By Dr Debjani Chatterjee MBE
‘The event went splendidly well and brought together several interesting people. Yogesh, you have every reason to be proud of yourself’’– Lord Parekh, Patron, Word Masala Foundation.
‘After your own award (The Vatayan Award reported in Confluence), Yogesh, I reached out to you, and I am now extremely proud of what we managed to achieve here today,’ – Baroness Prashar.
London-based Word Masala Foundation’s international vision was very evident in this major celebration of Indian diaspora poetry on 22nd June 2016. Hosting the evening at the House of Lords was Lord Bhikhu Parekh, himself a distinguished Indian diaspora writer. The ambitious event, attended by some sixty people, was mainly organised by Word Masala’s Founder-Director and multilingual poet Yogesh Patel. In a welcome address, he explained that it was an occasion to bring together and to honour selected Indian diaspora poets from Britain and the USA, and British publishers, large and small, who have brought out work by diaspora poets and are committed to giving fair consideration to work submitted by such poets in the interest of both cultural diversity and the highest literary standards. He also announced a few exciting publishing projects, and then introduced Zata Bank, founder of Poetry Film, whose inspirational keynote speech was about ‘creative opportunities at the intersections of poetry and film’.
Lord Parekh, the Foundation’s patron, and Baroness Usha Prashar presented awards to the American poets: Meena Alexander, Usha Akella, and, in absentia, Saleem Peeradina and Pramila Venkateswaran; and to the British poets: Shanta Acharya, Siddhartha Bose, Kavita Jindal, Daljit Nagra, Usha Kishore, Reginald Massey and Debjani Chatterjee. In addition, Mona Dash received Word Masala’s first Crowd-Funding Award to support the publication of her next poetry collection. The poets gave brief readings from their work, to the accompaniment of an excellent slide-show highlighting each speaker and poet’s poetry and achievements.
Lord Parekh and Baroness Prashar commented on the very high calibre of poetry, as well as on the fine readings. Describing Indian diaspora poets as ‘an immense pool of talent’, Lord Parekh called for a mutually beneficial meeting of two great literatures: English literature and Indian diaspora literature in English, which is itself enriched by multilingual Indian literature. He invited diaspora writers to write more on their experience of migration and of dual cultural heritage.
Seven poetry presses received awards: Arc Publications, Emma Press, Eyewear Publishing, Faber & Faber, Limehouse Books, Nine Arches Press and Valley Press. Three poetry books were launched at the event: Glass Scissors, a debut collection by writer-publisher Bobby Nayyar of Limehouse Books; Saleem Peeradina’s collection Final Cut, from Valley Press; and the anthology Word Masala Award Winners 2015, edited by Yogesh Patel and published by his Skylark Publications.
It was Yogesh Patel’s objective to find a British publisher for one of the Word Masala Award winners and announce it at this event. This objective was met with poet and publisher Todd Swift of Eyewear Publishing agreeing to publish Usha Kishore’s next collection. Todd Swift and Usha Kishore were congratulated on their new deal. It demonstrated how Word Masala Foundation is achieving great results.
As Consultant Editor of Word Masala, I warmly congratulate my fellow awardees – whether poets or publishers – and thank all who contributed in any way to its celebratory anthology and to the success of the evening. Yogesh Patel had omitted himself from the readings, but I would draw attention to the fact that, apart from his literary activism and publishing work, he is also a fine trilingual poet and translator, who just last month received an ‘International Accolade for Outstanding Achievement in Poetry and for Promoting Poetry’ at Vatayan’s annual award ceremony. I consider that the evening’s event was a milestone for us Indian diaspora poets. In spite of some exceptional achievements in terms of publication and major prizes by poets among us, there still remain significant gaps and omissions. So, the cooperation of all in the publishing world is needed, not because of the benefit to Indian diaspora poets, but because of the benefit to the wider world of poetry.
Dr Debjani Chatterjee has had over sixty books published and won many awards, including an MBE for services to literature. She is Consultant Editor of Word Masala, Associate Editor of Pratibha India, Advisory Editor of Gitanjali and Beyond, Patron of Survivors’ Poetry, and Associate Royal Literary Fellow.