Mbizo Chirasha Interviews Thomas Block, Founder of International Human Rights Art Festival (IHRAF); IHRAF Call for Entries, Creators of Justice Literary Awards

The International Human Rights Art Festival (IHRAF) is an iconic art for human rights platform,  A haven of freedom voices. This global Human Rights and Arts Culture Activism brand is endowed with creative excellence, artistic diversity, versatility, and organizational prowess.  On the 23 April 2020, before this beloved Earth got dressed in night gowns and before owls began to announce their deathly anthems, I sat with Artistic Curator and Producer Thomas Block of IHRAF beside the digital bonfire, somewhere near the fontanel of the internet jungle. Thomas Block brought with him ripe IHRAF berries, a jug of fermented literary gin and an artistic lantern. Mbizo Chirasha wielded a pen, a green-leaf writing pad and of course a poetry waxed  voice box. It is encouraging to discuss and archive excellence. Thank you, Thomas Block and the IHRAF Team for the good work and for affording us this great opportunity to enjoy the succulent IHRAF berries.” Mbizo Chirasha, Editor, Brave Voices Press and IHRAF 2019 Fellow


INTERVIEW

1.) MBIZO CHIRASHA: GIVE US AN OVERVIEW OF THE INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS ART FESTIVAL.  

THOMAS BLOCK: The International Human Rights Art Festival (IHRAF.ORG) provides a forum to international artists whose voices can be overlooked, underrepresented and, in some cases, actively repressed.  We offer live performances in all media, a literary magazine, an award, a recording platform, and a yearly International Fellowship. These represent the most important voices safeguarding the ideals of human rights and social justice: those whose only weapon is their passion, commitment and beauty.

The IHRAF not only provides these artists visibility, but it highlights the most important issues facing our societies: how to safeguard and expand human rights, social justice, democracy and equality, in all countries around the world.  We are especially drawn to artists around the world who promote these ideals through their dedication to truth and beauty.

We use the energy of this art to engage with stakeholders at all levels, including politicians, social leaders, NGOs and activists on the frontline of the struggle for truth and justice.

We have worked with artists and activists from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco, Iran, Uganda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Gambia, Zambia, Tanzania, South Africa, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, Haiti, Martinique, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela, Italy, Germany, France, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England, Australia, Sioux Nation, as well as most of the United States.

The IHRAF has presented more than 500 artists in twenty interim events and three week-long Festivals, all in New York City.  Additionally, IHRAF has published more than fifty writers on the IHRAF Publishes literary platform.  The organization has been covered more than thirty times in press outlets, including the New York Times, NBC TV Live!, Fox 5 Good Morning, Metro-NY, Huffington Post, Crain’s NY Business, New York Observer, Voice of America: Mandarin, AM and many others.

2.) MBIZO CHIRASHA: WHAT DIFFERENTIATES IHRAF FROM OTHER HUMAN RIGHTS, ARTS ACTIVISM, AND FESTIVAL PROJECTS?  

THOMAS BLOCK: Founded in 2017 at Dixon Place Theater in New York, the IHRAF is already the largest human rights art festival in the world. While there are nearly fifty human rights film festivals, very few art-activist organizations focus in an ongoing manner on performance of all types, including dance, theatre, music, spoken word, circus and any other method of bringing art and soul to a live audience.

Additionally, we separate ourselves from other arts-activism projects by our engagement with decision makers, from our honorary co-sponsors in the political realm (many United States Senators and Congresspersons), to our work with governmental agencies such as the NYC Commission on Human Rights.

We have also developed and implemented a number of other year-round, international manners of using art in the struggle for human rights and justice.  Our “IHRAF Publishes” platform publishes weekly art-activist literary work.  Our “Creators of Justice Literary Award” will highlight the best activist writing from around the globe.  Our “International Fellow” program highlights the work of a single art-activist every year, as well as introducing the IHRAF to their audience. Lastly, through our Direct Action component, we help artists-at-risk, whose activities have put them in harm’s way with their own, often repressive governments.

Taken together, we offer a unique manner of bringing artists’ voice and social change together.  And as we expand our programming, visibility and outreach, we will spread these voices of truth, beauty, sincerity and engagement ever-wider.

3.) MBIZO CHIRASHA: IHRAF PUBLISHS IS FAST GROWING AND SIGNIFICANTLY INFLUENCING THE GROWTH OF ARTS ACTIVITIES. WHAT ARE THE FUTURE PROSPECTS OF IHRAF LITERARY PUBLISHING?

THOMAS BLOCK: This is a very exciting aspect of our work — and we have published more than fifty pieces from around the world.  We currently publish work — poetry, essays and short stories — on a weekly basis, as well as inaugurating the Creators of Justice Literary Award, which will offer monetary awards and publishing opportunities to the winners.

We are also working on two anthologies: an online anthology of the best youth writing (under twenty-one), edited and produced by our Youth Fellow, Uma Menon, as well a print anthology of some of the best writing that we have published, from what will then be nearly 100 pieces to choose from.

The literary arts are central to the struggle for human rights, as well as reaching diverse and far-flung audiences.  We are excited about the growth of IHRAF Publishes and look forward to offering more initiatives under its banner in the future.


Video: Buwaso Ibrahim Razack – Dear God – Old folk for new poets; Music by Fernando Fidanza for International Human Rights Art Festival


4.) MBIZO CHIRASHA: SUMMARIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF THE  CREATORS OF JUSTICE LITERARY AWARD

THOMAS BLOCK: The Creators of Justice Literary Award highlights the best activist literary work from around the world.  We look for work based in our signature values of beauty, sincerity, vulnerability and engagement.  Words spoken from the mouth never get past the ears, but words spoke from the heart, enter the heart.  We provide a voice and transparency for writers who are underrepresented, repressed and sometimes in personal danger due to their unflinching commitment to using their word to support and further Truth.  We are honored by the work we have received, and as the Award submission period remains open until June 1, we hope to receive many more beautiful submissions!

© 2020, Mbizo Chirasha, Brave Voices Press

CALLS FOR ENTRIES

IHRAF CREATORS OF JUSTICE LITERARY AWARD

THERE IS NO ENTRY FEE FOR PARTICIPATION.

Deadline: June 1, 2020

Please send submissions to: ihrafpublishes@gmail.com with the subject line: “Creators of Justice Literary Award”

The International Human Rights Art Festival announces the creation of this new literary award, celebrating poetry, short stories and essays which use the written word to celebrate justice.

This ideal may be imagined in any manner in which the writer sees fit, however, it must be based in our signature values of beauty, sincerity, vulnerability and engagement.  We do not publish work or engage with artists whose work is based in anger, or stems from an “us v. them” mentality.  We feel strongly that all human conflict is representative of human spiritual immaturity — and no group of people, ethnicity or religion are immune from human spiritual immaturity.

There are three monetary prizes in each category: Poetry, Short Story and Essay.  Each writer may make one submission in each category (total of 3 submission per writer).  Awards are as follows:

  • First Prize: $150
  • Second Prize: $100
  • Third Prize: $50
  • Honorable Mention: 5 writers will have their work published on IHRAF Publishes

All winners and honorable mention writers will be considered for our IHRAF Publishes Anthology 2019-2020, which will be collected and published in summer 2021.


Jamie Dedes:

Your donation HERE helps to fund the ongoing mission of The Poet by Day in support of poets and writers, freedom of artistic expression, and human rights.

Poetry rocks the world!

FEEL THE BERN

For Peace, Sustainability, Social Justice

Maintain the movement.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders



“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

Poet Susannah Hart Selected UK’s Prestigious National Poetry Competition Winner

1935. Children playing cards in front yard in slum area near Union Station. Photographer: Carl Mydans / courtesy of the NY Public Library

“‘Reading the Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy was a poem that slowly got under our skin and into the bloodstream. It takes on big subjects, cunningly manipulating the impersonal and toneless phrasing of bureaucracy as the poem’s speaker tries to come to terms with evil. This daring poem, literally breath-taking in its execution, is in the form of a single sentence – so perfectly engineered the reader barely notices it. But nonetheless we feel the powerful effect, as it keeps our attention pinned to the poem’s terrible reality without release.” Maurice Riordan



Susannah Hart has been chosen as the winner of the prestigious National Poetry Competition, with her poem Reading the Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy.

Judges Mona Arshi, Helen Mort and Maurice Riordan selected the winning poem from 16,659 poems entered into the competition from 6,979 poets in 87 countries, including entries from every EU member state. All of the poems were read anonymously by the judges.

Told in a single long sentence that intensifies the momentum and the sense of building desperation, Reading the Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy uses the dispassionate language of bureaucracy and policy to counterbalance the cruelty and descriptions of acts of violence in the poem.

Judge Maurice Riordan said of the poem: “Reading the Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy was a poem that slowly got under our skin and into the bloodstream. It takes on big subjects, cunningly manipulating the impersonal and toneless phrasing of bureaucracy as the poem’s speaker tries to come to terms with evil. This daring poem, literally breath-taking in its execution, is in the form of a single sentence – so perfectly engineered the reader barely notices it. But nonetheless we feel the powerful effect, as it keeps our attention pinned to the poem’s terrible reality without release.”

Susannah Hart’s win follows on from her acclaimed debut collection, Out of True, which won the Live Canon First Collection Prize in 2018. Susannah’s poems have been widely published in magazines and online, including Smiths Knoll, Magma, The North, The Rialto and Poetry London.

Susannah said of the win: “It’s a mixture of disbelief and delight. I’m genuinely astonished that I’ve won. I enter the competition almost every year and have been longlisted a couple of times, but you never enter expecting to actually win. I feel very honoured to join the list of winners. For personal reasons, it’s also great to have this particular poem recognised. I’ve been a primary school governor for many years and I think this is the only poem that has arisen directly from that experience, so it feels very special to have that part of my life acknowledged. I remember telling my governor colleagues that I had written a poem about the Safeguarding policy and I think they thought I was joking.”

About the poem, Susannah said: “The poem’s original draft came quite quickly. I did in fact go for a walk after reading the policy, feeling very upset by what it contained – what it needed to contain – and I found myself thinking about ‘all the horrible things that someone somewhere is always doing to someone else’. And then when I looked at the draft of the poem I realised I could make more of the bureaucratic language that was already in there, so I looked again at the wording of the policy and lifted some more phrases from it.”

Since it began in 1978 the National Poetry Competition has been an important milestone in the careers of many of today’s leading poets, with previous winners including Helen Dunmore, Ruth Padel, Philip Gross, Carol Ann Duffy, Jo Shapcott and Tony Harrison.

Internationally praised and recognised, the National Poetry Competition continues to see an increase in entries year-on- year (2019 saw an 18 per cent increase in poems and a 17 per cent increase in entrants compared with 2018). Awarding a total of £9,400 prize money annually, the competition recognises individual poems previously unpublished, in an anonymised judging process. The judges only discover the identity of the winner after making their final decision.

Nine other winners were also named in the National Poetry Competition, including Ann Pelletier-Topping for her poem Granddaughter Moves In (Second Prize, £2,000), Natalie Linh Bolderston for Middle Name with Diacritics (Third Prize, £1,000) and seven commended poets (£200 each): Joe Dunthorne for Due to a series of ill judgements on my part; Charlotte Knight for MOONDADDY; Mark Pajak for Reset; Rosie Shepperd for Letter from Kermanshah; Louisa Adjoa Parker for Kindness; Cheryl Moskowitz for Hotel Grief; and Gerald Smith for Where Dedushka Comes From. All the winning poems will be published on The Poetry Society’s website. The top three poems are also published in the Spring 2020 issue of the leading poetry magazine, The Poetry Review.


First Prize for Reading the Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy

SUSANNA HART‘s poems have been widely published in magazines and online, including Smiths Knoll, Magma, The North, The Rialto and Poetry London. She has won several prizes for her work and her debut collection Out of True won the Live Canon First Collection Prize in 2018. Susannah is on the board of Magma. She works as a freelance copywriter and is a long-serving governor at her local primary school. She lives in London with her husband and two sons.

.

Poetry by Susannah Hart:


OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS FOR YOU:

The next National Poetry Competition opens in May. Entry forms will be available online HERE. The closing date is 31st October 2020.


Jamie Dedes:

Your donation HERE helps to fund the ongoing mission of The Poet by Day in support of poets and writers, freedom of artistic expression, and human rights.

Poetry rocks the world!



FEEL THE BERN

For Peace, Sustainability, Social Justice

The Poet by Day officially endorses Bernie Sanders for President.

The New New Deal

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders



“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

PEN America Announces Honorary and Career-Achievement Literary Awards; Rigoberto González – PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry

Courtesy of Francisco Delgado, Unsplash

The PEN America Literary Awards have, since their founding in 1963, brought together award-winning writers, editors, translators, and critics in dynamic and diverse panels of judges that determine the given year’s most resonant literature. Over the decades, the PEN America Literary Awards have expanded across genres, celebrating a wide range of writing and recognizing writers at every stage of their careers.



Tom Stoppard  courtesy of ru:Участник:KDeltaE under CC BY-SA 3.0

PEN America announced its major career achievement honors to be presented at the 2020 PEN America Literary Awards. Academy Award and four-time Tony Award winner Tom Stoppard will receive the PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award for Leopoldstadt, a work of epic scale and deep personal resonance that Stoppard has said may be his final play. Leopoldstadt, set in the old Jewish quarter of Vienna, where Jews fled persecution at the turn of the 19th century, makes its world premiere on London’s West End this week, at a time when anti-Semitism is surging throughout Europe and the U.S.

The PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature, honoring an author of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and/or drama with $50,000, will be given to M. NourbeSe Philip for writing that has, for four decades, merged vital formal experimentation and considerations of race, gender, colonialism, and African Diasporic identity. Playwright Tanya Barfield, critically lauded for works including The Call, Bright Half Life, and Blue Door, will accept the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award. Rigoberto González—poet, novelist, memoirist, critic, professor, and vocal champion of Latinx poets—will be honored with the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. The awards will be among those presented March 2 at The Town Hall, the largest venue in the history of the PEN America Literary Awards, in a ceremony hosted by Late Night host, comedian, and “influential recommender of books” (The New York Times) Seth Meyers.

Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, PEN America Director of Literary Programs, said, “Fostering and celebrating international literature is central to the mission of the PEN America Literary Awards; we seek to champion original and promising writers of the global community and promote their work to an American audience. This year, we are incredibly proud to honor such urgent and diverse voices, which we know have the power to awaken empathy and redefine public discourse.”

Tom Stoppard – Recipient of Honorary PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award

PEN America introduced the PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award in partnership with venerated late filmmaker and comedian Mike Nichols’ dear friend Lorne Michaels last year, when it was presented to Kenneth Lonergan. It confers a prize of $25,000 to a writer whose work represents the year’s best writing for performance, exemplifying excellence and influence in the world of theater, television, or film. At the March 2 ceremony, Lonergan, Cynthia Nixon, and Christine Baranski will pay tribute to Nichols and present the award to this year’s winner, Tom Stoppard.

At once elegant and variegated in their intellectual pursuits, Tom Stoppard’s twistingly cerebral plays are also suffused with humor and heart. Traversing time to extract new meaning from history and the literary canon, Stoppard dauntlessly maps the potentials and limits of human experience. In a review of Nichols’ 1984 production of The Real Thing, The New York Times deemed him “an intellect that has few equals in contemporary theater.” The Times (UK) has called him “Britain’s greatest living playwright.”

Stoppard’s newest play Leopoldstadt takes place in the eponymous old Jewish quarter of Vienna—where Jews from the Pale of Settlement migrated the late 1800s and early 1900s, seeking refuge from pogroms—and follows one Jewish family there across the first half of the 20th century. Though Stoppard often looks outward for influence, as evidenced in his works’ many references to and mind-warping reconsiderations of our literary past, he has described Leopoldstadt as a rare “personal” work. (Stoppard grew up fleeing the rise of Nazism, and his four grandparents were killed in concentration camps.)

M. NourbeSe Philip ­– PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature

Founded in 2016 in collaboration with the Vladimir Nabokov Literary Foundation, the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature is conferred annually to a living author whose body of work, either written in or translated into English, represents the highest level of achievement in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and/or drama, and is of enduring originality and consummate craftsmanship. Previous winners of the award include Sandra Cisneros, Edna O’Brien, and Adonis.

This year’s PEN/Nabokov Award judges—Alexis Okeowo, George Elliott Clarke, Hari Kunzru, Lila Azam Zanganeh, and Viet Thanh Nguyen—have chosen poet, novelist, and essayist M. NourbeSe Philip, who has bent and pushed poetry and prose in exhilarating directions, via vivid and fragmentary portraits of the pluralities of African Diasporic experience and searing indictments of the oppressive structures—legal, linguistic, social—carried across history into our present. The Tobago-born, Canada-based writer’s many singular, varied works include She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks, and Zong!

Tanya Barfield – PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award

The PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award reflects Laura Pels’s dedication to supporting excellence in American theater as well as PEN America’s commitment to recognizing and rewarding the literary accomplishment of playwrights. Recent winners have included Larissa Fasthorse, Sibyl Kempson, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Young Jean Lee, and Anne Washburn. Tanya Barfield’s “exquisite” (Time Out), “thoughtful and engrossing” (The New York Times) works—with by their resonance, poignancy, and meticulous social observation—epitomize the qualities the award was established to celebrate.

The judges of the 2020 award—Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Kirsten Greenidge, and Naomi Iizuka—write, “With a unique emotional vividness and political nuance, Barfield’s body of work-to-date explores the complications of lives lived on the margins of belonging or between so-called ‘identities.’…Whether it’s the black tenured math professor in Blue Door (2006) coming to terms with the literal haunting of his ancestors or the couple attempting to adopt an African child battling the specters of their own white privilege in The Call (2013) or the intersectional lovers in Bright Half Life (2014) possessed by the spirits of their younger selves in a newfound era of marriage equality, Barfield’s worlds are full of ghosts and it is only through a confrontation with them that the living truly learn what it is to live.”

Leigh Silverman—who directed the premieres of Blue Door, The Call, and Bright Half Life—will present the award to Barfield at the ceremony on March 2. Actor Kerry Butler, star of The Call, and award-winning actor, writer, and singer-songwriter Eisa Davis (Pulitzer Prize finalist for Bulrusher) will perform excerpts from Barfield’s work.



Rigoberto González – PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry

Rigoberto González courtesy of Carlos Parker under CC BY-SA 3.0

“I think, How clever time works, overlapping people’s lives at certain stages, and as some eyes are waking up, others are already closing, securing the continuity of the world. My mother and I were connected for twelve years. She also lived during a time I didn’t exist. And I, in turn, must now keep living when she does not. And yet my father, who still shares the same wheel of time, is more like my parallel line.” Rigoberto González, Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Miriposa

Sample some of Rigoberto’s poems HERE.

The PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, established by a bequest from Hunce Voelcker and given in even-numbered years, confers $5,000 to a poet whose body of work represents a notable and accomplished presence in American literature. The poet honored by the award is one who has expanded the scope of American poetry and continues to mature with each successive volume of poetry. Rigoberto González will be honored at the Ceremony on March 2, and will share a special reading of his poetry. Rigoberto González has authored five poetry collections, as well as two bilingual children’s books, and ten fiction and non-fiction books. A professor in the MFA program for Creative Writing at Rutgers University-Newark, he has served as a Faculty Member of CantoMundo; is a Founding Member of the Advisory Circle of Con Tinta, a collective of Chicanx/Latinx writers; and is a monthly columnist on Latinx literature for NBC Latino online as well as critic-at-large for The Los Angeles Times.

As this year’s panel of judges—Cornelius Eady, Deborah Paredez, Linda Gregerson, and Monica Youn—writes, González has “devoted his writing life not only to the development of his astonishing voice as a poet and non-fiction writer but to his astute and discerning craft as a reviewer and steadfast advocate for other Latinx voices.”

The judges continue, “Rigoberto González is one of our great mythmakers, cutting to the core of historical narratives and present-day calamities, exposing the faultlines of greed and violence, love and hunger, cruelty and corruption, family and tribe that pattern human experience. The son and grandson of migrant farm workers, and claiming a cultural heritage of lyricism and activism, he is attuned to the voices of the dead and the living, and he counsels us ‘To reach the dead // walk toward the structures still standing, / their windows still looking in.’”



About the PEN America Literary Awards

The PEN America Literary Awards have, since their founding in 1963, brought together award-winning writers, editors, translators, and critics in dynamic and diverse panels of judges that determine the given year’s most resonant literature. Over the decades, the PEN America Literary Awards have expanded across genres, celebrating a wide range of writing and recognizing writers at every stage of their careers.

In recent years, the PEN America Literary Awards ceremony has evolved from an auditorium event for winners and their families into a preeminent gathering of the city’s writing and publishing luminaries and passionate book lovers, who unite to celebrate diverse voices and catapult new writers to prominence. The ceremony encompasses live winner announcements, dramatic readings from selected award-winning works, and a moving In Memoriam segment, which recognizes the literary greats lost over the last year. Recent ceremony participants and attendees include Hari Kondabolu, Matthew Broderick, Candace Bergen, Lorne Michaels, Zadie Smith, Diane Sawyer, and Steve Martin.

While the career-achievement awards are announced in advance, the honors for individual works are announced from the stage. PEN America has previously announced Finalists for the 2020 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, honoring a book-length work of any genre for its originality, merit, and impact, and conferring a prize of $75,000 to its author. In their selection of Finalists, the 2020 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award judging panel—Marilyn Chin, Garth Greenwell, Rebecca Makkai, Michael Schaub, and William T. Vollmann—have elevated works that have reshaped the boundaries of form and signaled strong potential for lasting literary influence. The 2020 Finalists include Anne Boyer for The Undying (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Yiyun Li for Where Reasons End (Random House), Ilya Kaminsky for Deaf Republic: Poems (Graywolf Press), Rion Amilcar Scott for The World Doesn’t Require You (Liveright), and Chris Ware for Rusty Brown (Pantheon). The 2020 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award winner will be announced live at the March 2 ceremony.

PEN America has also released Longlists for other 2020 Literary Awards, which can be found here.

Tickets for the Ceremony can be purchased here.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. This organization champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


Jamie DedesAbout /Testimonials / Disclosure / Facebook / Medium Ko-fi

Your donation HERE helps to fund the ongoing mission of The Poet by Day in support of poets and writers, freedom of artistic expression, and human rights.

Poetry rocks the world!



FEEL THE BERN

For Peace, Sustainability, Social Justice

The Poet by Day officially endorses Bernie Sanders for President.

The New New Deal

Link HERE for Bernie’s schedule of events around the country.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders



“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

The Inaugural Freedom Voices Poetry Prize Goes to Nigeria and Zimbabwe; the winning poems

An annual international literature carnival, where writers, academics and readers discuss, critique literature. / copyright Litfest Harare

LitFest Harare Voices stitched together the November sacredness with the December Christmas fever.



Africa is gifted with a blessing of spoken word artists, literalists, wordsmiths and poetry arts activists. Recently in Zimbabwe dub poet and UNESCO Affiliate Chirikure Chirikure and fellow poets hosted a lineup of accomplished writers and poets through the the highly recognized literary arts fete Litfest Harare in partnership with Glasgow University, Daves Guzha’s Theatre in Park, United States of America Cultural Affairs in Harare and others. LitFest Harare Voices stitched together November sacredness with  December Christmas fever.

Poet Sotambe Pusetso Lame at 2019 Sotambe Festival
Mbizo Chirasha

The Sotambe Live Literature Hub curated by fellow poet Mbizo Chirasha saw poetic words bathing copper belt of Kitwe to welcome the beautiful month of October. The Sotambe Live Literature Hub was a collaboration of Sotambe Film, Documentary Arts Festival with the International Human Rights Arts Festival founded by Writer and Artist Thomas Block. The Festival brought together poets from the SADC region that included Pusetso Lame of Botswana, trailblazing Vanessa Chisakula of Lusaka Zambia, and the dare – daring Philani Amadeus Nyoni of Zimbabwe. Africa’s poetry year was capped by the Maruping festival (GBV issues themed festival) in Botswana in partnership with European Union Delegation in Botswana bringing poets from around the world.

In that same literary arts activism wavelength, the Brave Voices Poetry Journal and the Zimbabwe We Want Poetry campaign founded and curated by Mbizo Chirasha an internationally acclaimed literary arts projects curator and poet introduces the Freedom Voices Poetry Writing Prize, an International poetry writing contest that saw more than fifty poets and activists participating from all over the globe. The contest was judged by globally revered poets and acclaimed writers that included Professor Michael Dickel, Poet and Editor James Coburn, and Reputable Journalist and writer Omwa Ombara and Professional Writing Mentor Tracy Yvonne Breazile.

The Winners of the 2019 Freedom Voices Prize are:

  • Adesina Ajala, a Nigeria poet with his poem FOR KEN SARO-WIWA ( First Prize),
  • Chrispah Munyoro, a Zimbabwean Poet with her poem ECHO CHAMBERS (Second Prize), and
  • Christopher Kudyahakudadirwe, a South African based Zimbabwean poet with his poem THE BUDDS ARE FRUITING ( third prize) .
Deceased Nigerian poet Ken Saro-Wiwa for whom Adesina Ajala’s poem is written

There are seven special mentions. The winners are to be published in five digital poetry spaces including the new look Brave Voices Poetry Journal and the seven special mentions will be featured in two platforms including the BRAVE VOICES POETRY JOURNAL.

The 2019 Freedom Voices Poetry Writing Prize was paying Tribute to Unique Heroes/ Heroines. It is an Ode for Cadres of Resistance (human rights, anti-imperialistic, antiapartheid, freedom of expression, fight for political justice, right to economic justice and right to social inclusion) including:

  • Ken Saro-Wiwa for movement for the survival of Ogoni people ( Nigeria,) Dedan Kimathi (Kenyan liberation struggle),
  • Steve Biko (fighting inequalities in South African apartheid,)
  • Lookout Masuku (fighting for political justice in Zimbabwe),
  • Charles Dambudzo Marechera (PenSlinger of Truth in Zimbabwe),
  • Ambuya Nehanda (medium spirit of Chimurenga (war of liberation) in Zimbabwe),
  • Ruth First (South African fighter for civil rights),
  • Winnie Madikizela Mandela (Fighter for political and economic rights in South Africa,
  • Itai Dzamara (fighter for human rights and freedom of expression in Zimbabwe), and
  • Freedom Nyamubaya (gunslinger during war of liberation, poet against dictatorship regime in Zimbabwe).
First Prize Winner, Nigerian Poet Adesina Ajala

ADESINA AJALA (Nigerian Poet) on winning the First Prize

SOZA’S BOY AND THE LEMONA’S TALE

For Ken Saro-Wiwa

October 10, 1941,
A sweet cry creaked into the crevices of Bori,
Cascaded with the swings of time
into songs in a time of war.
Like the anopheles mosquito, war was the drill poking Basi & company—
an ethnic minority, crisp lands & fecund rivers.

Shrapnel of crude oil scared faces of waters.
Oil marched the wicks of farmlands, wrecked every lushness in its paths.
A forest of flowers wilted, shed petals,
Became silhouette on a darkling plain.
The singing anthill homed bland silence.
This loud silence would be treason merely set in some four farcical plays.

Berserk bites of genocide in [Ogoniland] Nigeria.
& the Sozaboy chanted the Lemona’s tale—
the agony in the Ogoni girl became bared on the transistor radio.

& the warlords wrangled Wiwa’s weighted words,
Clasped him like prisoners of Jebs,
& clenched his body between the teeth of gallows.

Tell the hand that cuts the mahogany, his stump has sprout fresh leaves.
This poem, a leaf, sways.

Adesina Ajala is sprouting Nigerian medical doctor and writer, Adesina Ajala, desires to grow roots in the loam of the pen and the stethoscope. He does not know how he would fare, but he believes in journeying, in chances, possibilities and the divine. His works have found home in Writers Space Africa, EBOquills, Libretto, Featiler Rays, Brave Voices Poetry Journal and elsewhere. He was the co-winner of the first place of 2018 TSWF Writers Prize. He is on Instagram as and tweets @adesina_ajala.

CHRISPAH MUNYORO (Zimbabwean Poet) ON WINNING THE SECOND PRIZE

Second Prize Winner, Zimbabwe Poet Chrispah Munyoro

ECHO CHAMBER

When eobiont is my father
Living in darkness
Languishing sodom and gommorah
Christened by vampires
Baptised in Hades
My toys,wails and anguish
Bathing with my sweat
Lullaby of sjamboks,button sticks and tear gases
I am a graduate of doom
Hunger and thirst my delicacies
Daughters and sons of darkness

That chieftain ,who rule by subterfuge
Who had fried his heart eons ago
In glee at the cries of the babies
Salivating in total erasure of humans
Ejaculating venomous fire
How then can i think paradise is there
When i am a citizen of hell
Pot trained to be a hardcore bandit
Shrivelling,flowers squashed mercilessly
Future suspended and eroded
Pissing on the precious blemis
Expecting fruits from cactus

Chrispah Munyoro says, “I am a woman who never backs on what she wants to achieve. Ambiguous and hard work is the keys to success. Patience is a virtue I live by I don’t want cut out turn success. The saltiness of sweat unlocks hidden destinies. I am a down to earth woman who looks up to God with zeal.”

CHRISTOPHER KUDYAHAKUDADIRWE (Zimbabwe poet based in South Africa) on Winning the Third prize

THE BUDS ARE FRUITING

Who will tell Dambudzo Marechera

That the seeds that he sowed in us
Have sprouted and are doing well?
That’s right, we want him to know that
The flowers he left slowly budding
Have unfurled their bright petals
To grace the garden of literary bliss
Allowing bees to drink nectar sweet verse?

Who will tell our gallant literary hero:
One of the few who made living prophecies,
About the fermenting corruption
By trying nipping sprouting nepotism
And the cancerous looting in the bud
That would seize our house of stone?

Who will tell Dambudzo Marechera
What has become of the house of hunger
Which he was mind-blasting about
While non-believers stood on the fence
Pointing accusing fingers at him?
But, let me say: never mind your departure.
We, the little buds, will continue
That work that you left unfinished.

Christopher ‘Voice’ Kudyahakudadirwe is a Zimbabwean freelance writer, poet and teacher living and working in South Africa. His first poems appeared in a magazine called Tsotso which was published by the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe in the early 90s. Over the years his poems have been published in the following anthologies among others: Harvest: The University of the Western Cape Masters in Creative Writing Poetry Anthology 2016, Best “New” African Poets 2015 Anthology, Zimbolicious Poetry Anthology Volume 1. And his short stories in, Ghost-Eater and Other Stories, New Contrast, Moving On and Other Stories. He is currently running a poetry blog called http://www.kudyahakudadirwe.wordpress.com where he publishes his own poems.

The Magic was also in the Judging

OMWA OMBARA

Omwa Ombara

“The competition was pretty stiff. I hated to let some poems go. I hope the rest get literary mentions. Thank you for the opportunity to judge.”

Omwa Ombara ( First Phase Judge ).Omwa Ombara is The Editor in Chief at Tulipange Africa Media, a diaspora based Magazine in United States of America and Contributing Editor of Women Global Affairs at WOMAWORDS LITERARY PRESS.

TRACY YVONNE BREAZILE

Tracy Yvonne Brazile

“Reading the poems, I was delighted to find polished and confident voices. The poets offered a promise of creative potential surpassing my expectations. The quantity and quality of the writing served to motivate and challenge the mind with a common respect for the voices that linger in our shadows, reminding us of the importance that poetry can bring to problems that demand solutions. The only problem that I found was removing some from the list. This task was far more difficult that I had imagined. In the end, the poems that most closely matched the guidelines were the only match for decision making.
They were all beautifully crafted in both form and function. Although ultimately, there will be a list of winners, I found all of the poems that I read to be prized pieces of poetry that deserve a standing ovation. I found letters meant for reading and listening. Literature and Orature. I do declare, this was a tough task. Thank you, Brave Voices Poetry Journal 67, for paying tribute to unique heroes and heroines and celebrating their uniqueness.
Although ultimately, there will be a list of winners, I found all of the poems that I read to be prized pieces of poetry that deserve a standing ovation. I found letters meant for reading and listening. Literature and Orature.”

Tracy Yvonne Breazile (Second Judging Phase). is a writer living in the United States of America. She was granted the opportunity to serve as Writer/Mentor in Residence with the 2018 Zimbabwe We Want Poetry Mentorship Program, originated by Mbizo Chrirasha. Breazile studied Language and Literature with a concentration in Professional Writing at Columbus State University, Columbus, Georgia, USA

JAMES COBURN

James Coburn

“I was happy to read each poem. Each writer should be encouraged, as well as the ones not chosen. It was a pleasure reading the force and magnetic insight of each word. These are living words with a life of their own. Powerful and penetrating, forged in the flame of heart and traversing fear. Their ancestors would be proud.”

James Coburn is an Oklahoma poet in the United States of America. Coburn has always valued the subtext of life and seeks to reveal its undercurrents. He believes indifference is the enemy of man as it is the benefactor of ignorance, racism and xenophobia” James Coburn (Third Stage Freedom Voices Poetry Writing Contest). is an Oklahoma poet in the United States of America. Coburn has always valued the subtext of life and seeks to reveal its undercurrents. He believes indifference is the enemy of man as it is the benefactor of ignorance, racism and xenophobia.

MICHAEL DICKEL

Michael Dickel

“Poetry contest judges almost always must comment on the subjectivity of what we do. While the Freedom Prize has criteria to decide the quality of the poems, which I used, how well we / I as a single reader see the fit of any given poem to those criteria has to do with myself as reader as much as to the poem itself.

In this case, there were four criteria:

  1. The poem fit the stated theme of the contest,
  2. the poem was indeed poetry and not slogans and clichés,
  3. the quality of the words and language used, and
  4. the originality and creativity of the poem.

The first round of judging selected a “short-list” of ten poems, from which I was asked to select and rank the three best poems. All of this done anonymously, of course.
Another reader reading the ten poems on the short-list of poems might have found other poems of more merit for one reason or another. Reasonable readers may disagree with each other. I had the honor of being asked to select, and I have chosen three that I think stood out. However, this was not an easy task.

The passion of the voices in these ten poems would come across to any reader. The music of the poems, with rhythm and rhyme flowing, consonance and assonance, sounds crafted into what we call poetry. The poet of each of these poems deserves praise both for political activism expressed as poetry and for caring for others, their people, and the world.

The Third Place poem I chose is The Buds Are Fruiting. In this highly original poem, we learn “That the seeds…” Dambudzo Marechera“…sowed in us/ have sprouted and are doing well…” and “The flowers he left slowly budding/ Have unfurled their bright petals…” Unfortunately, “fermenting corruption,” “nepotism,” and “cancerous looting” have also budded, and need to be nipped. Merechera is blamed and indicted by finger pointers. Yet, the poem ends with hope: “We, the little buds, will continue/ That work that you left unfinished.”

The Second Place poem, Echo Chamber introduced me to a new word, eobiont (a hypothetical primordial pre-life chemical) in its opening line. The poem moves from the “father” (of life?) to “Living in darkness” and moves through Sodom and Gomorrah, vampires that Christen the speaker of the poem in Hades…the speaker’s “toys, wails and anguish/ Bathing with my sweat…” This dark poem paints a vivid picture in images painted with a few words, and in these images we see and feel the suffering of Africa and its children from “That chieftain, who rules by subterfuge/ Who had fried his heart eons ago/ In glee at the cries of the babies…” This poem strongly condemns and indicts the cruelty of those in power who savor the suffering of others. Rather than taking responsibility and stopping the suffering, they savor it, and this has cost them their hearts (and souls).

(For Ken Saro-Wiwa), my selection as the First Place poem in the Freedom Prize contest, combines the strengths of these other two poems. It speaks to an historical figure, using strong images and poetic skill to create a poem that reaches the heart, lays bare injustices, but also ends with a type of hope. After a significant date in the first line, “October 10, 1941,” we read “A sweet cry creaked into the crevices of Bori…” The repeated hard “c”— cry, creaked, crevices— pulls us along with some dread, given their contretemps to the “sweet.” The next line begins with “cascaded,” repeating that same hard “c” into “the swings of time/ into songs in a time of war.” In the next stanza we read that “Shrapnel of crude oil scarred faces of waters.” The oil goes on to “march” through farmland, destroying the environment as it goes, until “  This loud silence would be treason merely set in four farcical plays.” We are given “genocide,” “warlords,” and “gallows,” along the way “the agony in the Ogoni girl became bared on the transistor radio.” And after Saro has been hung, where is the hope? “Tell the hand that cuts the mahogany, his stump has sprout fresh leaves./ This poem, a leaf, sways.” The hope comes from the poem, from poets. At least, we hope that this will be true.)

—Michael Dickel, Jerusalem, November 2019

Michael Dickel (Finalists Judge). Michael (Dickel) Dekel has authored six published books and chapbooks (pamphlets) of poetry and short fiction, and published over 200 individually published poems, short stories, and non-fiction pieces, in addition to book-reviews and academic articles—under his birth name, Michael Dickel.



RESILIENCE IS THE KEY 

“We advocate for freedom of expression and upholding of human rights through our voices of resistance –POETRY and Literary Arts Activism Interventions like the Freedom Voices Poetry Writing Prize.” MBIZO CHIRASHA is the Originator of the Zimbabwe We Want Poetry Campaign , Curator of the Brave Voices Poetry Journal and the Founder of the Freedom Voices Poetry Writing Prize .

Editor’s Note: This post is complied courtesy of Mbizo Chirasha, the three prize-winning poets, the four competition judges along with LitFest Harare, Brave Voices Poetry Journal, Freedom Voices Poetry Prize, and the Sotambe Festival. The poems, photographs and header illustration are under copyright to the poets, those photographed, and LitFest as noted.  The judges own their narratives and photographs.

The blogosphere being what it is – a soundbite world – I know readers will be tempted to skim. I would submit the material here is worthy of close attention, the poems and the judges commentary offer much for us to ponder as caring and conscious human beings and as poets. 



Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day jamiededes.com, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights and encourages activist poetry.  Email thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

About / Testimonials / Disclosure / Facebook / Medium

Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications: Five by Jamie Dedes on The World Literature Blog,  Jamie Dedes, Versifier of Truth, Womawords Literary Press, November 19, How 100,000 Poets Are Fostering Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton