And Pekko Kappi, with his pure engagement with the great balladic tradition of Finnish poetry really ended the night perfectly. Giddy with sleeplessness and surrounded by friends I had specifically inculcated to join me because of their grabbing abilities as well as my fondness for them, I went out onto Jubilee gardens after running the inaugural Maintenant event as part of Poetry Parnassus. That event itself was the end of a long day, and was an intense experience for me personally.
The Viking music of Pekko Kappi gets me, and his presence at the Parnassus was really emblematic of my personal satisfaction of what I had been able to introduce to a proceeding that is so large to dwarf all those involved.
Also reading the translations of Endre Ruset's remarkable poem about Utoeya, having lived in Oslo for a year when I was younger, was a private and at times, grueling experience. I had met some of the Chilean collective Casagrande before the Parnassus, through the avant garde workshop Writers Forum, and I had always tried to follow their activities. Knowing their sense of history, their intelligence, energy and their artistic sense of judgement, I expected the Rain of Poems to be a spectacular, but I knew, on the night, it might be more than that, having really tried to give time to educating myself on the history of the project, it's tradition as an act of declaration without didactism and a true synthesis of the happening, the political and the poetic.
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The experience was moving. Bombardment after bombardment of poems fell over the garden as the crowd swayed between the obtuse and competitive, and the joyous and cohesive. I was one of the voices who thought the character of London would leave people cynical and banal in the face of the profound, but it wasn't the case, genuinely, friends and families were all turned into something close to children, a stage of emotional brevity, laughter, lightness and engagement. I can only speak for myself, but sharing the experience with those I care about so much, knowing they were there for me, because my poem was part of the bomb, will stay in my memory for a long time.
It was a special event for that reason, it brought people into something overwhelming through the act of something simple, and it did on more levels than can be expressed briefly. I actually asked many of my friends to join me specifically to find my poem in the melee, I really wanted it as a souvenir and because it featured a Spanish translation.
Toward the end of the evening, they had become so generous as to approach strangers with offers of money to somehow draw my poem from the pack! The incomparable Tiphaine Mancaux really became the centre of the evening when, after disappearing for half an hour, she returned to pull out nearly poems from her jeanshorts.
She must have destroyed swathes of children for the haul. In the end, after pacing the Southbank for a few more hours and scouring it the following day, her and David Kelly had collected 98 different poems, and many duplicates. This essentially means they found one third of the possible poems, and of , that were dropped, there were only poets involved!
Moreover, as we were leaving the Jubilee gardens and I began the benevolence that will mark the rest of festival by using Tiphaine's industry to appear generous to other poets, by giving them their poems which have included Agnes Lehoczky, Chris McCabe, James Wilkes, Sylva Fischerova, Kristiina Ehin and Jo Shapcott so far , Tiphaine, somehow, found my poem, resting on the ground. I have spent time the following day talking in depth with the amazing poets and activists from Casagrande and have suggested we make plans to create a resource for the artistic responses which are bound to flow from such a once in a lifetime evening.
David Kelly, who is producing new work in response to Poetry Parnassus, has already begun, creating these incredible collages on the very night. The Maintenant Balkans event was held at the Poetry Parnassus on friday night. It was great to be around real friends at the reading but it wasn't the highlight for me.
Like everything you can have too much of a good thing and by friday I was on a downer about poetry and posturing and this kind of thing. The nature of Balkan poetry is that it holds itself up, perhaps it has to, and that wasn't hitting my mood at the right point. Anyway, the evening had some lovely moments.
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Doina Ioanid is a really fine poet, and it was nice to have her perform with Clare Pollard, who couldn't have been nicer. And, as ever, Damir Sodan was incredible. In fact this is best reading I have ever seen him give, the pace, the wit, the energy - the man is a solar system unto himself, it's hard not to love him. There have been some great events over the last few days.
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That barely scratches the surface of all that has happened. It is somewhat inevitable that with all these events that one can get burnt out on poetry and the consistent excess can even seem somewhat deflating. There are only so many readings one can attend without losing the thread of what is being read, and if that happens, one ceases really benefiting from the act of poetry being read aloud, rather than being read alone. That being said, the last few days have been exceptionally interesting, and at times, quite intimate. At times an event this size can seem incredibly populated, and you are unable to walk ten yards without beginning multiple conversations.
At other times, it does seem like it has been set up purely for you to navigate, always with the nagging feeling you are missing something else, some parallel reading, in some small room, many levels below.
We had ten poets in all for this workshop, which took place at the Poetry library in the afternoon of Saturday 30th of June, and which featured a chain poem methodology constructed of lines of other poets poems, stolen from the Poetry library collection. We decided on four themes, Moon, Corpse, Fire and Theft, and then we each went off to plunder the books.
When we returned, we took two turns, running clockwise around the table, inscribing the lines to create new poems. It was a success, I think. Without a doubt, the highlight of my week. The reading last night really brought together everything I feel I have been repeating over and again recently - that unpretentiousness and humility and community is the reason to be engaged in more than just a writing practise. The news of the death of James Harvey, a fine poet, a member of the avant garde poetry scene in London and a true and decent gentleman, brought into focus what matters - that if poetry does anything more than just bring people together in an atmosphere of exchange and expression and humour and intensity, then that is wonderful, but an excess.
James had friends in poetry, and so last night was a gathering of friends, a circle that extended somewhat for one night to include poets from Mexico, Guam, the Cook Islands The room was completely full, they were turning people away because of health and safety limits and every poet on the bill was fantastic. It could not have been a warmer atmosphere and really left me with a good feeling about my involvement in the festival, which, if we're honest, is often contingent.
The realisation was, that when things constrict, when it becomes about people as poets who you can reach and touch, communicate directly with, then the resonance is all the more, especially when their work is marked by innovation which in and of itself demands an attention to engagement and meaning as its defining mode. I have edited two books, and published two critical books on twentieth-century poetry.
You can read a few sample poems here. I also provide a private poetry manuscript review service.
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