‘The music says freedom exists…’
MSt Tutor, Jenny Lewis, at the POESI-O-RAMA Festival, Malmö, Sweden, 11-13 September, 2015
I was honoured to be asked to read with Adnan al-Sayegh at the POESI-O-RAMA Festival in Malmo, Sweden on 12 September 2015. Invited by Hassan Hadi, Director of the Modern Art Theatre Group and Björn Ganzer, the Swedish poet (and rock musician) who travelled with us on the Al-Kalima ‘Poetry and Resistance’ Festival in Morocco earlier this year, the festival was dedicated to the memory of the Nobel Prize-winning Swedish Poet Laureate, Tomas Tranströmer.
A surprising statistic is that 41% Malmö residents have a foreign background; of these the largest community is Iraqi (nearly 10,000 people). Adnan himself took refuge here for eight years before moving to London in 2004. This multiculturalism is reflected by a section in the vast public library (Stadsbiblioteket) featuring ‘Malmös många språk’ – not ‘Malmö’s manga comics’ as I first thought but ‘Malmö’s many languages’.
Director Hassan Hadi, from Iraq, worked for several years with Tranströmer and Adnan on theatre pieces combining poetry with dance, movement and mime and his vision for POESI-O-RAMA was to build on this, creating a cross-cultural, multimedia showcase to express ideas about resistance to oppression and inequality.
The evening started with what was one of the last filmed interviews with Tranströmer in Stockholm in 2014 (he died in March 2015) and continued with an international line-up of poets and performers.
Tranströmer with wife Monica (far right) Adnan al-Sayegh and Loloat Hadi
The messages, although political, were often conveyed with humour, an approach used by Tranströmer himself in his poem ‘Allegro’ (From Tomas Tranströmer, New Collected Poems, translated by Robin Fulton (Bloodaxe Books, 1997/2011) which says –
The music says freedom exists…
I push down my hands in my Haydnpockets
and imitate a person looking on the world calmly.
I hoist the Haydnflag – it signifies:
“We don’t give in. But want peace.’
Throughout the evening we were reminded of the current exodus of human beings risking death in their flight from war, torture, rape and mass murder. The young Bosnian poet Merima Dizadervic, from a refugee community herself, was eloquent – as was dancer Sanela Jusofovic. There were strong performances from Swedish poets Mauritz Tistelö, Bob Hansson and Björn Ganzer. Björn, the co-organiser of the festival, also played for Sanela Jusofovic and, later, with his own rock band, Ganzer
Poet Bob Hansson Sanela Jusofovic and Ganzer
As well as new work from my retelling of the Epic of Gilgamesh, I read my poem ‘Non-military Statements’ from Taking Mesopotamia (Oxford Poets/ Carcanet 2015) translated into Arabic by Ruba Abughaida and Adnan al-Sayegh. It went down very well with the culturally mixed, but largely Arab, audience
NON MILITARY STATEMENTS
- Neutralisation [killing soldiers] is part of any war as are soft targets [bombing civilians]
- Life deprivation [killing anyone] and surgical strikes [shelling and bombing] can be justified
- Extraordinary rendition [kidnapping] of illegal combatants [people we don’t like] is necessary in the war against terror
- Enhanced coercive interrogation [torture] is used to get the truth about weapons of mass destruction [biological, chemical, nuclear and imaginary]
- Collateral damage [civilian deaths] is unfortunate as is the number of non viable combat personnel [wounded soldiers]
- The number of incidents of friendly fire [accidentally killed by own troops] is regrettable as is the body count of non-operatives [dead soldiers]
- During war, more money can often be generated through sales of weapons than in times of permanent pre-hostility [peace]
As in the past, my engagement with the Arab world through the research and writing of Taking Mesopotamia and the translation of many of the poems into Arabic is what led to the invitation for me to attend the festival.
The exceptionally good and exciting news is that Hassan has now acquired substantial funding to make the festival an annual event. It will be held in future at the prestigious Malmö Opera and Music Theatre and Adnan and I have been asked to select 18 international poets for POESI-O-RAMA 2016, and to attend the festival again and contribute our own work.