Poetry, change, and community

The seventh edition of 100 Thousand Poets for Change brings together diverse voices and verses

In 2011, American poet Michael Rothenberg got in touch with Mumbai-based poet Menka Shivdasani with a unique idea: bringing a hundred thousand poets together to focus on issues such as peace, sustainability and harmony.

Ms. Shivdasani, who had founded the Poetry Circle in Mumbai in 1986, was understandably a little sceptical. “At the time, I didn’t think that many people were interested in poetry. And yet, even in that first year there were poets came from across the city, across age groups, professions and social strata,” she said. The first edition of 100 Thousand Poets for Change (100TPC) was held at the Press Club Mumbai, and Ms. Shivdasani had become part of an international movement that has grown to encompass theatre, music, photography and other creative disciplines.

In that first year, Ms. Shivdasani organized two events: a workshop for tribal children, and a multilingual poetry reading on the theme of peace. From the second year on, the event has shifted base to the Kitab Khana bookstore in Fort, where it is currently in its seventh edition. “I had gotten in touch with Kitab Khana for the second year of the festival because I wanted to do one event on women’s writing, which is my area of expertise,” Ms. Shivdasani says. While brainstorming over what could be done, one event on one evening quickly turned into a series of events over five evenings. That format, of a festival covering four or five days, and the themes that Ms Shivdasani first put in place have stayed since.

It was only logical, she explains, for a movement called 100 Thousand Poets to go beyond the English language and involve poets from the grassroots, writing in different languages. The festival has a multilingual poetry readings, an event that focuses on writing by women and an event that involves poetry written by children. “When Michael Rothenberg came up with the concept, he said the readings could be as intimate as two people reading poetry to each other over candle-light or could take the form of a large outdoor event. My event just happened to take the form of a four-day festival.”

Ms. Shivdasani points out that while justice and peace are the main themes around which the movement was built, she does not believe that poetry written with a specific subject or agenda in mind can be of high quality. “I believe that the one tongue that unites all poets is peace, and it is up to Mumbai’s various poets to express that in a variety of ways depending on their context.” The poets explore a variety of themes, but this common ground provides a linking narrative. For the children’s events, it is again about getting them to think about subjects that might impact the way they live their lives rather than forcing them to write from a particular standpoint.

The festival has also worked to promote causes, for which Ms. Shivdasani ties up with various organisations. One year, for instance, Laadli, a campaign for the girl child against the practice of sex selection, organised performances. And in 2015, the theme of one of the readings was the five elements and in recognition of the drought gripping much of Maharashtra that year, a collection drive was organised across four days of the festival.

Beyond these causes though, 100TPC has been about creating a sense of community through poetry. “All of us are in our silos, and we stop caring about the issues that affect other people,” Ms Shivdasani says. “We need that isolation sometimes, but we also need to be part of a larger group working toward something.”

‘Local issues are still key to this massive global event’

Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion started 100 Thousand Poets for Change in the United States in 2011, to highlight issues related to peace and sustainability, with a focus on local concerns. “Local issues are still key to this massive global event,” the founders said in an email. “Communities around the world raise their voices on issues such as homelessness, global warming, education, racism and censorship, through concerts, readings, lectures, workshops, flash mobs, theatre performances and other actions.” All events form part of Stanford University’s permanent archives; the University refers to this as the ‘largest poetry reading in history.’

In Mumbai, the 2017 programme included Cappuccino Readings, hosted by Anjali Purohit (October 26); Smeetha Bhoumik’s Woman Empowered (October 27). and Vibha Rani’s AVITOKO Room Theatre (October 28). On Sunday morning (11 a.m. onwards), an event for children by Rati Dady Wadia will feature poems by schoolchildren in Mumbai, representing various schools and organisations such as Writers’ Bug, Fun ki Pathshala and Young Writers’ Nook. This year, a second book of poetry by children in Mumbai will be launched. The first, The Music of the Spheres, featuring poems written specifically for 100TPC Mumbai, was released in 2015, spearheaded by Ms. Wadia.

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 11:20:43 PM |

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