Travelling poetry fest Canto to celebrate local poetry, spot regional poets

'Canto Poetry Festival 2023' be held in Kolkata, New Delhi from March 15 to 19


Agar firdaus bar ru-ye zamin ast

Hamin ast-o hamin ast-o hamin ast — Amir Khusrau

'If there is Paradise on earth

It is this, it is this, it is this'

It is like a dream sequence — poetry, that transforms the ordinary into mystical, that with its rhythms, verses, and melodies strikes and cures one. And so, while literature fests are doing their bit in keeping conversations alive, a first-of-its-kind poetry fest 'Canto Poetry Festival 2023' has been inaugurated to bring together poets from parts of the country.

Avik Chanda, author, columnist, and business advisor, who is the festival director, says though there was no dearth of literature festivals in India, a festival that specifically looked at poetry was missing. Calling it a 'travelling fest' that will be held in different cities every year, Chanda says it will help bring out regional works in poetry and help diverse poets.

However, Chanda denies that Canto will be similar in execution to the Jaipur Literature Festival, one of the biggest literary events in India, that now has editions across the globe. He says they would instead expand within the spheres of poetry, looking at various Indian languages every year and celebrating 'local talent'.

Talking about the importance of translations in poetry, Chanda says they help a work reach masses. "We know Rumi's poems and quote him so often because his works were translated well."

Inspired by the 13th century Italian poet Dante Alighieri's cantos (the basic structural component of 'The Divine Comedy' or one of the sections into which certain long poems are divided), the festival is a four-day multilingual, multicultural traveling poetry event that will be held in Kolkata and New Delhi from March 15 to 19.

Faculty members from the University of Chicago, along with eminent poets, academics and scholars in India, will come together for readings and extended discussions about the literary futures of poetry in South Asia, the US, and beyond. The festival will also conceptualise possibilities for transnational poetry writing and criticism, among Indian scholars, students and literary artists. It will also focus on poetry in translation from various Indian languages and regional literary traditions.

According to Chanda, the fest seeks to go beyond the margins of language, culture, caste, gender, and sexuality to create a unique milieu of poetry and scholarship that speaks to the depths of contemporary society and emerging poetic practices.

Speakers like Wendy Doniger, Tishani Doshi, Farrukh Dhondy, Bibek Debroy, Anita Nair, Arunava Sinha will be a part of the fest. Chanda says from next year, there will be a poetry prize as well as the inclusion of spoken word poetry, which is a rage on social media.

The festival's principal partner is The University of Chicago and its partner universities are The University of Iowa, and New York University. It will take place in a hybrid manner and will be held at University of Chicago Center in New Delhi (on March 15, 16) and The Bengal Club in Kolkata (on March 1,19).