Archive for the ‘Poetry’ 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.



November 8, 2008

What  can I say? Workig with Lucy and Yem has been a real blast of fun. They are super awesome people, i never knew adults could be sooo fun (no offence). 🙂 I loved the little shortcuts we’d take to get to places on time and working in the office made me feel like I was really important, especially because the office staff were so welcoming. Seeing the shows and the being able to blog about them was a real treat. Because, usually when I go to shows I tend to forget to record or snap pictures of the event and I have to make do with memories in my head, and I have a very weird but huge imagination so you know….. Hehe. But when I had to blog about them, it made me feel responsible for actually taking bits and pieces of footage away with me, so it’s almost impossible to forget. Overall it’s nice to write or show to other why a show was exciting, or sad, or deep etc. Usually all people have to make do with is word of mouth.

I intend to keep blogging either on the poetry international bolg or my own blog (which i made by accident) on my page. It was an exciting festival, and being the late person that I am, I will probably bolg up media from the early parts of it. Lol. take care. 😀

Poetry Library Tour – Michael Oladeji & Chris McCabe

November 4, 2008

One of the great things about Poetry International this year is that the Street Genius placements not only got to experience new poets, but they also met the people being the poems, poets, programmers and also librarians. This video is part of an interview between Michael Oladeji and Chris McCabe from the Poetry Library.

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.

Poetry Project

November 2, 2008

Hello, I couldn’t go to anything during the week, but I did mean to say something about Lemn Sissay’s poetry project, which Swithun and I have been working on. One of the ways in which the project ties in with the festival – and this blog – is that it’s based on a very inclusive and open definition of poetry, and contains much variousness, like so: 

 See the elephant was definitely omnivorous. Why is this writing blue? Help.


November 1, 2008

In May of this year, a few days after the launch of my first book, a short story collection titled DANCING WITH LIFE AND OTHER SHORT STORIES (, a stage play I co-wrote with a fellow writer, and titled THE CROCODILE OF ZAMBEZI, was banned by our government a day after the opening night, but after the production manager had been abducted by two secret police, taken to the bush out of the city and tortured. 


     PEN American Center – Rapid Action Alert Archive

 – Oct 29

PEN strongly protests attacks against the cast and crew of satirical play The Crocodile of Zambezi and its banning by the police in Bulawayo. – 42k – CachedSimilar pagesNote this


The poem I am posting today, which I wrote last night, has been inspired by this incident, and the power sharing deal between our ruling party and our two main opposition parties, of which we are still waiting the results of, after two long and nerve wracking months…we are fed up!




It is very silent

On the surface

Of the Zambezi River

But deep underneath

A cyclone surges

Threatening to erupt

And engulf us once again

In vengeful crocodiles

And dawn disappearances




Lost in Translation: Reflections on ‘Zbigniew Herbert: Between Two Worlds Al Alvarez, Eva Hoffman and Nick Laird’

October 31, 2008


                     by Zbigniew Herbert

                     The pebble
                     is a perfect creature

                     equal to itself
                     mindful of its limits

                     filled exactly
                     with a pebbly meaning

                     with a scent that does not remind one of anything
                     does not frighten anything away does not arouse desire

                     its ardour and coldness
                     are just and full of dignity

                     I feel a heavy remorse
                     when I hold it in my hand
                     and its noble body
                     is permeated by false warmth

                      – Pebbles cannot be tamed
                      to the end they will look at us
                      with a calm and very clear eye

I came across Zbigniew Herbert in school in Warsaw where I grew up. My parents moved there when I was 2 years old and by 7th grade, when we came round to analysing his work in class, I was lucky enough to be able to understand it in its original language. Looking back on it now, I think I didn’t give him a chance. Probably I was too young to understand him.  On Wednesday I decided to give him a second chance. I went to the tenth anniversary of his death at the Southbank, sat in the dark and warm auditorium and listened… Of course, I couldn’t help thinking just how proud my Polish teacher, Mr. Motrenko, would have been to see me here.

Al Alvarez, Eva Hoffman and Nick Laird are all huge fans of Zbigniew Herbert. All of them have come across his work in different ways. Al Alvarez had personally known Herbert in the 60s; Eva Hoffman came across him when she was asked to write a review on one of his collections for The New York Times and Nick Laird picked up Mr. Cogito in a second hand bookstore for £2.50 and after some hesitation, he realised that he came across a unique artist.  They all read a few of their favourite poems by Herbert after which there was a discussion on his work and a screening of a couple of his short films.

Eva Hoffman read in polish and this made me confused. I didn’t know whether to read the translations, or listen to her words? I ended up doing both-listening to the poems in polish and picking out words in english that I thought really worked well in the poem. I was lost and found at the same time. The experience was quite unusual- it felt as if I was re-writing the poems in my head- making a virtual collage of his work. At the same time I felt as if I was experiencing his poems in 3D.

But putting aside my little game, I have realised that Zbigniew Herbert’s work was quite unique and that I probably would not have been able to play and enjoy this game of collage with any other poet because, as Hoffman said, ‘ In translation he is better than anybody else.’ Herbert was full of wit. He spoke in his own voice and was completely unafraid to speak his mind. He believed in Roman virtue, decency and clarity and as Laird said, ‘ he was a wonderful political poet in a totally neutral way […] he speaks in his own voice, he is ironic but never bitter’. He uses mythical figures in his poetry. He writes of angels and daemons and he actualises them- gives them flesh, talks to them and makes them real. Herbert was ‘ a poet whose life and work echo each other- a poet of historical irony who insists on having second thoughts on his work and ideas’ ( Al Alvarez). In one of his poetry collections Mr. Cogito, he immerses himself in ‘the questioning of his existential questing’ (Hoffman) whereby his poems are composed of conversations with his alter-ego; Mr. Cogito (deriving from Descartes’ ‘Cogito ergo sum’).

 Mr  Cogito and the Imagination

by Zbigniew Herbert


Mr. Cogito never trusted
tricks of the imagination

the piano at the top of the Alps
played false concerts for him

he didn’t appreciate labyrinths
the Sphinx filled him with loathing

he lived in a house with no basement
without mirrors of dialectics

jungles of tangled images
were not his home

he would rarely soar
on the wings of metaphor
and then he fell like Icarus
into the embrace of the Great Mother

he adored tautologies
idem per idem

that a bird is a bird
slavery means slavery
a knife is a knife
death remains death

he loved
the flat horizon
a straight line
the gravity of the earth


When it comes to Herbert, it’s difficult to ask what context he is operating in because ‘great poets bring their context with them’ (Hoffman). In one of his films,  Herbert stated that his aim as a poet was to appeal to a ‘universal emotion’ that people share. My impression is that as his poems work so well in translation- he has managed to reach into the core of his thoughts and those of the reader. I believe that with the honesty, clarity and the sharpness his words, he has become the universal.


This was a truly inspirational event and the best possible way I could have given Herbert a second chance.