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This report is taken from PN Review 253, Volume 46 Number 5, May - June 2020.

Ernesto Cardenal, 1925–2020 Grevel Lindop
The little man with the receding chin, stubbly white beard and dark blue beret didn’t make an impressive figure. Until he climbed to the podium and blinked around, settling first his glasses and then his papers, I didn’t realise that this was Ernesto Cardenal. When he began to read, in a grainy but musical voice – there was a slight mumble in the enunciation – the effect rapidly became hypnotic. There was a rhythm, a musical pitch, and a sincerity that explained why the Granada International Poetry Festival of that year (it was 2013) was being held in his honour.

Cardenal, who died at the age of ninety-five on 1 March 2020, was probably the most admired poet in Latin America after Pablo Neruda, though as personalities they could not have been more different. Lacking Neruda’s charisma, Cardenal deployed a modest and thoughtful gentleness, which belied his administrative skills and his profoundly stubborn personality.

Born in Granada, Nicaragua in 1925, Cardenal studied literature in Mexico and the United States, where he developed a strong interest in the poetry of Ezra Pound: later in life he would repeatedly tell interviewers that Pound was his most important influence; indeed, ‘for me the most important poet in the world’. Returning to Nicaragua in 1950, he joined the group of modernist writers known as Generacion de 1940, who rejected the elaborate rhetoric Nicaraguan poetry had inherited from Rubén Darío, as well as symbolist notions of poésie pure. Accordingly, much of his earliest poetry (collected in Oraciones, 1960) is public and ...

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