St Andrews Castle by alasdairnicol, under a Creative Commons licence
On her third day at StAnza, our Jennifer finds herself through nature before getting lost on translation…
Day 3, Saturday 10 March
Finally, I can experience Poetry Breakfast! What a great idea. Coffee, pastry and a panel of poets and people who work with poetry. The theme of this one was A Natural Engagement, and it featured Andrew Forster, Mandy Haggith, David Borthwick and Carry Akroyd (an artist who works with the poetry of John Clare).
They talked about what nature poetry is, how there is a long tradition of writing about nature and that if you are writing about nature you are continuing and honouring this tradition; that metaphors can help carry meaning and messages and can be a bridge between the human and non-human worlds; that it could be argued divisions between what is natural and what is unnatural are less-than-useful human constructs. They also talked about what nature poets are called, whether they should label themselves or be labelled (as eco-poets, geo-poets, eco-warrior poets and so on). Mandy Haggith said that she feels it is okay to be sentimental about nature, because we need to feel strongly about nature, to be emotional about nature, in order to care for it properly.
From there I went to see Jean Atkin launching her new collection, Not Lost Since Last Time (Oversteps Books), and Zoë Skoulding reading her poems about rooms, numbers, imaginary cities and being in two places at once. We were in the chilly and evocative basement of an ancient building, a sort of arched cellar, and I enjoyed Jean's perceptive descriptions ("all the glitter and live wire of herring") and Zoë's way of seeing into and through space and time, poems that recalled the work of Wong Kar-wai in his film 2046 and mingled the urban and the wild in mind-bending feats of psychogeography.
My next joy was the Translation Workshop Showcase. Robyn Marsack, director of the Scottish Poetry Library, had spent the week with five poets (Magnus Sigurosson, Matilda Sodergran, Ifor Ap Glyn, Arvis Viguls and Charlotte Runcie) each from different countries, all exploring the art of translation by moving their poems between each other's languages. You can read more about the experience in Robyn's recent SPL blogs.
The pleasure of being in the audience was in the sensual experience of listening to so many different languages as the poets read their work out, switching from listening for meaning to listening for sound and back again, combined with something refreshing and unusual for a translation event – a celebration of what can be gained from translation, rather than a mourning of what is lost. For instance, we heard how a new word had been coined in Swedish to mimic a word from one of the other languages, and how discussions about the meaning of words lead to new understandings of their own and each other's cultures.
The rest of the afternoon was spent hearing Alvin Pang talk about Wislawa Szymborska ("she gave us a strong sense that it was okay to write about small things, and that there is no one thing more important than another"), hearing Zoë Skoulding on Lynette Roberts' refusal to construct hierarchies, enjoying stunning readings by Alvin Pang (poignant, warm, political and moving) and Deryn Rees-Jones (her dog woman sequence was especially astounding) and I finished up the evening being serenaded by the immensely funny John Hegley and his ukulele, along with hundreds of other happy listeners.
I was exhausted by the end of all that but so excited I could hardly get to sleep…