Two Voices of Poetry Parnassus and the 2012 Cultural Olympiad

As part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, which begins today, Tuesday, June 26th and ends on Sunday, July 1st, London’s Southbank Centre is organizing Poetry Parnassus—an international poetry event in the spirit of the ancient Olympic Games. Poets and spoken word artists nominated to represent each of the 204 countries participating in the Summer Olympics (through a system of public voting in their respective countries), will gather on the banks of the Thames to read one poem each in their country’s language. The six-day international gathering, which will be the largest poetry event in the history of the UK, and quite possibly the world, will also include workshops and discussions with the representative poets. All of the poems will later be published together as the World Record Anthology.


We at The California Journal of Poetics are honored that two of these remarkable poets have contributed their time and wisdom to our journal during this past year:


Nikola Madzirov, who will be representing Macedonia, contributed a July 2011 interview. You can also read our Author Profile, and listen to his April 2011 reading at San Diego State University.


Valzhyna Mort will be representing Belarus. Read her February 2012 interview and our review of her latest book Collected Body.


To honor and highlight these two poets we have asked each of them a single question:What are your thoughts and feelings about being nominated by the people to represent the country of your birth at the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, especially in light of the fact that, as a working poet, you find yourself traveling and even living outside of your native country for extended periods?

And these were their answers:

Nikola Madzirov:


Sometimes I feel that my presence is a proof of all the homes I’ve left, of all the languages I recognize, but don’t understand. Poetry Parnassus brings history and love to one place without constructing the history of love or the love for history. At one venue poets will face each other from countries that do not recognize each others’ passports, languages, monuments…


Probably, for the first time the citizens of two warring countries will find themselves in one and the same photograph, which won’t be a photo of the murderer and the murdered. We are there to hear what historians avoid to archive in the books, to remember the language of the inherited memories and personal myths, to show what muses and museums hide behind the glass of time.


Valzhyna Mort:


How have the Belarusian people nominated me? Belarusian people have better things to do, especially in summer. Most of them understand that no traveling, no stay-at-home poet would be able to “represent” them. And who are this “them”? A mass of people with an enormous collective face? And what to do with those Belarusians who don’t read poetry and don’t want to be represented by a poet? I respect my people enough to know that I should never dare to think that I represent them.

We would also like to highlight Ilya Kaminsky who will be representing the Russian Federation. His September 2011 Summer Salon Series reading at the San Diego Museum of Art can be experienced here.


Congratulations to all of the Poetry Parnassus poets!

Read the full list of participating poets—which includes former United States Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, Irish Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, Pushcart Prize winning Libyan poet Khaled Mattawa, National Poetry Competition winner Jo Shapcott of Great Britain, and ­­the exiled former court poet of Kim Jong-il, Jan Jin Seong of the Democratic Republic of Korea—and their bios here.

More About the 2012 Cultural Olympiad:

Read additional interviews with Poetry Parnassus poets at BBC News


Read what theguardian has to say about this international gathering of voices


Hear from Southbank Centre artist-in-residence and Poetry Parnassus event leader Simon Armitage at JUSNews


Read about Southbank Centre’s artistic coordinator and member of the Cultural Olympiad Board Jude Kelly


Check out this event highlight on the London 2012 Festival website


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