AN EAST London doctor’s passion for poetry and painting is helping to keep the arts alive by publishing work from Africa and beyond.
When he is not dealing with the daily trauma and heartache as head of accident and emergency at Mdantsane’s busy Cecilia Makiwane Hospital, Dr Amitabh Mitra unwinds by putting pen to paper or splashing colour on canvas.
As a founder member of East London’s acclaimed Poets Printery – which specialises in giving exposure to little known southern African and south Asian wordsmiths – Indianborn Dr Mitra says publishing is more about spreading the rhyme than making money.
“Publishing poetry is loss-making,” he admits.
Producing up to 14 books a year since 2004, the Poets Printery stays alive by knocking off small print runs of poems “that you will not find on the shelves of Exclusive Books”.
Available at selected bookshops across the country or abroad online, Mitra says the grassroots publishing company is so passionate about keeping the arts alive, they often use his, or anonymous donors’ money to give a voice to the voiceless.
“If you think our books are too expensive we will give them to you for less – because it is not about the money, but about loving the books
of and wanting to read them.”
Mitra says Poets Printery subscribes to the philosophy of renowned Grameen bank founder Mohammed Yunus, who won a Nobel Prize for his work, lending money to the poor.
“Just like the Grameen Bank, we make sure we never make a profit.”
Instead, any money that comes in is ploughed into the next project including the soon-to-be-launched collection of “migrant poetry” that features anything from xenophobia to primary healthcare for migrant populations in South Africa.
Born into royalty in Gwalior, known as the City of Palaces, the 55year-old doctor worked in extreme and remote locations around the world before arriving at Cecilia Makiwane Hospital 19 years ago.
“I have always been inspired by the places where I live and work. I have written poetry and painted for as long as I can remember; it is the way I unwind.”
Mitra says South Africa boasts a rich tradition of poetry going back hundreds of years, but it has sadly been neglected in modern times.
Anonymous donors recently helped fund the For Rhino in a Shrinking World: an International Anthology to try and raise awareness and funds for conservation.
The brainchild of Grahamstown poet Harry Owen, the anthology features work from all over the world.