*UNESCO Director-General’s Message for 2015
The poet John Burnside wrote:
“If what we insist on calling
fate seems inexplicable or cruel
it’s only because
we lack the imagination
to wish for what it brings,
to brighten it
with something more inventive
This is the power of poetry. It is the power of imagination to brighten reality, to inspire our thoughts with something more inventive than dismay.
Poetry is the UNIVERSAL human song, expressing the aspiration of every woman and man to apprehend the world and SHARE this understanding with others, through the arrangement of words in rhythm and meter. There may be nothing more delicate than a poem and, yet, it expresses all of the power of the human mind, and so there is nothing more resilient.
Poetry is as old as humanity itself, and as diverse — embodied in traditions, oral and written, that are as varied as are the human face, each capturing the depth of emotions, thought and aspiration that guide every woman and men.
Poetry is intimate expression that opens doors to others, enriching the dialogue that catalyses all human progress, weaving cultures together and reminding all people of the destiny they hold in common. In this way, poetry is a fundamental expression of peace. In the words of Cherif Khaznadar, laureate of the UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture, “Knowledge of the other is the gateway to dialogue, and dialogue can only be established in difference and respect for difference.” Poetry is the ultimate expression of difference in dialogue, in the spirit of unity.
Every poem is unique but each reflects the universal in human experience, the aspiration for creativity that crosses all boundaries and borders, of time as well as space, in the constant affirmation of humanity as a single family.
This is the spirit of World Poetry Day, and this guides all of UNESCO’s work to strengthen humanity as a single community – by safeguarding poetic documentary heritage under the Memory of the World Programme, as well as humanity’s intangible heritage. This is embodied in the recent inscription of Al-Zajal on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This traditional Lebanese poetry expression espouses tolerance and dialogue to resolve conflict and strengthen social cohesion.
In times of uncertainty and turbulence, perhaps never before have we needed the power of poetry to bring women and men together, to craft new forms of dialogue, to nurture the creativity all societies need today. This is UNESCO’s message on World Poetry Day.
Cecil Rajendra’s works to be celebrated in conjunction
with World Poetry Day on Sunday at E&O Hotel
FIFTY years ago, Penang-based Cecil Rajendra, one of Asia’s most prolific poets, wrote his first collection of poems called Embryo.
“It was selection of romantic poems. I was a first year law student in London when it got published,” says Cecil over the phone from Penang yesterday.
The lawyer-poet made history when London’s Regency Press decided to publish it, being the first Malaysian poet to have his poems published in the literary capital of the world.
This Sunday, just a day after the World Poetry Day, Cecil, 74, will be celebrated in an elegant evening of poetry and music at Eastern & Oriental Hotel’s Grand Ballroom in Penang. The event called Celebrating Cecil Rajendra, marks the 50th anniversary ofEmbryo’s publication and promises to be a night of literary culture and much festivity. The event is organised by the Friends of Artistes Liaison and entry is by donation (for enquries, email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
The evening’s music will be provided by The Rozells and Gypsy Eyes, while poetry recitals will be part of the programme. Nazriah Alaudin, Ooi Kee How and James Lochhead will be presenting poems by Cecil, the late Usman Awang, Fadzillah Amin, Pablo Neruda and Adrian Mitchell.
“For the music, I have rewritten the lyrics of popular tunes such as Young Once (Young One by Cliff Richard), Penang Hill (Blueberry Hill by Louis Amstrong) and Amazing Haze(Amazing Grace). The songs are mean to be satirical in nature,” he reveals.
Beyond the stage, there will be an exhibition of books, paintings and posters inspired by Cecil’s works called 50 Lyrical Years of Passion, curated by Lee Khai from the Penang Museum. The launch of Personal & Profane – Selected Poems 1965-2015, a book (published by Clarity Publications) of selected poems by the poet, will also take place during this Sunday’s event.
“The new book (Personal & Profane) has poems that lean on topics like family, love, human rights and the environment. The timeline spans 50 years of my work,” he says.
Back in 2013, Cecil also authored the biography of of the late Rose Chan, Malaysia’s Queen of Striptease. Called No Bed of Roses, the book shed a different light on Chan, delving into her philanthropic works and her personal life.
Cecil, who studied at St Xavier’s Institution, University of Singapore and Lincoln’s Inn in London, was the first recipient of the Malaysian Lifetime Humanitarian Award for his pioneering legal aid work and inspirational poetry. He is a consultant to the Penang Legal Aid Centre.
He has been writing poems for over 50 years and has published over 22 collections.
His work has been published in over 50 countries and translated into several languages.
Several of his poems, such as Statistics, When The Tourists Flew In and The Animal And Insect Act have found their way into the curriculum of human rights, tourism, Third World, environmental and development studies.
He also received a Human Right Awards from the Malaysian Commission on Human Rights and was recently granted a Danish International Visiting Artiste (DIVA) award by the Arts Council of Denmark.