The Sarajevo International Poetry Festival

The rain came down most of the day on Saturday, not heavy, but enough to bring out a sea of umbrellas in the packed center of Sarajevo. This city has seen some amazing development—apparently $500 billion was invested with mostly foreign capital after the war some ten years ago claimed tens of thousand of lives. There are still buildings pock mocked with bullet holes, other bombed out. One poet recalled coming in 2003 and seeing gravesites scattered around the city center. Travel advisories warn of 500,000 land mines that have yet to be removed from the outlying areas. Yet Sarajevo is presently alive with shops, bars, restaurants, churches, mosques, and people. Apparently the country is also suffering economically like most of the world. There is supposedly a 45 percent unemployment rate. From war to economic distress, the country now known as Bosnia-Herzegovina is working hard to survive. [caption id="attachment_690" align="alignleft" width="271" caption="The author reading at the Kamerni Theater, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Photo by Opal Palmer Adisa. "]Luis J. Rodriguez reading at the Kamerni Theater, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Photo by Opal Palmer Adisa. [/caption] This past weekend—from September 24 to 26—the spirit of these formidable people is alive with the strains of jazz and the powerful performances of poets from Bosnia-Herzegovina, other parts of Europe as well as the world. I’m fortunate to be one of the poets invited, with the assistance of the Italian Embassy and the A. Chorale Foundation. I performed on Saturday evening at the Kamerni Theater, where from 150 to 200 people showed up. Largely organized by the Casa della Poesia in Italy, led by my new friends Sergio Iagulli and Raffaella Marzano, the other countries represented included Holland, Andora, Czech Republic, Jamaica, Russia, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Spain, France, and Turkey. I’m the only one this year—the festival is apparently in it’s ninth year—to represent the United States, in particular the vital stream of Chicano poetry. Video presentations include the voices and poems of writers such as Mario Benedetti, Mahmoud Darwish, Janine Pommy Vega, Taslima Nasrin, among others. The poets reading include my new friend Opal Palmer Adisa, originally from Jamaica and now making her home in the Virgin Islands. She and I had a band of three jazz musicians from Italy behind us when we performed, which was just perfect, adding multi-dimensions to our words. [caption id="attachment_692" align="alignright" width="360" caption="Left to right: Luis J. Rodriguez, Opal Palmer Adisa of the Virgin Islands, Muesser Yeniay of Turkey, and Sergio Iagulli of Italy. "]Left to right: Luis J. Rodriguez, Opal Palmer Adisa of the Virgin Islands, Muesser Yeniay of Turkey, and Sergio Iagulli of Italy. [/caption] I also made friends with a young Turkish poet named Muesser Yeniay. Other poets performing include Petr Hruska, Ferida Durakovic, Ivo Ledergerber, Elvedin Nezirovic, Alexandra Petrova, Giancarlo Pontiggia, Tomaz Salamun, Ada Salas, Gabriella Sica, Christiane Veschambre, and Marko Vesovic. All the poems were translated into Italian and Bosnian. I didn’t understand the vast majority of what was read, but I tried to let the rhythms and tones of voices keep me present—poetry, after all, breaks through all borders. I was particularly amazed to hear poems in Catalonian, an ancient regional language of Spain, read with a powerful presence by Teresa Colom. I was also fortunate to be interviewed on Saturday by a national TV station in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The reporter asked her questions in English—I was impressed how much English people speak here. When I read, I said thank you (in honor of the many languages) in English, Spanish, and Nahuatl (the Mexika, so-called Aztec, language). I have to say how great it was to be in a place where so many languages abounded. Nobody seemed disturbed by this. The interpreters pulled off everything smoothly, even when at times certain words were hard to translate across the idioms. People corrected from their seats. People on stage laughed. Everybody respected everyone else. The festival is now over. I prepare to leave on Tuesday for Los Angeles, via Budapest and London. After I finished my set—which went well with the music of the band that created new sounds for each of the five poems I read—I relaxed and continued to enjoy the other poets. c/s


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