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On the Hunt for Poetry in Guatemala

Updated: Sep 13, 2018

I’m here in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala - my first visit to this wonderful, noisy, disparate, and warmly welcoming country. San Pedro La Laguna is an acrobat clothed in its boldest colors, passionately juggling its contradictions. It is at once sleepy and frenetic, in a state of decay and decomposition (as all things are) and in a celebratory state of daily renewal. There are panhandlers in the bustling streets and butterflies in the bright tropical flowers. I think I could fall in love with this town.

I’ll be in San Pedro La Laguna for just three weeks – tres semanas – studying Spanish at a friendly little cooperative school. Five hours a day, five days a week. I should be overwhelmed with the poetry possibilities here. And of course that is precisely the problem; I’m overwhelmed. This hive of a town comes at me in a swarm of colors and smells, sounds and movement, faces and voices. (Oh, the beautiful voices!)

I’ve always relied on poetry entering quietly, delivered in small, steady images and ideas. (Have you read Poetry: Big Thoughts in Small Packages by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Lucy Calkins, and Stephanie Parsons?) But here? Now? Where would I begin? With the dozens upon dozens of wandering and napping street dogs that seem to belong to no one and yet appear happy, healthy, and well fed? Or with the crazy maze of cinder block buildings, their tin roofs chattering with the afternoon rain and their stove pipe chimneys streaming eye-stinging wood smoke? Or maybe the clusters of food vendor families that line these narrow, winding streets in the damp evenings? Or with the streets themselves, stone roads braved by grandmothers and scampering children, abuzz with motorcycles, overstuffed pickup trucks, and bright red tuk-tuks?

There’s poetry everywhere here. I’m sure of it! But I can’t quite capture any of it. Not yet. ¿Posiblemente la próxima semana? For now, it would be like trying to snatch a butterfly from a hurricane.

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