Evening all. I’m writing this in daylight for once. This week I’m determined not to be doing this at midnight, hovering between being asleep and awake while I’m typing. In my new house I can hear birds singing away outside, real birds, not just the seagulls which patrolled my old street who had a nasty habit of divebombing you in the months when their chicks were hiding under the parked cars. We do get seagulls here, but they tend to congregate around a house down a long lane because the woman who lives there feeds them.
The beginning of last week seemed to pass by in a blur of tiredness. I was really suffering from poetry festival hangover, which should be a recognised condition and has nothing to do with alcohol (or maybe not very much to do with alcohol) and everything to do with the kind of mental fatigue you get when you have spent three days concentrating and listening and talking about poetry and then you are thrown with little ceremony (apart from the five hour train journey) back into your real, normal, every day life, which involves going to work, which involves thirty trumpets and valve oil and stuck mouthpieces and exam preparation and once again, poetry is squeezed into the edges of each day, or sometimes, if I’m honest, squeezed so much it just *poof* disappears from my life for that day.
You find poetry in the strangest places though. This week the husband and I went to a funeral of Andy, one of his closest friends from childhood who died aged 45. It seemed such a terrible waste of a life, which I know is a cliche but it hit me so hard at the funeral. I’ve been to three funerals in the last year or so and although each one was sad in a different way, this one was the worst. I felt like there was a band tightening around the front of my head – I thought I was getting a migraine, which I’ve never had before, but I remember thinking, this must be what it feels like.
I hope none of Andy’s friends or family would mind me saying on here that Andy struggled with alcohol all his life – and when I say struggle, I mean it. Sometimes it had hold of him and nearly dragged him under – other times he seemed to be winning but he was fighting it even ten years ago, when I first met him. It has been a struggle for me to watch this over the years so god knows what it has been like for his family and his friends, like my husband who knew him before all of it started.
We have been really down today, thinking about what we could have done differently, whether we could have done more to help. I suppose there is always more you can do and that is the problem. We are left behind thinking of all the times we didn’t help because it was inconvenient, because it got in the way of what you were doing, because you were too busy.
Andy was a wanderer – someone said at the funeral everywhere was a home from home for him, which was true. He would come in for a cup of tea and sometimes he would stay for two minutes, sometimes he would stay for two hours. Then he would decide it was time to go and he would set off, to the next house, the next set of friends to pay a visit. I would often bump into him while I was walking the dogs and he would walk them with me. He never ran out of things to say, or stories to tell. ‘Here’ he would say, touching your arm to get your attention, but the word ‘here’ would sound ‘he-are’ in his accent.
I wanted to go up to his daughter at the funeral and tell her how proud Andy was of her. I don’t think I ever saw him without him mentioning her name, telling me what she’d been up to at school, showing me a text message she’d sent him. If she told him she loved him by text he would show anyone who would listen – it meant everything to him. I’m sure there were times he let her down because of his illness, but I hope she knows how much he loved her. I didn’t go up to her – I don’t know why. I thought about it, and then turned to speak to somebody and when I turned around the moment had passed. I keep thinking now I should have.
Chris says that when he first came back to England after living in Australia for a while, in the days before mobile phones were invented, Andy met every train coming from down south with a cup of tea in his hand, in case Chris was on it. He was always generous and would lend somebody his last fiver and leave himself short.
But back to finding poetry in the strangest places – I know it is not that unusual to hear poetry at a funeral but the funeral was full of poems – two famous ones that are probably often read at funerals, but also Andy’s stepdad had written one for Andy and so had one of his friends which I found incredibly touching – it is well documented about people turning to poetry in times of grief, but I’d never seen it in action before.
So Friday was pretty traumatic really – I stupidly hadn’t cancelled what I was doing for the rest of the day – I think I thought, I’ve been to three funerals, I’ve read eulogies at two of them, I can handle it. So I didn’t cancel my young writers workshop and was in a bit of a state by the time I got there. However there is nothing like having to get on with things to make you get on with things.
Other than that this week, I managed to write up a poem to take to Brewery Poets on Friday evening and I’ve been spending my spare time planning for the residential. Although it is still a couple of weeks away, I have limited time now. I’m flying to Croatia on Wednesday to take part in the Goran’s Spring Poetry Festival.
I’ve been chosen to take part in the Versopolis project, which you can find out more information about by going to the website. Versopolis is a European poetry platform that creates new opportunities for emerging European poets and is supported by the European Commission’s Creative Europe programme. What this means in practice is that there is the possibility I’ll be invited to read at up to two European poetry festivals per year. For each festival I read at, some of my poems will be translated into that language and made into a pamphlet.
On the website, the 55 poets from various countries all have a profile page with a biography and poems, so it is basically like a free international anthology. I spent an hour or two on there last night reading through some of the poems – it is a really interesting website. Mine can be found here. The other UK poets who are taking part are Harry Man, Liz Berry, Eleanor Rees, Adam Horovitz and Meiron Jordon.
One of my favourite readings at Stanza last week was one I went to because the lovely poet Allison McVety was reading and I wanted to show my support and to hear the wonderful ‘Lighthouses’ poem which has featured on this blog here. I wasn’t disappointed because she read it beautifully. However, the other poet I hadn’t heard of, but I always like hearing translated poetry so I remember vaguely being confident that it would at least be interesting.
Josep Lluís Aguilós charmed the audience with his apologies for his (very good) spoken English, and his obvious connection and admiration for his translator, Anna Crowe. It was one of my favourite readings of the festival, maybe because it is exciting to discover a new poet to admire. You can find Josep’s work in an anthology produced by Arc Publications called ‘Six Catalan Poets’. So far I’ve only had time to read Josep’s work in the anthology, but I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the poems.
I could have chosen any one of Josep’s poems, but I’ve decided to go for The Devil’s Bridges. I really enjoyed this poem, which has the air of a yarn being spun or a tall tale. I like the lovely touch of bringing in the ‘I’ in the fourth stanza:
‘I wonder what he does with his collection/of shadows and beasts’
which almost made me feel sorry for the devil, sitting surrounded by shadows and cats who are probably ignoring him. When I googled Devils Bridges Wikipedia tells me that Devils Bridges are found all over Europe, and are so called because they represented a significant technological achievement for them to be completed. The devil in this poem however, is a character to feel sorry for, always outwitted, never learning from his mistakes. There is a lot of humour in the poem as well – the swindlers with their ‘shocking hobbies’ of putting ships into bottles and painting watercolours.
In the introduction to the selection of Josep’s work, it says that his poems are often peopled with fairytales and myths and in the short selection in the anthology, there is a poem about The Flying Dutchman and the Minotaur.
Josep Lluís Aguiló (born Manacor, Mallorca, 1967), poet and businessman, works as a marketing and advertising director. In 1986 he published his first collection of poems, Cants d’Arjau (Songs from the Helm), which he wrote when he was between sixteen and eighteen years of age. After an interval of eighteen years, he published two further collections, La biblioteca secreta (The Secret Library) and L’estación de les ombres (Season of Shadows), both in 2004. His collection Monstres (Monsters, 2005) was awarded the Premi Ciutat de Palma Joan Alcocer Poetry Prize in 2005 and, in 2006, the National Critics’ Prize for the best book of poems written in Catalan, while it also received a special mention from the jury of the Critics’ Prizes for Catalan Writers. In 2007, the Manacor School of Mallorcan Language gave him its Recognition of Merits Award for his work in writing Catalan poetry and helping to make it better known. The University of the Balearic Islands has published his collection Antologia Personal (Personal Anthology). In 2008, Josep Lluís Aguiló was the winner of the literary competition Jocs Florals de Barcelona with his work Llunari (Calendar). His writings have appeared in several anthologies and have been translated into a number of languages.
I hope you enjoy the poem and thanks to Josep for allowing me to post it this week.
The Devil’s Bridges – Josep Lluís Aguilós
The devil builds bridges and afterwards
demands payment for them. Those who carried out the work,
invariably more wide-awake, always outwit him.
He always demands that he should carry off
the first or the last to cross the bridge.
If he has asked to be given the last one
then the final one to cross says to him, “grab this,”
pointing, cunningly, at his shadow.
If he has demanded the first, they let an animal cross over to him.
Often it’s a cat or a cock, a dog
is too much part of the family to be given away
to anyone, however much of a devil it might be.
He never learns, I wonder what he does with his collection
of shadows and beasts. Probably nothing.
The devil, no doubt, enjoys building bridges.
Swindlers have shocking hobbies:
putting ships into bottles, painting watercolours,
writing chronicles of wrongs done,
hunting. When one gets bored he comes and builds a bridge
and considers speaking about himself to generations
who will boast of how their ancestry
knew nothing of hydraulic works
but a lot about swindling devils.