I am uncomfortably aware that I did not blog on Thursday as promised. Thursday last week now seems a million miles away – Thursday last week was before Poetry Parnassus, which was this weekend, and was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
I stayed with my friend Holly Hopkins, Eric Gregory Award Winner from last year, and poet extraordinaire as well as aimiable host. She has also let me steal a poem for this week’s (late) Sunday poem – which I am definately, definately going to post tomorrow night.
So why was Poetry Parnassus so amazing? First of all, for those of you who have missed any info. on this which is quite easy to do if you don’t live in London, it was a gathering of nearly 200 poets from every country taking part in the Olympics. It was masterminded by Simon Armitage – who was a great host. Simon was a tutor at MMU, although he is now at Sheffield I think, and is one of those poets who is a Genuinely Nice Guy. Always friendly, polite, funny, no pretensions at all. Apparently he was hula-hooping in the bar on the last night, although I can’t verify that story.
On Friday my train got into London at 6.09. I got from Euston to Waterloo, ate at the Festival village a lovely chicken in sauce thing, and got my free pass into the reading with Seamus Heaney, Kay Ryan, Bill Manhire, Jo Shapcott et al. It was wonderful – something very moving about hearing ‘Digging’ read by Heaney as an older man. I remember studying that poem at school in our GCSE anthology – back when I thought all poets were dead people.
And Saturday was filled with amazing readings and Sunday was filled with amazing readings – my highlight was Ilya Kaminsky (the poet from Russia) who recited his English translations – I almost wrote sang, it was kind of singing, but it was something else too – absolutely amazing anyway. I also really loved the poet from Iraq, Saadi Youssef and too many others to count.
As a ‘Buddy’ my job was to look after a couple of poets. One of my poets was Taja Kramberger from Slovenia. She was lovely, although she didn’t actually need much looking after, I heard her read twice over the weekend and she was fantastic.
My other poet was the Belgian poet Els Moors and I feel so lucky to have met her. I must admit when she asked if I would read the English translation of her work and then I opened it and it was called ‘The White Shagging Rabbits’ I did quail in my poetic boots.
However, we met up half an hour before the event, and spent half an hour talking through the english translation. I made some small suggestions, as Els had asked me to have a look at the translation. It really suprised me how Els was not at all possessive of her poem and had such an open mind to changes that were suggested – it made me think about language differently, which is what people have always ‘told’ me translations do, but I didn’t get it. Now I do.
Now I feel like there is a whole poetic world that has opened up for me – I’m starting with ‘The World Record’ published by Bloodaxe, which contains one poem from every poet that took part in the festival, and I’m determined to branch out from there.
I should also mention the lovely Bea Colley who was an organisational guru, exuding an air of calm throughout the entire weekend, and the wonderful Swithun Cooper, who works in the Poetry Library, who is perhaps, one of the funniest people I’ve met in a long time – and a poet who I’ve admired for a long time – so it was great to meet him.
What else was amazing about the festival? Three times I had a little tear in my eye in a reading – that has never happened to me before. Maybe it was tiredness from work and commuting to London two weeks in a row. But I like to think a little bit of my British cynicism was washed away by this huge gathering of poets and languages.
This is a kind of gushy post, but I’m still high from Parnassus goodness. I even wrote my first poem in a good couple of months last night when I got back – which I’m actually pretty pleased about.
I’m now off to plan one of my workshops for Ledbury.