Poetry Friday: Meeting up with Debjani Chatterjee

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Let's Celebrate! Festival Poems from Around the World. edited by Debjani Chatterjee and Brian D'Arcy (Frances Lincoln, 2011)I was in Sheffield (UK) yesterday and met up with Debjani Chatterjee and her husband, fellow-poet Brian D’Arcy, which was definitely something to celebrate – so for today’s Poetry Friday, I turn to the recent book they edited together, Let’s Celebrate! Festival Poems from Around the World, imaginatively illustrated by Shirin Adl (Frances Lincoln, 2011). And since the joyous Jewish festival of Purim falls this weekend, here’s the beginning of “Three Loud Cheers for Esther: A Poem for Purim” written by Debjani and Brian:

Listen to the tale of Esther:
The story of a savvy queen
Who became her people’s saviour.
Let’s hear: ‘three loud cheers for Esther!

Stamp your feet and shake your gregger…’

The whole poem evokes a traditional Purim spiel, reflected also in Shirin’s illustration in the book, which shows a young audience enjoying a puppet play, greggers and hamentaschen in hand, for, as we learn in the backmatter information About the Festivals, “Home-made rattles called greggers are shaken to drown out Hamen’s name whenever it is mentioned.  Poppy-seed cakes called hamentaschen or ‘Haman’s ears’ are eaten.”

Let’s Celebrate! is a wonderful gathering of poems, bringing together a whole world of festivals, so I was delighted to hear that a second anthology, this time about children playing around the world, is nearing completion. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye open for it and I’ll keep you posted!

It was lovely to catch up with Debjani and to meet Brian – thank you, both.

Poet Debjani Chatterjee and Marjorie Coughlan (PaperTigers) in SheffieldPaperTigers

Debjani shared with me some of the beautiful poster poems she had created as part of a community mother-daughter poetry project with Roshni Sheffield Asian Women’s Resource Centre. She is also very  involved in running a local cancer support group called The Healing Word, and you can read some of her powerful poetry about her own cancer journey in her Dare to Dream collection, and in this issue of Poetry Express, the journal of Survivors’ Poetry, which promotes poetry by survivors of mental distress (Debjani is its patron).  Debjani is also a noted translator of poetry – do read these “Eight Poems by Five Bengali Poets” and her prize-winning translation of some of Bangladesh’s national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam’s work.  You can find out more about Debjani and her many books of poetry and children’s stories on her website.

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Sheri Doyle – head on over… And Happy Purim!

Week-end Book Review: Let’s Celebrate! Festival Poems from Around the World

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

Edited by Debjani Chatterjee and Brian D’Arcy, illustrated by Shirin Adl,
Let’s Celebrate! Festival Poems from Around the World
Frances Lincoln, 2011.

Ages 5-11

Let’s Celebrate is an effervescent anthology of diverse poetry put together by poets Debjani Chatterjee and Brian D’Arcy. It invites young readers to share in the exuberance of a wide array of festivals celebrated around the world. Starting with “The Chinese Dragon” bringing in the Chinese New Year, ending with “Kwanzaa” in December, and visiting different cultures, countries and religions in between, the book takes children on a journey whose unifying thread is the happiness that each of the festivals awakens. Children will likely find poems relating to festivals that are familiar to them, and their curiosity will be aroused to find out about the rest. Endnotes about each festival give relevant background; and again, children may want to know more after reading them.

The poems themselves come in a variety of forms – some with regular patterns of rhyme and meter, others in free verse. There are choruses that just have to be chanted aloud, like “Carnival! Carnival! Everybody shout out – Carnival!” in Valerie Bloom’s wonderful poem “Carnival”. There are also translations, like the selection of Japanese “Cherry Blossom” haiku; “Dance, Dance: A Poem for Rangali Bihu” from Assam; and extracts from Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to Tomatoes”, used to commemorate the Spanish Tomatina Festival. Illustrator Shirin Adl’s exuberant splashes of red paint certainly get the message across here!

In fact, the illustrations are a joy throughout. Adl uses an effective blend of painting and paper/fabric/photographic collage (I especially love the seeds, pulses and herbs illustrating Chatterjee’s acrostic “Diwali”). Plenty of authentic contextual detail helps to bring the celebrating to life, and lots of happy children and their families are an open-armed invitation for young readers to join in the celebrations too, whether it’s helping to scrape pancakes off the ceiling while “Tossing Pancakes” (by Nick Toczek), running to “get your skates on” for the “Ice Festival” (by D’Arcy), or counting out the significance of each candle for “Hannukah” (by Andrea Shavick).

So yes, let us indeed celebrate – you can’t help but be caught up in the joyous spirit of this anthology. And with every day being a festival somewhere in the world, as Chatterjee and D’Arcy point out in their introduction, if there isn’t a poem for their particular festive day (or indeed, even if there is), Let’s Celebrate! will doubtless inspire young readers to compose one of their own.

Marjorie Coughlan
November 2011