|You know what LK looks like. This is Semezdin Mehmedinovic. Fine poet. Fine face.|
The driver didn't know exactly where the Goethe Institut was but we found it down another dignified looking street and were ushered in and down the corridor to a room with drinks and sandwiches in time for a 1pm start, or pretty near. You know what to do. You put down your coat if you have one and your bag if you have one, pick up a glass of wine, manipulate a sandwich towards your mouth preferably near a table and you talk. People are still arriving. This link takes you to the programme.
You will see it started with LK and I reading and talking with the critic, James Wood, then went on to a staged reading from the play Brandung/Abyss followed by a conversation between the playwright Maria Milisavljevic and Israeli stage director Guy Ben-Aharon. That was followed by readings and conversations between Bosnian poet Semezdin Meymedinovic and his translator, poet Ammiel Alcalay, chaired by Ainsley Morse and so on down the list as you can see from the link. Each time there was a brief break for more water or wine, and some nibbles (some delicious). It was a full day. There was a lovely reading by translator Stacey Knecht of Hrabal's Harlequins Millions, and some readings from English versions of Ivan Blatny by the translator Veronika Tuckerova. To end it all there was a slightly curious performance of Baroque music.
What is all this like?
The event with LK, James Wood and myself was straightforward - I read about 25 minutes worth of poems about Central Europe, language, and translation and talked about them, ending with The Death of the Translator. LK read two essays, in my translation I think but both done a while ago. Then we talked with James (very charming) about poetry, apocalypse and translation, not necessarily in that order, and in the meanwhile lovely Barbara Epler of New Directions, whose train from NY had been delayed by fire on the line, appeared and joined the audience. We managed to talk a little, then she went off with LK and Dorka and I stayed through the rest of the programme, particularly enjoying the Mehmedinovic poems and the Hrabal, occasionally working hard to survive the lack of sleep. The conversations were thrown open to the audience each time, and at one point I got involved because I was intrigued by a question - that is in the second session with Semezdin and Ammiel. When I am intrigued I start talking, chiefly flying ideas or asking more questions. It is probably this that gets me invited to conferences generally. 'He's got something to say,' they think, so they make me say it. I can't remember now what the question was. It was a question. Sometimes that's enough.
Then we all went off in taxis into the rain to have a vast tapas meal under awnings in a nearby street. We sprawled literature and translation. We ate books and magazines. There were some fourteen of us passing dishes round, trying to talk to each other. Then back to the hotel in more taxis.
This is not so much a reflection as a report. Dull stuff really. LK, Dorka and I managed to get some good private conversation in the odd moment. I do believe LK is being turned into a god, especially in France. He takes it well on the whole. A good part of my life has been serving him with translations but he is rather remarkable, decent and essentially, sane.
Boston is a literary city all right though. There is no mistaking that.
Two delights en passant. One of the first people I met in the Goethe corridor was a Twitter friend who goes by the name of Isseki Nicho, though her real name is Heather. She was lovely. The there was Carl, also of Twitter acquaintance. Both had come a little way, partly at least to meet me, which is very flattering in a schoolboy sort of way. It cheered me up. I thanked them then and would love to thank them again.
I will do some reflecting in the next post.