On Monday, June 15, The University of Cambodia hosted an event for the Nou Hach Literary Association.
The morning’s gathering was held under the banner “Northern Europe Meets Mekong;” it saw writers from Cambodia and Northern Europe working together to present a feast of poetry for a discerning audience of students and guests.
By the conclusion, the listeners had been treated to a fascinating blend of East and West.
Perhaps the most striking note of the morning was not so much the contrast between the poles but the unity that exists between cultures as a product of artistic creativity.
Introducing the event, Mr. Christopher Smith, Associate Dean
for the College of Arts and Humanities, described poetry as material to be spoken aloud.
To that end, the morning’s first poet was Mr. Jóanes Nielsen of the Faroe Islands. Born in 1953, Mr. Nielsen grew to become a fisherman and laborer. Publishing his first book in 1978, he turned to writing full time in the 90’s. He has since published eight more poetry collections and three novels.
The poet spoke in the beautifully rich but subdued tones of his native Faroese, the timbre of the spoken word matching the occasionally mournful themes of his works. His first reading captured the spirit of satisfied resignation as a man in the early evening of his life looks back on decades of romance and purposeful activity.
In his second poem, Mr. Nielsen discerned a fearful symmetry over time and space by linking catastrophic events such as the Union Carbide industrial disaster in Bhopal and 9/11. He viewed these violent disturbances, tthrough the bleary eyes (the windows of, in this case, troubled souls) of children suffering deformities caused by the West’s approach to war and environmental degradation.
The morning’s second poet was Ms. Athena Farrokhzad from Stockholm, Sweden. Her collection of works has been published under the title “Manualen” (The Manual) and she is an editor and critic.
Reading once again in the language of her native land, Ms. Farrowkhzad’s poem presented the audience with a glistening collage of apparently unrelated glimpses of experiences and visions. Placing these moments facing each other within the framework of the poem allowed each to create pleasingly distorted reflections of the other. In this instance, the poet saw herself as a choreographer, directing a dance of archetypes within this landscape of mirrors.
When asked about her style, the poet replied demurely that it was easier to assess the style of other poets than it was to give a representation of her own poetic experience.
The morning was then given over to the works of Cambodian poets.
Ms. Pech Solinin is an experienced writer, having published three works of prose to date with a further two under development. Unlike the previous poets, her work conformed to the traditional conventions of Khmer poetry. On this occasion, she read a piece underlining the link between the natural world and humanity. The poem went on to rail against environmental exploitation and greed.
Being not considerably older than the students in the audience, she attracted a number of enquiries.
When asked about her motivation to write, she said she was drawn to Khmer literature, wanting to understand all the subtle awareness of feeling, tone, or color of the genre and then produce her own works. When asked about barriers to creativity, she said she was always concerned until the main ideas of the work became fixed. Once this had been achieved, she said her best writing occurred during moments of relaxed contemplation.
An equally young poet, Ms. Lina Long treated the audience to a reading of her poem “My Bicycle”. Her life, dreams, desires and goals have been enclosed in an image of circles, spokes and tubular steel. The pace of the work, made clear discreetly in the reading, recalled the repetitive rhythm of pedals taking the rider from one life’s goal to the next, with needles of sunlight glancing off a well-worn, well-oiled chain.
As a worker with minute details such as this, Ms. Long said she felt more comfortable in the short story format and with poetry. She has yet to publish a full-length novel.
The University of Cambodia thanks all the readers and members of the Nou Hach Literary Foundation for a most pleasant morning of poetry. Thanks also to The Swedish Institute, The Swedish Academy and The Nordic Culture Fund for supporting the European poets and their trip to Cambodia.