The History of Cuban Poetry

by Jack Guy

Oct 8, 2018

© Filipe Varela –

Trends / History

Cuba has a proud history as a literary powerhouse, and there are lots of great poets born on the island.

One of the earliest famous poets to read is José Marti, the independence hero who lends his name to the airport in Havana (HAV). Marti was exiled for his writings, but returned years later as the head of an invasion force that aimed to dislodge the Spanish. His work focuses on the theme of independence, and his prolific poetry career started at the tender age of 15.

Another important figure is Nicolás Guillen, known as the national poet of Cuba. He started working after Cuba became independent from Spain, and was a card-carrying communist who got into trouble with authorities before the 1959 revolution. He was exiled in 1940, but returned after Fidel Castro came to power and took over the National Cuban Writers’ Union 1961–1985.

Around the same time, José Angel Buesa was writing his famous romantic poems. Unlike Guillen, he left Cuba after the revolution and lived out his days in the Dominican Republic. Another poet who refused to live under Castro was Heberto Padilla, who complained bitterly about increasing government censorship during the 1960s. As a result, he was imprisoned for 37 days and then prevented from leaving the island until 1980.

After the revolution, female Cuban poets started to become more common. Thanks to government support for the arts, Cuban poetry remains highly productive to this day. Names to watch out for include Yanira Marimón, Nancy Morejón and Laura Ruiz Montes.

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