Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

Poetry – Song of the Cosmos and of Nicaragua!

Splendid Granada, the Festival's setting

Splendid Granada, the Festival’s setting

I’m just home from what must be the world’s most magnificent and delightful poetry festival. It’s the International Poetry Festival of Granada, held each year in Nicaragua’s most historic and beautiful city, and this time I was lucky enough to be invited. I knew it would be exciting but I truly had no conception of what it would really be like.

Nicaraguans have a genuine and universal love of poetry, and the week was packed with events ranging from the open mics which ran for hours every day with audiences consistently around 50 or 60 people listening intently to local poets, to the enormous evening readings where poets from more than 60 countries read their work (with Spanish translations) to audiences that filled the city’s main plaza and must have numbered thousands.
And as if the readings weren’t enough, on Tuesday 19th (as every year) there was the city’s Poetry Carnival – a vast colourful procession of bands, dancers, poets and everyone else, led by an elaborate horesdrawn funeral carriage, carrying the coffin of Arrogance and Insensitivity! And, of course, the parade stopped at every street corner through the city for short readings by countless poets.

Highlights of the Festival were splendid readings by Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal: a priest, Liberation Theologian, love poet, champion of indigenous cultures and hero of the campaign to overthrow the Somoza dictatorship, he was a charming and modest figure in loose blue trousers and white smock, his bushy white hair escaping from under a black beret. He read his famous ‘Oracion para Marilyn Monroe’ (‘Prayer for Marilyn Monroe’), and his touching and profound poem about the song of the cicadas which emerge from their 17-year sojourn underground only to sing and die: ‘En Pascua resuscitan las cigarras’ (‘At Easter the cicadas come back to life’) and other poems which are nationally known in Nicaragua but a marvellous new discovery for me.

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With Ernesto Cardenal at the book fair

There were also overwhelming performances (see video below) by Raul Zurita, who has written a kind of modern Divine Comedy on the recent traumatic history of Chile; and a characteristically delightful, intense and picturesque reading by Gioconda Belli, again a heroine of the Sandinista revolution – whose devotion to the arts and education as well as to democracy is the foundation of this amazing event – a festival to which richer countries would never dream of giving such resources but which this small country gladly offers to the world.


Just listent to Raul Zurita’s poetry as music if you don’t know Spanish, and share his extraordinary lament for the sufferings of his country under Pinochet’s dictatorship, in which he was arrested, tortured and exiled.

The Friday night reading, when with a succession of other poets I suddenly found myself up in the lights on the platform, reading into the beautifully-tuned sound system and gazing over a sea of faces stretching into the warm distance of the beautiful colonial Plaza, felt like flying. There was a magic in the moonlight, the vast, warm, appreciative audience, the sense of speaking – almost singing – the poems, English and Spanish, into this beautiful living space. Maybe that’s what it’s like to play a rock festival.

I was delighted to meet Gerry Cambridge, Scottish poet and editor of The Dark Horse magazine, for the first time, and also the fine New Zealand poet and publisher Roger Hickin. The three of us spent a good deal of time together, and also with the Taiwanese poet Yang Ze and the Icelandic poet Gerdur Kristny… I could go on, because it was the most wonderful opportunity to make friends and hear the most diverse poetries from all over the world. And as a bonus my old friend Ken McCarthy (www.kenmccarthy.com) came over from Guatemala for a couple of days to hang out, browse the bookshops, hear the music, marvel at the Carnival and enjoy the poems.

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Roger Hickin, New Zealand poet and publisher

Other poets whose work I loved included Gemino Abad (Phillippines), Margaret Randall and Jerome Rothenberg (both USA), Peter Boyle (Australia)… I could go on. And then there was the food. And the wonderful Phillips Montalban reggae band one night. And the great Mexican salsa orchestra another night. And the trip through the islands on Lake Cocibolco. And the tropical heat, and the scarlet and purple bougainvillea flowers, and the misty volcano in the background, and the Toña beer, and the Flor de la Caña rum. And the magnificent kindness, hospitality and efficiency of our hosts.

Granada Cathedral

Granada Cathedral

Shuffling off the plane at Manchester Airport this morning at 8.30 it was England that seemed, for a moment, like a dream. It’s not often one gets the chance to experience so intensely. Thank you Nicaragua, thank you Granada. In the slogan of the Festival, ‘Poetry is the Song of the Cosmos'; and it really did feel true.

I must also say a big Thank You to the Arts Council of Great Britain, which generously paid my fare and expenses to attend the Festival. I’m very grateful for this support.
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In Granada they are already starting to plan for next year’s Festival. If you have any taste for poetry, February would be a good time to visit Granada and see for yourself. The Festival – like poetry and like Nicaragua itself – is a dream which has somehow become reality.

Treadwell’s, London’s Truly Magical Bookshop

A few days ago I was in London and, as I usually do, I found time to drop in at my favourite bookshop, Treadwell’s of Covent Garden.

Treadwell’s is certainly London’s most magical bookshop; and I don’t just mean that metaphorically. Besides holding a large range of poetry, fiction, history and biography, Treadwell’s specialises in the occult: magic, mythology, folklore, witchcraft, druidry, paganism, ancient religions – and all that appertains thereunto. Besides scholarly works and popular surveys they sell grimoires and collections of spells, ranging from teen-friendly paperbacks to leather-bound, limited-edition tomes that can set you back upwards of a thousand pounds.

And they don’t just stop at books. They sell every imaginable type of herb and incense. They sell pure beeswax candles. They sell magic wands (wooden or crystal, just as you choose). They have silver chalices of every size, and athames (traditional witches’ knives) in a variety of designs.

Part of the joy of Treadwell’s is that you never know what extraordinary thing you’re going to find. Last time I was there, their ‘occult antiques’ display included a 1930s Egyptian sorcerer’s ring. This time, one showcase had a display of ‘snakeskin parchment'; and, yes, it was actual snakeskin. Not my personal writing-surface of choice, but I suppose if you had the right spell it might be just what you would want.

The sofa that really refreshes your browser

If I’m making it sound scary or barbaric, I’m getting it wrong, because Treadwell’s is also the cosiest and most welcoming bookshop I know. You can browse as long as you like over the endless fascinating second-hand books, many of them very cheap indeed. If you’re there more than a few minutes, you’ll probably be offered tea or coffee, and you can enjoy it on the comfortable Browser’s Sofa. You can even have a personal tarot reading done while you wait.

Treadwell’s also hosts a fascinating programme of talks, lectures and courses on countless magical and spiritual topics, from both academics and practitioners (two categories that are not mutually exclusive, thank goodness). I’ve spoken there myself on Robert Graves and The White Goddess, and in the autumn of 2010 I’m going back to speak on ‘Gods, Dreams and Magicians in Latin America’.

Owner Christina spreads a strange enchantment...

There’s always been some shop in London where those of a mystical and magical bent congregated. In the 1920s it was Watkins’s of Cecil Court; post-1945 it was Atlantis near the British Museum. Both are still going strong, and good luck to them; but nowadays the real focus of the cosmic crystal, I’m sure, is Treadwell’s. You can find them at 34 Tavistock Street, London WC2E 7PB (website www.treadwells-london.com) and I recommend a visit for the sheer fun of it. Though I should warn you that there is a curious enchantment about the shop: somehow I never seem able to leave without buying something. Quite uncanny.

I have to say in conclusion that if it weren’t for Treadwell’s, this blog probably wouldn’t be here. Last year a businessman from New Orleans called Ken McCarthy was passing by. He’d just finished reading a book on Haitian Vodun and noticed that Treadwell’s wanted second-hand magical books. He dropped in and made them a gift of it, taking in their lecture programme at the same time. He came back for a lecture, and it was mine. We talked, became friends, he invited me to New Orleans (I’ll tell you all about that another time!), he told me I should have a blog, and he put me in touch with the guys who set this one up. The rest is history. Or rather, the rest of this particular post is a video clip: the owner of Treadwells, Christina Oakley-Harrington, talking to Richard and Judy about the Toad Spell. Yes, really. Enjoy!