7th Cartagena International Poetry Festival


The 7th Cartagena International Poetry Festival, December 2-7, 2003, was an
stimulating and challenging event. It was attended by a number of leading
international poets , including Jaap Blonk (Holland), Louise Warren (Canada) ,
Peter Zilahy (Hungary), Peter Sulej (Slovakia), Martin Solotruk (Slovakia),
Dulce Pullés (Cuba) and Otoniel Guevara (El Salvador). Also participating were
a number of notable Colombian poets such as Gustavo Tatis Guerra, Rómulo
Bustos, Antonio María Cardona, Juan Carlos Urango and Pedro Blas. Like Riddell
and his wife, Saray Torres, ( founders and co-ordinators of the Wellington
International Poetry Festival ), Peter Sulej, Martin Solotruk and Otoniel
Guevara are directors of international poetry festivals in their own
respective countries.

The festival itself featured a wide range of events, at varying locations.
There was an emphasis on taking poetry to the people, especially to poor rural
communities, such as Palenque , a black community about an hour's drive from
Cartagena. Palenque is very poor and lacking in many facilities but enjoys
stability in comparison with other black communities , many of which have been
displaced (in some instances, several times, by The Colombian  Civil War , for
example, many communities in Urabá y Chocó. In the New Year , the writer had a
very productive meeting in Medellín with members of an international NGO,
Peace Brigades International, which is working with the people of these areas.

During the Cartagena Festival - and for all subsequent events in other
Colombian towns and cities - the writer was accompanied by his Colombian wife,
Saray Torres who translated and read the work he presented at the various
designated venues. This helped immensely in ensuring a consistent 
professionalism in the presentation on the readings.

An  important event during the Festival was held at La Virgen de la Cienaga, a
marine reserve near the centre of Cartagena. It was hosted by project
director, Señor Rafael
Guevara, a leading ecologist and ex- M-19 member. Sr. Guevara expressed
interest in visiting New Zealand to talk about his work , highlighting his
achievements and current challenges.

In Caratagena -and later in Sincelejo and Medellín, the author conducted a
number of t.v. ,radio and newspaper interviews. Some of this material will be
available on his return to New Zealand. The author also had meetings with
members of a number of NGOs and governmental organizations in Cartagena,
Medellín and the capital, Bogotá (population 8 million), such us Taller
Siembra, Corporación de Arte y  Poesía Prometeo, Casa de Poesía Silva,
Asfamipaz, Casa de Raul Jattin, The Ministry of Culture, The Ministry of
External Relations, etc.

One major achievement of the current visit has been the launch of a new bi-
lingual collection of poems entitled, Spirit Songs. The primary launch was on
the 5th of February at the National University , Medellín. Launch events to
follow include; (i) A Bogotá launch at the National University (February 13) 
and (ii) A launch in Los Angeles, U.S.A. at the official Residence of the New
Zealand Council General (February 16).

This book is published by Casa Nueva Editorial, Medellín, in association with
Steele Roberts Ltd., Wellington. A launch event in Wellington is currently
being  planned for late March/ early April, 2004. The book features many poems
concerning the impact of the Colombian war on the lives of its people.

Another publishing project which is gaining momentum is the proposal for a bi-
national, bi-lingual Colombia/New Zealand Poetry Anthology. On the New Zealand
side, Steele Roberts Ltd. have expressed support for the project, while in
Colombia the National University have also expressed the wish to be involved.
This anthology is seen as one of a number of ways in which cultural dialogue
can be opened up between the two countries.

A further cultural bridge is envisaged, through the exchange of New Zealand
and Colombian feature films, short films and documentaries. Screenings of
Colombian films would be through the annual Latin America Film Festival
and /or in conjunction with the New Zealand Latin American Committee (LAC). On
the Colombian side, screenings of New Zealand films would be at the annual
Film Festivals such as The International Film Festival of  Santa Fé de
Antioquia and at other selected events/ venues.

Aspects of human rights and peace-culture issues have been focused on the
development of indigenous-community recognition and rights in Colombia. 
Discussions were held in New Zealand within the Latin Americas Community about
the possibility of inviting a Colombian Indian community leader to conduct a
speaking tour of New Zealand. The name of Jesus Piñacue was put forward  as a
possible candidate. Another candidate would be the Casa de las Americas (Cuba)
prize-winning Guajira Indian poet, Vito Alpushana. Vito could also be invited
to attend the 2nd  Wellington International Poetry Festival in November, 2004.
Antonio María Cardona (Cartagena Festival) is another leading Indian poet and
community social worker.

Another important area of human rights protection relates to the fourth
estate. The author is in contact with a newly-formed support group for
Colombian journalists. In the past year, seven Colombian journalist were
assassinated and the total of those forced into exile rose to forty-five. Such
support groups require urgent help on how to organize themselves into more
effective protective bodies.

The Wellington International Poetry Festival, of which the writer is the
director , wishes to issue invitations to two Colombian poets in 2004. the
short list includes Vito Alpushana, JotaMario Arbelaez ans Raul Henao. Without
direct diplomatic links between New Zealand and Colombia, to realize these
invitations will require a substantial amount of work. However, it is fair to
say, there is an enormous  amount of good will and interest on both sides of
the Pacific for such cultural dialogue to develop.

Ron Riddell, 11 February 2004, Bogotá, Colombia.

[1/15/04 from AP]

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