Nicaragua, where “everyone is a poet until proven otherwise.”

In the following excerpt from his essay, A Tale of Two Poets, Nicaragua’s Passion for Poetry, photographer and essayist Richard Leonardi writes of the importance of poetry in the lives of Nicaraguan literary giants—and ordinary people.

Read Leonardi’s full essay and visit his website, Nicaraguaphoto.

Few outsiders could imagine or fathom the importance, popularity and deep rooted passion for poetry in Nicaragua. There is no art form, or any form of expression that rivals poetry for the Nicaraguan people. From the poorest rural child to the internationally educated literary student and from the policeman to the bank CEO there is often a common thread, poetry. The great poet from Granada, José Coronel Urtecho, once said that “Every Nicaraguan is a poet until proven otherwise”. Few Nicaraguans would argue, but if they did, they would likely do so using verse. Poetry in Nicaragua is an equally important tool and method to express political protest and social criticism, as it is for romance, pictorial and abstract thought.

First grade school children learn poetry as a form of expression, cooperation and performance. Young students often divide into teams to recite a poem of Nicaragua’s supreme national hero, León poet Rubén Darío, each team memorizing a couplet so in unison they can recite the entire poem. Soon after school boys will be inventing versus to express their admiration for school girls and school girls writing poetry to repair broken hearts. Nicaraguan daily newspapers publish poetry at least three times a week. On Friday the country’s most-read periodical La Prensa publishes poetry submitted by the public, on Saturday their literary supplement runs poems by past and current Nicaraguan poetry greats and on Sunday a political humor supplement is filled with sardonic rhymes of critique against political figures and policy.

Nicaraguan painters, singers and sculptors join businessmen, lawyers and doctors in writing poetry. In Nicaragua “poet” doubles as a world for friend, brother, buddy. One can hear at a Managua traffic signal a taxi driver shouting to another taxi driver waiting at the red light, “Hey poet, where are you headed?” It would surprise few who know Nicaragua well that the first Latin American ever nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature was a Nicaraguan poet, Salomón de la Selva. The verses of León-born Salmón de la Selva are still cherished today in Nicaragua, but most English speakers would recognize him more for his English translations of fellow León poet Rubén Darío.

The love of poetry in Nicaragua can be traced back to before Rubén Darío (1867-1916), but it was this great Nicaraguan master who cemented it as the country’s dominant art form and passion.

Want to experience the soul of Nicaragua? Read Nicaraguan poetry.

Like to add to our poetry collection? Send us your favorite Nicaraguan poem and name of the poet who wrote it.