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Behind the scenes at the Scottish Poetry Library

The Thursday Post: Festival World

It's been a whirlwind of poetry recently as I was reading at Peter Arnott's Moon Country Nights at the Tron in Glasgow last night, where a host of performers shared their work and we were all spellbound by Peter's gripping chapter of his new novel, Moon Country.  I travelled to Glasgow hot off the plane from Germany, where I'd been reading in Göttingen at a fabulously-organised Midsummer Lyriklesung event, where Clara Eder, Sabrina Gerdes, Julia Henniges, Fiona Hill, Hades Hombrecher, Janine Oelkers, Lina Petri and Catharina Weselmann, under the guidance of StAnza's Annie Rutherford / editor of Far Off Places (who has been teaching a seminar on poetry events at the University of Göttingen), had prepared a poetry showcase including a music station where you could listen to OPUL, the music and poetry band I am in with my partner, James Iremonger, a shelf of glass jars which each held a scent and a line of poetry from one of my perfume poems, and a showing of Alastair Cook's wonderful Filmpoem featuring a selection of work from my first book, Condition of Fire.  They also asked me to read both on my own and with Birte Müchler who presented the German translations of my poetry, including some in which the the English and German had been cleverly interwoven to make a translation tapestry poem.  The translations were done by the marvellous Sophie Beese, and I loved hearing the echoes where repetitions and rhythms came across into the German, and even some places where the word was the same, or at least sounded the same, in both languages. 

I'd travelled to Göttingen by train (isn't the German rail system fabulous?) from Berlin, where I'd attended an international festival and programmers meeting and the opening night of Poesiefestival Berlin which always features the Weltklang - Nacht Der Poesie.  It is an international poetry marathon, with 10 poets from around the world each reading in their own language.  Each audience member is given a book with all the poems translated into German and a handy little book light so that you can read along during the performances, but if you don't speak German, you are limited in your understanding of the readings.  However, it doesn't ultimately detract too much from the experience as I still love hearing the poets' voices, listening to the textures of the different languages and absorbing the rhythms of the poems.  For instance, I will never forget the exquisite silence that filled the enormous theatre and fell over the hundreds of listeners as the great German poet Reiner Kunze read.  I wouldn't say no to a Babel fish, however, if one becomes available. 

My journey to Berlin took place just a couple weeks after returning from the Eskişehir International Poetry Festival in Turkey (you can listen to my new podcast all about that trip here).  I was invited by poet and director of the festival, Haydar Ergülen, and thanks to the poet Nurduran Duman whom I met at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last year.  After spending an evening in Istanbul watching the sunset paint the Bosphorus lilac and gold, and strolling past the men fishing along the banks and the families and teenagers hanging out by the water in Üsküdar, we took a mini-bus to the beautiful canal-laced city of Eskişehir, about a 4-hour drive into Anatolia.  The festival opened with a big outdoor event that included readings from all the international guests in their own languages followed by a reading of the Turkish translation, as well as speeches, live music and dancing.  Each day we were able to enjoy delights such as tours of the city to see the old Ottoman houses, a glass art museum, a wax museum, an extraordinary park with a life-size fairytale castle, a pirate ship and a tiny train that was soon filled with wondering poets, and a meeting in the mayor's office where we were able to learn all about the important work he is doing to develop the cultural, educational and social support offerings in the city.  I took the opportunity to suggest that he might like to open a Turkish Poetry Library in Eskişehir. 

One night the evening reading, which featured both the international guests and the many extraordinary Turkish poets at the festival, was in honour of the memory of Ali İsmail Korkmaz, a 19 year old student who was clubbed to death in 2013 at an anti-government protest following demonstrations in the wake of plans to redevelop Gezi Park in Istanbul.  Even though I couldn't understand the words of most of the poems, the emotion came through and I was humbled by an overwhelming sense of being surrounded by poets whose words really were political acts as well as acts of beauty.

As you might imagine, I'm a little tired after all this excitement, travel, sharing, reading, learning and listening, but also so aware of the richness on offer in the world of poetry that transcends boundaries of language and cultural borders.  I'm working on new poems inspired by my travels and bursting with ideas for events and exchanges that we can develop at the Scottish Poetry Library.  I'm also honoured and delighted to say that there are more events coming up in the next couple of months, a little closer to home, so if you're in town please do come along and say hello at any or all of these:

OPUL at Click Clack 60, Henry's Cellar Bar, Edinburgh, 30 June
Launch of Our Real Red Selves, Golden Hare Books, Edinburgh, 2 July
Poets Against Humanity, The Banshee Labyrinth, Edinburgh, 22 July
Reforging the Sampo, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh, 31 July
Innu Poetry, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh, 29 August

Jennifer (JL) Williams, Poet and SPL Programme Manager

Category: travels