|Welcome with drums at the theatre complex|
Days tend to be very full at festivals and this was no exception - in fact it surpassed most that I have known.
It is a miracle that the festival has come about at all since it was quite late before it was confirmed and we all received our invitations in mid-February, with quite lot of information and paperwork afterwards. Considering that, the organisation has been quite astounding - very grand, with musicians, everyone's portraits and a poem printed bannersize, with an exhibition of our books, full colour programme book gifts, all meticulous.
The previous night I had sat down in the hotel restaurant and met some of the other participants. We chatted, noted where we might or might not have met before. A little background. All very open. People moved round, came and went at tables, that's how we make our first contacts. A number had been at Medellin at the same time. Then back to our rooms to sleep off the journey, and, in my case, to write the inaugural address. I must have fallen asleep afterwards in bed without meaning to because I found my glasses on the floor - that is after quite a lot of panicky peering.
The festivities began in the big auditorium, well packed, of the theatre complex. There were formal welcoming speeches then straight on to the inaugural address. I talked for about 10-15 minutes then read six poems. All that was fine. Then the chief guest, a delightful, but blind Kunwar Narain made a brief speech, followed by the Guest of Honour, then four readings, by Les Wicks (Australian), Nikola Madzirov (Macedonian - I'll come back to him), Ingrid Fichtner (German, but living in Zurich) Najwan Darwish (Palestinian and very political). I enjoyed them all very much but it was particularly fascinating for me to listen to Nikola because he is a fellow Central European and the feeling for imagery, texture, and rhetorical level is something I understand at gut level. Rhetorical level? In this case a mixture of lyricism and historical irony. There is no over-reach in the poems but the feeling gathers and locates them in images and memory. He is in Bloodaxe, so it's a good idea to find his book. This is the latest leg of his two months world tour.
After lunch I was, surprisingly, called back on again to read, taking the place of the absent Philip Nikolayev, and had quickly to be driven back to the hotel to fetch more poems so I missed about half an hour of the 2pm session, but did hear three of the poets in full: Marra PL. Lanot from the Philippines, Miroslav Topinka (Czech Republic), Vanita (India), and some of Keki N. Daruwalla (India). Then a cup of tea and more chat, and the 4pm session, where I read with Pia Tafdrup (Denmark), Tamilanban and Thangjam Ibopishak Singh (both India). Mine was a hasty selection, mostly new stuff but including The Death of the Translator, which was a risk because it's prose and it's humorous. My best general advice to myself would normally be: Don't try humour on a foreign audience. They won't laugh because they are not certain they are supposed to. But at my age I don't too much. I just do stuff and hope it goes well. And indeed there were a good number of translators there and it all went off well.
I particularly enjoyed Pia Tafdrup's poems about her father's dementia. Such beautiful simple yet organic things, memories of childhood chiefly, beautifull translated by David McDuff.
Indian audiences are quite quiet. A brief ripple of applause is the equivalent of a rapturous reception, and silence is good too because people are listening. And people really do listen very hard here. It is very flattering to us all.
Let me now split this post into two....