Baroness Prashar (seated), Yogesh Patel and Lord Parekh presenting ZB with gift and accolade following the keynote speech.
By Dr. Debjani Chatterjee, MBE
LONDON: On the eve of the momentous Brexit referendum, 22 June 2016, the House of Lords saw another colorful and history making occasion for English language poets of the Indian diaspora. The evening was hosted by Lord Bhikhu Parekh, a distinguished Indian diaspora non-fiction writer and a patron of the non-profit Word Masala Foundation and poet Yogesh Patel, the founder-Director of WMF. The ambitious event was Patel’s brainchild and was tightly packed with speeches, book launches, poetry readings, award ceremonies, slide presentation and networking. It attracted some sixty people, including well-established and rising poets, poetry publishers and journalists.
In his welcome address, Patel stated his intention of bringing together and honoring eminent Indian diaspora poets from Britain and the US, as well as British publishers who support diaspora poetry. He announced a few exciting publishing initiatives, among these, talks with the prestigious ‘Poems on the Underground’ project, who were seriously considering contributions picked up from the Word Masala Award Winners 2015 anthology launched at the event and published by Patel’s Skylark Publications website.
Patel was particularly proud of a publishing contract for Isle of Man-based Usha Kishore whose next poetry collection will be brought out by Eyewear Publishing, announced with great flair by Dr. Todd Swift, the publisher.
Patel, who omitted himself from the readings, is known for his literary activism and publishing, and is also a fine trilingual poet and translator. Just a month ago he received an ‘International Accolade for Outstanding Achievement in Poetry and for Promoting Poetry’ at Vatayan’s annual award ceremony.
Zata Banks treated the gathering to an inspirational keynote speech on the ‘creative opportunities at the intersections of poetry and film’. Banks 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.
Lord Parekh and Baroness Usha Prashar presented awards, first to the American poets: Meena Alexander, Usha Akella (based in Austin, Texas), and, in absentia, Saleem Peeradina and Pramila Venkateswaran; and then to British poets: Shanta Acharya, Siddhartha Bose, Kavita Jindal, Daljit Nagra, Usha Kishore, Reginald Massey and Debjani Chatterjee. Word Masala’s first Crowd-Funding Award was given to Mona Dash to support the publication of her next poetry collection. All the award-winning poets read briefly from their work, accompanied by a slide-show highlighting their achievements and poetry.
Parekh and Prashar commented on the excellence of the readings and the high quality of the poetry. Parekh spoke of the ‘immense pool of talent’ that is 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 publishing and publicising diaspora writers’ poetry and suggested opportunities for cooperation with Indian publishers.
Word Masala awards were given to seven British poetry presses: 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.
The event was a milestone for Indian diaspora poets as it represents a pioneering attempt by WMF at trans-Atlantic connections. While there have been some exceptional achievements in publication and major prizes by poets, significant gaps and omissions still remain. And there is a need for more such global cooperation that will certainly benefit Indian diaspora poets and the wider world of poetry.
Dr. Debjani Chatterjee 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.