18 Jul 2016: A Milestone for Indian Diaspora Poets

On 22nd June 2016, on the eve of the UK’s momentous referendum regarding the country’s decision to remain in the EEC or to leave, the House of Lords saw a colourful occasion that was also history in the making – for English language poets of the Indian diaspora. The celebratory evening was hosted at the House of Lords by Lord Bhikhu Parekh, himself a distinguished Indian diaspora non-fiction writer, and a Patron of the Word Masala Foundation. The event was the brainchild of the London-based not-for-profit Foundation’s Founder-Director Yogesh Patel. The ambitious event with a tightly packed programme that included speeches, book launches, poetry readings, award ceremonies, slide presentation and networking, attracted some sixty people, including well-established as well as rising poets, poetry publishers and journalists.

In his welcome address, Yogesh Patel stated his intention of bringing together and honouring eminent Indian diaspora poets from Britain and the USA, as well as some insightful British publishers who support diaspora poetry. That he had been working strenuously behind the scenes to promote his fellow diaspora poets became particularly evident when he announced a few exciting publishing initiatives that he has been pursuing. Amongst these, he mentioned that he has held talks with the prestigious ‘Poems on the Underground’ project, and that they were currently seriously considering some contributions from the Word Masala Award Winners 2015 anthology, which was published by Yogesh Patel’s Skylark Publications and available from its website.

A coup that he was particularly proud of was a publishing contract for Isle of Man-based Usha Kishore whose next poetry collection will be brought out by Eyewear Publishing. Dr Todd Swift of Eyewear Publishing announced this with some flair. It had been Yogesh’s objective to find a British publisher for at least one of the Word Masala award winners in good time for him to announce it at this event. Todd Swift and Usha Kishore were congratulated on their new collaboration. These examples demonstrate the positive results that are being achieved by Word Masala Foundation.

Zata Banks treated the gathering to an inspirational keynote speech on the ‘creative opportunities at the intersections of poetry and film’. Zata is the founder of Poetry Film, an influential research art project that was launched in 2002 and has an archive collection of over 1000 films. According to Zata, ‘the poetry film art form provides a means of exploring complex inter-semiotic relationships.’

Lord Parekh and Baroness Usha Prashar presented awards, firstly to the American poets: Meena Alexander, Usha Akella, and, in absentia, Saleem Peeradina and Pramila Venkateswaran; and then to the British poets: Shanta Acharya, Siddhartha Bose, Kavita Jindal, Daljit Nagra, Usha Kishore, Reginald Massey and Debjani Chatterjee. An interesting award of a different kind was Word Masala’s first Crowd-Funding Award, given to Mona Dash to support the publication of her next poetry collection. All the award-winning poets gave brief readings from their work, to the accompaniment of an excellent slide-show highlighting each poet’s achievements and their poetry. 

Lord Parekh and Baroness Prashar commented on the excellence of the readings and the high quality of the poetry. Lord Parekh spoke of the ‘immense pool of talent’ that is represented by contemporary Indian diaspora poets, and called for a mutually beneficial meeting of two great literatures: English literature and Indian diaspora literature in English, which itself is enriched by its heritage of multilingual Indian literature. He encouraged diaspora writers to capitalise more on their experience of migration and of dual cultural heritage. He urged British publishers to consider the opportunities presented by publishing diaspora writers’ poetry and by exploring cooperation with Indian publishers.

Seven British poetry presses received Word Masala awards. These were: Arc Publications, Emma Press, Eyewear Publishing, Faber & Faber, Limehouse Books, Nine Arches Press and Valley Press. Three poetry books were launched at the event: Glass Scissors, a debut collection by writer-publisher Bobby Nayyar of Limehouse Books; Saleem Peeradina’s collection Final Cut, from Valley Press; and the anthology, Word Masala Award Winners 2015, edited by Yogesh Patel and published by his Skylark Publications.     

As an Indian diaspora writer and Word Masala’s Consultant Editor, I am only too aware that while there have been some exceptional achievements in terms of publication and major prizes by poets among us, significant gaps and omissions still remain. This is why Word Masala Foundation’s high profile literary celebration of Indian diaspora poets at the House of Lords was an important and opportune event. Moreover, it was also a welcome pioneering attempt at trans-Atlantic connection among Indian diaspora poets and publishers. I would like to see more such instances of global cooperation. The goodwill and efforts of all in the publishing world is necessary, not because of the benefit to Indian diaspora poets, but because of the benefit to the wider world of poetry.   

Report by: Dr Debjani Chatterjee MBE, Sheffield, UK, July 18, 2016

About the reporter:
Dr Debjani Chatterjee MBE has had over sixty books published in various countries and won many prizes for poetry, literary translation and writing for children. She is Word Masala’s Consultant Editor, Pratibha India’s Associate Editor, Gitanjali and Beyond’s Advisory Editor, Survivors Poetry’s Patron, The Healing Word’s Founder, and Associate Royal Literary Fellow.

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