Saturday 7 March 2015

Rising waters from the Faroes to Brittany. Help us make an archipelago – today.

It’s difficult to write down a line of what has just been heard, and continue listening at the same time.  It reminds me of amateur interpreting I used to do sometimes – must have been better at it then.  I did manage a few lines of Kim Simonsen from the Faroe Islands who came with no books in English, only the promise of some future poems in a Stanford-based magazine called Mantis.  In the festival world of accessible poetry, this is good: it creates demand.   

In the poems Simonsen read yesterday he builds up (it seemed to me) a succession of statements describing what landscape and/or wildlife are doing, interspersed and juxtaposed with statements about the experience of being in the world.  Humorous, ominous, metaphysical: sometimes all at once.  Brown killer slugs – an invasive species I think – figured several times, and there is a sense of rising waters.  The English language versions by Randi Ward are clear and simply worded. 

Simonsen left the Faroes when he was 19 and has since lived mostly in Copenhagen, an island city itself.  He has recently been returning to the Faroes as a visitor.  These are all quotes from various poems and I’ll only risk a quite possibly wrong line break on the last one, since I don’t know where these are.  I hope the quotes themselves are accurate:

A land is a construct that has to be recreated each day.

Each day ends more quickly than it begins. 

We are mostly viscous liquid, even your eyes that I love so much owe their glisten to fish oil.

In this new millennium slime is going to surge through the ages. 

I feel at home on an island
only on an island.

Simonsen only read a couple of poems in Faroese, which was a shame – its sounds were very listenable to.  Poets writing in languages other than English so often do this.  They are probably influenced by the well-known monoglot perspective of native English speakers.  But it’s so good for the ears and mind to listen differently, without straightforward comprehension, for a while.  

Anyway, I have just found this from a Stanza-related blog, you can read it better at the link.

Rising waters.  We will think about these, in the context of islands and the festival theme of archipelagos, from 12.40 – 12.50pm exactly today – in the Byre theatre courtyard.  To coincide with the big climate change march in London, StAnza and St Andrews Green week will make an archipelago.  Stanzaites, please come along and bring the name of an island, writ large.  An island you know is under threat from climate change, or any island because ultimately which one is not?  A poem about rising waters will be read, and we will all hold up our islands.  Come along even without an island because the StAnza office has been writing down islands too. 

Photo by Josh Redman
Claire Trévien’s shipwrecked house was picked up by the sea and “thrown back like a gutted fish”.  She performed her book, The Shipwrecked House, on the Byre stage yesterday.  The stage was a beach of manmade things, strewn with pieces of old luggage and other household objects veiled in sheets and fishing nets, washed up by the sea or transformed by memory.  Suitcases contained old books or dusty mirrors.  She spoke of her Gran’s house, its knitted mermaids and stairs made of shipwreck, and invoked Breton myth.  All this to a soundtrack of waves and haunting music. 

The book-into-one-woman-show idea worked.  The poems had been, as Claire said afterwards, cut and pasted to make the text.  I particularly enjoyed the way she dramatised her poem about whales living under the family house.   “Their fins sliced through conversations.”     And here’s another quote without line breaks, because I didn’t bring her book with me.

An anchor on every roundabout weighed down by corroding flowers to remind us that the sea will rise again. 

Carolyn Forché… I don’t know what to say about her reading.  The poetry world is overfull of superlatives.  In the packed Byre theatre she leaned forward into the microphone.  Unforgettable voice, presence and poems.  Oh – and she was in dark grey and black apart from the laces on her shoes, which glowed luminous dark blue in the shadow of the lectern.  She read several new poems.  One I particularly liked involved an East European friend returning to his country of origin, and losing a suitcase on the way.  

Gone is your atlas of countries unmarked by war.

Another was (I think) called ‘The Museum of Stones’.  Everyone should have their own museum and unlike a friend who has stones from all over the world, she has three grocery bags full of stones, including one that fell off the Louvre.  And I’ve just found the poem online, here at the New Yorker!  But here are the quotes I managed to down. 

Stones loosened by tanks in the streets.
Stone of the mind within us
carried from one silence to another.
Stone from the tunnel lined with bones.

First stop this morning: 10am poetry breakfast with island poets, Simonsen, Christine de Luca, Kei Miller and Bill Manhire.  The chairs in the Byre studio theatre where this daily event takes place are very comfortable, and you get offered a coffee and pastry – free gift from St Andrews pastry makers Fisher & Donaldson.  The event is sold out but can be followed live, here or here. Yesterday’s entertaining discussion on Unfinished Business is unfinished business for this blog, alas. 

The StAnza blog is here: Read it this morning to find out how you can become the Wild-Card StAnza Slam Judge for 2015.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Fiona

    'A quite possibly wrong line break'. Whatever next? I too collect small stones from the various countries we visit. It's good to hear that you're enjoying yourself in St Andrews. Please give my regards to Nell Nelson when you next bump into her over coffee and pastries.

    Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish

    P.S. I dag er min fødselsdag.