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Literary festival in Siem Reap opening doors to enthusiasts

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Cambodian poet and artist Kosal Khiev. Kosal earned global attention from the award-winning documentary Cambodian Son, which traces his journey from prison in the US to Cambodia. Photo supplied

Literary festival in Siem Reap opening doors to enthusiasts

This weekend in Siem Reap “all scribes, poets, lovers and dreamers” are invited to attend – and lend their voices to – a pop-up literary festival featuring the renowned Cambodian poet and artist Kosal Khiev.

The three-day celebration of words and verse, beginning Thursday, features a performance by Kosal, an art exhibition, a writing workshop for prospective Cambodian poets, and an open-mic “word jam” competition.

The event was organised by Howl, a literary-minded group that describes itself as “a pop-up platform that brings writers and audiences and spaces together”.

‘Howl presents the Poets’, the weekend event’s official name, aims to fill the gap left by the cancellation of the Kampot Readers and Writers Festival and the lack of alternative literary events in the Kingdom.

Kosal, 38, earned global attention from the award-winning documentary Cambodian Son, which traces his journey from prison in the US to Cambodia.

The film’s website describes it as “the story of one man’s triumph over life’s injustices through the redemptive power of art”. Kosal will appear at a screening of Cambodia Son on Thursday at the Village Cafe in Kandal village.

“I have seen Kosal Khiev preform several times. He is an outstanding storyteller and an inspiration to those searching for a way to express themselves,” said Wayne McCallum, writer and Howl organiser.

“We feel privileged that he is coming to Siem Reap to share his work with us,” he added. “Best of all, all events are free, save for the poetry workshop.”

Support for the event has also come from Siem Reap businesses, including Bang Bang Bakery, the Hangout, the Village Cafe, Lub d, and the learning and art organisation, Writing Through. The Little Red Fox, a coffee shop and cafe, has organised an inaugural exhibition of Kosal’s artwork, which shows a new side to the poet’s story.

“With the way he expresses his view of the world through poetry, we jumped at the chance to feature his expression through canvas,” said Adam Rodwell, of the Little Red Fox.

Howl, which will be holding its third pop-up event since June, is quick to point out that it is a non-profit undertaking. “We seek no financial remuneration for our efforts, nor do we pay writers or venues,” according to its website.
The group took its name from the poem by Allen Ginsburg, “whose words, verses and imagery threw open the possibilities for how we write, speak and publish”.

But the Howl website explains, “Our title is also inspired by the notion that it is the writer’s role to ‘howl wildly’ to use words to fashion sentences, lines and verses that embolden minds, broaden imaginations and shine lights into the corners of human existence.”

As for Kosal, he’s happy to share his now famous words.

“I welcome the opportunity for people in Siem Reap to listen, feel and experience; to join the creative process through the howling of words, with all of their transformational power,” he said.

“Cambodian Son will shift your perspective, and my words will move you.”

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