'Northern Europe meets Mekong International Poetry Festival,' June 2009
on the web
For complete festival details visit the Nou Hach web site.
Kho Tararith is searching for poets.
The director of the Nou Hach Literary Association is putting out a call for writers and readers of Khmer poetry, a genre of the written language so technically challenging that authors and performers are seldom the same person.
Throughout June, Nou Hach is holding its 6th annual poetry festival - a month-long event in Battambang, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Kho Tararith, a tireless supporter of Khmer literature in all its forms, doesn't want anyone left uninvited.
Titled "Northern Europe meets Mekong International Poetry Festival," the festival this year is hosting half a dozen visiting poets from northern Europe. In schools and cafes across the capital, poets from Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and the Faroe Islands are gathering with Cambodian poets to share the beauty of their mother tongues.
Aside from the public readings, a series of workshops and conferences are also taking place, culminating in the 7th annual Nou Hach conference, an all-day event built around Nou Hach's yearly awards ceremony.
By literary standards, it's a raucous affair, with hundreds of writers in attendence ready to stand in judgment of their peers. Winners will receive not only recognition — but also cash prizes.
Swedish poet Anna Mattsson has long been involved with Nou Hach and the Cambodian literary scene, having lived in the country for several years during the past decade. Now back in Sweden, Mattsson coordinates the European side of the festival.
"I expect it will really be something quite amazing," she says.
Mattsson first met Kho Tararith in 2003, when he introduced himself after a poetry reading on the rooftop of the FCC. In those days, she says, foreign poetry was still quite alien to local audiences.
"People were quite fascinated by the difference between what you call poetry in Cambodia and what you call poetry in Sweden," she says. "We have very different ways of using the language."
Khmer poetry is governed by a strict set of rules that dictate meter and verse. A special vocabulary is even necessary.
"In Cambodia it's not really possible to call a text a poem if it's not written in a special metric way, with special rules and words," Mattsson says. "You have to read and recite it in a special way."
Reciting Khmer poetry is a skill unto itself, and typically writers of poetry are not professional readers.
"When I write poetry I cannot recite it," says Kho Tararith. "I mean, I can, but not professionally; many professional reciters cannot write poetry."
It is that complexity of the form that makes the annual poetry festival so compelling. At no other time during the year are so many professional poets in one place.
It is what Kho Tararith says compels him to venture into the provinces — to connect with the old poets from his parent's generation, and try to inspire the students from his own.
(PHOTO: Anna Mattsson, Kho Tararith, Laura Jean McKay)