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 fourth installment of my Notable Latin American Poets series—alongside Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean—this post is Part 1 of a Central American poetry round-up. [Editor’s note: you can find contemporary Belizean, Honduran, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran poets in the Contemporary Central American Poets To Read Right Now (Part 2) post.]
Across the three countries included in this post (Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama), there are literally dozens of poets working in Spanish, Miskito, and Kriol, many of which still don’t exist in translation. And, therefore, aren’t widely known outside of Spanish-speaking circles.
If you’re looking to learn more about contemporary Central American poetry then, this is part one of the posts for you—here are 48 Costa Rican, Nicaraguan, and Panamanian poets you should be reading right now.
Obligatory pre-post note: Lists are problematic and this is not exhaustive. To read more Central American poetry, I would encourage you to check out Campos de Plumas (a vital source for this post), Palabras en Resistencia, Círculo de Poesía, Panamá Poesía, Escritores Nicaraguenses, the Palabras Viajeras podcast, and this anthology of Costa Rican poetry.
Contemporary Central American Poets (Part 1)
A classic of Costa Rican poetry, Julieta Dobles was born in San José in 1943 and is a five-time recipient of the Premio Nacional Aquileo J. Echeverría. Her poetic themes run the gamut from the erotic to the natural world, and she’s been quoted as saying “my main source of inspiration is life”.
Start with ‘Duraznos de mi infancia’
Then read Hojas furtivas (2007)
Another mainstay of the Costa Rican poetry scene, Ana Istarú (San José, 1960) published her first poetry collection at just 15 and won fame with her second—Poemas para un día cualquiera. Known for being loaded with eroticism, Istarú’s poetry is wholeheartedly feminine and concerned with gender relations.
Start with ‘todo el deseo’ (second from the bottom)
Then read La estación de fiebre y otros poemas (1983)
Award-winning Ari Tison is an indigenous Bribri poet and author based in the US. Her poetry-prose hybrid novel Saints of the Household is forthcoming, and her poems—often personal and deeply rooted in her culture—have featured in Yellow Medicine Review, Rock & Sling, and more.
Start with ‘Collected Hearths’
Then read ‘The Storyteller Gets Her Name’
Marked by a remarkable brevity and precision, the poems of Pamela Monge (who’s a whole year younger than me, excuse me while I hyperventilate) play with the space on the page to great effect. Born in San Ignacio de Acosta in 1995, Monge is also an architect, teacher, writer, and translator.
Start with ‘Contemplarse’
Then read ‘La muerte a los 18’
Shirley Campbell Barr
Costa Rican-born Shirley Campbell Barr is of Jamaican heritage and works as a writer and activist. As well as writing her own poetry—she currently has five collections to her name, many of which deal with life in Black Latin American communities—Campbell Barr is also a teacher who’s lived in Zimbabwe, Honduras, Brazil, and more.
Start with ‘Rotundamente Negra’
Then read Rotundamente Negra y otros poemas (Torremozas, 2013)
Professor and poet, Selene Fallas has written widely on topics of Latin American literature, including the poet José Lezama Lima. She’s currently based in Alabama and is perhaps best-known for her anthology Hijas del Safo.
Start with ‘Hijas de Safo’
Then read Hijas del Safo (Astillero Sello Editorial, 2015)
Josselyn López Rojas
With themes that touch on migration, femicides, and machismo, Josselyn López Rojas’ poetry is loaded with rage and tenderness in equal measure. She’s part of the literary group Comelibros and currently has one published poetry collection to her name.
Start with ‘En la sala de observación…’
Then read Cicatrices
Although born in Nicaragua, Arabella Salaverry is a Costa Rican actress, novelist, and poet, who has published numerous titles of poetry and fiction across the Spanish-speaking world. Her work has been translated into multiple languages, among them English, Polish, Catalan, French, and Bengali.
Start with ‘Upon Naked Skin’
Then read Búscame en la palabra (EUNED, 2019)
A specialist in Central American literature, as well as a poet, novelist, and essayist, Magda Zavala is one of Costa Rica’s greatest literary daughters. Her poetry often deals with Central American culture and history.
Start with ‘Clave entre siglos’
Then read Antigua luna (2017)
Melissa Valverde Gamboa
Born in Pérez Zeledón in 1996, Melissa Valverde Gamboa is another rising star of contemporary Costa Rican poetry. She’s published her work in various national and international digital magazines and is an artist and illustrator as well as a writer. Valverde Gamboa is also a member of Jícaras, a women’s poetry collective.
Start with ‘Moras y un rasguño’
Then read ‘Caer’
Carolina Campos Solís
Published in digital magazines such as Campos de Plumas and Oxímoron, Carolina Campos Solís is one of Costa Rica’s most promising young poets. Her poetry feels fresh and current, touching on topics of femininity and feminisms with intimacy and a biting humour.
Start with ‘Sofía’
Then read Helechos en los poros (Nueva York Poetry Press, 2021)
Paola Valverde Alier
Born in San José in 1984, Paola Valverde Alier is an award-nominated poet perhaps best-known for Bartender, whose work has been translated into Portuguese and Italian. She currently runs a bar, restaurant, and theatre with her husband in Costa Rica.
Start with ‘La mujer impar’
Then read Bartender (Perro Azul, 2015)
Marianella Sáenz Mora
Born in San José in 1968, the award-winning poetry of Marianella Sáenz Mora has been anthologised around the world, including in Romania, Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, and Spain. She’s also the Costa Rica coordinator for the World Festival of Poetry. Currently, she has three published anthologies to her name.
Start with ‘Lúdico’ (the second one down)
Then read Transgredir(se) (Torremozas, 2019)
More Contemporary Costa Rican Poets
Rebeca Bolaños C (Costa Rica, 1973): ‘Angustia’
Marianela Tortós Albán (San José, 1963): ‘Muerte a este poema’
Silvia Piranesi (San José, 1979): ‘El mejor amigo del hombre’
Valeria Villalobos Ramirez (Costa Rica, 1999): ‘Entre enero, julio y hoy’
Rosibel Morera (Costa Rica, 1948): Yo sólo sé decirme a los amantes (2003)
Vilma Vargas (San José): ‘moneda extranjera’
Nathalie Cruz Mora (Costa Rica): ‘Insectívoro’
Mía Gallegos (San José, 1953): ‘Mía de nadie’
Nathalie Crum (San José): ‘Pequeño espacio vacío’ (page 138)
Katherine Quiros Bonilla (Pérez Zeledón, 1996): ‘El llavero’
Born in Guadalajara to Nicaraguan parents and raised in Nicaragua, Eunice Shade is the author of one poetry collection, one book of short stories, and one essay collection. Alongside writing, she’s also presented radio programs and served as a magazine editor. Currently, she’s a teacher.
Start with ‘the “perfect” jail’
Then read Escaleras abajo (Ediciones MA, 2008)
Known for her poetry collections Ama del espíritu and Orilla opuesta, Blanca Castellón has also been anthologised in numerous countries and had her work translated into French, German, and more. She’s currently the vice-president of the Centro Nicaragüense de Escritores.
Start with ‘Abracadabra’
Then read Cactus Body (Cold Hub Press, 2014; trans. Roger Hickin)
Isabel Reyna Estrada Colindres
Garifuna poet Isabel Reyna Estrada Colindres is also a qualified nurse who began to write verse in Kriol, Spanish, and English in 1992 after a trip to Belize. Her work is preoccupied with Garifuna culture and history, as well as the natural world and environment, and has been anthologised in Orinoco.
Start with ‘Yesterday’
Then read Orinoco: Revitalización Cultural del Pueblo Garífuna de la Costa Caribe Nicaragüense (URACCAN, 1999)
Perhaps one of the most widely known Nicaraguan poets, lecturer and writer Daisy Zamora has woven in politics, daily life, feminist issues, and more into her poetry over the course of over half a dozen published collections. She also edited the first ever anthology of Nicaraguan women poets.
Start with ‘Celebración del cuerpo’
Then read The Violent Foam: New & Selected Poems (Curbstone Books, 2002)
Erna Loraine Narciso Walters
Erna Loraine Narciso Walters was born in Bluefields, Nicaragua, where she still lives. She writes poetry in three languages—Kriol, Spanish, and English—much of which explores the power of women, the sacking of natural Nicaraguan resources, and religion.
Start with ‘We are a powerful force’
Then read ‘Those Good Old Days’
If you know one Nicaraguan writer, the chances are it’s Gioconda Belli, a poet and novelist born in Managua in 1948. While best known for her semi-autobiographical fiction, Belli maintains that poetry is her first love. She had her first poems published in 1970 and won the Premio Casa de las Américas in 1978.
Start with ‘La madre’
Then read El pez rojo que nada en el pecho (Visor de Poesía, 2020)
León-born poet, essayist, translator, and one-time diplomat Milagros Terán is now based in the US. Her poetry, per Gioconda Belli, deals with the universality of the human search for stability and personal freedoms told in precise, transparent language.
Start with ‘Poema a mis piernas’
Then read A Common Love (Casasola Editores, 2016)
Brigitte Zacarías Watson
Accountant and poet Brigitte Zacarías Watson writes in Spanish and Miskito, a language native to the Miskito people in the countries now known as Nicaragua and Honduras. Her poetry has been anthologised in Miskitu Tasbaia, a bilingual Spanish-Miskite collection of prose and poetry.
Start with ‘Prinzawala’
Then read Miskitu Tasbaia (Centro Nicaragüense de Escritores, 1997)
Known for the lyrical eroticism of her poetry, Andira Watson was born in Bilwi, Nicaragua in 1977, although she’s currently based in the US. Watson has dabbled in prose, but most often returns to her favoured medium—poetry, which she began writing aged 13.
Start with ‘Reclamo de Negritud’
Then read En la casa de Ana los árboles no tienen culpa (Asociación Nicaragüense de Escritoras, 2009) This is a link to a free online version of the collection.
Award-winning poet Esthela Calderón—a pioneer of ethnobotanic poetry—took home the Juegos Florales Centroamericanos prize for her poetry collection Soledad in 2002. Since then, she’s had three more collections and a novel published and has had her poetry featured on World Literature Today, Translation Review, and more. She currently teaches at St. Lawrence University.
Start with ‘Leyenda urbana’
Then read Los huesos de mi abuelo (Amargord, 2018) [bilingual edition]
More Contemporary Nicaraguan Poets
María Amanda Rivas (Masaya, 1956): Sola, mientras tanto (Fondo Editorial CIRA, 2003)
Isolda Hurtado (Granada, 1956): ‘Florece el naranjo’
Jazmina Caballero (León, 1977): ‘Para no estar sola’
Yolanda Rossman Tejado (RAAN, 1961): ‘Raíces’
Carola Brantome (San Rafael del Sur, 1961): ‘Mi cuerpo’
Alba Azucena Torres (Chontales, 1958): ‘Sí que me avergüenzo’
Ninfa Farrach (Managua, 1958): ‘Niña pájaro’
Marianela Corriols (Estelí, 1965): ‘Geometría de la mujer’
Yaoska Tijerino (Managua, 1979): ‘Corro por sus pasillos’
Yvette Modestin’s work as a writer and activist is unequivocally centred on the experience of Afro-descendant people in Latin America. The same goes for her poetry, which is conversational, and imbued with a call-to-action tone.
Start with ‘Vibrating words’
Then read Rapsodia antillana (Universidad de Panamá, 2013) [this is a link to a free PDF download of the book]
Lucy Cristina Chau
The author of three poetry collections, a book of short stories, and many ‘video poems’, Lucy Cristina Chau is one of Panama’s most prolific writers. She’s currently part of the organization committee for the Festival de Poesía Ars Armandi Panamá.
Start with ‘Migración’
Then read La Virgen de la Cueva (Mariano Arosemena, 2008)
The daughter of Panamanian immigrants, Jenise Miller is an urban planner and poet whose work sometimes reads with the unavoidable rhythm of rap or spoken word—see: ‘Dolphins’—and almost always exists in conversation with her Panamanian heritage and Compton home.
Start with ‘right/isthmus’
Then read The Blvd (DSTL Arts, 2020)
Corina Rueda Borrero
Queer feminist lawyer, activist, and poet, Corina Rueda Borrero an accomplished and award-winning Panamanian writer. Her poetry puts the body centre stage, imbuing each verse with a sensual tenderness as well as a controlled but palpable anger, as is the case with ‘Tal vez me creyeran’.
Start with ‘Días’
Then read Ayer será otro día (Editorial Mariano Arosemena, 2018)
More Contemporary Panamanian Poets
Mariafeli Domínguez (Panama City): ‘Nostalgia’ (the second one down)
Eira Harbar (Bocas del Toro): ‘Cosas de mujer’
Indira Moreno (Colón): ‘Seducción’