Archives for May 2012

Do you want recognition for your poetry by world poets?

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 16:16 UK time, Wednesday, 30 May 2012

You might know that as a part of the London Games there is a great variety of cultural events taking place in UK. Poetry Parnassus - the biggest ever gathering of living poets - is one of them. Poets from more than 200 countries represented at the Olympics will be taking part in it.

The organisers of this event, which will run in London's Southbank Centre between the 26 June and 1 July, have announced that this hugely ambitious project will include readings, workshops and discussions with all the poets who were nominated through public voting.

They said: "Never have so many poets and so many languages been together in one place, with each poet contributing a poem in their own language."

The poems from each of the 200-plus countries will then be presented together in the World Record Anthology.

Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage is a well-known English poet

One of the organisers of the event is Simon Armitage, an artist in residence at the Southbank Centre. He said: "My hunch is that this will be the biggest poetry event ever - a truly global coming together of poets and a monumental poetic happening worthy of the spirit and history of the Olympics themselves."

I am representing Uzbekistan at this festival and I'm especially looking forward to the remarkable Rain of Poems, as 100,000 bookmark-shaped poems, collectively weighing half a tonne, are released from a helicopter in just half an hour, to be caught by a crowd waiting at the Jubilee Gardens next to the London Eye.

London's Jubilee Gardens

London's Jubilee Gardens are being redeveloped in time for the Olympics

Julio Carrasco, part of the artists' collective Casagrande, said that Rain of Poems had begun life in Chile after the imprisonment of Augusto Pinochet, as a celebration of the people's new-found freedom to express themselves publically.

He said: "Like the people of Santiago de Chile, Dubrovnik, Guernica, Warsaw and Berlin, Londoners have suffered heavy aerial bombing and theirs has been a city under siege. Casagrande brings Rain of Poems to London as an expression of peace and healing."

One of my poems will be flying in the sky of London too...

To tie in with the Poetry Parnassus at the end of June, we are planning a World Poetry Day at the World Service, when we'll be inviting lots of poets onto our programmes.

And that's where you come in. Whether you are BBC staff or a listener or a reader of the World Service with poetic talents, why not write a poem about London or the Olympic Games and send it to me either through comments below or via my Facebook page?

Your poem will be judged by the leading poets we'll invite onto the World Service and the winner will get not just their recognition, but also a special memorabilia prize. I look forward to reading your poems as I open the Parnassus to everyone.

Public cuts extended to...

Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 15:40 UK time, Thursday, 24 May 2012


A recently cut tree in North London

A recently cut tree in North London

I’m not sure whether this is happening in other parts of Britain, but in North London a great number of trees  have been cut down to their trunks. From the end of May, having been maimed and disfigured, they are now struggling to produce new branches and leaves.

I have asked several of my neighbours what can be behind this latest move by our local authority. Could this all be part of a zealous new extension of public spending cuts into a completely new area?

Some people have suggested that this is due to preparations for the London 2012 Olympics. Others suspect health and safety issues. The idea being that if the branches are cut, they will not fall from the trees and kill any passers-by on the street below.

It’s difficult to believe in this logic. It’s like cutting off someone’s hands because they might punch you in a scuffle. It seems an almost prehistoric way of justice. There was a gorgeous pathway in Trent Park, North London, where the crowns of the trees intertwine above your head for a half of a mile. Now the ghostly trunks nakedly stand as organic surrealistic sculptures.

Many years ago we lived next to a public orchard. One day I noticed that my daughter (who was 6 years old at the time) was frantically cutting patches of paper with scissors instead of doing her homework. I decided to check on what she was up to. She was preparing hundreds of notes with one sentence on them: ‘People, don’t break the branches’. The notes were pinned on the tress in the orchard. This was her first conscious political activity.

Now, I somehow feel the same. Nearly two years ago, the trees in the most beautiful park in the centre of Tashkent (some being 150 years old) were cut down.

I received many emails and letters of support from my British friends. I now think that the tree-cutting plague has finally reached London.

I wouldn’t be a journalist if I didn’t call one of the leading tree pruning services in London. I wanted to find out more about the thinking behind the idea of trimming trees to their trunks. The answer was quite technical: maintenance of trees. I’m not an ignoramus who hates science and progress. The engineering word ‘maintenance’, applied to what I consider live organisms, made me understand their way of thinking.

The lady I spoke to on the phone began a long explanation about what it means to maintain healthy trees, so they look nice and live longer.  I asked about the health and safety considerations. She said that it played a big part in the decision to prune the trees, so they did not fall on passers-by.

This lady was only the public voice of this initiative. There must be a group of people who sit in council offices sanctioning the disfigurement and maiming of trees in London. This demonstrates their zeal to extend the cuts in public services to new areas. Less branches – less problems!

This provided me with a metaphor which does not just explain the essence of the zeal to cut. More free ranging branches and leaves in the crown of a tree give more oxygen. By cutting them down to the single trunk, you are cutting your oxygen...

I open the door, it turns into a tree,

screeching in the wind,

I shelter from wind and it turns into a tree,

branches crawling as if through a hole,

I plug the hole with the palm of my hand, it turns into a tree, numbing at once

Numbing, I call out to a friend, and my friend turns into a tree,

making noise with his crown,

It seems my soul is tearing apart, it too turns into a tree,

dropping its leaves,

I cry and I breathlessly wait, and my tears turn to a tree,

of fingers grown to the face.

Hardly alive, I turn towards you, and you will too turn into a tree

And through your branches the sunset

Will look not with an eye of a stranger

As the last in the tribe of trees

At a forlorn and left behind garden.


Do we all live double-lives?

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 14:34 UK time, Friday, 18 May 2012

The idea that 'real' life’ lurks elsewhere and that the life we are living is just, in
fact, a shadow of it, is as old as mankind itself.
The 'Hereafter', Hell and Paradise are all about it.
But there are smaller scale implications of that universal concept in
our everyday lives.

During my time living in the Soviet Union I used to believe that
those 'double-lives' are a Soviet phenomenon: you live as the Party and
the Motherland requires on the surface, but deep inside - as your human
nature requires. Having since moved around the world a fair bit, I
started to notice the same in many other places and cultures.

Afghans, loyal during the daytime to the Soviet forces, turning into
mujahideens when the night fell; French ouvriers, meeting me as a
representative of the proletarian country with their internationalistic
embrace 30 years ago, who recently embarrassingly hid their
newly-nationalistic eyes; my peaceable mates from a local gym, from time
to time turning into football hooligans, and so on.

It's not just about doom and gloom. There's the office worker or a
salesman from a neighbouring street who queues for hours and hours for
The X-factor, The Voice or Britain’s Got Talent; a single mum, who sits in a town
park writing the next Harry Potter - they are all about the same
So does a lion-tamer live in every chartered accountant as it was
famously shown in Monty Python?

Composers try to show the essence of that 'real' life through sounds,
whereas poets like Tyutchev say: 'The expressed thought is a lie',
referring us either to the silence or a mystery of the primordial, or
pre-verbal world.

Scientists are changing DNA and cloning alternatives, people are
changing their gender and the search for the better life which exists
elsewhere or for the Holy Grail is continuing.

The pastures are greener somewhere else says an old proverb in the book
I read and the young Swedish rock-band playing on my teenage son’s CD player
echoes  this: 'Somewhere else... Somewhere else...'
This intrinsic quest, this inbuilt search engine, this inner Google sits
so deep in us that even the most conventionally successful of
human-beings are also prone to it.

Recently I watched an interview of a world-famous Russian conductor, who
was regretful of his pianist career that never happened.
There is an anecdote about a world-renowned chemist, Dmitriy Mendeleev, who
had invented the Periodic Table of chemical elements. When he came to
his native town at the height of his fame, his school design teacher
said: 'How could he have wasted his wonderful talent of a carpenter?' -
and he wasn't joking!

The shadows and the ghosts of another life, another reality are
following us, but sometimes it seems to me that just like the folkloric
hero Mullah Nasreddin, sat on his donkey and dangled a long stick with a
bunch of hay in front of the stubborn animal to make it move,
they do the same for us...

Austerity as it is seen from the other end

Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 15:52 UK time, Friday, 11 May 2012

My mother died quite early on in my life. I was brought up by my Grandmother in a family where butter was a monthly bonus and sweets were a rare treat. My school boy uncles, who were like my brothers, would share the same pair of shoes. One uncle studied in the morning and another in the afternoon. I had the same routine with regards to a pioneer’s tie which belonged to our neighbour's boy. He used to hand it over to me when he returned from school in the morning.

My Grandmother was a funny, life-loving character and she loved to tell us jokes about a folk hero, Mullah Nasreddin. In the middle of the night, Mullah was once woken up by thieves rummaging around in his house. He asked them: 'Are you looking for something valuable in this darkness? Then you should know that we can't find it even in daylight!'

When I read about so called austerity in the Western world, I think about my Grandmother and her joke. I wrote a poem some time ago which has a connection with the theme of austerity.

One can’t lose what isn’t there.

I hammered in the stake and tied up the cow.
Perhaps I equated the rope to life
with the written words.

There is a hole at the bottom of my heart.
However many words I compressed and hurled out
this mouth of the hole never closes.

One can’t lose what isn’t there.

Before my eyes are the clouds of grass.
This too will one day disperse.
That’s all, enough now, I say.

We sucked the unboiled milk of a pure dream.
Clamping the heart we smeared blood.
Flying up into the blue we fell to earth.

The tongue grinds and the ears don’t hear.

One can’t lose what isn’t there.
One can’t lose what isn’t there.

What I was saying was not something extraordinary or exclusive. I could have written another 'Gavroch' or 'Oliver Twist'. I know that at least half of the world’s population live the same kind of life, where a slice of bread and a glass of water is their daily menu. I'm not promoting universal poverty but trying to look at so called austerity from a different perspective.

Something must be wrong with the world when we are obsessed with wealth, where the top individuals in the Forbes Rich Lists have bigger assets than entire nations, where media attention is disproportionately skewed to bonuses and pay-offs for bankers rather than to those for whom austerity is a normal way of life.

As my Grandmother would say: It's the world built up from the roof rather than from the foundations.

She would tell another parable about a man who thought that a room, where he lived, was too small for him. The same Mullah Nasreddin advised him: 'Throw a party and invite your relatives for a day. Then call your neighbours and their children and get a couple of passers-by to pop in. When all of them leave your house, you will see how big your room really is.'

While attending a fair, Socrates once said: 'So many things, which I don't need'.
The world of exponential growth is rather like an enticing and indulging fair. Maybe it is time to follow suit in the footsteps of wise men and come back to basics by trying to rebuild ourselves in this world on the basis of what we really need.


Where does Central Asia move to?

Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 22:06 UK time, Thursday, 3 May 2012

I recently went to the very centre of Central Asia in Kazakhstan to find out how the region is dealing with the impact of ever more rapid change from outside and from within.

From the scramble for global energy supplies to the Afghan conflict, the region of Central Asia is steadily growing in strategic importance.

More and more Western politicians travel to the area which have proved vital in supporting the US led alliance fighting in Afghanistan. And when troops and equipment will be withdrawn over the next two years, Central Asia will be the gateway.

Energy hungry economies from China in the East to the EU in the West are striking deals with oil and gas rich nations of Central Asia.

But there's much more that defines the countries of a region with a rich spiritual past. And as the five former Soviet Republics: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan adapt to a new global economic order, the future for many is challenging.

But 'it is better to see once than hear one hundred times' as the local proverb goes.
Here's a film about Central Asia, moving simultaneously towards the future into the 21st century and still clinging towards the past of the 19th century.

Central Asia: On the road to modernity part one

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Central Asia: On the road to modernity part two


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