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National Poetry Festival in Bangladesh – the national and main platform for poets of the country

National Poetry Festival
National Poetry Festival

Peter Nyberg is talking with Anisur Rahman on the National Poetry Festival in Bangladesh in February 2015.

What do National Poetry Council in Bangladesh do?

Poet Shamsur Rahman at Poetry Festival in 2006
Poet Shamsur Rahman at Poetry Festival in 2006

The National Poetry Council of Bangladesh was founded by Poet Shamsur Rahman (1929-2006) along with his fellow peers in favour human progress, solidarity, secularism and democracy in 1987. It was a protest against military regime. It began with its introduction of the National Poetry Festival in the same year. Now its tasks include hosting country’s biggest poetry festival, supporting poetry festivals in different cities and towns in Bangladesh, promoting literary exchanges with different countries for instance India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, South Korea, UK, USA, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Japan, China, initiating literary publications, celebrating national and international cultural occasions and commemorating birth and death anniversaries of important Bengali poets.

Poetry Council is the biggest literary body of Bangladesh. If we want to present it in Swedish contexts, its role can be compared with that of the Swedish Writers Union.

What are the Bangla Academy?

The Bangla Academy is the preeminent learned body for the promotion of the Bengali language, and Bangladesh’s national language authority. Established in 1954, it is located in Burdwan House in Ramna, Dhaka, within the grounds of the University of Dhaka and Suhrawardy Udyan.

The main task of the Academy is to conduct research on Bengali language, culture and history, and to publish Bengali literary and research work. It has also established the Bangla Academy Award, given each year for contribution to Bengali language.

Bangla Academy during book fair
Bangla Academy during book fair

To commemorate the Language movement and the Language martyr’s day, the Academy organises the month-long Ekushey Book Fair, the largest book fair in the country.

How many people use to participate in the book feast? How many visit it?

Some thousands people take part in different programs like seminar, reading, discussion, music, dance, book launch during the month long book fair beginning on February 1 every year. The fair aims at commemorating the UNESCO International Mother Language Day February 21. During the fair, Bangla Academy announces the Bangla Academy Literature Award, the highest literary recognition in Bangladesh. Some hundreds people take part all these activities at the fair every day. Some 3000 books are published on the occasion of the fair. Nearly 2 million people visit the fair every year. Free entrance to the fair.

What do the National Poetry Festival mean to Bangladesh as a poetry nation?

It is the national and main platform for poets of the country. Not only the poets and poetry readers but also the public and politicians look forward to this cultural event. From working class people to cabinet ministers, parliaments members, diplomats, academic and students attend the event to listen to poets from Bangladesh and other countries. Nearly 500 poets read their poems at this event.

Give some hints on what should be seen and done on a trip to the Poetry Festival?

You can make a visit to: National Museum of Bangladesh, Liberation War Museum, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Museum, The Old Dhaka’s Bangla Bazar area where all publishers and book industries locate, Purana Paltan where most graphic houses locate, Bookshops at the New Market, Aziz Super Market, Shahbag, Dhaka University Library, Public Library, International Mother Language Monument (Shaheed Minar).

Do you have any idea on how the Bengali poetry and the Swedish poetry differ?

Let me first focus on Swedish poetry. I entered into the tradition of Swedish poetry reading Tomas Tranströmer (1931-) in Bengali and English translation. I find him very international, a master in metaphor. Then I had the chance to come in touch with the poetry of Gunnar Ekelöf, Göran Sonnevi and many Swedish contemporary poets. After Tranströmer, stage poetry or so called poetry slam dominates the state of Swedish poetry. As a curious reader of Swedish poetry, it is painful for me. Word, syntax and formation of ideas in words are strong here. There are many writing schools, courses, workshops on writing in Sweden. One can have academic degree in creative writing here. As a result, poetry here is benefited from this tradition. Swedish poetry as wells language is very musical. Poets here love to play with words, they have that kind of background and skill. Subject matters in Swedish poetry is not that diverse if we compare that with Bengali poetry.

Rabindrath Tagore. Foto: rex features.
Rabindrath Tagore. Foto: rex features.

I entered into Bengali poetry reading Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976). Both of them are part of our academic life from nursery to university level. However, I grow up as a reader witnessing the tradition of Shamsur Rahman (1928-2006) who is contemporary of Tomas Tranströmer. Shamsur Rahman is the milestone in post-Tagore Bengali poetry. There is no opportunity to have academic courses or degrees in creative writing in Bangladesh so far. However, a devoted individual can develop his writing skills exchanging ideas and experiences with fellow writers and from informal rendezvous among the writers which can continue for many hours till mid night. Bengali poetry contains diverse contents like politics, nature, pains, pleasures and theology. All major newspapers publish literary supplements every weekend. There are hundreds of poetry magazines in Bangladesh. Poetry has a strong space and platform in media. Radios and tvs produces many programs featuring poets and poetry on many occasions. In most cases, Swedish poetry is strong in structure. On the other hand, Bengali poetry is strong in subject matter. Both the languages are very musical. Tradition of poetry in both languages began almost at the same time: Bengali with Charyapada— first poetry in Bengali and the Rök Ruenston—first literary rudiment in Swedish, a thousand years ago. #

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