International Poetry Festival: 50 Poems for Snow

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50 Poems for Snow is an international no-budget poetry festival taking place each year in a number of cities on the first day of snowfall. The festival takes place at night and in the outdoors. Three poets perform a few poems of their own, each of them adding one more by a classic author to whom the festival is dedicated that particular year. Besides poetry, 50 Poems for Snow is also an environmental event that raises awareness of climate change. We talked to Saša Šimpraga, its Zagreb edition and global coordinator, who is also an activist, writer and poetry enthusiast, about the festival, its origins and how a network of poetry lovers around the world made it into a global event.





The ninth edition of the international poetry festival 50 poems for Snow is being held this winter. It was founded by the poet Aleksandar Hut Kono and you in 2012 – what was the initial inspiration behind this project?


I was inspired by a place. Aleksandar Hut Kono and I are avid walkers and while he was still living in Zagreb (he is residing in London at the moment), we would often explore different parts of the city on foot. The location on which the Zagreb edition of 50 Poems for Snow festival has been taking place for years is something I didn't want to change. That's how I got the idea for 50 Poems for Snow festival – as a temporary event that complements the location while the location complements the festival.


One of the interesting things about the festival is how you managed to turn seemingly difficult organizational circumstances to your advantage. It's a no-budget festival, it relies completely on volunteer work and takes place in public spaces, at night, on the first day of snow, which means that the date of the festival in some cities is almost impossible to predict until the last minute. What wouldseem as aggravating circumstances to many, turned out to be a winning formula for you due to the simplicity of the festival concept which is easily replicable and is sure to attract true poetry enthusiasts. Can you expand on that and on the logistical challenges of organizing the festival?

 


We approached the idea without great expectations but we were counting on, and wanted from the start, for it to develop internationally. That's why the festival name is in English. Because the concept proved to be so easy and simple to carry out, the network slowly started to spread, mostly through people I would meet or get to know through mutual friends, often via social networks. The Toulouse edition, which has been organized for years by my ex-roommate from Istanbul, established a small tradition there and grew into a cultural event that builds on the initial concept since it includes their own lectures on poets, musical numbers etc. I'm really happy that people of all generations participate and that the festival is open for everyone who writes or just loves poetry. What the festival is maybe lacking by now is some kind of web site that offers a sign-up option, but that may happen in the future.



One of the things that make the festival distinct is its 'dispersed' character, the element of decentralization and democratization that is present from its inception. Namely, the prerequisite for the festival being held in each city are the local poetry lovers who are willing to take on themselves the organization of the festival, and both amateurs and professionals are called on to participate. Besides these default requirements (the first day of snow, night, three participants, the poet being honored that year, uniform visuals) everything else is left for the organizers to determine. Was this a part of an initial conception or has it developed from organizational 'limitations' that turned out to be an advantage, since it allowed the festival to grow organically and be held in these new circumstances when most cultural events are cancelled due to inability to comply with epidemiological restrictions?


The basic concept is set in advance, and it is up to local organizers to decide how to apply it or whether to adjust it a little. For example, 50 Poems for Snow in Bulgaria, in Sofian and Veliko Tarnovo, does a very active promotion of poets weeks before the first snow. Moreover, they have a very engaged translation community. In Zagreb, the translation of poems from honored authors has yielded some phenomenal, first ever translations e.g. the translation of Nicanora Parre's poetry by Aleksandar Hut Kono.


The Sofia edition of the festival was initiated by Simona-Alex Mihaeleva, a student of Croatian language at Sofia University whose professor was Magdalena Došen, a great poetry connoisseur and enthusiast and an invaluable member of our team.


Together we also started ALWAYS/ Poetry of Resistance Festival and Meg [M. Došen] founded Petrarca Fest, the only regional festival dedicated to sonnets, and Miljaković Days in Zagreb. She's currently living in Berlin and has already started a German edition of 50 Poems for Snow festival. As for the pandemic, a number of editions couldn't be organized precisely because of that, and every year some of already prepared editions are not held due to lack of snow.



The festival also has an activist side considering that it depends on the presence of snow and is held at night time, in complete silence, in an intimate atmosphere of a public space, all of which is getting harder to find in this era of climate change and light and sound pollution?


One of the most important aspects of the festival, apart from the promotion of poetry and discovering new poets, is to draw attention to climate change that is already directly affecting our festival. We also want to uncover an unseen character of some already known places in the city, but in a different part of the day and in different circumstances.


One of the things the festival strives to achieve is the intimate atmosphere during the reading of the poems. How important is the atmosphere not only for experiencing the poetry but also for making a connection with the authors who read their poems in front of the audience?


There are various elements that contribute to an ideal festival edition. One of them, of course, is the nature of the place itself and spatiality as an integral part of the experience. The audience is also a big part of the atmosphere, and the full attention given to poets in complete silence during the reading blows me away every time. Once again, we can see how the concept of a short happening works in our favor.


Looking back, how much do you think has changed since those first festival editions, not just generally in terms of the presence poetry has in public spaces but also regarding the visibility of the festival on a global level?


50 Poems for Snow festival is a marginal event and that is a part of its beauty. What has changed since the beginnings of the festival is that we are now marginal in more than 30 cities, 14 countries and 3 continents.


Who is responsible for the visual identity of the festival?


The first year of the festival we didn't think of making a poster. Since then, every year we usually entrust the creation of the poster to some of our friends who are designers. Every year a new poster becomes a festival trademark that connects all the nodes in our network. As far as design goes, we only ask for snow be present in some form. For example, designer Petra Milički created 'snow' from punctuation used in poems of Octavio Paz to whom the festival was dedicated that winter.


Do you have a favorite festival edition? Which festival editions have made the biggest impression on you?



One year there was so much snow and such bad weather that I thought that no one would show up,but to my surprise more than a hundred people came, all of whom listened to the poets in complete silence. What is interesting, at least in Zagreb, is that the number of visitors directly correlates with the amount of snow. The more it snows, and the worse the weather conditions, the more people show up.


I'm especially pleased that a few schools in Croatia, like the ones in Čakovec and Delnice, have joined our network and that we have been a part of their extracurricular activities for a couple of years now.


Is there anyone you would like to mention without whom the festival wouldn't be possible?


Without the audience and the poets there wouldn't be a festival. Just this winter more than 60 poets participated in more than 20 cities globally.