Multi-culturalism is sometimes seen as a melting pot: cultures all mix together and the result is a universal, globally similar, amalgam which encompasses all. But people also value diversity. Visiting a place and finding it is the same as where you came from seems to defeat the object of travel. I am reflecting on these things after attending an evening of Welsh and Indian poetry interactions. Poets from Wales and from India have been involved in a project to see how each can learn from, and benefit from, the other while also acknowledging the value and distinctiveness of each of their traditions. The poets visited each other’s countries and held sessions to explore the particularities of their artistic practices and how they could compare and contrast them, and of course translate each other’s work.
The latest instalment for two of these poets culminated in an evening of activities including a traditional Indian dancer who had been working with them. The dancer, Vikram Lyengar, spoke of his use of music as a base rhythm over which the steps of his dance were made. This was compared to the rhythmic pulse of a line of verse, arranging the syllables of each line around the accents of the main stresses, shortening or lengthening them for emphasis. The poets, one writing in Bangla (Bengali) and the other in Welsh cynghanedd metres, sought to emulate this in their verse and the dancer separately sought to to dance the rhythms of their verse.
It was difficult for me to evaluate the way Sampurna Chattarji wrote the rhythms of the dance in her verse in Bangla, or how Vikram Lyengar danced the work of either poet, though his performance was both impressive and enjoyable in its own right. But I was fascinated by the way that Eurig Salisbury transformed the dance steps into a series of cynghanedd lines across some englyn forms chosen because of the correspendence between the required syllable count and the number of steps he had to ‘translate’ in each case. It couldn’t be said that the englynion produced said anything significant in terms of their meaning. But they did seem charged as forms with the energy of the exercise and the cross-cultural frisson by which the Welsh verse patterns were enlivened without in any way diluting their distinct character and mode of expression. Reflecting on the evening, it seems to me that something very deep was achieved. But, as often with such things, its significance remains elusive, even mysterious. As it should be.