Ever since its foundations were laid by a series of spontaneous readings in 1962, the Struga Poetry Evenings (SPE) has been a festival celebrating diversity. Not just in language, rhyme, rhythm and form but also in nationality, race and colour. The event, which recently concluded its 48th edition, has in the past 47 years been a meeting point for more than 4.000 poets, translators, essayists and literary critics from 95 countries.
Tomaz Salamun, the winner of this year's The Golden Wreath, SPE's most prestigious annual accolade, has personally experienced the openness and progressiveness rooted in the core of the festival. "Even in the times when I was 'odd' for the critics in Slovenia, or I wasn't understood and recognized as a poet, I was invited to the SPE. For me that was a great honour", said Salamun. According to him, participation at the Struga Poetry Evenings opened the path for his poems to be published already in more than 70 countries.
This year's festival edition, which united 75 poets from 50 nations, was set in motion with a concert by the pianist Simon Trpceski, a traditional recital of the poem "T'ga za jug" ("Longing for the South") and the international reading of the poem "The Meridians". "Maybe poetry can't change the world but it is a powerful catalyst of society's collective consciousness toward destroying the barriers that divide us", said Elizabeta Kanceska-Milevska, Minister of Culture of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, at the opening ceremony. The curtain-raiser was succeeded by the annual "Nights without Punctuation", a multimedia event featuring experimental forms of poetry.
The organizers used this opportunity to present the "Bridges of Struga" award to the Senegalese author Ousmane Sarr-Sarrouss. The festival, in cooperation with UNESCO, bestows this prize to the writer of best debut poetry book. Starting a flame that burns for the four days of the poetry evenings, as well as planting of a tree in Struga's "Park of Poetry" are trademarks of the festival. Pablo Neruda, Allen Ginsberg, Seamus Heaney and now Tomaz Salamun are among the 47 winners of The Golden Wreath who are memorized in the park, which is regarded with respect and honour among Struga's citizens.
"When I was young I knew what I was doing, that I'm meant to write poems, and now, when the language deepens within me and escapes reality, it actually makes me constant, blissful. I have a feeling that my gift deepens even more. Last night I dreamt of becoming a bee that lands on an open flower. That's Struga, my second home", said Salamun of the SPE and defined the festival as "the greatest event for the art of poetry in the world".
A crucial part of the Struga Poetry Evenings is the annual symposium. This year it was dedicated to "Poetry and Music", a subject whose goal was to discuss and analyze the close connection between these two forms of artistic expression. The programme also featured an "Evening of Norwegian Poetry", as well as a promotion of 10 books of Macedonian poets, translated into English.
The director of SPE, Danilo Kocevski, pointed out that the festival will hold a presentation each year on one world renowned publishing house: "This year it was "Point" from Belgium. We signed an agreement with them about putting out an Anthology of contemporary Macedonian poetry, which will be distributed in the 40 countries in which the company operates". The two events that garnered most public attention were the poetry readings held at the start and at the end of the festival. "The Meridians" opened the proceedings on the 20th of August and "Bridges" closed them four days later. Both took place at so-called Bridge of Poetry on the river Drim in front of hundreds of people from the town and other parts of the country.
**The European Commission does not accept or recognise in whatever form or content a denomination other than “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. All references, direct or indirect, to this country used in this article are those of its author.