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Everything you need to know about literary “Calaveras”

Written with irony, "calaveras" criticize the faults and vices of a specific person while narrating their death

Everything you need to know about literary “Calaveras”
Though the literal meaning of the word is “skull,” the Calavera is a poetic genre that serves as a humorous epitaph of sorts - Photo: Leopoldo Smith/EFE
English 31/10/2018 20:14 Newsroom Mexico City Sarai Cabral Actualizada 20:32
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Mexico’s Day of the Dead offers many surprises for both locals and foreigners, such as sugar skulls, cempasúchil flowers, body paint, and florid altars. However, there is another November tradition that you may not be familiar with: Literary “Calaveras.”

Though the literal meaning of the word is “skull,” the Calavera is a poetic genre that serves as a humorous epitaph of sorts. Calaveras are meant to make fun of people as if they were already dead and they are usually written on the eve of the Day of the Dead on November 2.

Mostly written with irony, criticizing the faults and vices of a specific person, they also narrate their death in a funny way, usually featuring an unexpected visit from death herself. It is worth noting that Mexicans usually represent death as a woman, since the Spanish word for "death" is feminine.

Experts agree that this poetic genre was born during the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Several sources point to Fray Joaquín Bolaños as its inventor. Later on, this type of poem was written to mock the long and ostentatious epitaphs used by noblemen and clergy members during said time. They were used as political satire, aimed at specific members of the government at the time.

Today, we invite you to write your own literary skull! Though there are no strict rules for writing “calaveras,” here are some guidelines that might help you in the task:

1- They are usually made up of four eight-syllable verses with consonant or assonant rhymes, though there are literary skulls made up of 10 verses.
2- They are supposed to be filled with irony and mockery, expressing discontent towards a specific person.
3- They are written as an epitaph, rendering a picture describing the life of the “deceased.”
4- They are often accompanied by a drawing or picture related to death.
5- Calaveras are meant to help you say something to a person that you wouldn’t dare say to their faces.
6- Just think of it as a poetic roast.
7- Now think of a public figure or politician that you despise or that you may want to make fun of.

Now you’re all set to participate in our Calavera contest!
 

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