Thursday 7 November 2013

New York to Aldeburgh

Ten days in New Jersey, going in to NY nearly every day by train to scary Penn Station, a labyrinth and roaring Minotaur combined.  The only poetry thing I did was visit the Poets’ House, not far from the 9/11 memorial site.  Bookcases full of poetry, and generous sized tables by windows overlooking the Hudson River.  A real library atmosphere – very quiet.  The kind staff helped me search for poetry events.  There were plenty… before I got there and after I left.  But: when I imagine how downcast I’d have been if MOMA or the High Line had been closed, or the Guggenheim with its absorbing exhibition of Christopher Wool; or if I’d missed jazz in Greenwich Village with my friends, Penderecki at the Lincoln Centre or an immersive pseudo-Russian take on War & Peace in a tent off Broadway… Depending on where you’re coming from, it could be either a truism or the opposite (the word ‘falsism’ does exist) to state that poetry’s best life is on the page.

The trees in Greenwich park look drab.  New Jersey reds and yellows reel past in the background, with a soundtrack of Canada geese flocking on the tidal Raritan. 
Aldeburgh starts tomorrow – a three-day treat.  Contradictory?  Too bad.  As always, there are some exciting poets from abroad.  I’m especially looking forward to Canadian poet Karen Solie, whose poems were the first I ever wrote about on this blog, nearly three years ago.  And Terrance Hayes from the US, whose poems I’ve only read a little, one thanks to festival blogger John Field who has been limbering up with some excellent close readings at the Poetry Trust.

This year there’s an East European theme, echoed in the forthcoming issue of Modern Poetry in Translation.  Discussions involving Polish poetry were rare as hens’ teeth until now.  (I lived in Poland for 3 years in the 1980’s, have read, to varying degrees, some famous poets but know little about what’s happening now.  A talk is valuable in such circumstances.)  Saturday afternoon looks so good that I want to split myself in two, the other half hearing the interview with US poet/columnist Katha Pollitt: podcast, please!

Another theme is poetry and beauty – interesting enough to get us crawling onto Saturday’s first shuttle bus for a discussion with Pollitt, Hayes, Russian/US poet Vera Pavlova and our own Ian Macmillan; and to the 15-minute Short Takes by Karen Solie, HappenStance poet Richie McCaffery, US poet D Nurkse, etc.  Small events at Aldeburgh are a delight.

And then there’s the sea, and the weather, and the town…  And Snape of course.  Walking from Snape to Aldeburgh or the other way round might help me to like it more this year.  Festivals can't stay static, they have to move on.  The venues are excellent in themselves.


  1. I am just back from Sasha Dugdale's translation workshop, where I was able to purchase a copy of mpt. Snape tomorrow ...

    Know exactly what you mean about Penn Station! Was there 18 months ago.

  2. Dear Fiona

    I have never been to America but my sister has a very good friend in New Jersey whom she visits on a regular basis. The last time she went she was caught up in the middle of Hurricane Sandy and the time before that she was trapped there by vicious winter weather which grounded all flights for nearly a fortnight. I hope that Aldeburgh lives up to its sparkling reputation this year.

    Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish

    1. Thank you Simon, it did. And you have reminded me how lucky I was with the US East Coast weather.