The Fading Away of the Granada International Poet’s Festival

The Granada International Poet’s Festival is a week-long celebration where Granada would greet the world with famous poets from many countries attending and presenting their newest creations. It literally put Granada on the Latin American map for a few days each year. Every year it grew with many foreigners planning their vacations around the event.

The city of Granada is mostly known for its tourist interest due to its history and architecture. However, the city has also been characterized by its cultural profile which transformed Granada into the host city for the International Poetry Festival since 2005. This event is a celebration of poetry and culture with poets from all over the world participating, and it is currently the largest poetry event in Nicaragua and Central America. Every year a large number of prestigious poets are invited to the city to recite poems and participate in this cultural event.

The Vanguardia was a literary movement that started in Granada between 1927 and 1929, led by poet and maestro José Coronel Urtecho. One of his objectives, according to literary manifests published in 1931, was to “initiate a struggle to get the public attention through artistic expressions, intellectual scandal, and aggressive criticism”. Nowadays, many of the locations where the poetry festival takes place are the same places that were used by some of the poets of the movement to organize their meetings.

Well, those of you that attended the festival this year and other years saw it was a shadow of what it used to be. Very disappointing that such a great event has been fading away.

Events in Granada tend to be larger than life. Semana Santa (Easter) can be up to almost five weeks of parades and processions depending on the date it falls on. Hipica week in August draws thousands of people to the Running of the Bulls, Carnaval and the week ending with a huge horse parade that meanders by forever. December starts with the Purisima and the holidays don’t really end until New Year’s Day. But there was something special about the International Poet’s Festival.

To me the Poet’s Festival was almost like the state and county fairs back home. It was a time you could meander through the many food vendors sampling everything from typical Nica food to hot dogs to pizza. Some of the food vendors were even from other countries for a taste of their fares. The same with the many booths selling an endless array of hats, leather goods, ceramics, art and unique clothing which you probably did not need but felt compelled to buy anyway. Central park was filled with the vendors spilling into Calle Calzada and Independence Square.

For a country that had few books ten years ago it was the one time of the year when there were dozens of book tents selling everything from fiction to text books to reference books to those cute little miniature books and of course, the many books of poetry. For a country without the massive bookstores many of us had taken for granted this was the one time you could almost always find something interesting to read. We even had one tent where French books and other Parisian paraphernalia were sold. Libros Para Niños drew dozens of children to sit and listen to stories being read by a master storyteller.

The rebellious nature of poetry is clearly shown by the Wednesday “Poetic Carnival” parade which is a symbolic burial of the ignorance, the intolerance, and the indifference – an event accompanied by many of the characters of Nicaraguan folklore, a skewering of politicians and parodies of current events. For example, last year a major topic was the drug wars so the parade included people dressed as police with drug-sniffing dogs. Bags of fake drugs would be placed among the crowd and the dogs would sniff them out and the person nearest the illegal drugs would be taken into custody to join the parade. Quite a fun event!

Over 100 poets, many dancing troupes, bands and the customary funeral hearse are part of the parade. This year the parade was scheduled for 2:00-6:00 so we expected it around 4:00 but it was early at 3:30. For a couple blocks the street is cordoned off to just allow pedestrians. Someone forgot to open the street for the parade i.e. unpadlock the chains so confusion ensued as the parade bunched up at the chained entrance. Since the crowds were waiting on Calzada we became worried it would take a detour and go down Libertad. Everything was stopped by a chain. 20 minutes went by and someone made a command decision – they ran off and found a heavy duty bolt cutter, cut the chains and the celebration spilled into Calzada to everyone’s delight. Somewhat more subdued this year than most other years but very colorful with the beautiful dresses and costumes. This is a parade of parody, celebrating the various freedoms and making fun of the authorities. To be stopped by a simple chain was almost ironic or perhaps the cutting of the chain was symbolic.

Of course, the purpose of the festival is to celebrate the poetry and the poets from many countries. There is no passion greater than a writer reading his/her own work and it is said that the soul of a Nicaraguan is an artist or a poet. While many of the readings would take place in Granada such as at the La Merced church, San Francisco church, the many parks and in front of Tres Mundos  there were also activities in other municipalities close to the city like Niquinohomo, Diriá, Nandaime, Diriomo, Masaya, Catarina, San Juan de Oriente, Masatepe, San Marcos and Diriamba – all of these towns also offered mini fairs for their culture, local foods, and the friendliness of its inhabitants.

Granada was the perfect size town for the festival since it was small enough to be completely transformed by the festival. Street curbs were painted, banners and posters were everywhere. Granada literally was the face of Nicaragua for one week a year.

Then a few years ago things began to change. We heard it was decided that only Nicaraguan vendors could set up tents for display of their wares and foods. It was one of those ideas that sounded good to help Nicaraguans but it removed the international flair of the festival and greatly reduced the number of vendors. The number of attendees declined so there were fewer customers for books and fewer book vendors came.

Rumors started floating that Managua wanted the festival to be moved there. This year Granada resisted allowing usage of its Independence Square for the event right up to a few days before the event. I had a meeting in Granada the other day so I arrived an hour early to browse through the book tents but I discovered there only were only three small tents and they had very few books on display. We attended Wednesday’s Poetic Carnaval Parade and while it was still very colorful and fun, it was a fraction of its size of previous years.

The readings by the poets still occur with great attendance and it is still a major cultural event you should not miss and there are several nights of musical concerts. But I do miss all the little extras. Hope this gets back on track for next year. The crowds were much smaller this year.

Disclaimer – Getting good information in Nicaragua is often difficult and being an expat, sometimes more of a challenge. This is simply my meager understanding on what is happening.

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