Medellín Opens Once Again to the Dreams of Poets of the World

By Dialogo
July 08, 2009

Medellín (Colombia), 4 July (EFE).- The dreams, experiences, and realities of dozens of writers from all over the world will mingle once again in the annual International Poetry Festival held in the Colombian city of Medellín, where hundreds of people attended the opening ceremonies held today in the open air despite heavy rain. The nineteenth edition of the competition brings together sixty-five poets from forty-three different countries and runs until July 11, with readings, recitals, workshops, courses, and lectures in more than a hundred locations throughout the northwestern Colombian city and several municipalities in the region. Naturally, the gathering began with the reading of several poems, in Spanish and English, to great applause from the mostly young audience gathered in the open-air Carlos Vieco Theater. Verses speaking of love, of pain, of individual and collective tragedies. There is room for them all in the festival that has become a true “rainbow,” according to South African poet Daniel Kunene, due to the great variety of subjects covered and the cultural diversity of the participants. “The poet’s task is to speak the truth,” reflected Usha Akella, from India, in an informal gathering with other authors and reporters before the opening of the competition, declared an Alternative Nobel Prize in 2006 and a Colombian Cultural Heritage Event. What is happening right now in Honduras as a result of the military coup and the conflict a few months ago in Gaza “will be reflected in poems that communicate the truth to the world,” noted American Jack Hirschman, director of the International Poetry Festival of San Francisco (U.S.). “We poets have so much to say to humanity; we’ve been saying it for a while (...) but it seems that humanity is deaf,” Bolivian Matilde Casazola commented in her turn. Along the same lines, Ecuadorian Yvon Gordon Vailakis said that festivals like the one in Medellín can help those people “listen” who turn "a deaf ear” to what is going on around them, because “the word saves and heals.” In the opinion of Swede Agneta Falk, current conflicts and social issues are very important in contemporary poetry, but no more so than other subjects like love and beauty. Through poetry “we can communicate things as beautiful as the flowers of Medellín,” American Jayne Cortez indicated in this regard. The competition began in 1991, and its purpose has always been, as its director, Fernando Rendón, explained to EFE, “to bring poetry to the life of the city,” the center of operations until a few years ago of dangerous drug cartels like that of the now deceased Pablo Escobar. It is a matter of “fighting fear with hope” and of making room in this event “for everyone who has something to say,” the organizers affirm. One of the great attractions of this year's festival is the presence of a significant group of Asian authors, among them Lebanese Fuad Rifka, a translator of German poetry into Arabic; Vietnamese Nguyen Quang Thieu, winner of a national poetry prize in Vietnam; and Palestinian Ghassan Zaqtan, also a screenwriter and playwright. The European contingent includes Spanish environmentalist poet Jorge Riechman, and three indigenous authors stand out in the large Latin American block: Maya Rosa Chávez (Guatemala), Mapuche Graciela Huinao (Chile), and Aymara José Luis Ayala (Peru). The event, which over the course of its history has brought together 863 poets from 143 countries, is funded by the Medellín mayor’s office, the Colombian Ministry of Culture, the Swiss and German governments, and the Spanish, French, Italian, and Swedish embassies in Colombia. It is also supported by international cooperation organizations and agencies including Hivos, Döen, Novib, Prince Claus Fund, Heinrich Böll, and the Caipirinha Foundation.