Poetry as a response to violence

June 2005 -

In Columbia, from 24 June through 2 July 2005, the 15th International Poetry Festival of Medellín will be held. During this event, 80 poets from 52 countries will read their work. Interest in the declamations is overwhelming: more than 100,000 people will be coming to list in theatres, parks, hospitals, prisons and city squares.


The daily reality of poverty, civil war and crime places a heavy burden on Columbians. This was the situation in which thirteen poets decided to establish the festival in 1991. The ensuing massive response from the public demonstrated the great need for a way to express their feelings in a country of little tolerance. Poetry proved to be an excellent tool. What started as a national festival has since grown to become the largest poetry festival in the world.

According to Fernando Rendón, director of the festival, the event is part of the democratisation process of the Columbian culture, and is a symbol for a people that fights for a right to freedom of speech, for a right to a better, more dignified life. 'Poetry is a great way to come together,' says Rendón.

For the poets, this year including names such as Breyten Breytnbach, Wole Sovinka and Gerrit Komrij, the festival is a fantastic experience. It is the perfect scenario for a dialogue between the various cultures. And the atmosphere is one of a folk festival: nowhere else can an audience be found that is so involved and that rewards the declamations with such euphoric applause and stomping.