Jesús Sepúlveda reads at International Festival in Bali, Indonesia
Between November 26th and December 1st 2015, ten poets were invited to participate in the Tabanan International Poetry Festival in Bali, Indonesia. Poet and Senior Instructor of Spanish Composition, Creative Writing and Poetry, Jesús Sepúlveda, was one of them. During the festival poets from four continents met and discussed issues related to poetry and their distinctive poetic traditions while performing poetry readings in their original languages with simultaneous translation into Indonesian for a Balinese audience composed of community members, students, poets, and occasional passers-by.
The Grand Opening of the event consisted in a procession through the streets of Denpasar—Bali’s capital—where poets paraded, carrying a banner with the pictures of all poets. A band that played Gamelan Balinese traditional music accompanied the poets while police stopped traffic and escorted the group of poets and musicians to the main stage. People assembled on sidewalks cheering the poets while giant posters announcing the festival were hanging from buildings and homes. At the end of the day, German poet Michael Augustin wrote: “poetry can stop cars!”
Sepúlveda had the opportunity to meet renowned Javanese poet and feminist scholar, Toedi Heraty, who invited the group to celebrate her 82th birthday at one of her beautiful homes. He also met the national Balinese poet and shaman, Samar Gantang, whose epic poems are rooted in Balinese culture and are performed with Gamelan music and masked dancers interpreting the different characters and scenes of the poems. This style of performative poetry is already a poetic school in Bali and Samar Gantang’s reputation is vibrant and emulated by Balinese youth.
Another highlight of the week was the poetry readings at the 16th century Tanah Lot Temple in the Wantilan area. Once there, and before the reading and the spectacular sunset over the Indian Ocean, poets were asked to sign their names on separate plaques, so they could be engraved in a holy rock placed in the garden of the Hindu temple. Organizers and authorities envisioned this tribute as an opportunity for future visitors to admire the calligraphy of poet’s signatures melted into the beauty of the landscape and the sacred atmosphere of the place.
During the festival poets also visited schools, experienced Balinese culture and cuisine, and trekked the rice paddies of beautiful, utopian, and green land surrounding Jatiluwih village in the plateau of Watukaru Mount—one of the most iconic and traditional areas in Bali. In this excursion, poets learned about the ecologically sustainable irrigation system of canals and weirs called Subak that dates back to the 9th century while drinking red rice tea and eating fresh fruit from the organic gardens.
Poets also taught and learned from each other, expanding their expertise and poetic craft while creating an international network of poetry. Malaysian poet Muhammad Salleh shared with his fellow poets the tradition of Pantun—a Malay literary form from 15th century—while Indian poet Sujata Bhatt read her intimate poetry about her displacements and reminiscences of her mother tongue. Mozambique-born poet and professor Lucas Mkuti presented an anthology of poetry from around the world Sweep of the Violin, whose title comes from a poem by Javanese poet and festival organizer, Dorothea Rosa Herliany. The whole group traveled throughout the island in a van driven “Balinese style,” visiting cultural sites and talking in Balinese, Indonesian, Malay, English, German, French, Portuguese, Italian, and Spanish.
On the last night, five poets read their work at the main Tabanan plaza, Alit Saputra, in front of 15,000 people in the context of the city’s celebration of its 522 years. South African poet Vonani Bila, German poet Bastian Boettcher, French poet Aurélia Lassaque, Balinese poet Samar Gantang, and Chilean poet Jesús Sepúlveda read their poetry on the main stage, while a giant screen showed their readings to the public and the cameras televised the event live on Indonesian national TV. This was certainly a climactic ending to the festival, which remained in the national and local news even days after poets returned home.
For more information, see tabananpoetry.com or google Tabanan International Poetry Festival.