Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Poetry on the Lake Festival, 2008

This may be my favourite poetry festival so far... (tho I think this about every one I go to).
Orta San Giulio, on the least well-known of the Italian lakes, lake Orta. You could not have a more romantic setting or time of year for a poetry festival: changes of light on the lake and stone walls, water lapping or sloshing on the quayside as the small ferry boats go by. There were several readings over the 3 days (Fri eve to Sun morn) and all participants who wanted to were invited to read which was an unexpected bonus. Nice to hear not only the invited guests but poems by fellow audience members who we'd got to know chatting at the dinners. So I also was prevailed on to read - not that it took much persuasion.

And the final evening travelling over the lake by ferry to Isola San Giulio for the performance in the Salla Tallone, part of a 17th century pallazzo. Sheer magic. An idyllic line up too: Jo Shapcot and Carol Ann Duffy along with Caroline Carver, Vivienne Tregenza, E.C. O'Leary the winners of the poetry competition and many of the other poets recommended in the competition, many of the poems followed by an Italian translation read by the Italian poet, Alessio Zanelli (whose own fine nature poetry we had heard earlier). And what with long interminable (in the nicest possible way) dinners of 6-7 courses, sat at long tables with all the participants, poetry, wine, pasta...this is certainly a festival to recommend.

Caroline Carver's poem was packed with historical detail which gave her poem about a slave-trader a serious weight and then closed with a visceral punch. Vivienne Tregenza's was a moving evocation of a Cornish christingle. It will be good to purchase a copy of the festival anthology to read them again.

Jo Shapcot read a selection of Rose Poems which are responses to Rilke (to be found in her collection 'Tender Taxes'), one of my most favourite poetry books. A wonderful setting, in a slightly decaying Italian pallazza, for poems which evoke beauty, love, decay. Here is one:

Rosa foetida

I'm an imperfect thing:
neat, layered
but spilling petals and pollen,
dropping bruised scent

onto the ground.
Essence of roses is not sweet,
but brown at the edges
like the air you breathe.

Carol Ann Duffy read poems with water associations (at the organizer, Gabriel's suggestion), in particular two poems both entitled 'River' and probably one of her most famous poems, 'Prayer'
which I copied out laboriously into a notebook of 'Favourite Poems' in my 20's when I first came across it and recently re-read it with my son who was studying it for his Advanced Highers (the Scottish equivalent of A level) and still think is a wonderfully evocative poem...it also resonated with the Italian surroundings, especially sounds travelling, as church bells continually float across the lake and throughout the mountains from surrounding villages throughout the day and evening. Their readings were accompanied softly on acoustic guitar by Dario Fornara. Not something that is commonly done in UK - except late night Radio 4. It doesn't suit all poems, of course but was perfect here, all adding to the atmosphere.

Penelope Shuttle was also one of the judges but did not attend. A shame. With JS, CAD and PS, that would have been a triumvirate or should I say trimaterite of distinction!

New (to me) poets I particularly liked were Elisabeth Rowe - wry, witty poems published by Peterloo which, sadly I hear, is winding up and Cornelia Hoogland - from London, Canada -in particular the reading she gave from a long MS, 'Little Red Meets the Wolf in the Wood' and (which I read later) her vivid prose-poem 'Cuba Journal.' http://www.poetrylondon.ca/who_we_are.html

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Prayer for My son on leaving for university

When I left for university (Trinity College, Dublin) my mother gave me a copy of Yeats' 'Prayer for my Daughter' but I've found this wonderful , funny and moving poem by George Szirtes which I'm giving to my son as he leaves for Oxford. (Mothers can be so embarrassing but J has given me permission to publish this on my blog! ).

Here's an extract from George Szirtes' poem:

Some quick advice? Well just a quickie:
Beware the sentimental-sticky,
Beware the choosy and the picky,
Beware all those who talk in torrents

The snobs who earned the strict abhorrence
Of poor pale sickly D.H. Lawrence,
Beware the Oxfordly superior,
Beware those with a smooth exterior,

The cynic wiser and the world-wearier,
Beware the shady and the murky,
Beware the over-precious-quirky,
Beware your father (mother) talking turkey.

from Halicarnassus to plain Hitchin,
may you, in darkness, be that changing
wind and light, your mind free-ranging,
sea-like, unplumbed, salt, estranging,

tender, yes, but not kid-gloving
neither too mousy, nor too shoving,
be fortunate, be loved, be loving
be all of these, be kind, far-seeing,

in short, beyond the you- and me-ing
all that befits a human being,
what human beings may be made for:
life, unearned, unknown, unpaid for,
that you were celebrated, prayed for.

Extract from 'A Prayer for my Daughter' by George Szirtes (From An English Apocalypse, Bloodaxe, 2001)

Friday, 22 August 2008

The Twittering Machine

Despite being laid low with a horrible sore throat/bug which has meant I've not been able to go to a single EIF event, I could not miss this, so drugged up with anti-biotics and paracetamol, made it to the 'Twittering Machine' in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh.
This was the second performance (we missed the first night) of only two public performances of our son, James' classical composition, (along with pieces by other gifted young composers, some still at school) commissioned and played by members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in the Temperate Palm House, a splendid 19th century conservatory , the tallest in the Botanics. And so surrounded by tall palms and tropical plants from lontars to bananas trees, orchids, hibiscus and other exotic plants we listened to twitterings and melodies reminiscent of birds, trapped in cages then flying free in dawn sun and twilight. This was the brief set by the organizers who used Messiaen and the work of Paul Klee as the springboard for inspiration. Alisdair Nicholson, the Scottish composer, from Skye and the Black Isle, was their composition tutor in a course of workshops which produced this work and the second half of the programme was his own work of the same title. I was interested to learn that he used as his springboard plainsong Gaelic chants by the St.Kildans (St. Kilda being one of my obsessions of the moment). http://www.alasdairnicolson.co.uk/

Two of the other student pieces were of a very high standard, that of Lliam Paterson( very accomplished) and Gordon Douglas (quirky and original), the latter a member with James of their own (the Boroughmuir) jazz trio.

I have to admit tears trickled down my cheeks at hearing James' work: it was extraordinarily beautiful. 'Mothers! They're so embarrassing,' Alistair teased me. Apparently the piece reduced another woman to tears on the first night. So it wasn't just me!

All that Jazz

August, 2008 A segue from poetry. Confession time? OK. My secret love is... singing jazz. Having done the Fionna Duncan vocal jazz course last year (2007) and not able to get a note out, what with nerves, total ignorance of diaphrams and other parts of the anatomy only known to singers, my performance was credited as the 'bravest' (jazz speak for 'at least you didn't cop out of the gig at the last minute'). Amazingly (general stupidity) I did not realize there was a performance at the end of the course - I thought it was just workshops. Anyway, due to being blown away by all the jazzers, the tutors, Fionna Duncan, (grand lady of Scottish jazz), the lovely Sophie Bancroft and Liane Carroll who is the kindest most unDiva-like and generous of special people,(as well as being the Biggest name in Jazz in the UK) I have just completed the course again and this time able to get a note out. Wow. Of course, this is not just the result of a week's course but a year's lessons with wonderful, patient teacher, Sophie Bancroft. Check out the photos c/o http://steph.green1.googlepages.com/ click on Photos, then All that Jazz. And you can hear downloads of my favourite singers by clicking on my list of MySpace/music audio excerpts. No, you will not find me on MySpace. Come on. Get real. As Fionna says 'this is just the start of a journey.'

Shore Poets, May, 2008

I see Andy Phillips has mentioned my reading at the Shore Poets (Edinburgh) in his blog Tonguefire http://tonguefire.blogspot.com/2008_05_01_archive.html
and then links it back to my blog. Oh dear, I have since deleted that item. It seemed narcissistic to mention one's own reading! But then to hell with false modesty! What is a blog for if you can't mention your own events. But it's for others to comment.

From what I can remember of my deleted entry, I think all I said was that it was an initial disappointment not to be reading with Kate Clanchy(one of my favourite poets) - who had pulled out, but that this was swiftly rectified since Alan Gillis who read in her place, was absolutely brilliant. I was not familiar with his work before but it is exuberant, witty, fast-paced and bubbling over with energy. He told me he was influenced by Ciaran Carson. He helped run the Seamus Heaney centre up in Belfast but now lectures at Edinburgh University in the English dept, but also on the Creative Writing post grad course.
Alan and I swopped notes on Dublin - his first public reading was in the Skerries at an event including Michael Longley which Alan was recommended for by Brendan Kennelly (my former tutor and first and continuing mentor). We also swopped notes on other poets we both know. So it was nice to read with such a terrific poet and also find some connections.

A pleasure to read with Ken Cockburn too - whose workshop with Vikki Feaver I attended a few years ago on first arrival in Edinburgh. A terrific workshop too.

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