Speech by PEN International President John Ralston Saul: 11th International Poetry Festival of Granada


Speech by John Ralston Saul
Opening Ceremony
11th International Poetry Festival of Granada
February 17, 2015
Granada, Nicaragua

jrsOnly under great trepidation does a philosopher give a speech to poets. We all know – us novelists, storytellers – that yes, there is an aristocracy among the writers, dominated by princes and duchesses called: Rubén Darío, Juan Ramón Molina, Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Roberto Sosa, Nicanor Parra, Alaíde Foppa, Claribel Alegría, Ernesto Cardenal.

I stand here today as the elected President of thirty thousand writers, organised in 150 PEN centres, in a hundred and ten countries. The only global organisation of writers.  Defenders of freedom of expression. Promoters of literature in all languages. Of translation. Defenders of endangered languages – defenders of writers in danger or in prison.

*     *      *

I arrived just a few moments ago from Honduras, a troubled country, but even amongst all the violence, poetry flourishes. For the past four days, I feel that I have been surrounded by poets.

Being here, as a Canadian, surrounded by poets of the Americas, I cannot stop thinking of Ramón Molina: Eagles and Condors.

Brothers won’t we be in America?

Us all!

“We were born of the vital germs of its sludge”

This week, writers coming from Argentina to Canada gather here, in Managua, Mexico City, to finalize our strategy.

What will it be?

Ruben Dario declared the problem perfectly. He concentrated his poem on a man, a country. Today his criticism could describe many countries, the majority of those in power.

“You believe that life it is a fire,
and that progress is an eruption;
from the place you put the bullet
the future you propose.
No.”

This rejection suggests something different.

I’m go from country to country. From difficulty to difficulty. What I hear, and what I read, is this: The greater the difficulties, the higher the level of determination and optimism – the more beautiful the voices of their poetry.

Thank you.

Original speech in Spanish, read here

(Translated by Laura Hargreaves)