Another interesting month. For me the highlight was a restful week in Turkey with Richard and Gruff, eating meze and swimming. We went to Dalyan, which is a pretty, fertile spot full of pomegranate orchards and fig-trees, on a river and overlooked by tombs cut into a cliff-face. There were boat-trips to a warm green lake with kingfishers and turtles and a mud-bath on its shore, and to the ancient ruins of Kaunos where donkeys nuzzled at dusty altars. Kaunos is mentioned by Ovid in the Metamorphoses – its founder fled there to escape his sister Byblis after she sent him a long love letter giving encouraging examples of incestuous relationships between gods.
The town itself was a bit touristy, although that had its pleasures (water-pipes, cold Efes, fake mint-coloured Ray-Bans for a fiver). It was hard to remember you were in a Muslim country, although sometimes you could hear a call to prayer over the power-pop of the bars. Having read that Rumi lived in Turkey though, I took the opportunity to read an anthology of Islamic Mystical Poetry edited by Mahmood Jamal whilst I was away, which I really recommend. It’s fascinating to see all those well-known middle-eastern tropes – the wine, the rose, the woman’s dark hair – taking shape hundreds of years ago, and to realise how in Sufism unrequited human love is a kind of necessary stepping-stone to love of God. There is an astonishing ode to beloved’s mole by Mahmud Shabistari – ‘sometimes it is a mosque, sometimes a synagogue’ – and I was fascinated to discover Rabia Basri, a female mystic who died in 801 AD, who ‘was the first to introduce the idea that God should be loved for his own sake and not out of fear, as the early Sufis had taught.’ Her tiny poems are perfect little things:
You have infused my being
Through and through
As an intimate friend must
So when I speak I speak only of You
And when silent, I yearn for You.
Anyway, back to UK poetry now… A big shout out for two of my current Arvon mentees who are doing great things – Deborah Stevenson, who is on the shortlist for the London Young Laureate, and Holly Corfield-Carr, whose brilliant site-specific piece MINE is part of the Bristol Biennial next week – its set in a slaver’s grotto studied with crystals and cockles and I can’t wait to see it. In other news, my Poetry of Parenthood online course starts on Monday and there are still places (I’ve blogged about it on the Poetry School website).
And, of course, the Next Generation 2014 list has just been announced, which I was proud to be on the judging panel for – if you haven’t already overdosed on coverage, the full list is: Kei Miller, Daljit Nagra, Emily Berry, Mark Waldron, Rebecca Goss, Sean Borodale, Heather Phillipson, Alan Gillis, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Luke Kennard, Adam Foulds, Hannah Lowe, Helen Mort, Kate Tempest, Jane Yeh, Emma Jones, Tara Bergin, Sam Willetts, Annie Freud, Jen Hadfield. The Guardian have covered it, and I’ve written a blog about my experience of reading the first New Gen list for the PBS’ website. I was all braced for Twitter/facebook fury but it seems we’re pretty much getting away with it so far! All very brilliant poets on the list, anyway – huge congratulations to them all.