Sunday, 4 October 2015

Tenth Birthday Celebrations

I spent yesterday in Northampton in the company of fellow writers and readers for the tenth Birthday celebrations for Cinnamon Press which was founded by the industrious and inspiring Jan Fortune in 2005. In her usual generous spirit the weekend's events were shared with other independent presses Fair Acre Press, Grey Hen Press and local organisations, Creative Writers @the Museum and Northampton University Creative Writing Department.

So it was a day fulled to the brim with abundance, highlights for me included the opening workshop on writing success led by Hazel Manuel - do follow her on twitter for writing tips and ideas, the  reading by Charles Bennett who was the first Director of the Ledbury poetry festival and now teaches creative writing at the University of Northampton. I particularly loved his poems about Dragon Orchard in Herefordshire. If he brings the same level of energy and enthusiasm to his teaching then Northampton is clearly a good place to study creative writing. Then Susan Richardson entranced the audience with her poems based on Inuit myth and legend. And if you haven't come across Liz Lefroy's Mending the Ordinary then you are missing out on some remarkable work.

I was able to share the poems in Convoy and later in the day met someone whose father had been on one of the Royal Navy ships protecting the convoys. I will write another blog post about how to find out more about the convoys.

It was a chance to catch up with fellow Cinnamon authors and to hear new work from authors I hadn't previously met. Frances Spurrier spent the day organising pop-up readings in the cafe and led the way iwth her own poems from The Pilgrim's Way.

And there was cake of many sorts in the cafe and wonderful home-made Asparagus soup with sourdough bread for folk like me who prefer savoury treats.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Not lost in translation – a handkerchief kiss

One of the highlights of the Free Verse fair in London was the chance to take part in a translation workshop led by Karen Leeder of New College, Oxford. I did study French, German and Russian at school and Welsh with the Open University so this workshop looked interesting, even if my language skills are considerably rusty. I’m conscious that I don’t do enough to read poetry other than English and American poets apart from occasional forays into other languages. I am however fascinated by the possibilities offered by translation and being able to access poetry written in languages other than English.

The workshop offered a chance to discover a contemporary German poet, Ulrike Almut Sandig Karen Leeder gave us copies of her poems in the original German with various versions in translation. We discussed the role of the translator and whether she should aim to be invisible, simply providing a gateway to another language or whether the translator could or should bring their own voice to bear. The members of the workshop came from a variety of linguistic backgrounds from the essentially mono-lingual with a schoolgirl smattering of another language (me), to a native German speaker, a recent graduate in German, Italian and Polish speakers and an English speaker who translates poems across Turkish, Welsh and English. One member of the group said she had come to translation because of wanting to share wonderful poetry written in her native tongue and the only way to do that was through translation. We had a go at translating one of Ulrike’s poems.

 fest steht, alles wird immer much da sein

I confess that in grappling with Ulrike’s poem I was relying heavily on the literal word for word translation provided. Once I decided not to worry about whether I was translating the German ‘correctly’ it became fun and quite unlike those language lessons at school in which there always seemed to be a right or a wrong answer. I also felt a sense of responsibility to the poem and to making my version intelligible.

It was illuminating to hear other people’s translations and to see the choices they had made.  And the workshop made me want to read more German poetry (in translation). Here is Karen Leeder's version as the second poem down and this is Anton Viesel's version prepared for an earlier workshop

Saturday, 12 September 2015

From cover to cover

Over the summer I have been enjoying reading the series of blog posts The reading list by poetgal Robin Houghton. She set herself the target of reading poetry collections from cover to cover, starting with the first poem and keeping going without skipping, hesitating or going back to re-read poems. She has just completed week 6 and I do admire her tenacity.

It strikes me as an excellent way of getting to know the work of another poet properly without all the sampling and dipping in which I do so often with a poetry collection. If you are disciplined about it then it can be a means of reducing the pile of books to be read.

So far this year I’ve read a couple of pamphlets from cover to cover; Robert Hamberger’s Heading North, inspired by John Clare’s journey home and Will Kemp’s The Missing Girl. They are both narrative sequences which lend themselves to this approach and slim volumes but it was such a satisfying experience I don’t know why I haven’t done it more often.

I’m off to look at my book shelves to decide who will be next.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Can poetry save your life?

I am coming to the end of what has turned out to be an extended period away from work, due to difficulties in my current post. As things were becoming completely untenable at work I discovered Anthony Wilson’s Lifesaving poems.  This anthology is of the poems he feels most passionately about. Each poem is accompanied by an essay or meditation about how Anthony first discovered the poem and why it matters to him and resonates for him. The collecting of the poems started out as notebook entries, then became blog posts before being published as a book by Bloodaxe.  He imposed a limit of one poem per poet and a quick glance through the contents revealed that these were not the poems I might have chosen. Thom Gunn is represented by ‘Autobiography’ but not the more obvious The Hug.  Reading the accompanying essay I could see that Anthony Wilson chose the poem which led him to want to read more of the poet’s work and to want to write poems. Finding a poem for the first time is a moment of epiphany and if I am being honest my Thom Gunn poem is one of his more obscure ones, ‘Breakfast’ which was published in ‘Touch’ in 1974. I read it as a teenager with its message of the speaker continuing to go through his days, 

'without love, without hope but
without renunciation’.

Can poetry save your life? They don’t change how the world works nor do they rescue the drowning but they can alter how you view the world. Anthony Wilson put together his book as a thank you note to the people who had shared the poems with him and to the poems themselves. I came to it at a time when I was at a very low point after a hitherto successful career as a university administrator.  I wasn’t feeling that good about my ability to read and write poems either. But poetry was still there as bedrock, as something which would not let me down. I discovered I could still comment on drafts of other people’s poems and prose.  In a gesture of generosity (and on a most difficult day at work) various writing friends (you know who you are) sent me poems to fill up my in-box.  Then came the books for me to review and various messages of support and the shadows began to lift.  Can poetry save your life? Well in my case it helped save my sanity and for that I am grateful.