The Parnassus is over. It’s probably for the best – I couldn’t survive much longer without sleep or hydration – but I still have that melancholy, morning-after feeling. I think I can honestly say I’ve had one of the best weeks of my life, and it seems to have passed in a lovely blur.
Somewhere during the last three days I read translations at two events, prose poems for Doina Ioanid at the brilliant Maintentant Balkans reading, and the work of Corsino Fortes and Conceicao Lima for the Poetry Translation Centre, where it was also wonderful to hear Reza Mohammadi (Afghanistan) – a mesmerising performer. I heard mini-lectures on Vietnamese and Korean poetry and how the CIA covertly funded translations of eastern European poets. I went to an ‘intimate’ reading with the brilliant Canadian poet Karen Solie, where she performed and chatted with just twelve of us, and one poem made me cry. I heard the heartbreaking poems of Jang Sing Jung, once court poet to Kim Jong-il until he fled North Korea.
On Friday, of course, there was the big gala reading compered by Simon Armitage, and I thoroughly enjoyed Kay Ryan, especially as she deconstructed the cliche of chickens coming ‘Home to roost’ (‘the sky is dark / with chickens’). Wole Soyinka was amazing – and dealt extremely gracefully with his mobile going off whilst he was on stage. And I think everyone agreed that Kim Hyesoon’s performance was one of the highlights of the week.
Other memorable events included a ‘Women of the World’ breakfast, where Bidisha asked whether a gender bias was still holding women back in poetry. The Italian poet Elisa Biagini spoke brilliantly about how in Italy female poets are expected to fit into one of three categories: mysticism, erotica or ‘poor women losing their minds.’ She was hilariously dismissive of women writing populist ‘vaguely sexual stuff’ and pretending that this is a feminist statement – that it declares they have control of their bodies when they are actually just ‘an idiot amusing perverts’. The Paraguayan poet Lia Colombino was also very funny, telling us ‘If you’re a woman in Latin America you have to have a parrot on your shoulder, a moustache and dance a lot.’ Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (Liberia) showed us the front cover of her book ‘Before the Palms Could Bloom’ foisted on her by a publisher– a naked woman – and cried: ‘There’s nothing about naked women in this book!…It is about war and bullets!’ Although there are still arguments that can be made about inequality in the UK poetry scene, I was actually left with a sense of how lucky we are and how far we’ve come, and that we have a responsibility to support those woman writers whose countries to silence them.
Then there was the Poetry London reading, with Christopher Reid and the charming German poet Jan Wagner and the astonishingly good Valerie Rouzeau (France) reading with her translator Susan Wicks, the London Eye slowly turning behind them. (If you haven’t bought Cold Spring in Winter from Arc yet you must)
And just the festival village: hanging out drinking coffees and cheap wine, and bumping into so many friends and heroes. It closed each night at 11 and everyone was always indignant – there were so many people we hadn’t had chance to say hello to yet, so many conversations that needed to happen, so much more dancing we needed to do…
Still, we got six days and they were brilliant days.
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