A World Class Poetry Festival for South Asia

Abhay K.

I had the opportunity to participate in the Kritya International Poetry Festival, organized at the Mahatma Gandhi Hindi International University at Wardha from 15-17 September 2013. Poets from Argentina, Chile, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Palestine, Sweden, Turkey read their poems at the festival. The poets at the festival included Anne Addolorato, Zingonia Zingone from Italy, Müesser Yeniay, Metin Cengiz from Turkey, Helena Sinervo and Nillas Holmberger from Finland , Aurélia Lassaque from France, Anastassis Vistonitis from Greece, Sergio Infante, Sergio Badilla Castillo from Argentina, Gabriel Rosenstock, Liam O Muirthile , Mark Granier from Ireland, Trim Soomets and Margus Lattik from Estonia. Indian participants included a number of Sahitya Akademi award winning poets such Sitanshu Yashaschandra, K. Satchidanandan, H.S. Shivaprakash, besides them Subodh Sarkar, Sudeep Sen, Vinod Shukla, Rituraj, Ramesh Dvik etc. The festival was a soulful event as it was organized with passion for poetry by Rati Saxena, a poet who along with her tiny and selfless team has been putting together Kritya International Poetry Festival since 2005. Rati's efforts have paid over the years and has given India its first annual poetry festival.

The festival lasted for three days, each day with four poetry sessions, two before the lunch break and two after the break. Each session had four poets on an average, who read four to five poems. All poems were translated into Hindi and were read after the poet read them in its original language. Each session had a mix of Indian poets and the poets from the foreign countries. The first session of the first day began with poetry readings of the Gujrati poet Sithanshu Yashaschandra, Greek poet Anastassis Vistonitis, Malyalam and English poet K. Satchidanandan, Hindi poet Rituraj and Turkish poet Muesser Yeniay. I got the opportunity to read my poems on the first day of the festival along with Helena Sinervo and Nillas Holmesberg of Finland and Bengali poet Subodh Sarkar. The poems I read at the event included 'The Puppet Show', 'The Flower Girl of Delhi' ' Shantipath', 'Shastri Bhawan', 'Ghalib' and prologue and epilogue of my long poem 'Bureaucrab', a new word I have coined.

'Poetry is expression of imagination'- poet P.B. Shelly noted. The poetry readings at the fest were variations in the intensity of expression of imagination. The poets from the northern Europe, from Finland and Estonia, expressed their Nordic melancholy in their poems. Their poetry were hints of a prosperous society facing deep melancholia. Indian poets were far more cheerful in their expressions even though morbidity, decadence, misery were present in ample amount in their poetry. What I felt that there was a true connect between the way the Nordic poets read their poems and the subject matter of their poetry. There was a disconnect in the manner most Indian poets read their poems and what they wanted to express through their poetry.

I sat through all the three days through most of the poetry sessions and listened carefully to the poets. I had double pleasure of listening poems in their original as well as their Hindi translations, meticulously done by the Kritya team. Translation of poetry is one of the strongest features of international poetry festivals and Kritya Poetry Fest was strong in this arena. All the international as well as the Indian poets were translated into Hindi and a collection of poems titled 'One Yet Many- The Cadence of Diversity' edited by Rati Saxena was published on the occasion. Translation brought the poets of different continents together and justified the theme of the festival- 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.' The Earth Anthem written and produced by me, in eight languages including six official UN languages, was played during the fest. Italian poet Anne Addolorato and Estonian poet Margus Lattik expressed their interest in translating the Earth Anthem into Italian and Estonian. Rati Saxena's Seventeen Poems translated into Irish by eminent Irish poet Gabriel Rosenstock was also released during the festival.

Poets share a strong sense of camaraderie. One of the interesting thing about these poetry festivals is that they help a poet expand his or her horizons at an accelerated pace. Meeting new poets with diverse world views, styles of writing poetry, making new poet friends open new vistas of cooperation and co-creation. At the festival I met remarkable poets from India as well as Turkey, Greece, Argentina, Italy, Finland, Ireland and Palestine. We became friends and have started translating each others works.

On the last day of festival, I was invited by the Mahatma Gandhi International University Faculty to give a talk on Poetry to the students of the University. The two Turkish poets Müesser Yeniay, Metin Cengiz also joined me to read their poems to the university students. I believe, a poet should also promote poetry in schools, colleges and universities so that the closet poets come out in the public and their talent gets known and recognized. After my talk on poetry, we listened to two students reciting their poems. Later we visited Gandhi Sevagram at Wardha. On the way back we stopped by an ice cream parlour where we met a number of school students eating ice cream. They got curious seeing us and after getting to know that we were poets, they asked us to recite some of our poems. We sat with them and recited our poems. They invited us to their school to meet other students and read our poems but we could not accept their kind offer as Müesser and Metin had to leave that evening for Turkey and we were getting late. This was one of the most memorable experiences on the sidelines of the Kritya Poetry Fest.

The evenings after the whole day of poetry used to be the occasion for bonding among the poets. Wardha being a dry area did come in the way of soulful evening sessions of socialization as alcohol was in short supply and particularly some of the poets could not do without it. However, the barriers were overcome and the evenings became merrier with singing of Nillas Holmberger, Aurélia Lassaque, Liam Muirthile and Sergio Badilla Castillo. We slept very little for the three nights we spent at the festival as there was so much to talk, share, revel in company of each other and poetry. The Vice Chancellor of the University, Vibhuti Narayan Rai was very kind and hosted a reception and dinner in honour of the visiting poets.

The festival was soulful precisely because it was driven by passion of a poet and her team and had personal touch. Many who attended the festivals as well as some of the Kritya Festival Advisers suggested to turn the festival into a grand event next year getting corporate sponsorship, organize it at a fixed venue i.e. Cochin in Kerala, and get an event management company to run the festival. The international advisers include poets such as Alicia Partnoy, Amir Or, Ataol Behramoglu while the Indian advisers are K. Satchidanandan, H.S. Shivaprakash, Sudeep Sen, Vikram Sampath and myself. The fact is that poetry does not sell as much as fiction or non-fiction prose does. Therefore corporate sponsorship is out of question for a poetry festival. A fixed venue seems to be a great idea and can help in improving the festival hosting conditions. Cochin, Kerala is an excellent choice between November to February when the northern hemisphere is cold and a large number of people want to spend a few days in warm tropics. A good mix of passion and professionalism is what does wonders to any event organization and Kritya organizing team would need to pay attention to this.

I have been writing and advocating an annual International Poetry Festival in South Asia since long and Kritya International Poetry Festival seems to be South Asia's only hope. I hope the community of poets in South Asia will work together to give South Asia a world class annual poetry festival.

Abhay K. a poet-diplomat, recipient of SAARC Literature Award, nominated for the Pushcart Prize, is author of several books and the lyricist of the Earth Anthem.


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