Towards an assessment of the 23rd Medellín International Poetry Festival

“If there is peace, spring will come”

Towards an assessment of the
23rd Medellín International Poetry Festival


Video by youtube/revistaprometeo

By Jairo Guzmán
Direction Committee 23rd Medellín International Poetry Festival

On July 6, 2013, the solar splendor of the afternoon and the groups of people travelling from different parts of Medellín towards the Nutibara hill, summoned to be a part of the mythical audience of the Medellín International Poetry Festival, radiant in their collective conscience, reminded us of those solar rituals which celebrated the gifts and mysteries of Earth.

A contemporary experience, with the mythical essence of gathering around poetic vision, which becomes collective when a crowd, having honed its listening attitude, becomes a radiant unit, thanks to the unfolding of a great spiritual energy turned into a protective shield, through the powers of the poem resolved into the voice.

Towards a thousand years of peace for Colombia” has been the motto, the message presented to all the local, national and world community during the 23rd Medellín International Poetry Festival, with the aim of promoting collective sensitivity through poetry, and thus contributing to the construction of a cultural and spiritual atmosphere, favorable to the advent of peace and thus to the end of fratricide, poverty, exclusion and social injustice.

Held on July 6 to 13, 2013, with the participation of 70 poets from 42 countries in the five continents, it consisted of a hundred and forty-five acts, performed in the city of Medellín and four of its districts, in five municipalities of its metropolitan area, in fourteen municipalities of the department of Antioquia and in four cities of Colombia. 

With this twenty-third version of the festival it was confirmed that poetry, as a substance which transforms awareness and social life, is the radiant marrow of this experience, of this congregation achieved through the magnetism of poetic expression, with the presence and the voice of the world’s poets and, above all, with the lucidity, listening capacity and spiritual height of the audience which is its essence. It has its roots in myth because it reaffirms us in symbol, memory and word, which enable us to venture into the labyrinths of origin, guided by the threads (mythos) of language.

This time the Festival proposed the poetic experience as a way of re-signifying myth and utopia, for which purpose the community was kept informed, during the months prior to the event, through the publication on the festival’s website,, of essays submitted by poets invited to the event which addressed these issues.

Then, within the framework of the Festival, there was held the meeting Myth and Utopia. Towards a thousand years of peace for Colombia, in which several poets laid out their viewpoints on the importance of endowing the experience of myth and utopia with a renewed sense in accordance with our historical moment.

Fotografía Sara Marín. Werewere Liking y Josaphat Robert Large en la clausura del 23 Festival de Poesía de Medellín
Werewere Liking and Josaphat Robert Large. Closure 23rd Medellín International Poetry Festival

The intervention of poet Werewere Liking, from Cameroon, Ivory Coast, was very lucid and enlightening with regard to the issues addressed. At one point of her intervention she said:

Poetry is the force that maintains the myth. It is the same soul sailing between the past and the future. Poetry is the one that expresses and re-signifies the experience of words, smells, shapes, sounds and music. It is there so that the soul may find the plenitude of its vital experience. Poetry enables a plural, fertile language, capable of expressing pain, pleasure, violence, and peace with equal intensity. There is no hope in myth or utopia without the intermediation of poetry itself. Millions of people die in the midst of horror, but it is humankind itself that withers, condemning itself to a senseless existence. Poetry must lead collective thought if we want to experience the victory of human liberation. We must unchain the true evolution as a species, from the strengthening of symbolic efficiency. The true poet is the unified soul of the tribe”.

Fotografía Sara Marín. Nguyen Phan Que Mai en la clausura del Festival
Nguyen Phan Que Mai intervenes in the closing of 23 Medellin Poetry Festival

Vietnamese poet Nguyen Phan Que Mai was very impressed by the lofty, loving and committed manner in which the Medellín community assumed this treasure of its spirit, poetry. She expressed her admiration for the people who attended the Festival’s events and highlighted its true qualification for assimilating poetry lucidly and emotively, but also critically and with greater participation. 

The above statement of the Vietnamese poet confirms that the community benefiting from the Festival’s activities has become remarkably qualified, which is shown in its desire for participation, real interest in poetic expression, and its ease and lucidity of interrelation with poetry and the poets.

 Fotografía de Sara Marín
Closure 23rd Medellín International Poetry Festival

This version of the Festival has shown a true progress, towards a consolidation of a luminous zone in the collective soul, increasingly expanded, increasingly nourished by dream and the will to change, the will to recover the wounded sensitivity of a people that goes through difficult trials, with a youth in constant risk before the conflicting forces.

It is thus very satisfactory to know that seventy percent of attendees are young people who each time incorporate, vitally and in a soul-shaping way, the renovating contributions promoted by the Festival. As a result of the Festival’s relationship with the Medellín youth, this year there participated the two winners and one finalist of the II Young Poetry Award of the City of Medellín and its Metropolitan Area. Their participation has been a great contribution towards the city’s cultural renewal process. With this experience, the youth of Medellín have acknowledged that there is inclusion and that they are and will be considered, because they are an essential part of this process.  

This year the audience attendance was higher, which shows that there is popular support from a crowd increasingly prepared to keep promoting a spirit of cultural change which preserves and extends the interpersonal connection between participants who understand that the Festival is the historic result of an urgent need to heal the collective soul, after resisting for more than two decades in the midst of still-enduring conflicts.

This authentic response to our summons has been rewarded by the human and poetical quality of the poets participating this year. Thus poet Rosa Chaves, from the Maya Nation, Guatemala, who has directly witnessed the experience of conflict in her country, expressed what this year’s Festival motto means to her:

I belong to the postwar generation and we are within that context. To build 1,000 years of peace you need to overcome many challenges – among which one of the most important is the reconstitution of being, assuming the good living for equity. We need to rethink ourselves, rethink anthropocentrism. Return to the world view. We are united in the fight for the defense of Mother Earth. We assume the power of poetry for change and urgent transformations. As poets we are committed to creating decolonized knowledge: it is a matter of returning to the root. We need a spiritual decolonization. To return to the spiritual, to resuming the spirit’s energy. The survival of our culture, thanks to our spirituality’s vitality. Also urgent is a decolonization of actions, from what each one of us does. All and every one of us has a lot to contribute. It is a question of reconstructing the social tissue in a territory where there are war and pain still. We need to heal spirit and memory. There is a lot of historic pain that can be transformed into art and poetry”.

Fotografía de Natalia Rendón Fotografía de Sara Marín
Closure 23rd Medellín International Poetry Festival

It must be stated that the vital and renovating force deployed by the Festival effects a great human, cultural and spiritual transformation on the poets – a two-way benefit. Poets, at the end of the event, tell of how this experience transforms them and places them in a human condition so different that they change their former hopeless attitude – and confirm that a new humankind is possible through the force of song and the word that creates union and the vision of a fairer world at all levels of the human dimension.

At the international impact level, the 23rd Medellín International Poetry Festival has significantly contributed to the group of poetic actions of the World Poetry Movement (WPM). This has enabled Medellín to retain its world position as a key point of reference, standing out as a juncture of cultures and living forms of the poetic expression. This turns the city’s inhabitants and the guest poets into true protagonists of the intercultural space for cultural and spiritual growth.

A very intense schedule was carried out and fulfilled each one of the Festival’s action lines.

The scheduled poetry readings were held and succeeded both in quality and in participation and great level of attendance.

The training activities of the 17th International Poetry School were commended and acknowledged by the attendees. Success was highlighted, both in the quality of all the courses, workshops and conferences, and in the human quality and qualifications of all the poets who carried out 43 training activities, aimed at 1,200 people. There was a remarkable increase in the number of active, impressive and committed participants, with their responsible and creative contributions as well as their open-minded, flexible and sensible attitude.

 Fotografía de Sara Marín
Closure 23rd Medellín International Poetry Festival

One of the most relevant results of the 17th International Poetry School was its closing act at the closing of the 23rd Medellín International Poetry Festival. It was an excellent closing, with a lofty collective spirit, connected with the gestural poem delivered by Valentin Tszin and his students at the Body Semiotics course. An avant-garde work was presented, endowed with all the plastic and poetical gifts, which acquired great force and sense after a five-hour reading.

The Festival’s editorial line was able to timely present the printed reports on the event, gathered in a volume which contains issues 94 and 95 of Prometeo poetry magazine. These were circulated during the festival. The publication was a success, both in its printing quality and in its contents. It becomes a relevant contribution to the knowledge of the work of authors from the five continents who had for the most part not been published in Spanish before and whose work is seldom circulated in our midst.

The other equally important line of action, which was carried out with great quality and professionalism, is that developed by all the actors and persons in charge of reading the translations of guest poets writing in languages other than Spanish. We quote a few comments on what this 23rd Medellín International Poetry Festival inspired in readers and attendees:

“At the opening and closing acts there was a young energy hovering on the place, an offering on the part of the poets, Prometeo, and the audience”.

“The audience honors the Festival’s and poetry’s gesture, stays for six hours receiving and giving. The closing is a paradigm for another humankind, in which we may all receive the peoples’ legacy of spiritual beauty and become, as individuals, a more poetic being. The mass disappears and the individual is fed”.

“It is an expression of the world’s culture. It is an act of the city, an opportunity for the city to be filled with world, tongues, cultures. There is great richness in the variety of tongues and experiences showcased in the Festival”.

“There is a multidisciplinary social complex at work from art in the Festival. At the closing, poets have had an emotional release and some manage to express, with their poetry and complementary arts, their gratitude to Medellín in a new way”.

“The Festival makes a contribution to a society traditionally educated in conservatism, cultural and geographic isolation, violence and non-dialogue”.

“The Festival is a hill of voices, a poetic feat”.

Published at August 2013.

Última actualización: 04/07/2018