A Serbian city with a history that dates it to antiquity, the River Danube and a poetry festival, Smederevo sets the perfect tone for a cultural experience. The Smederevo's Poet Autumn is an annual festival in its 47th year that brings in poets from across the globe to meet at this cross road between the Eastern and Western outposts of Europe. The Danube flows through Smederevo connecting it to the larger network of European nations as this multicultural city welcomes all for a festival of poetry, music and literature.
This year, a Bangladeshi poet was featured for the first time at the Smederevo's Poet Autumn. Poet, playwright, translator, essayist and social commentator Anisur Rahman is based in Sweden, and is a member of the Swedish Writers’ Union, the Playwrights Union in Sweden and Honourary Member of the Swedish PEN. Reading out his work in Bangla, Rahman was then translated on stage into Serbian. Poets from other countries included UK, Spain, Bulgaria, Iran, Italy, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Turkey, Macedonia, Poland, Argentina, Greece and Bangladesh. Every year, the poetry festival awards the Golden Key, the Little Golden Key and the Golden String. The Golden Key was awarded to British poet Sean O Brien, and the festival also published five translated books, including one with Rahman’s work.
The festival took off with a visit to the royal Palace of Milan Obrenovic, the Serbian king from the 19th century. The city also houses a fortress where the despot ruler Đurađ Branković (reigned from 1427-1456, CE) had installed special Venetian glass for his windows and an acoustic palace, to enjoy music all the better. A wine tasting tour of the famed vineyards of the region was followed by a performance of traditional Serbian dances in traditional gear from the early 20th century. School children have always been a major part of the festival’s outreach programs and poets were taken to schools to read out their books. As part of their vision to encourage readers, the festival organisers, Goran Djordjevic and his team including Aleksandra Djokovic, had distributed around 10,000 books all over local schools in the area. The students proved very animated with their questions as they got a chance to interact with the visiting poets.
The festival invites poets to speak in their own language while a Serbian translates it on stage and this year, Bangla and Persian were the two languages featured for the first time. Rahman presented two of his poems, which he felt could speak to an international audience.
Speaking on his experience of writing in exile, Rahman quotes Baudelaire, who said “in order to become a writer, you need to capture your boyhood memories”. Rahman feels being a writer is a never ending journey, carrying mirrors on both sides - “but to be honest I have also received a lot of help from people back home like the president of the National Poetry Council of Bangladesh, poet Muhammad Samad, who was a resident professor at the University of Dhaka when I was studying there,” confesses Rahman.
He added: - “Life is a journey and I consider my time in Scandinavia as a part of this. Poet Shahid Quadri said to emigrate is to commit suicide, but I have found ways to adjust to my life by being involved in bringing more poets together, while I culture the urge to write. The journey of fighting the devil, as Ibsen put it, has allowed me to put my thoughts into words as I live my life of an immigrant, writing in my mother tongue. My first two novels are thus about immigrants in Sweden: ‘Oi Ondhakar Ase’ (The Dark Sounds 2016) and ‘Varatiya Meye’ (The Girl from India 2014).”
The poetry festival ran from October 11 to 13, 2016 and this year, the Warsaw poetry festival director from Poland visited, as part of a liaison between the Serbians and their counterparts in the region. Against the backdrop of a town with one of the largest lowland fortresses of Europe and an old tradition of celebrating cultural festivals, the Smederevo Poetry Festival enthralled local and international audiences likewise.
Story of Water and Stone
I split the heart within my heart,
Build a house from stone.
I see my life inside–
A devastating storm within.
I see the sea in your eyes
Rising above water level.
Water embraces water
Where you see our house.
High tide strikes high tide,
The sun absorbs water,
Clouds suck clouds,
And life strains to breathe.