In revolutionary Nicaragua, a passion for poetry

In Nicaragua's blighted land of volcanoes, earthquakes, and centuries of political turmoil, the gun traditionally has spoken louder than words. Yet words are revered in this Central American country, the unlikely domain of an abundance of poets and a nation whose passion for literary expression is unrivaled in the region.

Demand for books penned by Nicaraguan literati is soaring and publishers say they can barely keep up.

The left-wing Sandinista government itself is a hive of literary activity and has keenly encouraged writers since coming to power at the end of a revolution in 1979.

``We taught people to read and write and what was the first thing they wanted to do? Write a poem,'' said one Sandinista activist, referring to a postrevolutionary surge in poetic output and the government literacy campaign started in 1979. The Nicaraguan literacy rate is now about 90 percent, compared with the 50 percent rate before the revolution.

To encourage aspiring poets, Culture Minister Ernesto Cardenal in 1980 organized a network of poetry workshops designed to teach rudimentary techniques to newly literate Nicaraguans. The workshops inspired some 2,000 so-called ``popular poets.''

Heading the list of government men of letters is President Daniel Ortega Saavedra, whose best-known work dates from the time he was jailed for seven years (1967-74) under the US-backed President, Gen. Anastasio Somoza Debayle. The poem is called, ``I never saw Managua when mini-skirts were in fashion.''

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