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If poetry, to recall Wordsworth, is “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings…emotions recollected in tranquility", and poets—the custodians of a race memory, archaeologists excavating mines of fine language, historians documenting “what oft was thought" and philosophers theorizing truisms, then come witness how a race of poets is writing new chapters in history with their craft at this first-of-its-kind festival in Delhi. Waves: The Indian Ocean Rim Association Festival of Poetry, from 1-3 March, is being curated by Sahitya Akademi under the aegis of the Union ministry of external affairs (MEA).

The poets hail from 17 of the 20 countries connected by the Indian Ocean, including Australia, Singapore, Bangladesh, Oman and Mozambique, which make up the international body Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), established in 1997.

“Bilateral/multilateral cooperation talks have always been political, economic or business-centric. Culture, especially literature gets lost," says K. Sreenivasrao, secretary, Sahitya Akademi, Delhi. He says, “In 2011, for a period of two years, India was elected the chair of IORA. The MEA then suggested a literary promotion among the countries, so the Akademi took up the onus of organizing this festival."

The festival will see inaugural readings by Thailand’s Saksiri Meesomsueb and India’s Keki N. Daruwalla; writer Nabaneeta Dev Sen will chair the first session, featuring Indonesia’s Sitok Srengenge, Yemen’s Mohammed AbdullahMohammed Al-Mahgari, and India’s Nida Fazli. The second session will feature poets like Australia’s Rekha Rajvanshi and India’s Prabodh Parikh (Gujarati), Kailash Vajpeyi (Hindi) and Chandrakant Patil (Marathi).

A session on Day 2 will see readings by Malaysia’s Mohammad Haji Saleh, Mozambique’s Sangare Okapi and India’s Jayanta Mahapatra. But the highlight will be the panel discussion “Poetry: The New Challenges" chaired by eminent Malayalam poet K. Satchidanandan. The final day will see readings by Bangladesh’s Nirmalendu Goon, Sri Lanka’s Parvathi Arasanayagam and Tanzania’s Eliah S. Mwaifuge.

Prabodh Parikh
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Prabodh Parikh

He feels these countries are united by themes: questions of relationship, sufferings of marginalized people, nature, maintaining independence/freedom in the face of fundamentalism as reflected in the poetry of Bangladesh or the philosophical detachment towards life as in the poems from Iran and UAE.

Satchidanandan, who will also recite from his poem Stammer, on the problem of communication in our times, will dwell upon the decline of regional languages and the hegemony of English in poetry. It becomes necessary in the context of the number of dying Indian languages, which is 250 in the last 50 years according to the last People’s Linguistic Survey of India.

While death has been a thematic undercurrent in Vajpeyi’s poetry, which has journeyed from protest writing, conversations between “conscious and supra-mind" to myths integral to Indian traditions, like his last work Dooba Sa Undooba Tara (2010), on the Mahabharat’s character Ashwatthama, a tormented intellectual condemned to live; Parikh’s poetry (in Gujarati, translated in English by art critic and poet Ranjit Hoskote) on friendship and an enquiry into the self that he has been writing for over five decades, is in the lyrical, confessional mode, of the likes of Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, Arthur Rimbaud and Rabindranath Tagore.

Vajpeyi, who will be reciting a forthcoming poem Choice at the festival, says: “Current Indian poetry is extensively engaged with consumerism, ecological and environmental problems confronting mankind. The so-called ‘development’ and ‘progress’ has caused more alienation than communication and it would be exciting to discover if it preoccupies the poets from these countries as well."

While Satchidanandan through his poetry will voice the concerns of individuals increasingly becoming selfish and showing less concern towards ones’ neighbours, in his panel discussion the focus will be on poetry’s challenges: the trend of conversational language in poetry; effects of modernism in styles and structures; and giving poetic form to violence such as war, terrorism, ecological and patriarchal violence and globalization which compels one to forget one’s past and imposes one type of culture (American) on the developing world.

If it were to him, Parikh would change the title of the discussion from “new" to “continuing" challenges of poetry. While dwelling upon poetry as performance, he says unlike the oral traditions where poetry was a community activity and thus had a sense of immediacy, in the written tradition there’s only mediation between two individuals (the poet and the reader); and while people can still recite the poems of Mirza Ghalib, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Kabir, Meerabai or Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas, a poet today will need to stand his own and know that he might not be read.

“That people are not reading a lot doesn’t mean that not much is being written," concedes Parikh, quoting his favourite poet, the late Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish: A nation is lost when it has no poetry. Alongside Indian poets like Sitakanta Mahapatra, Jayanta Mahapatra and Arundhati Subramaniyam, Parikh will be on the lookout for the politically-charged poetry from Iran, UAE and perhaps for a poet whose style is similar to Darwish’s.

Waves: The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Festival of Poetry is on 11am-6pm (Saturday) and 10am-4pm (Sunday and Monday), 1-3 March, at Triveni Auditorium, Tansen Marg, New Delhi. Click here for the complete schedule.

Also Read | Kailash Vajpeyi | Poetry brings people together like no other concern

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