ELL: Poetry International presents small languages

Lucas Husgen lhusgen at KIROGI.DEMON.NL
Tue May 21 22:52:42 UTC 2002

June 17th Poetry International, the leading Dutch festival of poetry will present 7 poets, writing in small languages. Here's the festival info, courtesy Erik Menkveld, managing director of Poetry International.

Best, Lucas

words, sounds and images, exotic, familiar and everything in between. During the 33rd Poetry International Festival, the relation between poetry and music is a central theme. 

Whereas music is man's universal language, the festival this year will feature a number of "small languages". There will be poets presenting their verse in K'iche, Welsh, Livonian, Corsican, Milanese, Sursilvan, and Maya. 

Poetry in minor languages

We live in a time of unification, integration, globalization and mass culture. Speakers of English, Spanish, French or Russian can make themselves understood in large portions of the world. Globalization and integration of cultures are being accelerated by satellite communications and the Internet. Simultaneously, our time, perhaps more than other times, has seen the emergence of groups of people who stubbornly try to hold on to their heritage, culture, history, folklore - in short, their own identity. Some of these groups, for instance the Basques, combine this with political separatism, a struggle, sometimes violent, towards establishing an independent state. More often, some minority culture tries to preserve its identity in the face of a surrounding majority culture. In the Netherlands the Frisians are such a minority culture. 

One of the chief assets of such minority groups, or "minor peoples" is their own language. Such languages are often extremely old; their earliest written sources are often - apart from bible translations - mythical or mythological tales or epics, such as the ancient sagas in which the Icelanders recorded their earliest history. Often there is a tradition of oral poetry, of Singers or Bards. Some of these languages are on the verge of extinction, for instance Livonian, which is still spoken by some four hundred people in Latvia. Where having and holding one's own language is an absolute condition for preserving one's identity, poetry obviously has a major role to play. Remarkably, many young poets chose to write in a "minor language", and their poetry, despite the ancient medium it uses, is often strikingly modern in content. Poetry International has gone in search of poets writing in a "minor language", and has invited six of them. In a special programme they will present their work and treat the audience to the surprising beauty and richness of their little-known languages. They will also tell the audience something about the language they write in and the culture in which this language is spoken. There will be poetry in the ancient Indian languages K'iche and Maya, in Livonian, in Welsh, in Corsican, in Sursilvan, and in Milanese. 

Monday 17 June, City Theatre Rotterdam, Main Hall, 20.00 hours

Monday 17 June, City Theatre Rotterdam, Main Hall, 21.30 hours

Humberto Ak'abal (Guatemala, 1952) needs few words to bring the Maya culture of Guatemala to a wider public. In the language of his people, K'iche, he evokes the calls of birds, the whispers of villagers conversing at night, the rustle of trees. Ak'abal worked as a shepherd, a carpet weaver and a market vendor before he began writing full-time. 

Briceida Cuevas Cob (Mexico, 1969) writes poetry in the Maya language. Her poetry, at times melancholoc, at times mildly humoristic, bears the strong mark of her native Mexico. Apart from poetry she has published a book about the daily lives of May women. She is co-founder of the Asociación de Escritores en Lenguas Indígenas de México, and currently serves this association as secretary for professional education. 

Valts Ernstreits (Latvia, 1974) is a poet, translator and visual artist. He writes in Livonian, a language originally spoken on the Latvian east coast, with some 300 native speakers left. Ernstreits is a leading champion for the preservation of the Livonian language and culture in Latvia and abroad. In 1998 he received a high Norwegian distinction for his efforts: the order of the Holy Olav. 

Patrizia Gattaceca (France, 1957) writes stories and poems in Corsican and is co-founder of the music group Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses. Her collection A paglia è u focu (2000) is a combination of her narrative, poetic and musical talents; classical verse forms such as rondel and villanelle are used to tell a story of near-mythical proportions. 

Elin Ap Hywel (United Kingdom, 1962) works as a translator for the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. Her poems, written in Welsh, have not yet been collected, but have been translated into several European languages. In the Netherlands, some of her poems appeared in the anthology In een ander licht. Hedendaagse poëzie uit Wales, in a translation by Jan Eijkelboom. 

Franco Loi (Italy, 1930) was born in Genoa and moved to Milan when he was seven. He began writing verse in the Milanese dialect, as he considered standard Italian (which he uses in daily life) to be unfit for poetry because it had been abused by the fascists. After his début in 1965 he published numerous poetry collections (many of them bilingual), which earned him a large readership at home and abroad. A selection of his poems translated by Willem van Toorn and Sabrina Corbellini recently appeared in the Netherlands, entitled Ciel senza faccia / Hemel zonder gezicht.

Leo Tuor (Switzerland, 1959) spends the summer months as a cowherd and shepherd in the Alps. He writes his poems in Sursilvan, a language still spoken by only a few people. He publishes prose, poetry and essays in newspapers, journals, anthologies and non-fiction books. In 1988 he published his poetry collection Giacumbert Nau, the story of an Alpine shepherd, which soon appeared in French and German translations

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