Poetry International 2014, Southbank Centre – Preview

Daniel Wren

The Southbank Centre has announced its 18th biennial poetry festival, Poetry International 2014, which kicks off Thursday 17 July and runs until Monday 21 July.

Poetry International was founded by Ted Hughes in 1967. It returns this summer, 27 years later, for five fabulous days of readings, music, translation and live performances.

Building on the successes of Southbank Centre’s international-themed Poetry Parnassus 2012, which was the world’s largest ever gathering of poets from around the world, the Southbank will feature over 100 poets, musicians, artists and performers from more than 20 countries.

Poetry International is part of Southbank Centre’s three-month long Festival of Love (28 June – 31 August), which explores love in all its multifaceted glory – from compassion to friendship, romance to family.

A range of writers and performers from across disciplines will appear at the festival, including oets, spoken word artists, rappers and storytellers.

The youngest poet at the festival is 26-year old LGBT+ poet Jay Bernard (pictured), a winner of the Poetry Society’s Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award in 2005, and of the Respect Slam in 2004. The oldest is 73-year old former American Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Hass. They will be joined by an army of poets from America, Egypt, Germany, India, Macedonia, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine; poets with Afghan, Belgian, French, Iranian, Nigerian, Norwegian, Somali, Sudanese and Zambian heritage; and poets reading Arabic, Dari, German, Italian, Macedonian, Romanian, Somali, Tamil, Ukranian and Yoruba.

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Southbank Centre’s Artistic Director Jude Kelly said, ‘In his programme notes for the first ever Poetry International festival in 1967, Ted Hughes wrote that poetry: “is a universal language of understanding in which we can all hope to meet”. The festival was created to get poetry out from behind the Iron Curtain and to confront people with work from abroad that would unsettle and inspire them. It is Hughes’ political and poetic vision that has formed the heart of the festival ever since: to see the world as it is now, to understand what it’s like to write from under censorship, suppression or conflict and to experience some of the greatest poetry, spoken word and rap being written today.’

Poets with incredible stories of adversity and political struggle are among those on the guestlist – such as Serhiy Zhadan, who was violently assaulted earlier this year whilst protesting against pro-Russian demonstrators in the Ukraine.

Another example is Kutti Revathi – a Tamil poet, activist and qualified doctor whose interest in exploring and reclaiming ‘the map of a Tamil woman’s body’ has been met with violent threats from the conservative, male Tamil establishment.

On publishing her second collection, Mulaigal (literally meaning ‘Breasts’) (2002) Revathi received obscene phone calls, letters and threats. A popular songwriter was even interviewed on film saying female Tamil poets who write about sexuality and the human body ‘should be lined up on Mount Road in Chennai, doused with kerosene oil and burnt alive’.

Highlights include a poetry picnic on Jubilee Gardens next to the London Eye, with readings and workshops including creating poetry from edible chocolate letters (Sunday 20 July).

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There will also be a poetry and mindfulness workshop led by award-winning LGBT+ poet and Buddhist monk Maitreyabandhu on the same day.

Full listings at southbankcentre.co.uk/poetryinternational. Join in the discussions on Twitter @litsouthbank #poetryinternational.

About Daniel Wren

Vada Magazine staff writer. Interested in travel, news, politics and dating.