Fri, Sep 14, 2001 - Page 7 News List

Taipei readies for festival of poetry masters

For the next two weeks, some ofthe world's most prominent living poets will join 300 of their Taiwanese counterparts for readings and lectures

By David Frazier  /  STAFF REPORTER

Nobel laureate Derek Walcott will be in Taipei to read his poetry.

PHOTO COURTESY OF TAIPEI INTERNATIONAL POETRY FESTIVAL

Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, members of the Nobel committee and at least two dozen internationally renowned poets will draw together over the next two weeks for the Taipei International Poetry Festival, which officially opens today at Taipei City Hall.

The gathering, designed to promote international awareness of Taiwanese poets, will provide Taiwan with unprecedented exposure to a cross section of contemporary literary giants.

The festival's star will unquestionably be Walcott, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992 on the basis of what the Swedish committee called "a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment."

Born on the Carribbean isle of St Lucia in 1930, Walcott is probably best known for his poetry. He has also composed a number of theatrical works, including at least one musical about Rastafarians. A lecturer at Boston Universty, Walcott currently maintains residences in Boston and Trinidad.

As the festival's central figure, Walcott was originally scheduled for three appearances this weekend; a press conference, a poetry reading and a round table discussion of his work. US transportation restrictions caused by Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, however, will likely delay his arrival, as his passport is currently stashed in a Manhattan apartment, said Taipei City officials.

Other distinguished emissaries to the festival from the US whose arrivals may also be delayed include director of the University of Iowa's international writing program, Christopher Merrill, renowned poet and second-generation Chinese American Arthur Sze, and University of California-Berkeley professor Michelle Yeh.

Meanwhile, poets and scholars from Europe and Asia will arrive unhindered, with Nobel committee members Goran Malmqvist and Kjell Espmark among them. Their inclusion will cast faint political shadows, recalling last year's controversial conferring of the literature prize upon its first-ever Chinese recipient, Gao Xingjian (高行健).

Gao, an expatriate living in France and a virtual unknown before Nobel recognition, received the award based on the strong recommendations of Malmqvist, the only member of the Swedish committee who speaks and reads Chinese. On the world stage the announcement was met with sharp criticism from both the Chinese government and sources in Taiwan.

Even so, Malmqvist has found a second home of sorts in Taiwan.

"He likes Chinese writers and also writes poetry. He spends a good deal of time in Taiwan and is very familiar with Taiwanese poets," said Chen Yi-chen (陳怡真), a senior researcher in the Taipei City government's Bureau of Cultural Affairs and a major organizer of the festival.

The poetry festival visit will be Malmqvist's second publicized visit to Taiwan this year, and the third visit by Nobel laureates. The prior two Nobel emmissaries turned up at Gao and Malmqvist's appearance at the Taipei International Book Exhibition in February and last month's dinner between Vice President Annette Lu and five Nobel peace prize recipients.

It is unlikely, however, that Nobel politics will send more than a minor ripple through the festival. Between Sept. 14 and Sept. 24, around two dozen international poets and 300 local poets will give recitations in locations ranging from the National Library to Witch House (女巫店).

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