Marjorie Evasco joins world's elite at Poetry Parnassus 2012

PASSAGE - Ed Maranan (The Philippine Star) - July 2, 2012 - 12:00am

(Part one)

In Greek mythology, Mount Parnassus was the abode of Orpheus and the Muses, a place sacred to the gods Apollo and Dionysus, home to the winged horse Pegasus, and over the centuries it has come to be associated with poetry and literature, music and learning. Poetry in our time peaks again in a new Parnassus, and the sacred mountain is temporarily sited in the green and pleasant UK as part of London Festival 2012, a “cultural Olympiad” playing a supporting role to the London Olympics. The Poetry Parnassus on the last week of June is a truly impressive gathering of some 200 poets from all over the world — corresponding to the number of Olympic nations — to celebrate humanity’s unifying creative spirit. Simon Armitage, poet-in-residence of the Southbank Centre and convenor of the gathering, describes it as “the biggest poetry event ever — a truly global coming together of poets and a monumental epic happening worthy of the spirit and history of the Olympics themselves.”

A year-long search was launched in 2011 by the Southbank Centre and the British Council to choose one poet from each of more than 200 countries participating in the Olympic Games by means of public nomination (plus thorough background research, I suppose), and behold, one name stood out from among the Philippine nominees — premier poet Dr. Marjorie Evasco of De La Salle University.

 In her review of Evasco’s latest book of poetry, Skin of Water, Myrna Peña-Reyes wrote: “Among Filipino poets writing in English today, Marjorie Evasco stands out with her distinctive style and her mastery of the language. Among our finest in the lyric tradition, her poems are hauntingly magical in their exceptional evocative beauty, lyricism and grace, most moving with their quiet wisdom.” Moreover, her poetry is now accessible to a global readership, having been translated into Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, German, Russian, Kannada (India), and Romanian. Before she left for London, I managed to ask Marj a few questions about her participation at the Poetry Parnassus which, for its magnitude and import, should make this one of the greatest achievements of a Filipino writer in recent memory — which of course is just another feather in the opulent plumage of her literary bonnet (including the Southeast Asia Write Award in 2010).

STAR: What is the Poetry Parnassus, when did you first learn about it, and how did you get selected to represent the Philippines?

MARJORIE EVASCO: The Poetry Parnassus Festival celebrates the sharing of the wealth of poetry traditions in the world, which will be given voice by poets of countries represented in the Olympics, and enjoyed by various audiences in London.  The call for nominations of poets was given last year and the results were processed by Southbank Centre before December. In April, Anna Selby sent me an invitation from the Southbank Centre to attend the festival.

Do you have a specific program of readings to follow during the Parnassus events, and what literary events have been lined up?

There is the opening event called “Rain of Poems”: all the poems of the 204 poets will be dropped by helicopter over London on June 26 at 9 p.m. The poems are in bookmark form, and my Despedida poem was chosen. These same poems are going to be published in the Bloodaxe anthology called “World Record of Poetry,” which will be available during the festival. I have three events in the program: 1) World Poetry Summit: Mapping the International Poetry Scene on June 27 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, “a whirlwind tour of some of the most exciting festivals, projects and publications, ranging from poetry festivals in Latin America that attract crowds of 8,000 to the contemporary scene in Burma”, where Zeyar Lynn of Myanmar and I will talk about contemporary poetry in Southeast Asia, with other writers talking about poetry festivals in the Middle East, the Berlin poetry scene, and Ukranian literature; 2) Lectures on Poetry by Four Women Poets on June 30, where I will be speaking on the poetry by women of southern Philippines, particularly poetry in Cebuano and English, while the three other topics will be on Korean women’s poetry, the Venezuelan women poets of the ’30s and ’40s, and feminist literary criticism; and 3) the International Poetry Fair: Asian Literary Review Celebration Reading on July 1, featuring the poet-contributors of the Asia Literary Review, like Laksmi Pamuntjak, Alvin Pang, Jennifer Wong, Kim Hyesoon, Jang Jin-Sang, and myself.

Do you think the short time allotted for the Parnassus will be sufficient for the poets to get familiarized with their fellow poets and their works?

Aside from the poets I had already met in other festivals and become friends with (like Nikola Madzirov of Macedonia, Chiqui Vicioso of the Dominican Republic, Alvin Pang of Singapore, Nguyen Bao Chan of Vietnam, among others), I would love to listen to and talk with the poets who are in the events I am participating in. I have also selected events of other poets who I would like to listen to. I am also planning to seek out my favorite poets and ask them to sign my copy of their books. I think one intense week of poetry is a good beginning for literary friendships. From here can flow many collaborative literary projects. 

* * *

See the Rain of 100,000 Poems in London on  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_VKnIEN0Mo).


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