Sarah Hesketh and I programmed the weekend like children in a sweet shop and, as you might expect, it’s a line-up of poets we both loved and wanted to share with you. But as former editor of Modern Poetry in Translation and an evangelist for world poetry I’d like to tell you about some of the international and translation-related events we’ve programmed. The world poets we’ve invited are stellar and the readings, we promise, will be memorable (and even life-changing!)
On Saturday 6 October at 4.30pm poet Maura Dooley will be reading with Iranian poet Azita Ghahreman. Maura and Azita have been working with translator Elhum Shakerifar on new translations of Azita’s work for a Bloodaxe book Negative of a Group Photograph and a UK tour. Azita’s work is characterised by delicate surreal and moving imagery. Just listen to this:
In my fist I take a handful of earth. In a corner of my soul, lies a landscape of lonely palm trees, Where the rain never stops falling And the moon hangs upside down.
(from ‘Homeless’, published in Modern Poetry in Translation 2/2018)
The collaboration between Azita and Maura was fostered and supported by our friends at Poetry Translation Centre and their forthcoming book has already been awarded a PEN Translates award.
Azita and Maura are reading with Golan Haji and Stephen Watts. Golan is a Syrian Kurdish poet, currently living in Paris. He has published one book in English, A Tree Whose Name I Don’t Know a co-translation with Stephen. Golan's poetry is utterly remarkable, full of striking and desolating imagery, lyrical and highly distinctive. Here’s an excerpt from his ‘Bill Viola’ sequence in Stephen’s translation, also published in Modern Poetry in Translation (1/2016) :
'A grandfather clock resembling a big wooden headstone, its two hands still rotating, tolling its bell for midday. A river gull perches on its crown. The old man and old woman are sitting on two chairs, close by their things that fill the boat that's sailing away now, their bedroom mirror between them. Their house is sailing off with them inside it, crossing the great water slowly. We, who always watched them from our balconies and windows, are left behind, as if we were the dead.’
Both Azita and Golan have had the fortune to be translated by very fine British poets. Stephen Watts’s translations of Golan are deeply memorable for their rhythmic and lexical originality.
The last poet reading in this group is Nikola Madzirov, the Macedonian poet. Nikola was published a while ago by Bloodaxe – his Remnants of Another Age (translated by Graham and Peggy Reid) has been described as ‘arresting, enigmatic and mysterious in the great Eastern European tradition’ by Simon Armitage. I love the purity of his poems, their startling elemental images, ‘A hope / was climbing towards the roof of the house / and no one woke to throw a stone at it.’ Nikola reads beautifully and engagingly in his soft, thoughtful voice. He is truly one of the great European poets – don’t miss catching him in Winchester.
I love to talk about translation, and I’ve found that most people, when they hear about the endeavour of poetry translation, are fascinated, addicted and desperate to learn more. Translation duels are a wonderful way to allow the audience into the secret, creative and highly individual act that is translation, and to explore the mechanics of an individual poem. At this year’s festival we are lucky enough to have Carolyne Larrington, the Oxford scholar, writer and author of the bestselling Winter is Coming: the Medieval World of Game of Thrones. She’ll be sparring with Debbie Potts, academic and curator of ‘Modern Poets on Viking Poetry’. They’ve chosen the wonderful Viking Gísla saga to translate: vengeance, bloody nightmares and family drama, set in the remote north-west fjords of Iceland. Come along and explore this poem and find out more about Viking poetry, kennings and why a Viking might ask for a ‘healing-wave of all woe’ at the pub! (All audience members will receive a free A2 limited edition poem-poster).