book published in 1992 after three decades of work:

"Tal es así, que ahora no busco la luz sino la oscuridad, porque que detrás de las tinieblas está el sol. Y que el pobre corazón del hombre es apenas un punto en la cuadratura azul del Universo."

"So much so that now I do not seek the light but rather the dark, because I know that behind the darkness is the sun. And that man's poor heart is just a dot on the blue quadrature of the Universe."


  1. Beautiful! The work with children with cancer is inspiring.

  2. I would like to find a university or other institution interested in my collection of Ernesto Candenal books, CD and other papers signed by the author.
    Contact: B. Cramb