FEATURE: T-Junction International Poetry Festival | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Michael Rosen

239 years ago this Valentine’s Day the marauding colonialist Captain James Cook was killed in Kealakekua Bay by the people who lived there at the time, in what I’m sure the locals justifiably considered ‘a good move’. Middlesbrough-born Cook is almost solely responsible for introducing the South Pacific to the peculiarly European traditions of wanton environmental destruction, colonial land-grabs, racism and organised genocide. For some reason he’s also celebrated as a sort of ‘explorer’ by a lot of wilfully myopic British people.

From Cook to Rhodes to Churchill, we seem to hide the horrors of our past in plain sight, depicting the perpetrators on everything from pedestals to five-pound-notes. So it’s very, very refreshing, then, to see that Teesside International Poetry Festival’s direct aim in 2018 is to invite a vibrant multinational group of artists and writers to join together for an active, nuanced and socially engaged reflection upon Britain’s relationship with the world. Organiser Andy Croft wants to celebrate what he calls “Teesside’s international character”, and champion the values of travel, exploration and cultural-exchange without forgetting Britain’s colonial past.

The T-Junction Festival opens with a reading from former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen (Wednesday 25th April, Central Library), and the Electric Kool Aid Cabaret (Thursday 26th, The Empire), before getting into the main body of the programme on Friday 26th. Be sure to catch Folklines (TP Coffee House) an evening of women’s poetry from Iceland, Poland, France, Botswana, Turkey and Peru. Also borderline-unmissable (assuming, of course, that this is ‘your thing’) is Si les Symptômes Persistent – Consultez un Poète! (The Curve, Teesside University), with international big-guns Lev Rubenstein, Francis Combes and Chawki Abdelamir discussing the diagnostic/palliative effects of poetry on our contemporary ‘symptoms’. The also join an international cast of poets at mima on Saturday evening, with additional musical performances from Lee Maddison and Stewart Hardy.

Turkish poet-activist Bejan Matur is among the invited readers at the festival. Her writing suggests that the borders between poetry and life are as porous and arbitrary as those between nation states, between The Self and The Other. On Saturday 28th at Central Library she discusses poets’ responses to disappointment in the aftermath of Arab Spring optimism. Also on the panel are Chawki Abdelamir and Abdulkarim Kasid. Expect open-eyed and unflinching insight into the struggles of some peoples to assert their human identities in the face of national economo-political divides.

The delicate power of Amarjit Chandan’s poems is pretty much unrivalled. He’s a total master of perspective, both spatial and socio-political. On the afternoon of Sunday 29th he launches a new collection of poems at mima, alongside Icelandic novelist Gerður Kristny introducing her new book, Dràpa.

Very exciting is the programmed ‘marathon musha’ara’, an Urdu-Punjabi tradition of sung/rhythmic group-poetry. Get involved for free at St Mary’s Centre on the Festival’s closing Sunday. Round the whole programme off with a celebration of Tees Women Poets at Teesside University’s The Terrace, with performances from Apples And Snakes’ Kirsten Luckins, Julie Easley, Sarah Crutwell, Janet Philo and Sara Zafar.

T-Junction Festival wants to show that “we are all somebody’s neighbour”, to discover common ground rather than claiming new. It’s part of the ongoing good fight against whatever complexes of conditioning, whatever systems of partisanship, still divide the human beings of Earth. This is a journey; an adventure more rich and wondrous than any Captain James Cook could’ve hoped to embark upon. Hopefully this festival will show something of how far we’ve come, whilst also reminding us that we’ve still got a long way to go.

Visit the website for a full rundown of what’s on.

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