Entertainment & Arts

Poetry Parnassus: Meet the poets from Albania, India and Uganda

Image caption From left: India's Tishani Doshi, Uganda's Nick Makoha, and Luljeta Leshanaku from Albania

The largest ever global gathering of poets begins in London on Tuesday.

The Poetry Parnassus features poets from all 204 Olympic nations. The event will launch with a 100,000 bookmark-shaped poems being dropped from a helicopter near the Southbank Centre.

The week-long event has been billed as "the largest gathering of international poets in world history".

Here, three poets - Albania's Luljeta Leshanaku, India's Tishani Doshi and Uganda's Nick Makoha - tell BBC News arts correspondent Tim Masters about their writing and why they are taking part.

Tishani Doshi

Born in 1975 in Madras, Tishani Doshi is a poet and dancer of Welsh-Gujarati descent. In 2006, her debut collection Countries of the Body (Aark Arts) won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

Her first novel The Pleasure Seekers (Bloomsbury 2010) was longlisted for the Orange Prize. Her second poetry collection, Everything Begins Elsewhere, was published by Bloodaxe in 2012.

What's exciting to me about Poetry Parnassus is that we get to hear other voices from other parts of the world. It will be five days of discovery.

Being of Welsh-Gujarati descent is liberating. For a writer it's useful to be able to stand a little bit outside. I have spent a bit of time in Wales but growing up in India does monopolise you. It is the ruling influence.

With me and India it's all about leaving and returning. Madras is home. It's a very complicated relationship. When you are away too long you get homesick, and when you are there too long you are sick of home.

Creatively speaking, to live in India is very exciting and very easy to tap into. I find stories everywhere, and the rest of my travels entertain the other senses.

On the opening day of the Parnassus I'm doing a recital with a pianist. I've been working on memorising poems rather than reading from the page. I like removing that obstacle for the reader.

People who have never picked up a book of poems since school should go to a poetry reading.

They'll realise poetry is not so inaccessible. It's not someone reading chapter five of their novel. It's immediate and concise and contained - that's the great power of poetry.

Luljeta Lleshanaku

Luljeta Lleshanaku was born in Elbasan, Albania in 1968. Under Enver Hoxha's Stalinist dictatorship she grew up under house arrest.

She has worked as a schoolteacher, literary magazine editor and journalist. Haywire: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books 2011) is her first British publication.

Only 20 years ago, I couldn't have imagined travelling to the UK and taking part in an event like the Poetry Parnassus.

When I was in school none of my classmates asked me what I wanted to study in the future because they knew that I was not allowed to go to college.

I was not allowed to publish, to have a public life. We couldn't leave the house. I was only allowed to work in a factory or on a co-operative farm.

I don't feel I missed out too much as a writer as I was only 23 when the political system changed in 1991. I was probably not ready to have a serious publication.

But I know what it means to grow up without a sense of future. I am a survivor, my people are survivors.

My poem in the Parnassus anthology is called No Time. It's about my uncle, one of the leaders of the anti-communist resistance, who was executed on 31 December 1950.

They left his body exposed in the centre of the city as a warning to others. It was a very brutal gesture. He had three children and they were made to see it.

He was considered one of the most dangerous enemies of the system. He doesn't have a grave.

Nick Makoha

Nick Makoha was born in Uganda and fled the country with his mother during the Idi Amin dictatorship. He then lived in Kenya and Saudi Arabia before settling in London.

His writing deals with displacement, loneliness and the impact of forced exile. He is working on his first collection of poetry and also has a one-man show, My Father and Other Superheroes.

It's an honour representing Uganda. It's a place I'm really proud to be from but I don't know much about.

Part of the disconnect is that I stopped speaking my language when I was younger. But poetry has become my second language.

My mum says I wrote my first poem when I was six.

This is my passion. I'm one of the few people in the world who actually gets to live their passion.

A lot of people say they're not enjoying work. Me not enjoying work means that I've not been able to write a poem.

At Poetry Parnassus I'll be taking part in an event named after one of the poems in my new collection - Prayers for Exiled Poets. All the poets on the night have all experienced exile from their countries of birth.

My new collection is about Uganda and having to flee.

I left at the age of four. I remember being on the plane, and the overhead light almost blinding me, and the noise of the cabin pressure - it was like the breath of God.

I want to write a poem about it, but I haven't got the words for it yet.

Poetry Parnassus runs from 26 June to 1 July and is part of theLondon 2012 Festival.

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