This post is part of my Notable Latin American Poets series. Click here to read more. There are affiliate links to independent booksellers throughout.
The Latin American Caribbean – which for the purposes of this post includes Cuba, the Dominican Republic, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Haiti, Martinique, and Suriname – is a region steeped in poetry. [Editor’s note: contemporary Puerto Rican poetry will be covered in a separate post.]
Across the eight countries listed above, there are dozens of contemporary poets writing in languages including (but not limited to) Spanish, French, English, Dutch, Haitian Creole, Sarnami and Sranan, touching on topics like colonialism, exile and race.
And yet when you think of Caribbean poetry, its perhaps names like Lezama Lima, José Marti, Pedro Mir and Aimé Césaire that come immediately to mind. Perhaps even Aida Cartagena Portalatín, Ida Faubert, and Lourdes Casal. That’s fine! But the Latin American Caribbean also has an abundance of contemporary poets and poetry to offer, much of which rarely receives any airtime or recognition in (monolingual) English-speaking spaces.
So, if you’re keen to learn more about the contemporary Caribbean poetry scene, here are 39 contemporary Caribbean poets that you might want to read right now.
Obligatory pre-post note: Lists are problematic and this is not exhaustive. To read more Caribbean poetry, I would encourage you to check out the Poets of the Caribbean blog and actively seek out country-specific anthologies that typically do a great job of foregrounding emerging and established poets alike.
Contemporary Caribbean Poets
As websites internet-wide proclaim, Havana-born Nancy Morejón is the most recognised (and translated) Cuban poet of the post-revolutionary period. Her work centres the Black woman in the context of personal and political liberation both in Cuba and beyond, dealing with topics such as eroticism, Spanish and African tradition, and identity. She has over a dozen anthologies to her name, including Homing Instincts.
Then read Looking Within (Wayne State University Press, 2002; translated by David Frye)
Yanira Marimón comes from a long line of Cuban poetic prowess – her father is Luis Marimón. Her poetry touches on both cultural concerns and a deeply rooted loneliness that has been marked as characteristic of her generation.
Start with ‘When Fear is Dream’s Excuse’
Then read Contemplation (Red Mountain Press, 2018; translated by Margaret Randall)
Santiago de Cuba-born Soleida Ríos has published more than a dozen experimental, genre-defying poetry anthologies since the late-70s but has only had one (see below) translated into English. Fellow poet Rosa Alcalá has said that Ríos’ poems are “indescribable manifestations of a poetics unfastened to mode, genre, or category” and her work frequently engages with dreams.
Start with ‘A Gust Disperses the Limits of Home’
Then read The Dirty Text (Kenning Editions, 2018; translated by Olivia Lott and Barbara Jamison)
Margarita Lozano Parrilla
The act of writing, the art of the poet, and the ambition of the child are themes which emerge in the urgent, fluid poetry of Margarita Lozano Parrilla, alongside regular reference to the natural world.
Start with ‘Antes del Retorno’ (page 77 of the PDF)
Then read all her other poems included in that PDF
Jamila Medina Ríos
Born in Holguín, award-winning Jamila Medina Ríos is touted as a prominent voice in contemporary Cuban poetry and was once the poetry editor for Ediciones Uniones in Cuba. Her poetry is a treat for the tongue, marked by linguistic playfulness, lexical richness, and jaunty consonance.
Start with ‘Ananguish’
Then read Anémona (Sed de Belleza, 2013)
Reina María Rodríguez
Reina María Rodríguez is both an accomplished poet and a champion of the Cuban literary community – her rooftop, La Azotea de Reina, is a hub of the island’s cultural life. Profound, philosophical, and confessional are just a few of the words that have been used to describe her genre-bending poetry. Currently, four of her poetry anthologies are available in translation.
Start with ‘mouths, destinies’
Then read The Winter Garden Photograph (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2019; translated by Kristin Dykstra and Nancy Gates Madsen)
Legna Rodríguez Iglesias
As well as penning the fantastically titled My Favourite Girlfriend Was a French Bulldog, Miami-based ‘mamá escritora’ Legna Rodríguez Iglesias is a prolific poet whose verse is just as perverse and absurdist as her fiction. While described as subversive, challenging and confrontational, her poetry is above all playful. But Serafina Vick sums her up better than I ever could.
Start with ‘My girlfriend leaves for Cancún today’
Then read A Little Body are Many Parts (Bloodaxe Books, 2019; translated by Abigail Parry and Serafina Vick)
Yanelys Encinosa Cabrera
The author of two poetry collections, Yanelys Encinosa Cabrera is also widely featured in anthologies of Cuban poetry and is a prolific voice on Cuba’s contemporary literary scene.
Start with ‘The domestic thing’
Then read Del diario de Eva y otras prehistorias (Ediciones Unión, 2008)
Mariene Lufriú Rodríguez
The poetry of precocious Pinar del Río-born poet Mariene Lufriú Rodríguez is notable for its conversational tone and ability to pull the poetic from the domestic, such as in ‘Echado a mi espalda’. And yet, her talent for describing the everyday, especially in later work, often disguises a razor-sharp commentary on Cuban insularity and self-containment.
Start with ‘Sin elección’ (the second one down)
Then read Por Dios, Por Ti, Por Mí, Por Tu Marido (Artspoken Editions, 2014)
Martha Luisa Hernández Cadenas
Also known as Martica Minipunto, Martha Luisa Hernández Cadenas is a poet and performer who wants to – in her own words – “know the experience of the other”, while recognizing “the impossibility of this experience”. Her recent work, intense and irregular in form, focuses on the body, memory and loss.
Start with ‘La cantante de ópera china’
Then read Los vegueros (Colección Sureditores, 2019)
More Contemporary Cuban Poets
Georgina Herrera (Matanzas): ‘Great Praise for Myself’
Belkis Cuza Malé (Guantánamo): ‘Childhood’
Laura Ruiz Montes (Matanzas): ‘Numbers’
Nara Mansur Cao (Havana): ‘Rouge’ (the second one down)
Mirta Yáñez (Havana): ‘One a.m. hard bolero’
Aymara Aymerich Carrasco (Havana): ‘Waterproof’
Damaris Calderón (Havana): ‘To Marina Tsvetaeva’
Caridad Atencio (Havana): ‘Untitled’
Mireisy García Rojas (Artemisa): ‘Epi-gramas’ (page 67 of the PDF)
Aurora Arias: poet, fiction writer, astrologer. Considered one of the most important voices of her poetic generation, per Words Without Borders, Santo Domingo-born Aurora Arias’ poetry – which often features the female body – has also been described as using subtle humour to expose the challenges of life in the DR.
Start with ‘Bird’s Nest’
Then read Piano lila (Editora Búho, 1994)
Ángela Hernández Núñez
Known for a commitment to literary endeavours and feminist movements, Ángela Hernández Núñez is a prolific Dominican poet whose work is sometimes abstract, often about love, and nearly always engaged in social commentary.
Start with ‘Alquimista’
Then read Tizne y cristal (1985)
While best known as a fiction writer and memoirist, Jasminne Mendez – born to Dominican immigrants – is also a poet whose work is a salt-and-pepper shaker of Spanish and English, erotic, urgent, and visceral in its orality. Read it aloud.
Start with ‘To El Hombre Dominicano’
Then read Night Blooming Jasmin(n)e (Arte Publico Press, 2018)
Although based in Madrid, Rosa Silverio was born in Santiago de los Caballeros and has published close to a dozen poetry anthologies since 2005. Her poetry regularly foregrounds the eroticism of the female body, as well as sadness and madness.
Start with ‘Una mujer puede cantarle a cualquier cosa’
Then read Matar al padre (Huerga y Fierro Editores, 2014)
More Contemporary Dominican Poets
Chiqui Vicioso (Santo Domingo): Eva/Sión/Es (House of Nehesi, 2015)
Yrene Santos (Villa Tapia): ‘Fénix’
I couldn’t find any contemporary poets from French Guiana. I have failed you.
Gerty Dambury is a Guadeloupean fiction writer, theatre director and poet, as well as a founding member of Décoloniser les Arts, a radical Afro-feminist collective. She currently lives in France.
Start with ‘Charme’ (in French)
Then read Effervescences (Éditions du Manguier, 2010)
Although born in Georgetown, Grace Nichols has lived most of her adult life in Britain. Her lyrical poetry is marked by Amerindian folklore and Caribbean rhythm, while her anthology titles (of which there are many) are singularly incredible – take Lazy Thoughts of a Lazy Woman, for example – and speak to the wit and humour of her writing.
Start with ‘Hurricane Hits England’ (read by Grace Nichols)
Then read The Fat Black Woman’s Poems (Virago, 1984)
Born and raised in Guyana, Maggie Harris also relocated to the UK, first living in West Wales before moving to Kent. Her poetic voice has been described as “attuned to that of the Wild Woman archetype”, while the influence of her cross-cultural life is apparent throughout her work.
Start with ‘Cwmpengraig, Place of Stones’
Then read Limbolands (Mango Publishing, 1999)
Mahadai Das, from Eccles, was a key voice on the Indo-Caribbean poetry scene, writing frequently on politics, identity and feminism, including the hardships faced by Indo-Guyanese women. Her poetry always remained firmly rooted in Guyanese culture, with an ear for lively lines and powerful proclamations. She died aged 49.
Start with ‘Return me to the Fire’ (the bottom one)
Then read A Leaf in His Ear (Peepal Tree Press, 2010)
Poet, playwright, and performer, Lenelle Moïse has more hyphens than her birth city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Her beautifully brutal work has been said to cover “territory both intimate and political”, existing in dialogue with jazz and hip hop, and touching on concerns of class, race, and queerness while retaining an unmistakable spoken word rhythm.
Then read Haiti Glass (City Lights Publisher, 2014)
Danielle Legros Georges
Haitian-born poet, writer, and essayist Danielle Legros Georges grew up in Boston and is the city’s former Poet Laureate. Her poetry is often spare and unsparing, sometimes making use of Haitian Creole, and regularly draws inspiration from the colours and culture of her birth country.
Start with ‘You Will Listen to Me 1 + 2’
Then read The Dear Remote Nearness of You (Barrow Street Press, 2016)
Haitian-American Jennifer Celestin is a poet, fiction writer and performer whose poetry blends Haitian Creole, English and Spanish into cohesive free verse narratives. Marked by an orality that demands they be read aloud, her poems are simultaneously domestic and expansive.
Start with ‘Labouyi/ Avena con Canela’ (the second one down)
Then read her poem in No, Dear
More Contemporary Haitian Poets
Kerline Devise (Haiti): ‘Ma nudité’ (in French)
Marie-Célie Agnant (Port-au-Prince): ‘Balafres’
Regularly blending French with Creole, Latin, and verlan (French slang) in her writing, Suzanne Dracius is a pre-eminent, word playing Martinican poet who’s known as one of the great figures of Antillean letters. Her poetry is deeply rooted in Martinican history and culture, often addressing themes of métissage and race.
Start with ‘Urgent Turbulences’ (the third one down)
Then read Calazaza’s Delicious Dereliction (Tupelo Press, 2015; translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson)
Editor’s Note: It’s near impossible to find English-language work from any of the following Surinamese poets. Yes, even online.
Recital poet and performance artist Celestine Raalte was born in Paramaribo and now lives in the Netherlands. Although she writes about womanhood, apartheid, and Afro-Surinamese tradition in Sranan – an act of resistance, in her mind – Raalte also self-translates her work into Dutch.
Start with ‘In Love’ (an auto-translated version of the Dutch)
Then read Sapatiya (self-published, 2011)
Indo-Caribbean poet Chitra Gajadin also resides in the Netherlands, although much of her poetry focuses on her connection with and nostalgia for her country and culture of birth. While sometimes writing in Sarnami (Surinamese Hindustani), all her poetry is also available in Dutch.
Start with ‘Rahmel Road’
Then read Schoorvoetige Tijden
More Contemporary Surinamese Poets
Trudi Guda (Paramaribo): ‘There Must be Silence as Well’
Astrid Roemer (Paramaribo): ¿?