Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

“SIX SEASONS”, Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall

November 27, 2008


 The harshness of climate-related disasters is often what makes Bangladesh newsworthy. It has however, arguably contributed to the exemplary resilience of its people. And the country’s six seasons – instead of the familiar four  – have also inspired generations of Bengalis to create music, art and poetry.


‘Six Seasons’ is one in a series of projects I have undertaken to try and secure a place for Bangladeshi art and culture in Britain’s rich and diverse mainstream cultural scene. I would like to thank Rachel Holmes and her team of experts at The Literature and Spoken Words Festival for their support towards achieving this end. My thanks also to Drishtipat Creative and the musicians for their commitment and whole hearted participation in the production. We hope that the contemporary placing of the poetry and songs of Tagore, Nazrul and Jibanananda will draw in a more diverse audience and introduce a younger generation to Bangladesh’s cultural heritage. It is once again an opportunity to give recognition to the plethora of world class British Bangladeshi artists and musicians based in the UK today. 








Rabrindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was a Bengali poet, songwriter, playwright, novelist and philosopher whose work reshaped Bengali literature and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He became Asia’s fi rst Nobel laureate when he won the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature. 


Kazi Nazrul Islam was a Bengali poet, songwriter, revolutionary and philosopher whose work espoused spiritual rebellion against orthodoxy and oppression. Nazrul wrote and composed nearly 4,000 songs, collectively known as Nazrul Sangeet, which are widely popular today.


Jibonananda Das is one of Bengal’s most cherished poets, who introduced modernist poetry into Bengali Literature. His Bengali poetry inspired a pride in Bengali nationhood, which was apparent during the war of liberation in 1971, which gave birth to Bangladesh.







Script and Director Leesa Gazi (Drishtipat Creative)
Music Directors Kishon Khan, Soumik Datta, Sajib Azad
Music Director (Vocal) Imtiaz Ahmed
Choreography Rubaiat Sharmin Jhara
Performers Mita Chowdhury, Arun Ghosh, Jimmy Martinez, Pinu Sattar, Sujit Mukherjee, Nobonita Chowdhury, Sohini Alam, Faisal Gazi, Aanon Siddiqua, Labik Kamal Gourob
Artwork/stage design Shankha Iqbal
Light Ishrat Nishat
Backstage support Rohini Alam
Production coordinator Aneire Khan 




Leesa Gazi was a member of the Nagorik Theatre Group as an actor in Bangladesh for many years. She is currently leading the London-based cultural group Drishtipat Creative as director, actor and script writer. She is a novelist and a writer of short stories. Her recent plays include Shopno Bilash, and Sonata with Tara Arts.


The music of Bangladeshi born Londoner, Kishon Khan, fuses a medley of world influences with a London sound, consistently crossing boundaries. As pianist, arranger and composer, Kishon has worked with a wide array of prestigious world artists, living and collaborating on numerous projects across continents. He is founder and director of the Cuban funk outfit Motimba and the band Lokkhi Terra – combining his Bangladeshi heritage with music from Africa and the Americas. He has recently finished composing music for the feature film The Last Thakur (London Film Festival) and is about to release Lokkhi Terra’s new album No Visa Required.


Soumik Datta was trained by the legendary Sarod maestro Pandit Buddhadev Das Gupta. Having authored three solo albums, he is recognised as a young talent within the British Asian classical music world. He has won several awards globally and runs his own world fusion band Samay. Presently completing a Masters in Composition at Trinity College of Music, Soumik is working towards connecting the improvisational aspects of Indian classical music with elements of orchestra and electronica.


Sajib Azad is a local composer, DJ and is in the experimental electronic band After Art. He has previously performed at a number of London Fashion Weeks and Tokyo Design Tide Festival. He has also composed pieces for a number of theatre productions, television and advertisements.


Imtiaz Ahmed is an exponent of Tagore songs. He has accomplished a distinguished style and regularly performs in countries around the world. His album on Tagore songs in India has acclaimed appreciation in both East and West Bengal. Imtiaz is also well known for rendering the songs of ‘Pancha Kabi’ – the five famous composers of Bengal. He is the lead performer and music director of Drishtipat Creative.





Photos by Simone Sultana & Nasser Gazi


Moniza Alvi, Katia Kapovich, Joan Margarit & Andrew Motion: Arvon Foundation Gala Reading

November 9, 2008

Saturday was the last day of Poetry International Festival at Southbank, celebrating the Arvon International Poetry Prize. This last event was, for me, one of the most inspirational poetry readings I have been to so far and a great way to finish this amazing project.


Andrew Motion was the first reader and, due to the closeness of the Remembrance day, he read out a couple of poems inspired by war heroes. One was based on an interview he did  with a man who fought in the First World War- last man alive from that period. Now aged 109 years, ‘the man is very frail physically but still quite intact in mind, the kind of person who has lived so long, that he might as well live forever’(Motion). The poem very well expressed the idea of getting old but also just the idea of an old man like Harry Patch reflecting on his life seemed very vivid and frightening yet kind of familiar in one way or another.


Suddenly everyone you know


And they visit you

And you visit them


Another one of his poems was based on the words of a young soldier James Farrer- a bomber pilot who died aged 20 during Second World War. This poem looked at the complete opposite side of the life spectrum. It was inspired by his diary entries that Motion got access to through Farrer’s mother. This idea, to me, seemed very interesting. I felt as if there and then on the dark stage, Motion was speaking through Farrer’s voice, bringing him back to life this one last time- or rather, ironically bringing back Farrer’s thoughts on life and his fear of dieing young.


We live by death’s negligence

And I believe that


Katia Kapovich- a bilingual Russian poet, came next. She is a tall woman with a strong voice who beneath the darkness of her poems manages to entertain the public with her jokes and reflections on her first visit to London-stories of how she ended up carrying an empty take-away coffee cup for half a day because she just couldn’t find a rubbish bin and when she finally got rid of it on the side of a street, she got charged by the police. Kapovich doesn’t like sentimentalism and this is reflected in her poetry with it’s rather gloomy rural settings. Here’s what I managed to note down:


She seemed happy with my paper coffin


To stare at nothing

Seemed to be her hobby,

Same as mine ( from the poem A paper Plane to Nowhere)


Sometimes truth necessitates madness ( from the poem Hero)


A man forgets man

Rather than forgives


After Kapovich came Moniza Alvi who started off with a few poems based on her reflections of 9/11 and what came after. These poems had titles such as How the world split in two and How the words feared the mouth, drawing our attention to the emotional hurricane that followed 9/11 and a set of questions with no answers- answers that perhaps the readers could contemplate on. The poems were electrifying, especially since Alvi’s warm voice is the kind of voice you would want to hear reading a children’s story before bedtime-not poems about 9/11 and rape. Yet I believe this approach is a part of her unique style.


Alvi then introduced to us Joan Margarit, one of Spain’s major modern writers, whom she has invited to read – a man with a strong handshake and a deep voice who also happens to be a great speaker (even though he read out most of his poems in Catalan). Alvi was right, his poems are great in translation and I felt such warmth and humanity both listening to his Catalan and by reading the translations on the screen behind him (I also realised the power of reading poems in Catalan and how I definitely must learn to speak it!). His poetry is full of melancholy and candour, reflections on life, aging and grief at the death of his beloved handicapped daughter. Standing there on that stage he looked like some kind of a prophet- teaching us and guiding us from his rich life experience yet not imposing anything on us; Simply inviting us to reflect on life with him. He makes everyday emotions seem mystical and unusual- connecting them with the deep realms of sub consciousness. He was truly inspirational and I just had to buy his book- a perfect ending to the Poetry International Festival.

See for yourself:


Midsummer night’s dream by Joan Margarit


We have stopped the car

beside a wall of cypresses.

It’s thirty years we’ve lived together.

I was an inexperienced youth  and you

A warm and helpless girl.

The last opportunity is casting

Its shadow over the moon.

I am an inexperienced old man.

And you a helpless middle-aged woman.


it’s a good farewell for now!!

November 5, 2008

hey everyone it’s micheal, just want to say it was a real good experience being intangled into the poetry international event and i would like to thank all the staff at southbank for being bright and wonderful to us blogger’s even though we came and invaded your space lol nah not really, i woyld like to thank yemisi and lucy because they are fantastic people who lead me to find inspiration i will keep in touch.
poetry international was a touching week for me i have never been more inspired!
in the space of a week i have learnt more about spoken word and poetry which has boost my levels a bit higher thanks to all the artist and performers there!!

see you all in a not to distant future peeps!!!

come on poetry!!!!

yeah!!!! yeah!!!

Clips from Opener

November 3, 2008

Here are some videos and audio of the night (24th October, Poetry Opener). A few poems read by Street geniuses and Reem Kelani, a solo by Bruno Heinen, and Reem getting her mic fixed, while she was onset. 😀 Enjoy!


November 3, 2008




In the month of July I had the occasion to attend the launch of the Pan African Literary Forum (PALF) in Accra, Ghana, which is a new player in the international literary movement. 

PALF was founded in 2006 by a group of writers and educators from the continent and the Diaspora.  These writers and educators believed that they could make a difference by starting an international organisation to help African writers and those of African descent worldwide with training resources, publication, marketing and representation. PALF has its aesthetic and philosophical underpinnings in the writings and activism of W.E. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Frantnz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah, and the many others who partnered to see that African and Caribbean writers were published, and furthered the struggle for democratic representation for African people worldwide. Also of concern to PALF is the historical under-representation and marginalisation of African and African Diaspora writers in the global literary community.  The organisers announced that in the future PALF will host a series of annual conferences, and students will engage with established writers and literary professionals in a series of workshops, seminars and discussions uniquely focussed on both issues of craft (the art of writing well) and literary professionalism (the business of getting published) to provide developing writers with the extra push they need to achieve publication.  Conferences will also feature excursions to historical sites, artistic events and informal gatherings, all designed to promote cross cultural dialogue.

The key note address was given by South African Poet Laureate, Professor Willie Kgositsile, who is also the Special Advisor to South African Minister of Arts and Culture, Dr. Z. Pallo Jordan. In his address, amongst many other issues, he bemoaned the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa against foreigners, and concluded with readings from some of his poetry, which were well received by the audience.

The Executive Director of PALF is Professor Jeffery Renard Allen, who earned a Ph.D in English (Creative Writing) from the University of Illinois, and is currently an instructor in the graduate writing program at the The New School for Social Research in the United States Of America.  He is published in both poetry and prose, and has won several awards for his books, amongst which are the Whiting Writer’s Awards, the Chicago Public Library’s Twenty-First Century Award, and the Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize for Fiction.

This is a more than welcome development for writers on the continent because of its general lack of educational resources (such as the Masters if Fine Arts programmes in creative writing found at many USA and European universities) and limited access to important resources like literary journals, agents, publishing companies and grant making foundations, and also of the fact that non-African readers and writers everywhere have been long deprived of the rich variety of voices and viewpoints to be found within the Pan African Literary traditions.



Eliot the Banker

November 2, 2008

TS Eliot was a banker.

This fairly common bit of trivia about one of the 20th century’s foremost English-speaking poets, and the post he held when literature, presumably, wasn’t providing him with enough of a livelihood to pay the bills, popped into my head this week as I was darting around between work, home and Southbank Centre. As it would happen – of course – work at my new job was busier this week than at any prior, and I found myself with barely enough time to attend all the events I wanted, less time to assimilate what I’d experienced, still less time to write about it all.

I make this point not to bemoan my inability to mediate a compromise between finding a way to pay my bills and finding – or perhaps I should say making – the time to write but to note how both reassuring and inspiring it was to witness the diversity of commitment to poetry on display at the festival this week. You could barely have a greater study in contrasts than Sean O’Brien’s very academic lecture on Michael Donaghy versus the boisterous hip hop-inflected rhythms of the performance poetry of Power in the Voice, Joelle Taylor and Breis.

Yet whether it was hearing O’Brien championing the legacy of Donaghy; listening to Al Alvarez, Eva Hoffman and Nick Laird do the same for the work of Zbigniew Herbert; being absolutely bowled over by the eloquence and insightfulness displayed by the guys from St Aloysius School in Power in the Voice (no way was I nearly that articulate or mature at the age of 15); or reading the many thoughtful and brilliant responses of the other bloggers – all told it was the awareness of there being an international community unified in its commitment to poetry, whatever forms and avenues and interests that may take, that was most powerful.

I haven’t found, or made, the time to process all the events of the week, to mull it all over and start shaping into my own narrative. What I mostly just want to do, at least for the moment, is to leave it alone. To let it stand untouched, my response mainly visceral, and to simply utter the banality: I liked it; you should seek it out because you will like it; it was, well, good.

Motion, Kapovich, Alvi, Margarit

November 2, 2008

Last night’s final event of this year’s festival was to celebrate the Arvon International Poetry Prize. Yet another competition I didn’t enter this year! (I can definitively tell you I won’t be winning the National, and I’m not one of the shortlisted poets in this week’s TLS.)

The Arvon International awards ceremony had taken place the night before, on Halloween. Congratulations to the winners:
Classic FM First Prize – Peter Daniels with Shoreditch Orchid
Second Price – Giles Goodland with Serpent
Third Prize – Thomas Lynch with Mr President
Commendation – Alan Stubbs with A Philosophical Provocation
Commendation – Frances Thompson with Letter
Commendation – Frances Leviston with Story

Our little part in their festivities was last night’s excellent reading. Two of the judges, Andrew Motion and Moniza Alvi (what happened to Alice Oswald?) had a chance to invite the international poet of their choice to read with them. It was a marvellous reading. The two invited poets were both wonderful, and the ways in which they were wonderful differed hugely from each other and again from the two judges.

Andrew Motion invited Katia Kapovich, an intense – and intensely Russian – poet now based in the USA, whose book Cossacks and Bandits blew the top of my head off earlier this year. Moniza Alvi invited Joan Margarit, an older Catalan poet whose work is quieter, more overtly emotional, and whose presence is very kindly and rather theatrical. Motion himself read exclusively from the material for his next book which will be out in the spring – all written in the past eighteen months, a period, he says, of prolific creativity. And Alvi read from her childlike Jungle Book-inspired sequence, with its dreamy treatment of the present cultural and natural disasters that await us.

First up: Andrew Motion. There is something I’ve always liked about him. He’s cropped up in different guises over the years, always with a sort of open aspect that makes him feel very real…

His new material, he says, has jolted him out of a several-year rut, or block, which has coincided with the Laureateship. In the past eighteen months he’s written more than in years, and he has a new book, The Cinder Path, due out in the spring. The formal theme seems to be the “found” poem based on someone else’s words – a theme shared with Medbh McGuckian, of course, who read earlier this week.

He started with a poem about Harry Patch, the last surviving person who went over the top in the First War. Harry Patch was 109 when Motion met him (“he’s 110 now”) and amazingly sparky and together. Patch says that “almost everything he remembers of his enormously long life is filtered through the four months he spent in France in the First World War.” He only survived by accident – he was injured, and the war ended while he was recuperating.

Motion moved on to a poem based on an extraordinary book of writings published posthumously by the mother of the author, James Farrer, a 20-year-old bomber pilot in the Second World War: “we only live by death’s negligence” – certainly true of Patch.

A beautiful, atmospheric poem based on the memoir of Marc Chagall’s first wife, Bella Rosenfeld, about their home town, Vitebsk, which Katia Kapovich informs us is pronounced VITebsk. (Of course – if it were stressed on the second syllable, it would be ViTIEBSK. See?

Then Kapovich, who – I’ll be open, here – is the reason I went to this reading. She was nervous, I think. It was a two- or three-poem warm-up, but when she did warm up she was focused and powerful. She read almost entirely from Cossacks and Bandits, in both English and Russian. Her English is heavily-enough accented that it needed a little adjustment to get used to, especially after the mellifluous tones of Motion, and her words are fluently sophisticated and dazzling.

She is uncompromisingly intellectual; and she is so without apparent personal vanity – no make up, for example – that the effect is to put all the emphasis on the poems themselves. There is a no-nonsense seriousness about her, by which I don’t mean portentous or grim – she is a dazzlingly quick and funny talker, with no side at all.

She talked about the “natural alienation” English presents to her, how she had found it very difficult to write about some things in Russian. At 19 she had joined a “little group of provincial dissidents” and, arrested, found herself in a mental asylum. She said, “AFter I had my first dream in English, and cried in it, I realised I can write in it!” The poem she read, Paper Plane to Nowhere, is the first poem she ever wrote in English, and apparently it took about 15 (or did she say 50? It’s quite long) minutes.

I’ve read it before, and admired it, and reviewed it, but by the end of the reading I could feel the tears about to spring. And she finished with a poem about her mother, fleeing Romania as a child, at risk of missing her trains as at each station she passed through she wrote on the wall her name and destination so her father might stand a chance of finding her and her mother. This in response to Motion’s final poem about Vitebsk station.

Moniza Alvi opened the second half with her sequence of poems based on Kipling’s Just so Stories, which of course are all called “How the” something: How The World Split In Two, How The Answers Got Their Questions, How The Countries Slipped Away. Written in the wake of 9/11, these poems seem to me hampered by their deliberate childlikeness (I confess I always found Kipling’s originals patronisingly whimsical as a kid): there is something watercolour-bright about them, but they just don’t address the seriousness and depth of the issues at hand.

A poem inspired by the execution of Saddam Hussain – danger alert! – began with a terrifyingly inappropriate image of a raindrop clinging to a branch, a flower “about to say goodbye to its supporting stem” (I paraphrase from memory, sorry) – and then miraculously recovered when it turned out that the images represented the fragile state of the “trembling” world. Unfortunately the word “hanging” did describe “the tyrant” as well as the raindrop. Still, nimble footwork, and worth finding on paper to see how it works.

I do wonder, though – and I know I’m not the only one – why Moniza Alvi reads her poems as if she were a presenter on Children’s Hour, or a nurse addressing a patient with advanced Alzheimers. We can follow complex sentences, we are not as the raindrop trembling. Chacun à son goût…

I realise there are possibly issues of cultural/poetic tradition here, to do with non-linear thought and the tradition of expression etc; but I’m not sure that simply saying that is a respectful way to deal with someone’s work, as it implies that you shouldn’t expect to get much out of it in the first place. After all, the Chinese poet Yang Lian (who didn’t read this week, but I met him, at last, and so I have been reading/ rereading his Concentric Circles) has engaged very deeply with Pound, filtering his work through Chinese ideas in ways that are new and surprising. And these poems are based on the work of an English writer.

Alvi’s choice of visiting poet suited her immediate, instinctive, emotional approach: the Catalan poet Joan (Think “Juan” but pronouncing the J) Margarit’s work latterly revolves around the life and death of his daughter, Joana, who had a degenerative motor neuron condition and died at the age of 30. (He was born in 1937.) His poems are direct, unfussy, full of arresting imagery.

His reading was very Latin, with sweeping arm gestures, a rising crescendo of voice, and an utter emotional authority. It struck me that such a public delivery style applied to such intimate, personal material is part of the “original language” element of these poems. Here in England it’s not the usual thing to declaim one’s feelings in this way. The Joana poems are filled with intense sadness, of the pure healing kind, and were leavened in this reading by the finale, a short, sweet love poem to his wife. He made almost sweeping bows to the applause, and without realising what I was going to write till I wrote it, I put in my notebook the one word, “theatrical.” In a good way.

I wrote on my own blog before the week began about some interesting interviews he has given, talking about how strange it is writing in his childhood language of Catalan, when Spanish is the “cultural language” – a sort of translation before the poem has even been written. This probably applies to Moniza Alvi, as well. (In fact, I know it sounds stupid, and I’m not in exile as much as simply transplanted, but these issues of cultural identity are not unknown to me, either. When I started writing again, the initial difficulties of reconciling my American and English selves were such that I realised that split may have accounted in part for the years of not writing.)

In all, another wonderful, stimulating evening! A fine night to go out on.


October 31, 2008

Just a quickie as I’m finally up and running, typing with a mangled finger and gotta go cook pumpkin soup and curry goat for Halloween. Saw this show last night. It was superb. Great performances. Aoife Mannix, Jacob Sam La Rose and Siege Malvar stood out for me. Francesca Beard – who was also the dramaturge – beguiling as ever. Liked the love song. Siege particularly lived up to his name with his sharp satire on the the good ole WAT with his kindergarten prep talk for class president/class war amongst groups Oranges, Banana and Apples (plus Snakes) – you were either with him or against him. We [don’t really] like it like that. The grey area was also covered by the audience participation survey Pie Chart where audience diversity was put to the test. Who’s born in the UK? A good 60 per cent of the room. Who has both parents born in the UK? Cut the number by half. Grandparents and the figures diminished accordingly.

The show also explored our relationship with language and how that shapes our identity. One question FB asked the audience was how many languages could people speak. One woman who spoke four said she felt different with each language. It changed her personality. I know what she means. I had tentatively raised my hand as I speak basic Spanish. But, eh hombre, cuando hablo espanol, me siento diferente tambien. Es el ritmo – ah – running out of vocab – y otras cosas mysterioso. I’d like to get good enough to write poetry in Spanish, just to see how it feels. I’d definitely like to see one of my poems translated into Spanish and translate one from. Any Spanish poets out there fancy a translation swap lmk.

The structure of the show was strong too. The acts were diverse – not just geographicaly – but in terms of tone, thematics, style and delivery.

I’ll say more later – I’ve got to put gungo peas on to boil and I can hear the phone ringing…

Poetry International Opener (Reem Kelani A stunning performance)

October 31, 2008

Micheal here, reporting live and out loud from the south bank centre on the fantastic events of poetry international!!

First of all, i would just like to thank everyone that participated over the past days at the south bank all the singers,writers,poets,bloggers and most of all the public, thank you all for the support, energy and views.

Okay now it’s down to business!!

The first night of poetry international was a vibrant well collaborated start to a celebration of different cultures.

the energy and excitement was electric you could feel volts bounce through your body as Reem Kelani worked the stage with her powerful voice projecting her thoughts and songs aloud to the audience the Palestinian singer engaged and included the crowd with an uproar of cultural difference the wild clapping and stomping was enough to set a weary heart ablaze, she danced she jumped about walked through the audience what more could you ask for, really a woman so strong and passionate about what she can do deserves a place in the hall of fame.

Reem Kelani thank you for a spectacular evening!

here is a response to the performance that i edited listen carefully and you will catch a bit of gizella blended in the excitement.


October 31, 2008

In my work (as a writer and literature development professional) I talk a lot about the power of literature when you come across something that speaks directly to you. It’s funny how you can say things over and over and then be surprised all over again when it happens to you.

Speechless, in the Purcell room last night, was a fantastic show, and a brilliant piece of directing that brought such disparate and talented voices together into a coherent whole. The highlight though, for me, was Jacob Sam la Rose’s final piece. He took us through the journey from poet foisted on reluctant teenagers in a school classroom – ‘we’re the thick ones, sir, why have they given you to us?’ – to the fire in a boy’s eyes when he hears himself as though for the first time, when his voice is given value, given back to him. I have been managing writing and education projects for over 7 years now. I have seen that journey happen again and again, it is why I do what I do. To hear it, framed in such perfect language, and given back to me from the stage, was a really powerful experience. Thank you, Jacob.