Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Went to a reading tonight at the Flying Goose - poets were Nadine Brummer and Robin Maunsell, both skilful and engaging writers. Their work was a mixture of anecdote, observation of the world and philosophical reflection. But, I found myself wondering as my attention wandered, is it poetry? I'd be daft to try and answer that, but... it seems to me that whatever a poem is 'about', be it any of the aforementioned things or abstract word-play, that thing must be transfigured by language. There were moments during tonight's reading when a phrase or cadence did just that, but mostly the writers' personal thoughts and assertions were in charge. This is a most unfair comparison, but, at the end of the evening, John Lucas read Auden's "On This Island" to commemorate WH's 100th anniversary. No doubts here - it was the real thing:

Look, stranger, on this island now
The leaping light for your delight discovers,
Stand stable here
And silent be,
That through the channels of the ear
May wander like a river
The swaying sound of the sea…

Friday, February 16, 2007

The mid-winter gloom has been deepened here by UNICEF's report on 'child well-being in rich countries'. Britain's children are the unhappiest in the developed world. We beat the USA into bottom place by slavishly following their (post-Reagan) social and economic model. More than half of our children answered 'no' to the question 'do you find your peers kind and helpful'. Not surprising when they're pitched against each other in our fiercely competitive schools. By the age of seven they're comparing test results in the playground.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Yves Bonnefoy

A friend of mine has persuaded me to try translating some French poetry, and I thought I'd try Bonnefoy as I've been a bit of a fan for some time. What I like about his work is the way he manages to combine the abstraction and philosophical concerns so typical of French poetry, with the personal and with a connection to landscape and a sense of place, as typified in his 1987 collection 'Ce Qui Fut sans Lumière' which centres around the country house in Provence where he lived at that time. The result is a poetry quite unlike English-language poetry. Of course, translating it into English risks losing those distinguishing features, and it's hard not to let the two strands work against each other, in fact, probably impossible.

Here's a little sample from 'Ce Qui Fut Sans Lumière:

A Stone

Come, let me tell you
About a small boy I remember;
See him, stock-still, as he kept
His distance from the other lives.

He didn't join in, that morning,
With those who played in the trees
To multiply the universe,
Nor did he run across the beach
Towards yet more light.
But look, he has continued
On his path at the bottom of the dune -
Footprints prove it, threading
Between thistles and sea.

And close to them, you can make out
the broader tracks
Of an unknown companion,
Her prints filling with water
That doubles the sky.

Translation copyright © Alan Baker, 2007

Friday, February 2, 2007

Anyone who's organised a poetry reading will know that feeling: the chairs are lined up, the books are stacked, the poets are nervously glancing through their papers, and the unspoken question is in the air... will anyone turn up? Thankfully, on this occasion they did. It was the launch of CJ Allen's 'New and Selected Poems'. I stopped myself from counting the audience, but there was a good-sized crowd, and a good proportion of them bought the book. And there was a sense of occasion which is important for a launch, especially when it's such a significant landmark in a poet's career. The free wine helped. Clive's reading was measured and thoughtful - but with his usual dose of humour - and I enjoyed it immensely, despite being preoccupied as the organiser. So the book is now officially launched: any editors reading this - you'll be getting your review copies soon.

Note on the venue:

The Nottingham Mechanics is a great new discovery for me as a poetry venue. A nice new building slap-bang in the middle of Nottingham, a bar, very friendly and helpful staff and a fine old institution to boot (established in 1837 to educate industrial workers).