Bangla in the Big Apple
Attending a gathering of poets for someone with almost no knowledge of poetry is not always the most delightful experience. Therefore, I had doubts in mind when my poet friend Hassanal Abdullah (editor of a bilingual poetry magazine titled Shabdaguchha, published from NY) told me about his plans to hold the second Shabdaguchha Poetry Festival on the first day of the Bangla New Year. But after attending the programme, which was held in Astoria, NY, I am glad to admit, he has proved me wrong.
Stanley H. Barkan presents his poetry. From the left Shameem Chawdhury, Mindy Kronenberg, Jyotirmoy Datta, Stanley H. Barkan, Dr. Mohasin Ali and Minaski Datta.
I learned, much the similar way, some of his genuine well-wishers and critics were also once dubious about the future of Shabdaguchha. One such person is eminent Bangali poet and critic Jyotirmoy Datta, who, as a chief guest of the event, said:” some nine years ago, when Hassan requested me to serve as a consulting editor of Shabdaguchha, I had doubts about its success. But today I must say, I feel honored and proud to see how far the magazine has reached.” Mr Datta said this in a hall room that was filled with poets, artists & listeners from diverse backgrounds and culture (American, Bangali, Chinese & Russian)--thus making the event more than just a typical poetry reading gathering. But, it took Hassanal Abdullah years of patience, hard work and effort before the impact was visible. A poet and published author of some 13 books, Hassanal has been editing the magazine with evergreen spirit and enthusiasm for the last nine years. Imagine--taking time off your busy schedule to write, compose, edit and publish a magazine fairly on a regular basis from a country like USA when your profession is something else (Hassanal is a Math teacher in a New York City's high school).
There are more hassles to it: taking the magazines to the book stores where shopkeepers/owners almost never forget to remind you that poetry doesn't sell well. Yet through his magazine, Hassanal has been rendering an outstanding service to Bangla culture and literature. He has been introducing many American poets (including prominent figures as late Stanely Kunitz) to the charm and beauty of Bangla poetry.
The feature poets who read their own poems before the audience in the festival include: Stanley H. Barkan, Mindy Kronenberg, Aleksey Dayen, Robert Dunn, Leigh Harrison (who also played wonderful music), Naznin Seamon and Ruksana Rupa. Among the other participants, Minaski Datta recalled the memory of her father--beloved Bangali poet, critic and editor--late Buddhadeb Bose; Shameem Chawdhury (a radio journalist of Voice Of America.) read and discussed selected poems from Hassanal's latest book Nokkhatro O Monusher Prochhad.
Open poetry readings included Mary Elizabeth Shanahan, Allan Goldschmidt, Patricia Carragon, Akhtar Hossain Babu, Sukumar Roy, Zheng Yan, Faruque Faisal and Kamruzzaman Baccu. One of the most impressive and significant performances was carried out by Soud Chowdhury and his group (Sadia Choudhury Prity, Shubra Goswami, Mumu Ansari & Shorfuzzaman Mukul). Starting from ancient Bangali poets to such modern poets such as Shamsur Rahman, who passed away a few months ago, Soud and his group entertained the audience through a succinct introduction (in English) about each poet and their time, which was followed by a marvellous Bangla and English recitation of selected verses of poems of the corresponding poets. Such performance could serve as a good model for presentation of Bangali culture, literature before an American audience. The event also included poetry recitation contest for children, a video slide of late poet Shamsur Rahman. To enhance the celebrating mood of the Bangla New Year, traditional dinner was served which included famous pantha bhat (water-rice), hilsha fish and chicken curry. Before the program ended, nominees for Shabdaguchha Poetry Award 2007 were announced, who were Ahana Biswas (India), Naznin Seamon (NY), Jahanara Parvin (Bangladesh) and Anisur Rahman Apu (NY). The award, which is scheduled to be announced on December 16, 2007, includes cash money of $ 200, a placard and publishing a book of poetry of the award-recipient from Shabdaguchha Press.
Despite its success, the event warrants a small piece of advice for poet Hassanal Abdullah. First, the choice of venue with such a limited seating capacity didn't reflect Hassanal's best judgment as an organiser and convener of the festival. He should have thought of a more spacious place since a good portion of the audience including women, senior citizens didn't find seating places and had to remain standing to watch the performances. The noise of children crying, although infrequently, was interruptive to the audience. With a little more practicality, I am positive, Hassanal is capable of presenting us with more successful literary and cultural programmes in the future.
Jahed Ahmed is the co-moderator and editorial board member of Mukto-Mona, a network of South Asian humanists.
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