India poetry congress a gathering
of brothers and sisters for NZ poet

We talk to poet Doc Drumheller, the editor and publisher of poetry magazine Catalyst, about attending the 39th World Congress of Poets (WCP) in Bhubaneswar, India. The WCP was a five-day event where poets from around the world presented their poems and attended discussion groups and talks. This year's congress had the theme 'compassion through poetry'. Drumheller was supported to attend the event with a Foundation arts grant.
Jason Clements

During his time in India, Drumheller visited Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, a school for indigenous children in Odisha state

Why did you want to participate in the congress?

The invitation to represent New Zealand at the World Congress of Poets came from Bei Ta, who serves the National Museum of Modern Chinese Literature as a professional poet, critic, and translator.

We met in Nicaragua in  2015 at the Granada International Poetry Festival and have stayed in touch since then, collaborating to promote New Zealand and Chinese poets in our respective countries. 

I wanted to participate in the WCP to continue to develop these connections and friendships through the medium of poetry.

What did you do at the congress?

Docheller and a fellow poet holding a copy of poetry magazine Catalyst

Drumheller launched volumne 16 of his poetry magazine Catalyst at the World Congress of Poets

I was able to continue to develop relationships as the newly appointed New Zealand director of the Silk Road Poetry project and had the opportunity to meet with WCP president Bei Ta to explore opportunities and projects between New Zealand and China.

Catalyst Volume 16, Wireless Compassion, was first launched at the 39th WCP and featured seven poets from India, 10 Mongolian poets, a Mongolian artist and poets from the 38th WCP.

It was a highlight for me to be able present the books in person to the various poets and see them reading from the book at the congress.

I performed my poetry at several readings and published two poems in the 39th WCP Anthology. I read translations for many other poets in performance and made appearances on national and local television in India.

During my time in India, I also composed over 250 haiku, and many longer poems.

What else did you do while in India?

Before and after the congress, I visited Kolkata, and managed to see a great deal in a short amount of time.

During my stay in Kolkata, I met with a group of Bengali poets, some of whom were published in Catalyst Volumne 16. We had a performance together at Debovhasa, an art gallery, bookshop and publishing house.

It was wonderful to hear the poets read their work, and I was delighted to sing waiata in Te Reo Māori and perform my poetry as well.

After the congress, I met with Prabal Kumar Basu, Trina Chakraborti and Barnali Roy, and we discussed further projects and opportunities to collaborate and publish Bengali poets and New Zealand poets together.

What do you hope your visit to India will lead on to?

Drumheller: " These events feel like family gatherings for poets, with our fellow poets being more like our brothers, and sisters."

I am looking for new ways to collaborate with artists and writers from Asia, with the goal of creating connections with countries represented at the World Congress of Poets.

This year I am preparing a selection of New Zealand poets to be featured in GUNU, an international magazine of culture, literature and poetry from Mongolia, and I am currently looking for opportunities to bring poets from India, China, and Mongolia to New Zealand.

I am also collaborating with Prabal Kumar Basu, and Barnali Roy to publish a selection of New Zealand poets in Yapanchitra, a prominent Bengali literary magazine.

I plan to participate in the 40 WCP, and perform at other festivals and events in New Zealand. I also want to continue to showcase international poets I have met on my travels, and publish them alongside poets from New Zealand in Catalyst. Catalyst Volume 17 will feature poets that I met on this trip.

Why do you think it’s important for such cross-cultural collaboration to occur?

It has always been a goal of mine as an artist to expand awareness, and by participating in cross-cultural collaborations we can develop understanding and empathy.

As the editor and publisher for Catalyst, I have published poets from all over the world, as well as curating features of New Zealand poets for publication in many different countries.

The highlight for me when participating in any conference, festival or congress such as this is always the people. These events feel like family gatherings for poets, with our fellow poets being more like our brothers, and sisters.