Why wait for ambassadors when we have poets? Cuban poet Nancy Morejon in Washington

That was Washington writer E. Ethelbert Miller's reaction when he heard that two distinguished Cuban poets were coincidentally visiting from Havana this week to participate in an equally coincidental movable feast of Latin American poetry events continuing through the weekend.

"Art is a no-man's land," Cuban poet Nancy Morejón said over morning tea at the Adams Morgan home of Andy Shallal, owner of Busboys and Poets. "I like to say that what happened last year on December 17″ – when President Obama and President Raúl Castro announced an attempt improve relations – "was advanced by writers and artists. We have been working a lot for the arrival of that day."

Efforts to build cultural bridges began in the late 1970s, Morejón said, and she cited the late Washington filmmaker Saul Landau and the late Cuban American writer Lourdes Casals among those who contributed.

"We started to break silence and to break barriers," she said. "And finally the governments did well in talking to each other to face our problems in a very civilized way."

Now the diplomats are gingerly stepping toward the day when the two nations might exchange ambassadors again.

Morejón's tea was still warm when Shallal's front doorbell sounded. Cuban poet Waldo Leyva sauntered in, wearing his trademark Panama-style hat over his silver ponytail.

"No! No! No!" Morejón cried in surprise as they embraced. "This guy is like my son. I don't say that because I am older" – both were born in the mid 1940s – but because Morejón helped Leyva publish his first book of poetry. "That's almost like maternity."

The reunion was made possible by some mysterious orchestration of the poetry gods who apparently decided this was the week for a mini explosion of Latin American poetry in Washington. To have it occur just when maximum attention is focused on the evolving relationship between the two nations made it all the more uncanny.

Leyva offered his own take on the new diplomatic era and the role of the poet: "Every epoch has its own rhythm, light and humanity, and the poet has to be capable of unlocking the codes of his epoch. … The sign of this epoch is dialogue, not war; conversation not confrontation."


Meanwhile, Morejón was in town to participate in readings and discussions at the Takoma Busboys and Poets, where Shallal has dedicated the performance space and a mural to the late Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén. Guillén infused his poetry with Afro-Cuban musical rhythms and everyday speech, and focused on social injustice. He traded inspiration with Langston Hughes, Shallal's founding muse for Busboys.

Morejón was influenced by Guillén's approach to poetry, even as she resisted labels: "I cannot deny that I am, at once, Nancy Morejón, an individual, a unity, who cannot be subdivided into parts as one does when learning math," she once told an interviewer. "I am not more of a black person than a woman; I am not more of a woman than a Cuban; I am not more of a black person than a Cuban. I am a brief combustion of those factors."

Morejón and Shallal led a discussion of Guillén and Hughes Friday evening at the Takoma Busboys, and she was scheduled to participate in a talk about the dynamics of race in the United States and Cuba from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday [June 7] at the Busboys on 14th Street NW.

Morejón also took the opportunity to join a portion of the poetry marathon at the Library of Congress. One of the pieces she recited was her poem "Divertimento for Guitar," which contains a subtle nod to U.S.-Cuban relations. Some lines in translation:

I love passports: When will passports cease to exist?

I love the eagerness of the day and the taverns

and the guitar at twilight.I love an island caught in the throat of Goliath

like a palm tree in the center of the gulf.

For full and original report see Washington Post Blog here

For books of the poetry of Nancy Morejon see this link