Saturday, October 25, 2008

Southbank blogging...

So, I'm guest blogging for the Southbank during the Poetry International series but I find that they are holding the blogs for moderation (completely defeating the object of blogging) so I'm putting my first two blogs up here so they can be of use for people who need today's information today, not in two days time!

24/10/08: Prelude
I start with a confession. After close to 8 years of constantly going to literature events - both as a writer and editor - I tend to have a cynical outlook; you could say I'm a bit jaded. That said, the Poetry International programme this year looks very interesting and since I'm masquerading as a member of The Arvon Foundation's Council of Management I'm going to try to look at things a bit differently - a sort of board's eye view, if you will. I'm particularly looking forward to Mourid Barghouti on Saturday (because I LOVE translated poetry) and the TS Eliot Prize lecture, but I will also be at Speechless on Thursday 30 October, because I know a couple of the poets by e-mail and would like to meet them, and also because I edit two of the writers in the line-up. I hope to see you at one of the events.

25/10/08: Opening Salvo: is there life before death?
I feel like I’m wandering in the dark here, dropping little crumbs of thought that I might be able to follow out again. Why? Because the first blog I submitted - Prelude - isn’t even up yet. Why ask people to blog if you’re going to censor what they write? My view is that it is an act of filtering to choose who blogs for you anyway, so, having gone to all that trouble, please, my dear Southbank techie friends, let us express ourselves.

Now to my first event: As I often find, the person whose photo graced the event was the one whose poems moved me the least, but I qualify that by saying that Jorie Graham is a great speaker - I would love for her to be my lecturer - and perhaps on the page I will connect to her poems better, yet on stage it wasn’t quite for me. A little too ponderous, in spite of a few finely wrought lines, and I found myself counting how many ‘ands’ she uses per poem (I won’t do her the dishonour of listing the number) and marvelling at how Americans from the United States love the word ‘humanity’. I found Mark Doty’s narrative style much more engaging; it brought to mind the likes of Leontia Flynn, Niall O’Sullivan with its sudden dips into the philosophical and existential, and perhaps elements of Paul Muldoon’s meanderings and playfulness with language. On the whole though - and this was true for most people I spoke to after the readings - the really striking poetry came in the first half; from Valzynha Mort who in the simplest of language (I’m not certain she has the best translators I must say) amongst many heart-rending passages from the book The Factory of Tears, spoke of lighting the candles of TV sets, thus illuminating a peculiar truth of the modern world - most people can find a TV easier than they can find a candle these days. Valzynha was followed by Mourid Barghouti (the reason I went to the reading in the first place) and he did not disappoint. Am I swayed by the fact that for thses two poets we were reading their ‘texts’ off a sky-high grey screen? I think not - there is something about cadence and truth that transcends language and medium. So, back to Mourid. Absolutely fantastic irony, uncanny eye for everyday happenings that reveal the world. In his words, there are trees whose only fruit is greenness - so true - but only un vrai po├Ęte notes that their details belie their sameness and their radiance confirms it [see the complete poem here] and speaks it with ease, humour and compassion from a podium that hides nothing. So too with this event: we saw four poets and there is no doubt that all of them have work that comes to life on the page, but is there life away from the page?

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