Poet comes full circle

04 May 2017

An invitation to an international poetry festival will see a Deakin writer travel to the land of magical realism.

Associate Professor of Writing and Literature at Deakin University Maria Takolander will represent Australia at the 2017 International Poetry Festival of Medellin, Columbia.

The “Festival de Poesia de Medellin” spreads the message of peace and art through a two-week schedule of poetry readings in both English and Spanish.

It is a significant event on the international festival calendar, with thousands of people attending the opening and closing ceremonies in previous years.

Notably, the July 2017 festival will be the first to occur during peacetime in its 26-year history after the Columbian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People's Army signed a peace agreement following 52 years of armed conflict.

“Another great challenge lies before us: the construction of peace, which brings with it the parallel labour of deconstructing the culture of war that has permeated the Colombian population, and specifically, the creation of new symbolic reference points and a change of paradigms. We have no doubt that poetry and art will be essential on this path,” said festival director, Fernando Rendon.

Assoc Prof Takolander said the festival was Medellin’s attempt to leave Columbia’s violent history behind and become a city that was known for something positive and peaceful.

“Poetry invites you to slow down and look at the world with greater attentiveness, to really pay attention to relationships, emotions and experiences with greater intensity, which hopefully leads to a more constructive, rather than destructive, attitude,” she said.

One of the festival’s objectives is to bring together a universal community of poets, an opportunity that Assoc Prof Takolander is looking forward to, with a particular interest in meeting a poet from Finland, given her family’s Finnish heritage.

Assoc Prof Takolander, whose PhD focused on Latin-American magical realism, said being invited to represent Australia at the festival was “like coming full circle”.

“During my PhD, a key writer for me was the Columbian Gabriel García Márquez. Now, I’m finally getting to travel to Columbia and practice the Spanish I learnt during my study.

“To get to visit the place and experience its literature is a very special thing.”

During the festival, Assoc Prof Takolander will read her poems in both Spanish and English. She is working with a translator in Canberra to obtain the necessary proficiency in Spanish for the importance of word choice.

“I’ll then read those translations to the audience in and around different parts of Medellin, reading to different types of audiences to engage with the entire community, not just particular suburbs that have access to events,” she said.

Before leaving for Medellin, known as “the city of eternal spring”, because of its position close to the equator, Assoc Prof Takolander will be attending another festival – this time, much closer to home.
“The Queenscliffe Literary Festival (QLF), with Jennifer Byrne, acclaimed journalist and host of the ABC’s “The Book Club” as the keynote speaker this year, happens every weekend in May, which is exciting for the town – and for Deakin as partial sponsor. It’s a great celebration of Australian talent,” she said.

Assoc Prof Takolander will facilitate and participate in the “Passion and power in short stories” session, as well as adjudicating “The great debate – fiction is fluff” featuring local resident and Nobel Prize winner Professor Peter Doherty.

Deakin Professor David McCooey, and PhD candidate Mr Gregory Day will also be panellists for the “Music & Poetry” session at the festival. They will speak about the intersection of poetry and music, which has been particularly topical since the recent awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan.

To attend one of the 15 events at QLF, including book readings, workshops, panel discussions, author talks, music soirees and theatre performances, visit the full program and book tickets online.

By Deakin Research

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Associate Professor of Writing and Literature Maria Takolander will represent Australia at the 2017 International Poetry Festival of Medellin, Columbia.

Key Fact

Associate Professor of Writing and Literature Maria Takolander will represent Australia at the 2017 International Poetry Festival of Medellin, Columbia.

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