Archive for September, 2017

Art Nouveau

The last month of summer was eventful: Shambala Festival, Folkestone Triennial. The circus came to Peckham. I took my mum to see the glorious Bob Dylan musical, ‘The Girl from the North Country’ for her birthday.  Gruff started school.

Cate is speaking lots now, and her most recent word is ‘toes’. Appropriate, as I also fully dislocated my toe on the stairs in the middle of the night. The X-Ray looked like a cartoon. At A & E they wriggled it back in whilst I sucked on the gas and air an eternal minute (it was apparently ‘a bit slippery’), and then I had to wear a comedy sandal for two weeks.

Workwise, I was very pleased to award the Live Canon Poetry Prize jointly to Kirsten Irving’s ‘Amsterdam, 1901’ and Sophie Fenella’s ‘Noah’. You can buy the anthology here. I’ve been finishing up at the Poetry School/Newcastle MA, which I’m leaving for the Modern Poetry in Translation post, going through the final portfolios of students I’ve been working with for two years.  So impressed with how far they’ve come… I did a Q & A at Stoke Newington Library’s poetry reading group. And I also managed a whirlwind trip to Riga, travelling with other publishers and editors to learn about Latvian literature ahead of the London Bookfair in the spring.

Riga is stunning: intricate Jugendstil medusas and sphinxes everywhere. Shops full of Baltic amber trinkets. Spires. Delicate beetroot broth and lingonberry pavlova. We toured the enormous new library overlooking the old town; saw its chests of ancient folksongs. There was a giant space-monkey in the park. After dinner there were shots of ‘Black Balsam’, a pitch black spirit that’s secret recipe is rumoured to include swamp birch, valerian, bilberry, wormwood and linden blossom, and which saved the life of Catherine the Great.

In a cafe called ‘Nice Place’, beneath a ceiling of suspended novels, we watched presentations on Lativian literature and illustrators, and the talented Anna Vaivare drew a postcard of my daughter in minutes from a verbal description, which is one of the best souvenirs I’ve ever brought home. (Note on the image: Cate’s favourite tune is Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’, but we’ve changed the lyrics to the more appropriate: ‘They tried to make Cate go to nursery’. She does all the no, no, nos with great verve).

And then the poetry, wow: like many in the UK, I’ve enjoyed poems by Kārlis Vērdiņš before, but so much else was equally modern and sharp. I learnt about Madara Gruntmane (look out for a co-translation of her work by Richard O’Brien in the spring with Parthian), Inga Gaile, Anna Auzina. The remarkable ‘Seed in Snow’ sequence by Knuts Skujenieks, written in a gulag. Then the guys from Orbita too, who make the most amazing books creating a dialogue between Russian and Latvian – books that look like chequebooks; books held together by magnets – and are known for their multi media performances (check out this video on youtube). They have a selected forthcoming with Arc next year, it will be fascinating to see what it looks like…

Back in London now anyway, ready for an autumn packed with translation events – I’ll put up the dates soon, but in the meantime I’ll be doing a rare reading of my own work at The Author’s Club in London this wednesday with Sue Hubbard, Annie Freud and Philip Gross (I like the sound of ‘The elegant Lady Violet room’)



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