Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

Awards, book sales, conferences, festivals—poetics in its varied forms span the globe in this week's news.

Our editors pull both national bodies of literature and international exchanges into focus this week with a melange of events alive with tribute, celebration, and solidarity. In Toronto, a wide ranging arts and culture festival bring Iranian New Wave poetry and theatre to its stages. Valencia Poetry Festival proves a worthy debut with enthralling performances, experiments, and urgent messages. Tibetan literature and academia is featured with a comprehensive translation of a classic Buddhist text and a rich anniversary conference. This week’s dispatches are not to be missed!

Poupeh Missaghi, Editor-at-Large, reporting from New York City

Tirgan Festival, a celebration of Iranian art and culture, is held between July 25 and 28 in Toronto, Canada. This year’s festival includes some fifty events with participation of two hundred thirty guests, including performers, musicians, writers and poets, scholars, and others.

One of the events is a tribute to Iranian New Wave poet Yadollah Royaï (born 1932). Currently based in Paris, Royaï is one of the founders of “espacementalisme,” a poetry style influenced by Husserl’s phenomenology. The event will include scholars Farzaneh Milani and Khatereh Sheibani, editor and journalist Hassan Zerehi, Tirgan CEO Mehrdad Ariannejad, and Yadollah Royaï himself.

Other events in the festival include “The Silver Poet,” a play by Erfan Malakouti; “Zahhak, The Legend of the Serpent King,” a shadow play performance by Hamid Rahmanian, based on the classical Persian epic Shahnameh (The Book of Kings) by Ferdowsi; a poetry night with poets Bahar Almasi, Bita Malakouti, Roya Ebrahimi, Sareh Sokoot, Sasan Ghahreman, Sheida Mohammadi, and Mehran Rad; podcast events including readings and discussions with popular Persian podcast hosts Amir Khadem, Farshid Sadat Sharifi, Mehran Rad, and Mahmoud Azimaee; and more.    

In the other corner of the world, Iran, a summer book sales event just wrapped up in different cities around the country. Aiming to promote reading and help boost the book market, the program was supported by the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Around six hundred bookstores nationwide offered books with discounts as part of the program; of this number, around a hundred bookstores were located in the capital Tehran.

The program offered 25% off books authored in Persian and 15% off for books in translation. The sales began on July 16 around the country and on Thursday July 18 in Tehran, and went on until Thursday July 25.

On another note, winners for the first Houshang Moradi Kermani literary contest were announced. The contest was for elementary, middle school, and high school students. More than a thousand students participated, and twenty-four winners were selected. The winners will have their pieces published in the monthly Ensha va Nevisandegi (Essays and Writing) and received gifts of books from several publishers.

Houshang Moradi Kermani (born 1944) is a prominent Iranian writer of children’s and young adult books and a winner of several international awards. Some of his works including The Date Palm, You’re No Stranger Here, A Sweet Jam, and The Water Urn have been published in English, all with translations by Caroline Croskery.   

Shelly Bhoil, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Brazil 

When the Tibetan language had first made inroads in the curriculum of École des langues orientales in 1842, it would’ve been difficult to predict that 177 years later, the same place, now National Institute of Asian Languages and Civilizations, would host six hundred participants from fifty countries for the fifteenth International Association of Tibetan Studies (IATS) seminar. The nexus between France and Tibetan Studies was aptly embodied in this IATS’s logo—Paris’ monumental Eiffel Tower in Tibetan script and a yak, the quintessential animal of Tibet. 


The IATS conference, held every three years, coincided this time with the fortieth anniversary of its founding at St John’s College, Oxford. This special anniversary conference, held from July 7-13, honored the early French Tibetologists and displayed some historic photos of Tibet taken by Alexandra David-Néel, who had traveled to the forbidden land in 1921.

It was also timely to honor the translators for making available the vast wealth of Tibetan Buddhist literature to the world. Khyentse Foundation’s $8,000 USD prize for excellence in translation from the classical languages of Buddhism was awarded to Karl Brunnholzl’s A Compendium of the Mahayana. Paul Harrison from the prize committee commented on the work: “Three volumes, over seventeen hundred pages, testifies to an erudition as prodigious as the stamina which must have been required to pull it all together.”

Tibetan Studies, as rightly observed by Kamila Hladíková, leans heavily on the side of tradition. Among the exceptions was the vibrant panel discussion on the contemporary writer and filmmaker Pema Tseden. The Japanese, English, German, French, and Czech translators of Tseden expressed the difficulty of finding the right shelf for Tibetan fiction. For Franz Xaver Erhard and Françoise Robin, Tibetan fiction should be rather removed from the Dharma or Free Tibet corners and read as fiction in the first place. 

 However, as evident by the gross misappropriation of the Dalai Lama’s recent comments regarding his female successor, the complexity of Tibet cannot be understood without contextualizing it. This is why the much anticipated IATS seminars—the next to be held in Czechia in 2022—are important for dissemination of knowledge and research on Tibet. 

Rachael Pennington, Assistant Managing Editor, reporting from the Valencia Poetry Festival

On my train journey to the first edition of the International Poetry and Poetic Action Series—“Cor a la boca, boca al foc” (From heart to word, mouth on fire)I couldn’t help but contemplate the elements that compose this festival and their roles in the poetic process. Held from July 7 to 13 in Valencia, Spain, the poetic actions of Terri Witek (USA), Cyriaco Lopes (Brazil), Queen Nzinga Maxwell (Costa Rica), Maryan Nagy Captan (Egypt), Nikki Fraggala Barnes (USA), and Carlos Soto Román (Chile) took on a collective definition in a week of readings, conversations, debates, and responses. And what better setting to do so than a city with such expanding cultural promise?

Behind this debuting festival is The Liminal—a new space that welcomes radical and experimental forms of art from near and far that are, by definition, inevitable. “At The Liminal we lay strong emphasis on the speculative potential of language and the contemporary forms of the body, context, divergence, and the uncertain,” explain Pablo Vindel and María Espí, who form part of its young and divergent team.  

I was lucky enough to catch the final event of the week: an exhibition combined with performance, video, and reading by Carlos Soto Román. Sitting before the audience at a desk, the poet began by steadily and purposefully whiting out declassified CIA documents. These appropriated texts, mainly on the Condor Operation, were taken from his book 11, which was reviewed by Scott Weintraub earlier this year. Accompanied by music progressively increasing in tempo, his action reached the culmination of depersonalisation and frustration; before leaving the room without uttering a word, he hung the erased documents on two strands of red thread suspended from the ceiling. “My work has to do with remains and that is what is left after the performance,” Soto Román explained.

Soto Román closed with a reading from his chapbook Alternative Set of Procedures (2013, Corollary Press), also on display at The Liminal’s library. Through this collage text, he recreated an interrogation through repetition and detachment, together with appropriated extracts from the CIA’s interrogation manual. The result shared by all was one of elevated pulses and a sense of suffocation.  

In Valencia this July, poetry was action, a verb, a process, a before, and an after. Yet, above all, it was an experimental whole brought together by poet and public through heart, word of mouth, and fire. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next edition of this festival that is sure to become another landmark in Valencian cultural identity.


Read more dispatches on the Asymptote blog: