Thursday 20 October 2011

Poetry in foreign

I have been doing some volunteering for the Manchester Literature Festival over the last week (it ends at the weekend so still plenty of interesting stuff to go and see) and last night I went to a reading of Latvian and Macedonian poetry.

The photo here shows Igor Isakovski, and he was just the most perfect romantic, brooding european poet you could ask for when attending your first poetry reading. He brushed his wild dark hair back from his eyes and held the book balanced casually in his left hand while reading. Listening to him read it made me think that the only other time I have ever heard any language from that region it was in connection with the wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990's, angry men on the news talking about politics and violence. He was followed by Latvian Anna Auzina, a lovely dark haired lady who was frequently amused by her own reading. Also Latvian Karlis Verdins looked like an angry young man from the 50's, serious and stylish, with a smart turtleneck and thick framed glasses. Contrary to my expectations he was the only one with any political theme to his writing, contrasting mundane images of life with what was happening to friends who had travelled to the West. The others were all much more lyrical or personal in their writing (though of course we had only a very small sample of their poetry). Last up was Lidija Dimkovska, another Macedonian, petite and younger, and by far the best reader, much more passion and expression in her voice. I liked her poem about nail clippers very much, a very strange kind of symbolism going on there:-)

Not being able to understand I found myself just concentrating on the sounds and rhythm of the language, listening for word repetitions and picking out the occasional english term. Though the poets could all obviously speak some english they chose to have an earnest elderly couple read the english translations, which I was sorry about because I did not feel either of them read particularly well. What struck me most was nothing to do with the poetry but how different the two languages were. The macedonian soft and lilting, romantic, where the latvian was much harder, like a cross between russian and something scandinavian. I was also sorry that the poets did not introduce themselves or say a little something about their writing or motivations, it would have been interesting, they just came on and read and then said thank you. Having said that it was all most enjoyable and I am looking forward to some more tonight when I will get to hear Mimi Kahlvati and Carola Luther (again at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation) and then Jean 'Binta' Breeze at The Contact on Saturday. An organisation called Literature Across Frontiers sponsored this event and it works to bring writing from across europe to a wider audience. The Latvian and Macedonian poetry books are amongst a selection of poetry anthologies published by Arc Publications and are available through their website.

Last Friday I went to hear Roma Tearne, an author I had not heard of but who's book The Swimmer was on the Orange Prize long-list this year. She read a wonderful heartrending passage where a mother hears over the telephone of the death of her son, talked about her inspiration, and then followed a very interesting discussion about both her writing in general and the political history of and current situation in Sri Lanka. The event was so good I think because there was active and enthusiastic audience participation. She is definitely a writer I will come back to.

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