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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volcanic Poetics: Revolutionary Myth and Affect in Managua and the Mission, 1961-2007

  • Author(s): Dochterman, Zen David
  • Advisor(s): Kristal, Efrain
  • et al.

Volcanic Poetics: Revolutionary Myth and Affect in Managua and the Mission, 1961-2007 examines the development of Nicaraguan politically engaged poetry from the initial moments of the Sandinista resistance in the seventies to the contemporary post-Cold War era, as well as its impact on Bay Area Latino/a poetry in the seventies and eighties. This dissertation argues that a critical mass of politically committed Nicaraguan writers developed an approach to poetry to articulate their revolutionary hopes not in classical Marxist terms, but as a decisive rupture with the present order that might generate social, spiritual, and natural communion. I use the term “volcanic poetics” to refer to this approach to poetry, and my dissertation explores its vicissitudes in the political and artistic engagements of writers and poets who either sympathized with, or were protagonists of, the Sandinista revolution.

Chapter 1 examines the notion of the “engaged poet” in Central America and how Ernesto Cardenal, Gioconda Belli, and Daisy Zamora framed insurrection against the Somoza regime in the seventies through three myths that would come to define their volcanic poetics: natural force (the capacity of a people to embody the powers of the earth), cosmic love (revolution as being guided by the unfolding of love in the universe), and poetic martyrdom (suffering as the highest aesthetic calling of the revolutionary). Chapter 2 examines how, despite a poetic ethos of rupture, insurrection, and communion, these writers often failed to interrogate the shortcomings of the period of Sandinista rule (1979-1990), instead employing a volcanic poetics to affirm national unity. Chapter 3 analyzes the impact of the end of the Cold War and the defeat of Sandinismo on Cardenal, Belli, and Zamora, showing how their works became infused with a nostalgia for the earlier moments of the Sandinista revolution or an attitude verging on cynicism about the political possibilities of the present. Chapter 4 details the ways in which this volcanic poetics had an impact in Bay Area poetry through the work of Alejandro Murguía, Nina Serrano, and Roberto Vargas, and the development of a poetics of “tropicalization” that linked local nationalist concerns (such as those of the Chicano/a movement) with international social movements in Nicaragua and other parts of the “Third World.”

Along with an engagement with the aesthetic and ideological debates informing the texts I analyze, this dissertation traces how affects, such as tedium, angst, or depression often circulate in them to reveal a persistent unease with various forms of class and gender oppression unaccounted for by this volcanic poetics and its ethos of communion. Volcanic Poetics proposes a way to read the ongoing relevance of engaged poetry in the contemporary era by recuperating moments of affective dissonance with forms of social oppression and the myths of revolution, as well as the utopian longings informing these texts. Volcanic Poetics critically reexamines the contemporary aesthetic relevance of the Sandinista moment, its repercussions on San Francisco Bay Area poets in the United States, and what an engaged poetics might mean in the era of global capitalism.

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