World poetry comes to Struga

01/10/2007

For more than four decades, poets from around the world -- including Nobel Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners -- have celebrated their art along the shores of Lake Ohrid.

By Zoran Nikolovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje - 01/10/07 Photos by Tomislav Georgiev

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In the 46 years since their inauguration, the Struga Poetry Evenings have drawn approximately 4,000 poets, translators, essayists and critics from 95 countries.

  • No, I cannot stay here, no,
  • I cannot look upon these frosts.
  • Give me wings and I will don them;
  • I will fly to our own shores,
  • Go once more to our own places,
  • Go to Ohrid and to Struga.
  • To pipe there to my heart’s content!
  • Ah! Let the sun set, let me die.

Each year since 1962, the Struga Poetry Evenings have opened with a reading of the famous lines from "Longing for the South", by the Macedonian poet Constantin Miladinov. The largest poetry festival in the world, it is also considered one of the most important.

In the 46 years since its inauguration, the event has drawn approximately 4,000 poets, translators, essayists and critics from 95 countries. Four winners of the Golden Wreath -- an award introduced at the festival in 1966 -- have also won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Pablo Neruda, for instance, was the Nobel laureate in 1971, honoured for a body of work that "with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent's destiny and dreams". He went on to receive the Golden Wreath a year later. In 1973 and 1975, Italy's Eugenio Montale won the same two awards, but in the reverse order.

The 1987 Nobel Prize winner, Joseph Brodsky, won the Golden Wreath in 1991. Ireland's Seamus Heaney was honoured at Struga in 2001, after receiving the Nobel in 1995.

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The festival takes place by the banks of Lake Ohrid.

Although he did not win the Nobel, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg was surely one of the most influential voices of his time. He was awarded the Golden Wreath in 1986. WH Auden, arguably his literary opposite, received the Struga prize in 1971. The prestigious award has also gone to three Russian poets, two French poets and five from countries that emerged from the former Yugoslavia.

However, the Struga Poetry Evenings are not only about famous names. They also encompass poetry readings, published anthologies, translation projects and unconventional evenings spent beside Lake Ohrid and the Crn Drim, a river flowing out of it.

"I was here when the wreath was presented to WH Auden -- in his carpet slippers -- and I have the fondest memories of the Festival itself," US poet WS Merwin, the 2005 winner, said. "Nowhere in the world have I seen a deeper and more unquestioned and natural love for poetry, both as literature and as the current of imagination, feeling, and compassion within us than I have seen here in Macedonia.”

Portuguese poet Vasco Graca Moura, the 2004 Golden Wreath winner, said the festival brings together "both the cradle of our civilization and the avant-garde". As Europe seeks to integrate, the event gains symbolic importance. "Any consistent idea of a political union of a democratic Europe must be founded on its cultural dimension. Moura said. The Golden Wreath winner at Struga this year was Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

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The Golden Wreath winner at Struga this year was Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

One of the highlights of the festival is the presentation of an exclusive anthology representing poetry from various nations or regions. Thirty-five such anthologies have been published to date, greatly enriching the body of poetry that has been translated into Macedonian. The first was the Anthology of Modern American Poetry in 1979, and subsequent efforts have covered much of the globe.

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In the 1990s, the festival organisers decided that Macedonian poetry was under-represented. Starting in 1999, a two-volume, annual thematic selection of contemporary poetry from the country has been published. This bilingual anthology, in Macedonian and English, is presented at a special event during the festival. Works by poets from the ethnic communities in Macedonia are also published in their mother tongue and in Macedonian translation.

A new international award, Bridges of Struga, was established in 2004 as the result of cooperation of the festival and UNESCO. This international award is given to a young poet after a competition conducted by the Festival and the member states of the National Commission for UNESCO. A special selection called "Bridges" is published, including poetry of the award winner and of all other competitors for the award. This selection publishes poems in the poets’ mother tongue together with their translation into Macedonian and at least one major language.

The working part includes the so-called Translation Workshop, one of the most significant sessions within this part of the festival where poet translators work together with young translators. The results of the co-operation are presented at reading events during the festival. Fifteen to 20 poems by a Macedonian distinguished poet are often translated in several foreign languages including English, German and French as the permanent ones and Russia, Polish, Spanish and Italian alternating each year. A translator from and into some of the less represented languages such as Arabian, Hebrew or Swedish, for example, is invited to take part in the festival every year.

Organisers say they are committed to further developing, modernising and enriching the content of the event, despite the difficulties of the period of transition which the region has undergone. "We will continue to cherish our long tradition of uniting the world through the words of poets," a festival publication promises.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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