Millennium Post

Coming together for better or verse

Have you ever heard of Medellin, Columbia? Most probably not. Medellin is not London, Paris or New York but this small city in Columbia has an international poetry festival of its own that started in 1991. You may have not heard of Struga, a small place in Macedonia if you are not a poetry buff. Struga has world’s oldest running poetry festival. There are over 90 such international poetry festivals across the world held annually in places such as Medellin, Struga, Austin, Rotterdam, Vancouver and other such places. But India, one of the world’s oldest civilisations, does not have a single international poetry festival.

Recognising the significance of poetry in bringing peoples, cultures and civilisations together, UNESCO has declared 21 March as the World Poerty Day. On this day many events happen simultaneously in several countries. Another significant development in promoting poetry is a recent ruling by the Constitutional Court of Colombia that has declared the international poetry festival of Medellín a cultural heritage of the nation.

The Griffin poetry prize launched in 2000 by Canadian entrepreneur Scott Griffin is a major milestone in promotion of poetry across the world. It is awarded annually in two categories – International and Canadian for the best collection of poetry in English published during the preceding year anywhere in the world. One prize goes to a living Canadian poet or translator, the other to a living poet or translator from any country, each worth C$ 65,000.

The world poetry movement founded in Medellin in 2011 calls for global poetic action. The main objectives of the movement are ‘to promote the growth of poetry festivals across the world in all their diversity, enhance communication between poetry festivals and poetry organisations, promote the development of poetry schools and poetry initiatives, explore audience development initiatives to broaden publics and access to poetry and to address issues such as publishing, translation and the general concerns of poets worldwide.’

The oldest poetry festival – Struga poetry evenings – have been organised since 1962. The Rotterdom poetry festival started 43 years ago in 1970 while the Aldeburgh poetry festival has been organised since 1988. With these modest beginnings, newer international poetry festivals have sprung up all across the world in the past two decades.

In the United Kingdom, a number of international poetry festivals take place. Poetry International of London is a biennial poetry festival that takes place at the South bank centre. This festival features over 50 diverse poets from all over the world. The Ledbury poetry festival takes place over 10 days each July featuring poets from all over the world. There are live readings, performances, workshops, open mics, music, exhibitions, films, family events, street events, a slam and much more. The festival is in its 15th year.

In Scotland, St Anza is an annual poetry festival held each March in St Andrews, Scotland’s oldest university town. The festival was founded in 1998. The festival’s website announces – ‘The festival is an opportunity to engage with a wide variety of poetry, to hear world class poets reading in exciting and atmospheric venues, to experience a range of performances where music, film, dance and poetry work in harmony, to view exhibitions linking poetry with visual art and to discover the part poetry has played in the lives of a diverse range of writers, musicians and media personalities.’ The simple intention of St Anza is to celebrate poetry in all its many forms.

Ireland has two very interesting international poetry festivals. Strokestown International poetry festival, in its 15th year, takes place over the first weekend in May and aims to provide a forum for excellence in poetry and to create new audiences for poetry.The weekend consists of readings from poets across the spectrum, well-known poets as well as new voices. The Hopkins poetry festival is held in last week of July at Newbridge College and has been termed as one of the best literary events of Ireland. The 25th festival will be held from 21-27 July 2012 with readings, translation workshops and a lot more.

In Africa, the lone internation poetry festival, The Poetry Africa, takes place in Durban in early October, predominantly featuring poets from South Africa and elsewhere on the African continent. The festival is in its 16th year. The seven-day programme includes performances, music, book-launches, the Durban SlamJam, seminars, workshops and open mic sessions.

In the United States, Austin poetry festival takes place in April every year and includes local readings, poetry workshops, open mics, two anthology competitions and readings, poetry slam, movie presentation, poetry all-nighter and poetry symposium while Tucson poetry festival takes place annually in Arizona since 1981. This year the festival celebrated its 30th anniversary in April 2012.

In Australia, the Tasmanian poetry festival is held in October every year. It has been held since 1985 in Tasmanian city of Lounceston. In the festival nine poets read at four venues across the city. The festival also hosts Launceston poetry cup, a one-minute performance poetry contest which is imitated all over Australia. The winner is the poet who, within the strictly enforced time limit of one minute, elicits the loudest audience response for the reading or recitation of an original poem.

In France, the festival Franco-Anglais de Poésie or the Anglo-French poetry festival is mainly a poetry translation festival, adding the participation of artists from different disciplines. It was created in 1976. There are translation workshops, in which the poet works with the translators, bilingual public readings, exhibitions of visual artworks on poems of the guest poets. The 35 festival was conducted this year in Paris [10-17 June] with Singapore as a partner country. In Italy, festival Internazionale di Poesia di Genova or the Genoa poetry festival is held annually in June in Genoa, Italy. The 18th festival was held from June 10-17 2012. The organisers of this festival pride themselves for getting the perfect balance between art and poetry. In Sweden, the International poetry festival on Götland takes pride in celebrating the cultures and poetry of the Baltic countries while Stockholm hosts Scandinavia’s largest poetry festival Stockholm poetry festival, combining poetry with performance, dance and music at the Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm.

International poetry festivals are perhaps the best possible way of bridging cultures. The trend in growth of international poetry festivals shows that more and more international poetry festivals are coming up every year across the world. In 1960s there was only one Interntational poetry festival, now there are reported to be over 90 international poetry festivals. Most of these poetry festivals feature open-mic or a poetry slam. An open mike or open mic is a live poetry show where audience members may perform at the microphone. Usually, the performers sign up in advance for a time slot with the host or master of ceremonies while poetry slam is a competition at which poets read or recite original work. These performances are then judged on a numeric scale by previously selected members of the audience. The Internet has helped the poets across the world to come together on a single platform. The website of the poetry International web presents 1,074 eminent poets, 1,154 articles and 7,768 poems from 81 countries in order to create a global community of poets and poetry lovers.

It is time that India hosts its own international poetry festival in 2013 on the lines of the Jaipur literary festival. Delhi provides an excellent backdrop for an international poetry festival with its rich cultural heritage of over 3,000 years, numerous ruins and monuments, its global connectivity with the world cities and with its excellent venues such as India Habitat Centre or the Lodhi Garden in the heart of the city.

Abhay K is a poet-diplomat and co-founder of poetry-movement, Poetry at the Monument
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