Poets Translating Poets Festival


25th – 27th November 2016
Mumbai, INDIA


20 Languages | 51 Poets | 187 Poems | 280 Translations


In October 2014, the Poets Translating Poets project was initiated by the Goethe-Institut Mumbai along with the Goethe-Institutes in South Asia, and in collaboration with the Literaturwerkstatt Berlin / Haus für Poesie. The vision was to transcend boundaries of language and culture, through the act of translation and poetry. The project was aimed at creating a platform for poets from South Asia and Germany to translate each other’s works. Over the last two years, contemporary poetry from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka was translated into German by well-known German poets, and vice versa. This is the first time that contemporary German poetry has been translated into South Asian languages at such a scale and vice versa.

The fruits of these ‘poetry encounters’ – the original poems and translations, as well as photos and audio recordings – are available online, on this extensive website in order to make the work available freely and in the public domain www.goethe.de/ptp

The culmination of this project was a celebration of all things poetry at the Poets Translating Poets Festival in November 2016.


What was the festival about?

The Poets Translating Poets Festival was a three day extravaganza, exploring ideas of diversity, identity, and multiculturalism through poetry, nudging at the boundaries between poetry and other forms of art, as well as a celebration of poetry in performance. The festival created a platform for contemporary poets from South Asia – Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka – and Germany, featuring readings and the translation of each other’s works.

The “festival hub” was the Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan as well as venues within close proximity, such as the CSMVS Museum, with informal readings at cafes and galleries such as the Kala Ghoda Cafe, Tarq, etc., and performances at venues such as the NCPA and Edward Theatre. Apart from this, there were readings organised across Mumbai within language community hubs, in an effort to take the poetry to more local contexts.

The festival also acted as an opportunity to bring together all the exciting poetry related activity that’s been sweeping Mumbai over the last few years. Beginning in November, readings, performances, workshops, open mics, and a host of other poetry-centric activity were organised in collaboration with partners – poetry initiatives, organisations, performance venues, cafes, galleries – across the city, as well as in schools, and colleges.


What was expected at the festival?

The festival programming over the three days included presentations, readings, panel discussions, translation workshops, film screenings, performances, a sound installation and photography exhibition. This is a glimpse of the festival format.


Day 1: Festival Opening

The first day of the festival was not contained, but instead, it threw its arms open to the city of Mumbai. Poets negotiated local cabs and rickshaws and red public buses to get to various tea stalls all over the city and read poetry with other PTP poets, Mumbai-based poets, and also gave an ear to spontaneous readings by the audiences. Others stepped into the hallowed portals of universities, schools and colleges for rhythm and rhyme. We ended the day with the festival opening, conversations and a concert featuring Liederabend with Benjamin Appl and Simon Lepper, at the spectacular Tata Theatre, NCPA, Mumbai.


Day 2: Poetry of Resistance and Peace

The second day of the festival was dedicated to Poetry of Resistance and Peace, celebrating India's Constitution Day. On this day in 1950, India adopted its Constitution that espouses celebration of the principles of  secularism, freedom, liberty, justice and equality and fraternity. Given that our festival was themed around cultural diversity, it seemed more than apt for us to dedicate this day to artists’ efforts to speak of injustice, resist curbs on freedom of thought and expression and celebrate secularism – the backbone of our Constitution. We also had readings, discussions, film screenings by ZEBRA film and workshops  around poetry of resistance, poetry across borders, poetry in conflict zones, Urdu and Bengali poetry, poetry after peace and more. With a special screening of Amar Kanwar's A Night of Prophecy, and panels led by Ranjit Hoskote, Kaiwan Mehta, Arunava Sinha, Arundhati Subramaniam, Nabina Das, Thomas Wohlfahrt, the day promises to be full of raging thought. The day ended with a collaborative concert, Ulrike+ALIF on Scratch Tap, featuring poetry and music in Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi and German at the wonderfully grungy Edward Theatre.


Day 3: Poetry and Arts

We closed the last day of the festival by showcasing poetry's romance with other arts - music, theatre and visual arts. There were performance presentations in theatre, music and visual arts with Gerhard Falkner, Atul Dodiya, Kamini Sawhney, Swanand Kirkire, Nicolai Kobus, Harish Meenashru, Christian Filips, Sunil Shanbag, Manoj Shah, Mamta Sagar, Sharmistha Saha, Vasu Dixit and many others. There were multilingual poetry readings by children and adults alike, sessions on spoken word, open mics and workshops on performance poetry and poetry and image. As we headed towards dusk, we fuelled our thoughts with a lecture by  renowned language and culture expert and activist Prof Ganesh Devy, followed by a closing discussion with festival director Dr Martin Waelde, Deutsche UNESCO representative Dr Karin von Welck, author Kiran Nagarkar and filmamker Nilanjan Bhattacharya. As a closing concert we brought down the jazz group MELT Trio from Berlin, who will feature poetry and interpretations of poems by Nicolai Kobus and Rochelle D'silva in their performances, at the famed quad of St Xaviers' College.

Apart from this, the Gallery at MMB featured a photography exhibition culled from photos taken by art photographers inspired by the poetry and interactions during the ‘poetry encounters’ over the last two years, as well as a specially designed sound installation titled ‘Wordscape’. "Wordscape" is a multi-faceted sound composition, adding new dimensions to recited poetry. Conceived as an audio-visual installation, it explores the diversity in the regional languages from South Asia and Germany.


For whom was the festival?


The festival was being programmed keeping in mind a diverse range of audiences. While workshops largely catered to poets, translators, and poetry enthusiasts, as well as students, the panel discussions and talks had multifaceted focus. In today’s day and age, anyone even vaguely interested in looking for ways to understand and express the world we live in, would find something to whet their minds. To complement the mind, were poetry readings splattered across the three days and performances every evening, for the soul.

Not to keep the business of books at bay, there was a publishers’ corner and an authors’ lounge where books could be bought, interesting conversations and connections made, in the company of food and caffeine.

Last but not the least, a festival was also planned in Chennai immediately after the one in Mumbai, featuring 16 of the 51 poets.