From the early days of modernismo with Rubén Darío to the revolutionary movement in El Salvador with Roque Dalton, Central America has a long legacy of poetry. However, like many other things across the isthmus, this rich history is not visibly seen by the public. Now, thanks to the internet and internal push for cultural representation, a new generation of Central American poets are drawing from multidisciplinary practices to expand the genre. Through self-publishing, teaching, community organizing, and international festivals, these poets – some up-and-coming, others more established – are changing the landscape of the craft across these seven countries.
Although you may not find their books in your local bookstore, you can still enjoy their work online. Learn more about these contemporary changemakers below.
Kalilah Enríquez is a 35-year-old Belizean journalist and storyteller working at the Nationwide News Network in Kingston, Jamaica. Kalilah arrived in Jamaica to pursue a master’s degree at the Caribbean School of Media and Communication and decided to stay after receiving many opportunities. She even moved her family there.
She has authored two books, Unfettered, an anthology of poetry, and Shades of Red. (Her poetry books are available here.) Kalilah is also the producer and writer of Street Boys of Jamaica and Man a Gallis: Jamaican Dancehall and HIV/AIDS, both of which have received acclaim.
Alberto López Serrano
Since La Nave que Falta in 2007, Alberto López Serrano has authored a half a dozen books. He’s fully immersed himself in El Salvador’s literary scene as a member of the Fundación Cultural Alkimia and participated in poetry contests in other parts of Central America.
He serves as Director of Casa del Escritor Museo de Salarrué and runs an international poetry festival called Festival Internacional de Poesía Amada Libertad in El Salvador. Besides poetry, Alberto is also a professor of English and math.
Denise Phé Funchal
Professor Denise Phé Funchal teaches courses on European literature and composition at the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala. The sociologist and writer also draws from her fields of study to create works based in interfamily dynamics and relationships. (Read her piece in English here.)
Denise, who wrote Las Flores, Manual del Mundo Paraíso, and Buenas Costumbres – a collection of short stories – has also written the script for Reinas de la Noche, a documentary, and Chapstick, a 2010 adaption of one of her short stories. Reinas was featured at the 2011 Short Film Corner at Cannes Film Festival.
Luis Chaves road to creative writing wasn’t ordinary. He actually studied agronomy and had an office job, which he traded for a career as a poet. Since then, he’s become one of the foremost voices in Costa Rican literature. His work has received several international awards and translations.
His first book of poems, El Anónimo, was published in 1996 and his second, Los animales que imaginamos, was published shortly after in 1997. Los animals won the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Prize for Hispanic American Poetry.
“I just like to write,” Chaves told The Tico Times. “I don’t care about the genre. It is up to the editors to decide where (a book) goes, but I give each one the same care.”
Adele Ramos is a woman of many talents. The Belize-based journalist, TV producer, painter, fashion designer, and poet has not only enriched her country with her own work, she’s also used her platform to boost the work of other poets. “Adele led the poetic renaissance in Belize (2005-2006) as the founding president of the Belizean Poets Society (renamed the Belizean Writers and Poets Society),” her website reads. Learn about her work here.
Alexandra Lytton Regalado
Poet Alexandra Lytton Regalado has edited, translated, and written more than 10 books that thematically explore Central America. Alexandra, who is also a photographer, is on the board of directors for Museum of Art of El Salvador, where she works to uplift other Salvadoran creatives. In 2006, she co-founded Kalina Press, which says it “transforms ideas into extraordinary books.” The word Kalina comes from two náhaut words, “kal” meaning house and “ina” meaning expression. The Press’ most recent bilingual anthologies of contemporary Salvadoran literature is available here.
Manuel Gabriel Tzoc Bucup
Manuel Gabriel Tzoc Bucup is a queer, Indigenous poet, and visual artist based out of Guatemala City. Through their work, Manuel looks to raise awareness and generate critical thinking with their visual and written work. For Tzoc, writing has been instrumental in helping them form their identity and to learn about themselves. “It’s a path that makes me feel full and in which I can say a lot,” they told (Casi) Literal. They credit Luis de Lión’s El tiempo principia en Xibalbá with inspiring them to become a writer.
They published their first book of poetry, Esco-p(o)etas para una muerte en ver(sos) b-a…l…a, in 2006. Find them on Instagram.
Venus Ixchel Mejía
Honduran radio host, poet, literary critic and musician Venus Ixchel Mejía performs regularly in Tegucigalpa. She’s also competed in poetry festivals in Guatemala and Mexico. And she also hosted a literary radio show titled Molinos de Viento. Read her work in Spanish here.
Panamanian Yvette Modestin, one of the contributors of The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United State, is an activist and poet who founded Encuentro Diaspora Afro, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering the Afro-latinx community in Boston, Massachusetts. Through Encuentro Diaspora Afro, Modestin has mentored young Afro-Latino students in middle and high school.
Former Fulbright scholar Eunice Shade worked in journalism and radio production in Nicaragua before becoming a Phd student at the University of Pittsburgh. But writing has always been a part of her DNA. Her grandparents and parents are writers. She wrote since she was a kid, but didn’t publish her first, El texto perdido, until 2007. Eunice has published four more and shows no signs of stopping. Check out her TEDxTalk here.