Yesterday was the schools day at Parnassus, and shoals of excited children swarmed along the South Bank, eating edible poetry and taking ‘imagination exams’.
There were still some grown-up events programmed though – I began my morning at the Literature Across Frontiers Arabic translation debate. Iman Mersel and Marilyn Hacker discussed the processes of moving between Arabic, French and English, and then the fantastic Vénus Khoury-Ghata turned up ten minutes in (she’d been lost), hair flame-red, and began talking so animatedly in french that Marilyn could hardly keep up the translation for laughing. She told us French poetry has gone on a diet and ‘its language has become as skinny as its women’, and that even translating a great poet like Adonis from Arabic to French she had to tell him: ‘You have three adjectives here, which one do you want to keep?’ She also declared: ‘I am a bigamist! I live with two languages like two men’ and ‘I’m a very dangerous translator.’
There were some lovely readings in the afternoon, and in between I hung out in the festival village. At the risk of name dropping, at one point I was sat at a table with Kim Hyesoon, John Agard and Jo Shapcott! ‘This is poetry heaven,’ Jo declared, correctly.
And then in the evening I read at New World Order. It was a real privilege to be a small part of one of the best poetry readings I have been to in a very long time. There were 16 young poets from around the world and the show was so full of new ideas and brilliant variety it almost rewired your brain. My Romanian ‘partner’ in the readings, Doina, read exquisite prose poems about a love affair, Kate Kilalea read one of my favorite poems of the last couple of years, Henneker’s Ditch, and Jacek Dehnl and Valzhyna Mort were both every bit as good as I’d hoped. But really, everyone was exciting in a different way – I mean, this is the Russian poet Ilya Kaminsky:
The only disappointment of the day was attendance, which was a little thin. Audiences at the moment seem 75% made up of Parnassus poets themselves, which as an English poet makes me slightly embarrassed. Come on London poetry scene! Where are you? Hopefully at the gala reading tonight with Kim Hyesoon, Seamus Heaney, Simon Armitage, Wole Soyinka, Jo Shapcott, Kay Ryan and Bill Manhire. I hear there are still tickets…