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Guatemala: Animal Del Monte Festival in Xela

International meetings often take place in Guatemala to discuss a variety of diverse problems, from violence to pollution, from illegal adoptions to difficulties in governance. But two weeks ago it was different type of gathering, a real celebration, where all were invited to celebrate culture. The gathering did not take place in  Guatemala City, as usual, but in Quetzaltenango , located in the southwestern part of the country. "Xela" is a different type of place and the venue is described by Blogger/Writer Fellinada in his post Four Dresses for a Party [es] :

Quetzaltenango es la ciudad más importante de Guatemala luego de la capital del país, algunos la recuerdan por su particular historia (fue un estado independiente durante año y medio en el siglo XIX), por llamarse también Xelajú (como aquella famosa canción que terminara de inmortalizar Ray Conniff) o por haber sido mencionada en una ocasión por Homero Simpson (quien se intoxicara con unos chiles cosechados por enfermos de un hospital psiquiátrico de las montañas de Quetzazaltenango), sin embargo a algunos escritores les recuerda unos juegos florales que tienen casi 70 años de existir, a los turistas le recuerda edificios neoclásicos de piedra y a los quetzaltecos un epíteto extraño de cuna de la cultura.

Quetzaltenango is the most important city in Guatemala, after Guatemala City, some remember the city because its peculiar history. It was an independent territory for one year and a half during the 19th Century. It is called also Xelajú, as mentioned in the song immortalized by Ray Connif, and it is also famous ever since Homer Simpson mentioned it once (in that episode where he was intoxicated by some peppers harvested by patients from a psychiatric hospital in the mountains of Quetzaltenango). However, some writers remember the city because it is the venue of a Literary Contest for more than 70 years, tourists like the neo-classic buildings made of stone and "quetzaltecos" as a cultural center".

Poet Alejandro Marré reading to a group of schoolchildren. Photo by CREA Guatemala and used with permission.

Many poets attended Animal del Monte , a Latin American poetry festival during the rainy month of May. The 40 Guatemalan and Latin American poets departed from the capital city and took part in a tour of six surrounding cities, such as Antigua and San Marcos in order to read their works simultaenously in the various sites to attentive audiences, before arriving to Quetzaltenango for the arts and cultural celebration. Ordinaria Locura [es] on her post "Animal del Monte" [es] described the festival:

Fue una fiesta, que se vive aún allá, que se vivió acá en la capital, en Antigua, en San Marcos, Totonicapán y Coatepeque y que debería de apuntarse en el calendario, para que este derecho tan negado, que es la cultura, se viva y se goce, y en este caso, a la salud del caldo de frutas. No cabe duda de que en medio de las tristezas y esos temblores que sufre el alma, siempre estas cosas alegran, repellan y dan esperanza.

It was a real celebration, a celebration that is still going on there in the capital city, in Antigua, in San Marcos, in Totonicapán and in Coatepeque, and should be marked on a calendar, especially in this place where the right to enjoy cultural events is often denied. The right to enjoy the liquor made of fruits should be a right as well. There are no doubts that in the middle of sadness and troubles of the soul there are always those things that expel the bad feelings and bring us hope.

Luna Park [es] blogger described the experience:

Siete días de poesía ambulante. De la calle a las escuelas; de los salones universitarios a las cafeterías. Disuelta la línea invisible entre vida y literatura. Sin libros de por medio. Solo el autor y su voz, el espectador y el poema: una conexión directa que propició el encuentro, la reacción palpable, inmediata: una sonrisa, una mirada de asombro, unos ojos cerrados, un aplauso, un acercamiento, una pregunta, una petición.

Seven days of pure poetry. From streets to schools; from classrooms to coffee shops. Diluted the line between life and literature, Without books as messengers. Just the author and his/her voice, the audience, the poem: a direct connection, an immediate reaction: a smile, a look of amazement , closed eyes, an ovation, an approach, a question, a request.

Children's reading by Rosa Chávez, Gabriela Padilla, Alma Karla Sandoval and Carmen Lucía Alvarado. Photo by CREA Guatemala and used with permission.

All around it became a party taking place in the capital city, in Antigua, in San Marcos, Totonicapan and Coatepeque. Indeed being a writer is not easy, especially there are other priorities, such as to bring tortillas to the table. However, poverty or the fact of being from a developing country never had stopped creative minds before. Creative expressions and bringing beauty out of nothing were some of the highlights of the festival. As stated by Maurice Echeverría, one of the finest writers in the region on his blog Buscando a Syd [es] :

Ser escritor viene a ser lo mismo que exiliado polaco en Ecuador en los años cincuenta por decir algo. Y como ya dije: bufar se vale, incluso perder la fe, pero lloriquear, eso jamás. Hay tantos escritores que, miserablemente, le echan la culpa a Guatemala, porque nunca levantó vuelo su carrera. Tan congestionados, tan sobradamente frustrados están que necesitan imputar culpas a una abstracción. Frustrados estamos todos, pero nos ahorramos las bajezas. La literatura es una mujer por quien bien vale perder la cabeza. Y las manos.

Being a writer is like being a Polish expatriate in Ecuador during the 1950s, for example. Indeed, you are allowed to snort, to lose hope, but one must never weep. There are a lot of writers who miserabily blame Guatemala because they never succeed. They are so dense, so frustrated that they need to blame their failures on an abstraction.We are all frustrated, but we save low blows. Literature is a lady worth to lose our minds for. And our hands.

And I agree, considering that 41 years ago Miguel Angel Asturias , a Guatemalan poet, won the Nobel Prize, Rodrigo Rey Rosa has written amazing books in several languages and Augusto Monterroso wrote the world's shortest story "The Dinosaur" ("When [s]he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.")

These three Guatemalans and the young poets at the Animal del Monte Poetry Festival are showing the world that much good works come from this country.

5 comments

  • Hello Renata, here i have some more reviews and pictures

    aca tengo otras reseñas, fotos, y más comentarios sobre este mismo festival

    http://www.marcaacme.com/blogs/analog/index.php/2008/05/27/animal_de_monte

  • Gracias por difundir el arte

  • This is such a wonderful post and a reminder that Guatemala is much more than human rights abuses and Mayan archeology. Around the same time as the Animal Del Monte Festival, I was at Calabash Literary Festival in Jamaica and one of the poets, Derek Walcott, spoke about the unique rhythm of language found throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. It’s true, there is a melody in the way that English and Spanish are spoken in both places that doesn’t seem to come naturally to North Americans.

    I was also reminded of the importance of the oral tradition and the poet, the person who pulls out the unspoken thoughts of his or her society and puts them into eloquent prose. I am glad that tradition is surviving, at least in certain pockets, despite the convergence of mass media and mass marketing.

  • alejandro marré

    Muy interesante artículo, cierto lo de los escritores frustrados y del hecho de que espacios como éste dan
    la oportunidad tanto a escritores como al público a
    disfrutar de un momento de reflexión, palabra y porqué no
    hast locura. Una catársis social, un poco de cultura en
    un país en donde el fútbol, la religión y la cerveza son
    el opio sagrado y pareciera que no sucede nada más, pero
    la poesía salva dirían por allí, el arte, ese ejercicio
    en donde el alma entrena y hace músculo. Gracias Renata
    lindo texto.

  • […] Animal Del Monte Festival in Xela, Guatemala […]

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