Not To Be Alone / Ars Poetica 2017

Linda Nagyová covered the international poetry festival Ars Poetica 2017 in a story released in the Christmas issue of Knižná revue [Book Revue Magazine].

Knižná revue 12/2017 Knižná revue 12/2017
Knižná revue 12/2017

Nigerian-Canadian poetess Titilope Sonuga writing on the kidnappings of girls from the African Chibok. Slovak poetess Eleni Cay searching for beauty in the digital world. French poetess with Arab roots Aurelia Lassaque, who still believes that poetry can bring peace and freedom where wisdom has failed. German performer with a Swiss passport Nora Gomringer creating poems personifying civilization diseases with humor. These four women were among the 20 poets invited for the 15th international poetry festival Ars Poetica 2017 in Bratislava. While many last year's participants were from USA or Asia, namely India, in 2017 the festival team predominantly focused on poets from Europe and the African continent.

The strength of feminine identity
"The common denominator connecting many of this year's personalities was the strength of feminine identity and feminine personality. Apart from the elevating power of poetry, the festival celebrated the elevating power of feminine creativity, life energy and perseverance," said Martin Solotruk, the festival director.

I picked Friday and Saturday night (an off time for the majority of working people) to go see the festival. The highlight of Friday night was the acclaimed poetess from Nigeria Titilope Sonuga, who had won the 2011 Canadian Authors' Association Emerging Writer Award for her first collection Down To Earth, and whose poetry appeared in the anthology of twenty selected African Poets titled Soaring Africa. The selection of her works was dominated by a piece on kidnapped girls from the Nigerian Chibok titled The Girl Comes Back with Fire in Her Chest. The awful event took place over three years ago, when terrorists from the militant organization Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from a high school. A majority of them still haven't returned home.

"I often think about topics unshared, or topics shared and yet not heard. I deal with the issue of women who disappeared not just physically, but also emotionally," reveals Titilope. In her poetry, she also deals with the refugee crisis. Statistically, Nigeria belongs among the most prevalent countries of origin among refugees. Moreover, it isn't unusual that young girls never reach the long-desired destination, losing their lives at sea.

According to Titilope, solving the question of refugees is a long run. "The poetess Warsan Shire described it in the following way: 'Nobody sets their child into the hands of the ocean, unless home is in the mouth of a shark.' If we are to find a solution, we must look back several centuries, into the period of colonization and its consequences. We need to dig deeper into why homes became inaccessible to people. There are generations and generations of suffering and exploitation," explains Titilope, adding: "I want to remind people that they are not alone in the world. We all have human experiences. Whether it is me from Nigeria or you from Slovakia, something in the human experience binds us together."

A Letter to the Developer and Alzheimer's
On Friday night, the audience also had a chance to see Eleni Cay, a Slovak poetess living in Great Britain, with poetry from the collection titled Butterfly's Trembling in the Digital Time, recently released by Parthian Books. Eleni describes herself as someone who is looking for beauty everywhere and in everything, including new technology. Such was the genesis of poems such as Digital Thoughts or Welcome, the Digital! The French Aurélie Lassaque added her own touch to the evening with traditional Occitan singing and French-language poetry. Next year, the poetess is to attend a literary festival in the North-African Tunisia.

On Sunday, we saw a performance by the poet and literary scientist working in the Slovak Academy of Sciences, Michal Habaj, with a poem titled A Letter to the Developer containing a heated monologue with a developer, as well as the Austrian Semier Insayif, an author of five books of poetry. In his writing, Semier weaves together Iraqi songs – his father is from Iraq – with writing in German, his mother tongue. The night of wordplay and songs peaked in the performance of the energetic and extroverted German performer Nora Gomringer, who was accompanied by the percussionist Philipp Scholz. Among others, she presented a poem titled I forgot, revolving around the memory-loss associated with Alzheimer's disease.

"I feel that humor can sometimes help us remember even the most hurtful memories in a positive light. The point is to not paint all memories pink and pretend that they are more beautiful, but to simply remember them," says Nora Gomringer, an author visualizing civilization sicknesses into human forms and consequently leading a humorous monologue or dialogue with them.
Ars Poetica 2017 also offered a selection of films and a children's workshop. Participants had a chance to try out the role of authentic performers during the dance workshop lead by Roberta Štěpánková.

Linda Nagyová