I first met the Nicaraguan poet Carlos Martínez Rivas in San José, Costa Rica, in January 1977. I had just arrived in the country from Nicaragua where I had spent some weeks in the commune run by Ernesto Cardenal on the island of Solentiname in the south of Lake Nicaragua.
Carlos was staying as an unpaid guest at the Sheraton Hotel. He had little money but his prestige as a poet was such that the hotel chain felt honoured to house him.
I showed Carlos some of the poetry I had been writing in English and we became friends immediately. It was mid-morning and Carlos wanted to give me a copy of the only book of poetry he ever published, La insurrección solitaria [The solitary insurrection] but since he had no copies he invited me to accompany him on the long walk from his hotel to the offices of EDUCA, the university publisher located on the campus of the University of Costa Rica. It was a long walk under a gorgeous blue sky and Carlos was delightful company. His only advice to a young poet was to always carry a pen and notebook. He asked after many of his friends whom I had just met in Nicaragua. He had an acute intelligence and piercing blue eyes which were nevertheless very gentle when he spoke of people.
When we got to the offices of EDUCA, Carlos asked for a copy of his book in which he then wrote a long dedication to me to record our meeting. I felt very honoured to be addressed as a poet by such a brilliant master. The greatest, ultimately unrequited love of Carlos’s life had been the Costa Rican poet, Eunice Odio, and many of the poems in his book were inspired directly or indirectly by her, in particular a poem entitled “La puesta en el sepulcro” [The placing of Christ in the sepulchre].
I saw Carlos on several occasions during the week I spent in San José. And in 1983, while attending a solidarity conference in Managua, I called in at his house and invited him out to a restaurant. He was still a penniless poet and his home was quite spartan. There was a large trunk in the living room which when he lifted the lid revealed a mass of papers: there was all his unpublished poetry, virtually a lifetime’s work.
At the restaurant Carlos insisted on ordering the cheapest meal, a spaghetti with a basic sauce, but he thoroughly enjoyed himself with our conversation and with flirting with all the young waitresses who clearly adored him. On this occasion he also dedicated a new edition of his only book to me and I have kept both copies with pride.