The Grand Duchy now has a small but growing global poetry hub.
Luxembourg, with its high cost of living, may seem an unlikely choice for a writer looking to hone his craft.
Nevertheless, Bangladeshi writer Shehzar Doja is not easily discouraged. He moved to the Grand Duchy from India in 2014. Three years on and he is on first-name terms with a previous national poet of Wales, has a book out, and is the founder and editor of The Luxembourg Review.
“When I came here I wanted to give something back. I didn’t know how so I figured I would use the things I studied or learned,” Doja tells Delano.
The review began life as a volunteer-run blog reviewing English-language poetry anthologies, while Doja studied for a bachelor’s in creative writing and English literature at the British Open University.
It quickly grew as he recruited core team contributors, Nathan Hassall and Martelle McPartland, and his home was inundated with poetry collections to be reviewed. “We’ve had reviews of books from Nigeria, Asia, India, the US and UK. Basically, it’s a very global project.”
The Luxembourg Review reached new heights in 2016 with the publication of its first print edition, funded by an anonymous donor. The beautifully designed journal is brimming with poems, short stories, reviews and cultural essays from big names and emerging writers alike.
The biggest coup was the opening poem, ‘Europa’, a timely celebration of Europe’s removal of border checks under the Schengen treaty and written for the review by the former national poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke.
“This is just the start. With the proper funding and support, we could be much more,” Doja said, adding that he hopes to apply for funding within Luxembourg in order to produce a twice-annual print edition.
The journal is just one expression of Doja’s passion for poetry and literature, which dates back to his childhood. A health problem that went undiagnosed for two years slowed his early development, particularly his speech faculties. “It was something I had to struggle through initially but it paved the way to my poetry.”
What helped, he said, was having his mother read to him. “When I was young my mother would read ‘Sea Fever’, a poem by John Masefield, to me. Listening to poetry created a sense of internal wonder in me.”
By 8, Doja was composing his own poems, a craft which he has worked on ever since with some considerable success. He has seen his work published in the Monsoon Letters, San Antonio Review and New Welsh Review, among others, and won numerous competitions.
His big break came in 2016 when he published his first collection of poetry, “Drift”, through University Press Limited and Monsoon Letters in Bangladesh. The book was launched at the Dhaka Literary Festival in 2016.
“Everything I’ve done is as a result of being mentored by other writers and from what I’ve picked up in the pursuit of my passions,” the poet said.