A milestone for Indian diaspora poets

Dr Debjani Chatterjee MBE Tuesday 12th July 2016 12:46 EDT

On 22nd June 2016, on the eve of the UK’s momentous referendum regarding the country’s decision to remain in the EEC or to leave, the House of Lords saw a colourful occasion that was also history in the making – for English language poets of the Indian diaspora. The celebratory evening was hosted at the House of Lords by Lord Bhikhu Parekh, himself a distinguished Indian diaspora non-fiction writer, and a Patron of the Word Masala Foundation and poet Yogesh Patel, the Founder-Director of non-profit Word Masala Foundation. The event was his brainchild. The ambitious event with a tightly packed programme that included speeches, book launches, poetry readings, award ceremonies, slide presentation and networking, attracted some sixty people, including well-established as well as rising poets, poetry publishers and journalists.

In his welcome address, Yogesh Patel stated his intention of bringing together and honouring eminent Indian diaspora poets from Britain and the USA, as well as some insightful British publishers who support diaspora poetry. That he had been working strenuously behind the scenes to promote his fellow diaspora poets became particularly evident when he announced a few exciting publishing initiatives that he has been pursuing. Amongst these, he mentioned that he has held talks with the prestigious ‘Poems on the Underground’ project, and that they were currently seriously considering some contributions picked up from the Word Masala Award Winners 2015 anthology launched at the event and published by Yogesh Patel’s Skylark Publications available from its website.

A coup that he was particularly proud of was a publishing contract for Isle of Man-based Usha Kishore whose next poetry collection will be brought out by Eyewear Publishing. Dr Todd Swift announced this with some great flair. It had been Yogesh’s objective to find a British publisher for at least one of the Word Masala award winners in good time for him to announce it at this event. Todd Swift of Eyewear Publishing and Usha Kishore were congratulated on their new collaboration. These examples demonstrate that positive results are being achieved.

Zata Banks treated the gathering to an inspirational keynote speech on the ‘creative opportunities at the intersections of poetry and film’. Zata is the founder of Poetry Film, an influential research art project that was launched in 2002 and has an archive collection of over 1000 films. According to Zata, ‘the poetry film artform provides a means of exploring complex inter-semiotic relationships.’

Lord Parekh and Baroness Usha Prashar presented awards, firstly to the American poets: Meena Alexander, Usha Akella, and, in absentia, Saleem Peeradina and Pramila Venkateswaran; and then to the British poets: Shanta Acharya, Siddhartha Bose, Kavita Jindal, Daljit Nagra, Usha Kishore, Reginald Massey and Debjani Chatterjee. A wonderfully exciting award of a different kind was Word Masala’s first Crowd-Funding Award, given to Mona Dash to support the publication of her next poetry collection. All the award-winning poets gave brief readings from their work, to the accompaniment of an excellent slide-show highlighting each poet’s achievements and their poetry.

Lord Parekh and Baroness Prashar commented on the excellence of the readings and the high quality of the poetry.

Seven British poetry presses received Word Masala awards. These were: Arc Publications, Emma Press, Eyewear Publishing, Faber & Faber, Limehouse Books, Nine Arches Press and Valley Press. Three poetry books were launched at the event: Glass Scissors, a debut collection by writer-publisher Bobby Nayyar of Limehouse Books; Saleem Peeradina’s collection Final Cut, from Valley Press; and the anthology, Word Masala Award Winners 2015, edited by Yogesh Patel and published by his Skylark Publications.

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