Saturday, 20 June 2009
So it is over. A busy last afternoon, with the discussion and reading of the translation workshops, then sound-checks, a last group dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant. We occupy some four tables but several poets have gone. I am sitting with Tsead Bruinja, his wife Saskia, and L F Rosen. The dishes move round on the turntable and we talk. To Saskia about languages, about her interest in South African poetry and her times in South Africa. Tsead is to introduce the event I am to read in, with Vera Pavlova and Matthew Sweeney. We are in the small hall, while Tua Forsström, Gerrit Kouwenaar and Henrik Nordbrandt occupy the big hall. Kouwenaar is a monument in Dutch poetry so it is natural they need more space. But our smaller place fills up too, despite it being the last night and all goes well. We file down to the bar for twenty minutes before returning to the big hall where there is celebratory, summative event, with music, clips fragments of transltion and a reappearance by Kazuko Shiraishi with her scrolls and a poem translated by Allen Ginsberg. Comical highlight is the 'Chinese whispers' translation-chain where the first term - a sonnet by Luke Davies - passes through the poetic guts of various other poets, each translating into his or her own language before ending up in English again with Matthew Sweeney. Naturally, the whole thing is a hoot. Then music and photos and it's all over, then more drinks and chatter. About 1 am I leave those still remaining and return to the hotel.
Rotterdam is a very packed festival - I don't think there has been a day when I was not doing something, and I expect it was much the same for a number of the others. Occasionally I had to miss one event because I was engaged in a different one. But there is enormous conviviality - a party air - and the writers are fully catered for, with constant drinks and nibbles on supply. The photographs go up and down both inside and outside the building, so we all appear on the billing.
As ever, most of the practical running of the festival is down to young women. They rarely, if ever, front an event, though women do appear as major featured poets. It is the presentations and introductions that seem to be an almost entirely male preserve. There is a touch of old fashioned doctors and nurses in this, but it is bound to change I imagine. Neptun in Romania is particularly good in this respect, with as many leading women as men, maybe more. The translations into English, with one or two exceptions, are mostly good and very good, there being only one really terrible set. I was extremely fortunate to be translated into Dutch by Rob Schouten - his versions of my work were praised by various people.
All festivals are the same and all are different. Rotterdam is the biggest, most party-like. Sometimes at festivals I feel the poets are children looked after by kindly, occasionally stern nurses. This is unavoidable. Poets can be headstrong, vague in practical affairs, and anxiously vain. Little sign of vanity here.
All in all it has been marvellous. The sheer scale of supporting material - booklets, bilingual and trilingual, of selections from every poet, day-by-day anthologies, filming, photographing, recording, feeding, accommodating and big audiences of a range of ages, at every event. Friends to meet again (this morning chatting to Tua Forsström and her translator over breakfast, our last meeting in London at the South Bank some years ago), new addresses for address books. Ideas for mental notebooks.
It was, I think, Ringo Starr, who said that staying at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's retreat in India was rather like a holiday at Butlin's. That is about the right balance here: deadly serious at listening and reading, the rest of the time: Good morning campers!