Books: Local author launches Balkan Poetry Today

Joe Melia, August 9, 2017

Edited and compiled by Bristol-based writer and journalist Tom Phillips, Balkan Poetry Today 2017 is the first edition of a new annual journal featuring contemporary poetry from across South East Europe.

Tom Phillips’ interest in SE European literature dates back to his first visit to the region in 2006. Since then he has set up Culture Exchange Experiment, an informal network of writers and artists in SE Europe and the UK, and Colourful Star, an Anglo-Bulgarian online art/poetry project. He has also taken part in academic conferences, and cultural exchange and translation projects in various parts of the region.

Phillips’ writing about the area has appeared in a number of publications and his translations of contemporary Bulgarian poetry have been published in both Modern Poetry in Translation and Raceme. His own poetry has been translated into Albanian and Bulgarian, and Unknown Translations, a bilingual collection of poems he originally wrote in Bulgarian, was published in Sofia by Scalino in 2016.

“For me, one of the most interesting things about this whole project (Balkan Poetry Today) is that people are very excited about being able to read contemporary poetry from a region which has only sporadically figured on the literary radar in the English-speaking world,” says Phillips. He goes on to say that: “The writing scene in that part of Europe is incredibly dynamic. There’s a lot going on – publications, festivals, events of all kinds – and there’s an audience for it all too.

“The young Bulgarian poet Iliyan Lyubomirov’s debut collection sold something like 5,000 copies within days of publication while events like the long-running Struga Poetry Evenings in Macedonia are hugely popular and attract major writers from across the globe. There’s an energy there that I’ve only rarely encountered elsewhere and writers themselves are very open to discussing ideas for new and collaborative projects.”

The poets featured in the first issue of Balkan Poetry Today (Red Hand Books, £8.99) include young and up-and-coming writers as well as established literary figures. It contains the work of more than 30 poets from a dozen different countries.

On the subject of getting some of the poets to perform their work in Bristol Phillips says: “We do eventually hope to bring some of the writers featured in this and future issues of Balkan Poetry Today to Bristol. This won’t be for a while, though – largely because my wife and I are moving to Sofia for a couple of years in September.

“Thanks to the residency at the Sofia Literature and Translation House, I’ve got some translation, editing and teaching work lined up and it’ll also be a chance to develop some of the ideas I talked about with writers and artists there last summer. We’ll also be hosting a few visiting UK-based writers in Sofia and so I hope that we’ll be able to get some funding and reciprocate by bringing writers from the Balkans to read in Bristol and elsewhere in a couple of years’ time.”

Balkan Poetry Today (£8.99) is available in a limited edition print version: http://www.redhandbooks.co.uk/.  An e-book version will be available soon.

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