Poets from all Olympic nations sought to line up at London 2012 festival


Nick Clark
Wednesday 18 April 2012 00:00

Wanted: 23 "missing" poets. Must be from Burkina Faso, Papua New Guinea, Liechtenstein or one of 20 other nations still missing from the roster of a record-breaking poetry event scheduled to form part of this summer's Olympics cultural programme.

London's Southbank Centre's quest to bring together poets from all 204 nations competing at the Games is going pretty well. Those that have signed up so far include an ex-Sandinista revolutionary, Kim Jong-il's former court poet and a man who discovered poetry in prison.

But the attempt may be thwarted as 23 countries still lack a representative. The scheduled date for the so-called Poetry Parnassus is approaching, and the centre has resorted to a public appeal to unearth poetic representatives of nations from Monaco to Madagascar.

Artistic director Jude Kelly and curator Simon Armitage have already contacted international poetry festivals and specialists in the field as well as calling on newspapers and social media.

Their initial drive brought in a total of 6,000 nominations for poets – including from countries where free speech is restricted such as Myanmar and Swaziland. The organisers identified desired poets from 181 countries, of which 140 have already confirmed acceptance of their invitation to take part.

Whether they reach the magic 204 or not, the Parnassus, which runs for a week until 1 July, will be the largest gathering of international poets in history, with participants aged from 24 (Akerke Mussabekova from Kazakhstan) to 83 (Luxembourg's Anise Koltz).

Britain will be represented by Jo Shapcott,winner of two National Poetry Competition awards and the Costa Book of the Year in 2010. Ireland's representative is celebrated poet, playwright and translator Seamus Heaney.

Also among those signed up are Luljeta Lleshanaku from Albania, who grew up under house arrest as her parents opposed the communist regime. Cambodian poet and tattoo artist Kosal Khiev was born in a Thai refugee camp and escaped to the US following the Khmer Rouge war. A gang fight and attempted murder charge saw him sentenced to 11 years in jail and deported on his release.

North Korean poet Jang Jin Seong was the former court poet to Kim Jong-il but escaped to South Korea after becoming disillusioned without being able to say goodbye to his family.

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