Updated: Apr 29, 2021
This is a review of:
Launching MPT (Modern Poetry in Translation) 'Clean Hands: Focus on the Pandemic in Europe'.
Go to the MPT YouTube Channel .
Getting the website (bobandpoetry.com) up, and running in a readable, presentable way, has been an experience, mostly an enjoyable one, but it has taken me away from my books and magazines in an unhealthy way. The knock on effect, though, has been to spend more time listening to poetry radio programmes, and watching poetry films / and launches. I wonder how many of us poetry lovers do this? All of us, only some of us, almost none? The viewing figures look grim, though I am never certain how accurate a refection this is of the truth.
Time is an issue. Today's review covers a magazine launch, which is an hour long. Less than a film, more than an episode of EastEnders (though I like to think EastEnders drains your soul of time, and poetry launches replenish it - yes, I am judgemental in that way). How many of us allow ourselves that hour to watch? What do we have to sacrifice to watch it - poetry reading time, writing time? Probably not regular tv watching time. It may be different if we were attending the launch, there is that feeling of 'live event', just watching a recording of that event does feel like a different experience. Yet, this was truly one of my favourite hours this week. It was so rich with information and cultural significance, and presented in a way unique to its form.
The MPT magazine has the theme of 'Pandemic', and it should not go unnoticed that this format of magazine launch is a direct result of the pandemic. The Zoom launch, created out of necessity because we couldn't all meet up in person, has opened the door for all the World to attend, I remain a little disappointed that not all the World does. Will this manner of launch survive the 'Pandemic Years'? We do not know yet. We all thought we would abandon our noisy, carbon-unfriendly vehicles and enjoy the returned sounds of birds twittering when and where we could, but the moment the restrictions were dropped the streets soon refilled with cars.
Magazine editor, and one of my very favourite poets, Clare Pollard, acted as host. She introduced the poets and moved us swiftly through the shortest hour of entertainment I have experienced in a long time. I had enjoyed Clare's pandemic poetry classes earlier in the lockdown, the highly recommended, Clare's Poetry Circle, so consequently have become used to her easy style.
First up was Safiye Can who read her poems in her own German, followed by a reading of the poems in English by the translator, Martin Kratz. For me this is my favourite presentation of non-English written poetry. Seeing the words in books in the original language is one step forward, hearing them is even better. How can any poet loving person interested in words and language not enjoy the flow of all these new words? There is no time to look them all up, so it's easier to just sit back and let the words wash over you. All the curious unfamiliar sibilance and rolling guttural r sounds, that I do not have in my own language.
My brain initially is desperately trying to make sense of it all. There is the distraction of familiar words that swim in both waters, and also the remnants of O' Level German, where I can recognise streams of words, but cannot realistically put them into the correct order in time. Next up, and rather disappointingly at my age, my brain had to navigate all the negative humour that floods in to my head, humour being the defence mechanism my brain resorts to very quickly when under threat.
Finally, I enter the calm waters of the experience, and can enjoy the uniqueness of the moment. The steady beat of the words and passion of the poet wins through in any language. The translation comes and this is a tale of being apart in the pandemic, from a person where the relationship has recently ended. The feeling of missing touch and hugs, overwhelming in separation from an ex-lover, parallel and yet in common with the hugs missed my the pandemic restrictions. The poem was written within the pandemic and was a perfect reflection of it. We were all away from someone we loved in the most unusual of ways. I am very thankful to have shared the experience with my wife, I believe we grew together.
Former editor and the joyful intellect of David Constantine was up next. He translated poems from The Greek Anthology a collection of some 4,500 short Greek poems by over a hundred authors, written over many hundreds of years, many hundreds of years ago. Some of the poets are known and other names have been lost to time. Constantine translates in a way that brings his own experience to the translation, so the poem on a small god is inspired by his gardening loving father-in-law. Constantine points out that in distant times we still destructed the environment, but due to the technology, the consequences were immediate, and needed facing immediately. By the end of this section I was all for buying the Anthology. I am not sure how realistic it is that I will read 4,500 Greek epigrams, but for this 15 minutes David Constantine made me feel like it was the only sensible thing any person should do, and I admire that
So on to Simone Atangana Bekono writing in Dutch translated by David Colmer. I used to listen to Dutch radio for hours, incomprehensibly, just to hear the DJs talking so much more exotically about pretty ordinary pop music in a way that the Radio One DJs of the '80s could not. This incredible sequence was written prior to the pandemic but addresses the feelings of abandonment and unfair isolation. 'I was born in a forest' the sequence opens with all the rich layers that offers us.
It felt like a story of being lost in the experience of life, where sometimes there is drawing towards death on the rails and high buildings, 'all black people identify with abandoned people'. Black Lives Matters was the other major issue of the pandemic, and this poem chimed with this. I felt the pressure of this Earthly experience, and was exhausted. There was little hope on offer other than the power of the emotional experience, which had been captured in word, and translated into the English for me to hear it.
I often wonder why poets are constantly asked to explain their writing process; when I was a child I thought the main purpose of a poet was to express and interpret the otherwise inexpressible, so it was very interesting for me to hear poets precisely in this mode in the final questions, talking about writing within the pandemic. I enjoyed how the extra ideas the poets offered gave further insights into the poems we heard.
Just a wonderful hour and really I should watch it again, and maybe again, as there is no way you can pick up every nuance of every poem in one listen. So does a one hour presentation necessitate a three hour experience? No, live in the moment, enjoy it as it was immediately enjoyed. This is my rather non-academic approach (i.e. students ignore what I say). I realise that I interpret the poems to an extent based on my own experience, and the poets are not polemists. What I probably now need to do is get the magazine. I urge you to watch the launch and do the same!
To get the magazine go to https://modernpoetryintranslation.com/
I am a big Brian Eno fan, which is my excuse for listening to U2 today. This was written to the 30 year 2 cd disc anniversary edition of 'The Joshua Tree', which I bought recently.