Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Poetry on the Road

Gerdur Kristny, me and Bejan Matur at Manchester
Week 2 of the Arc Ventures Tour begins. And the reality of 10 poets from 8 countries visiting 27 venues in 3 weeks is beginning to sink in. I mean really sink in, despite having had the logisitics of it swirling around my brain, nerves and muscles for the past three months...

Highlights of week one include:
  • The Icelandic Ambassador's delight at Gerdur Kristny's impending visit to Hull... The long shadow of the cod wars still evident.
  • The audience at the Turkish Cultural Centre bulging to welcome Bejan Matur to the UK
  • Bejan's reflection that staying at Waterloo Travelodge was like being on the set of Barton Fink. 
  • Amarjit Chandan's rendering of 'To Father' at Lancaster: sharp and moving. The epitomy of how one persona's experience can touch so many.
  • Discussing Buddhism, Islam and Christianity with Razmik Davoyan and Amarjit - the irony of religion being there to unite people.
  • Maike Oergel at the workshop in Nottingham giving a brilliant presentation on poetry, translation and drew out the most extraordinary range of experiences of translating.
  • The Hebden Bridge salon that was 'absolutely magical' 
  • But perhaps the biggest thrill so far was hearing that Thitsar Ni, the 66 year old Burmese poet who got a passport especially for this tour, whose visa only just came through last Wedesday, arrived at Heathrow last night and is ready to roll.
And so, to Hull, London, Newcastle, Bangor, London and Edinburgh ...

Razmik Davoyan, Armine Tamrazian and Amarjit Chandan

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Secret of Success

Success. It's all about definition: Are humans successful?

In light of what we collected the other week from the beach and then the timely news item about increased crap found in Antarctica and my increasingly pessimistic view of our 'future', I'd say No. I'm measuring this in how thoughtless and unsustainable we are, obviously, rather than by advances in medical science.

I am quite convinced that we're screwing up this planet for ourselves in the main. With oil spills we've seen how the natural world recovers from our carelessness - eventually. So too this world will adjust to rising sea levels. I have no doubt. But while we continue to ignore the potential problem of mass migration that is inevitable as Bangladesh goes under, as well Pacific Islands and ... we're letting ourselves down. We don't even have the excuse of ignoring it. The government is actively barricading this island against movement of people. 'We're alright, Jack'

This post began life in my brain as a piece about success in poetic terms. I've been hearing a few mid-career poets talk as though they feel ignored, unsuccessful. And while with only one book out, I can't claim any mid-thing for myself, I get the complaint. We don't have the outward appeal of fresh new voices or energy that can be easily stamped with success.

I've skewed around the issue of rubbish and catastrophe because I'm trying (and currently failing) to work out how to write a poem on that subject. How does this affect my sense of success as a poet? While it's a work in process there is no knowing whether it'll be a success. That's the risk. And there's only one way of finding out. Knowing when to stop flogging a dead stanza is a mark of success ...

How do I generally gauge my success is a trickier question. Winning prizes instills a sense of success, shortlived though. Having other people read, understand and enjoy my work is important but fickle - what happens when they don't? Does that lessen the work's value?

As I said. Success is about definition. Being a successful poet, for me, is to get work out, affecting those who read or hear it in some (undefined) way; to develop and improve - change; to connect with other poets; complete projects; respond to and interpret the world; keeping on writing for as long it delights me, and, possibly most importantly, liking what I write for longer than that inital flush of creation.

Sure I'd like to win some big accolades, but there would always be bigger bucks to win, next year's prize, another review to bag. Restlessness may be an inherent part of the creative process but it doesn't have to undermine the sense of achievement in writing a good poem. A poem you know is good for how it hangs together, crackles with independent life and swells everytime you read it.