Starting around the end of August, Struga Poetry Evenings is crowning the Macedonian cultural scene for the summer. Established back in 1961 it is perhaps the oldest international poetry festival. The humble beginnings, it seems, were never a hurdle to international acclaim. Over the years, the festival grew to one of the most important poetic gatherings, hosting, roughly, more than 5000 poets, publishers, book reviewers, theoreticians, and literary promoters.
As one of the most prestigious cultural events, the Struga poetry festival is a huge opportunity for sharing ideas, meeting influencers, and presenting quality works in the field of poetry and literature.
Hosted during the third week of August, it takes place in Struga – a small town with rich cultural heritage, simplicity and charm. Visited by the highest plurality of poetry aficionados, the place would transform, remaining captivated by the works presented. Should you find yourself there, it feels as though it is secluded from the rest of the world during the festival, as if nothing else is worthy of attention.
The beginning of Struga Poetry Evenings
Back in 1961, on the 15th of July, a group of Macedonian authors met for a literary reading. Going over collections of folk songs by the Miladinov brothers, they were setting up a tradition that would endure into the next century.
Aco Shopov was named as the first president and the gathering started to repeat annually. It was by the third meeting, when authors from all over Yugoslavia would arrive, transforming the festival from national towards international, setting, thus, the foundation of Struga Poetry Evenings as it is recognized today.
The same year, the first award was established. Titled “Brakja Miladinovci” (Miladinov brothers), it was awarded to Mateja Matevski for the best book written by a contemporary Macedonian poet.
It took three additional years for the festival to become an institution with sound conceptual and organizational aspects, paving the road to international acclaim. This was in 1966, when the most prestigious award – the Golden Wreath – was being introduced, and presented to Robert Rozhdestvensky for his poem “A man has been born”.
The festival board, forming this very year, attracted some of the most renowned professionals in the field of poetry, uniting, for the first time, the literary Macedonian elite. Today, Struga Poetry Evenings is more than a festival – it is an institution devoted to high standards of literature, attracting the most important figures in the world of poetry. With offices in Struga and Skopje, the Macedonian capital, support from the Struga municipality, and a host of other funding entities, this annual gathering is only fortifying its position as the most important poetic event.
The significance of the Struga poetry festival
The rapid growth of the festival, some would say, owes much to the political climate of the time. And though it is a simple observation, it is nonetheless true. Coinciding with political, ideological, religious and national divide, the Struga Poetry Evenings gave an outlet to many who were considered dissidents in their own countries. Authors, who in the face of turmoil, dared to present revolutionary views and ideas.
Often exiled from their countries, they would find a strong podium in the Struga poetry festival, broadcasting their ideas to the world.
Awarding poets among who was the Russian Joseph Brodsky, The Chilean Pablo Neruda, and the American Allen Ginsberg, the festival gave credit to brave people with extraordinary works.
Commemorating them, a Park of Poetry was established near the Struga cultural center, featuring memorial boards for each of these giants.
There is almost no renowned poet from the middle of the 20th century, and certainly the beginning of the 21st, who haven’t visited the Struga Poetry Evenings.
Nowadays, by adding new forms of poetic presentation, as well as several contemporary events and discussion panels, the festival is continually evolving – staying, always, one step ahead of its time.
Struga Poetry Evenings – the events
One day before the opening of the manifestation, there is a symposium on different and attractive topics. It sets, by and large, the resolution of the festival – to explore ideas worthy of literary attention.
Then, the opening ceremony takes place on the plateau of the Cultural Centre in Struga, including, also, a traditional reading of Tga za jug (Longing for the South) – the famous nostalgic lyrical poem written by Konstantin Miladinov.
Following this event the festival continues with Meridians – a poetry reading by different international poets following the opening ceremony.
The Portrait of the Laureate is an event devoted to the year’s main award recipient, and it is traditionally held in the magnificent church of Saint Sofia, most always accompanied by ethnic music performance, classical music or opera. Taking place in the nearby town of Ohrid, Struga poetry evenings unite the region in a stunning artistic performance.
Then follow Nights without Punctuation – multimedia events featuring experimental forms of poetic presentation, including mostly music and video arts.
Ethnic Macedonian music and dance is incorporated as well, taking place at the Daily poetry picnic at Saint Naum springs, very close to the Lake of Ohrid.
Finally, to crown the festival, the closing ceremony of Bridges is held at the Bridge of Poetry, on the river Drim in Struga. It includes a number of poetry readings as well as the official awarding ceremony. The citizens of Struga crowd the center, paying surreal attention to the ceremony. It is perhaps this atmosphere that is crowning Struga as the poetry capital of the world.
Around the main events of the festival others include workshops, round table discussions on social topics and their corresponding influence on poetry. Continuing the poetic expression long after the end of the festival, another event called Caravan of Poetry hosts different poetic performances around the country. Readings are also taking place in the capital of Skopje.
Struga Poetry Evenings Awards
Throughout the years, four main awards have been established, the most prestigious of which is the Golden Wreath of Poetry. It is the main international award, given to a living poet for life achievement in the field of poetry.
It is customary for the recipient’s name to be publicized several months in advance. The other prestigious award is titled Miladinov Brothers Award, and it is given for a best book published between two festivals.
Then, a fairly new award, the Bridges of Struga was established in 2003 with close collaboration with UNESCO, and it is awarded to the best debuting author. Another award is given to a poet from the Macedonian diaspora, and it is titled Iselenicka gramota.
Golden Wreath laureates
- 1966 Robert Rozhdestvensky (USSR)
- 1967 Bulat Okudzhava (USSR)
- 1968 László Nagy (Hungary)
- 1969 Mak Dizdar (SR Bosnia and Herzegovina, SFR Yugoslavia)
- 1970 Miodrag Pavlović (SR Serbia, SFR Yugoslavia)
- 1971 W. H. Auden (United States)
- 1972 Pablo Neruda (Chile)
- 1973 Eugenio Montale (Italy)
- 1974 Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca (Turkey)
- 1975 Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal)
- 1976 Eugène Guillevic (France)
- 1977 Artur Lundkvist (Sweden)
- 1978 Rafael Alberti (Spain)
- 1979 Miroslav Krleža (SR Croatia, SFR Yugoslavia)
- 1980 Hans Magnus Enzensberger (West Germany)
- 1981 Blaže Koneski (SR Macedonia, SFR Yugoslavia)
- 1982 Nichita Stănescu (Romania)
- 1983 Sachchidananda Hirananda Vatsyayan Agyey (India)
- 1984 Andrey Voznesensky (USSR)
- 1985 Yiannis Ritsos (Greece)
- 1986 Allen Ginsberg (United States)
- 1987 Tadeusz Różewicz (Poland)
- 1988 Desanka Maksimović (SR Serbia, SFR Yugoslavia)
- 1989 Thomas W. Shapcott (Australia)
- 1990 Justo Jorge Padrón (Spain)
- 1991 Joseph Brodsky (United States)
- 1992 Ferenc Juhász (Hungary)
- 1993 Gennadiy Aygi (Chuvash Republic, Russian Federation)
- 1994 Ted Hughes (United Kingdom)
- 1995 Yehuda Amichai (Israel)
- 1996 Makoto Ooka (Japan)
- 1997 Adunis (Syria)
- 1998 Liu Banjiu (China)
- 1999 Yves Bonnefoy (France)
- 2000 Edoardo Sanguineti (Italy)
- 2001 Seamus Heaney (Ireland)
- 2002 Slavko Mihalić (Croatia)
- 2003 Tomas Tranströmer (Sweden)
- 2004 Vasco Graça Moura (Portugal)
- 2005 William S. Merwin (United States)
- 2006 Nancy Morejón (Cuba)
- 2007 Mahmoud Darwish (Palestine)
- 2008 Fatos Arapi (Albania)
- 2009 Tomaž Šalamun (Slovenia)
- 2010 Lyubomir Levchev (Bulgaria)
- 2011 Mateja Matevski (Macedonia)
- 2012 Mongane Wally Serote (South Africa)
- 2013 José Emilio Pacheco (Mexico)
- 2014 Ko Un (South Korea)
- 2015 Bei Dao (China)
- 2016 Margaret Atwood (Canada)
- 2017 Charles Simic (United States)
- 2018 Adam Zagajewski (Poland)
It is important to note that the Struga Poetry Evenings organization is involved in book publishing as well, releasing poetry anthologies on a fairly predictable annual rate.
- 1971 Contemporary Italian Poetry
- 1972 Contemporary Soviet Poetry
- 1972 Anthology of Romanian Poetry
- 1973 Contemporary Polish Poetry
- 1974 Contemporary Chilean Poetry
- 1976 Finnish Poetry
- 1977 Contemporary Algerian Poetry
- 1978 Contemporary Palestinian Poetry
- 1978 German Poetry of the 20th Century
- 1979 Modern American Poetry
- 1980 New Hungarian Poetry;
- 1980 Contemporary Indian Poetry
- 1981 Contemporary Greek Poetry
- 1982 Austrian Poetry of the 20th Century
- 1983 Contemporary Venezuelan Poetry;
- 1983 Contemporary Poetry of Czechoslovakia
- 1984 Contemporary Egyptian Poetry
- 1985 New Chinese Poetry
- 1987 Contemporary Australian Poetry
- 1988 Contemporary Swedish Poetry
- 1989 Contemporary Belgian Poetry
- 1990 Contemporary British Poetry
- 1991 Contemporary Swiss Poetry
- 1992 Contemporary Poetry of Luxembourg
- 1993 Contemporary Italian Poetry
- 1994 Contemporary German Poetry
- 1995 Contemporary Danish Poetry
- 1996 Contemporary Albanian Poetry
- 1997 Contemporary Korean Poetry
- 1998 Spanish Poetry of the 20th Century
- 1999 Contemporary Bulgarian Poetry
- 2000 Contemporary Russian Poetry
- 2001 Contemporary Portuguese Poetry
- 2002 Contemporary Tunisian Poetry
- 2003 Contemporary Indian Poetry written in English
- 2004 Contemporary Dutch Poetry
- 2005 Contemporary Israeli Poetry
- 2006 Contemporary Caribbean Poetry
- 2007 Contemporary Turkish Poetry
- 2008 Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry
- 2009 Contemporary Norwegian Poetry
- 2010 Contemporary Azerbaijan Poetry
- 2011 Poetry from Slavic countries
- 2012 Contemporary Mongolian Poetry
- 2013 Contemporary Slovenian Poetry
The Struga Poetry Evenings organization has also established an International Poetry Library, containing books from all the festival participants. The archive includes a significant quantitative and qualitative scope of materials such as books, photographs, manuscripts, films etc. These are available to any literary researcher or poetry aficionado.
According to the official SPE website, all participants are asked in advance to donate copies before their arrival in Struga, growing the already monumental library of poetry.
You can contact the Struga Poetry Evenings organization offices in Struga by mail, letter or phone.
- Address: P.O Box 109 Str, Brakja Miladinovci 5, 6330 Struga (zip), Republic of Macedonia.
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone and fax respectively: ++389 46 786 270; ++389 46 786 270
Considering the close distance from Struga to Ohrid (14.9 km), you should definitely enjoy the breathtaking scenery, as well as cultural heritage of both. The month of August is likely the best period for paying them a visit, since you can enjoy hot Macedonian weather, and two of the most prestigious cultural events – the Ohrid Summer Festival, and the Struga Poetry Festival.
Whatever else might be said, this is definitely the region where culture enthusiasts want to spend their August vacation.