An ordained priest who lives in Solentiname, a community that he founded, and a member of the Nicaraguan cabinet, Ernesto Cardenal is Latin America's best known exponent of what might be called the literature of the theology of liberation. His poetry is the expression of tension between his faith and a strongly rooted sense of reality and the need for drastic change. Influenced heavily by Thomas Merton, by his residence in the Trappist community of Gethsemane, Kentucky, by English and American poetry, Christianity, and the fact of social injustice, Cardenal consciously writes antirhetorical and often didactic poetry. Frequently, he uses other sources: newspapers, Native American texts, and so on, just as the masses at Solentiname use nontraditional sources as subjects for discussion. Zero Hour (1980) details the existence of tyranny in America; the Psalms (1981) are a rewriting of the biblical Psalms of David for a modern world. The Gospel in Solentiname (1982) is a collection of dialogues or commentaries on the Gospels. Cardenal served as minister of culture in the government organized after the 1979 ouster of Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua.
Jonathan Cohen has been translating Cardenal's work since 1970. He is the translator of Cardenalï¿½s With Walker in Nicaragua and Other Early Poems (1949ï¿½1954) and From Nicaragua, With Love: Poems (1979ï¿½1986), which won the Robert Payne Award of the Translation Center at Columbia University. Cohenï¿½s translations of other major Latin American poets have been widely published, as well.