Flemish poetry takes centre stage in Cyprus
At the end of November slam poet Philip Meersman took part in the fourth edition of the Cyprus International Literary Festival. For the first time the festival organisers brought together slammers and traditional poets. Flanders Literature supported the project with a travel grant for Philip Meersman, who reports on his trip in his own poetic and inimitable way.
‘At the end of November, poets from Denmark, Ireland, Palestine, Israel, Greece, the United States, Finland, Italy, the United Kingdom and both Turkish and Greek Cyprus met in Nicosia for a four-day literary festival. It took place a stone’s throw from the no-man’s-land where UN peacekeepers watch over the scar that marks an otherwise perfectly circular old town. Upon arrival I instantly felt the urge to pick up a screwdriver and help demolish this wall – as on 10 november 1989 in Berlin –, but this time the armed guards wouldn’t allow it.
The festival opened on 27 November with a reading in Sarah’s Jazz Club. All the poets introduced themselves and their poetry in front of a large audience and the local corps diplomatique. Together with poet/professor Paul Stewart I presented a bilingual live version of my ‘Matete Song’, followed by my ‘Neuhaus’ poem from ‘This Is Belgian Chocolate: Manifestations of Poetry’.
The word as instrument
28 November revolved around modern Cypriot history and the glory days of the Commonwealth of Nations. We visited mountain village Platres. During a round table discussion we explored the Israeli-Palestinian question, the themes of war and conflict and the primacy of the word as an instrument of peace and propaganda. As a poet, inspired by all the battlefields that sadly litter Belgium, I can only talk of the madness of war and the consequences that continue to violently alter the landscape and life.
At the Senior School of Nicosia the programme featured readings and performances on the theme of cultural identity. The Finnish poet, writer and translator Helena Sinervo and the Cypriot novelist Constantia Soteriou each took a very distinctive approach to the theme.
My own reading addressed plural identities, war, the position of the white forty-something man and the importance of multilingualism to a better understanding of our (historical) reality. I also spoke of my travels and experiences as a poet and my academic definition of poetry. I concluded with a few participatory poems. These were particularly well received: I was invited to do another reading in January 2020 via Skype.
On 30 November all the poets attended a special evening at the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation. We had been asked to create something inspired by an object from the collection. I wrote and delivered ‘On old books and maps, discovery and the sea’, alongside the poem ‘Méditerranée’ which was awarded Antwerp University’s Poëzieprijs in 2019.
During the closing concert on 1 December I presented the surrealist performance poem ‘Poetry Day’ and ‘Méditerranée, zo blauw’. The latter is a sound poem inspired by the Toon Hermans song and the story of Arman and the thousands of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. It caused many listeners to nervously laugh or shift in their seat.
And so Flemish performance poetry earned itself a place on the map in Cyprus.’