Friday, 5 December 2014
Malaysia Notebook 4 December:
Germany day and Poetry-Film evening
Germany day and Poetry-Film evening
This time lunch at the Roast Duck, a Hong Kong style restaurant in Bangsar Village, with Eddin, Pauline, the head of the Goethe Institut in KL, Rolf Stehle, the director of the Literaturwerkstatt in Berlin, Dr Thomas Wohlfahrt and a young German intern whose name I didn't catch though it might be Alexander. The occasion is the presentation of a selection of poem-films from the Zebra archive of the Literaturwerkstatt. Lunch naturally involves duck and a good many other things. Clarissa and I are nothing to do with the evening except as guests, and being invited to dinner means as rather privileged guests. But then that is what we have been the whole time really. We make friendly conversation, I mostly with Herr Stehle since we are next to each other at the round table. After lunch Eddin drives us back to our accommodation. We could walk it in fifteen minutes but walking isn't done much here when a car is available. When in Kuala Lumpur do as the Kuala Lumpurs do.
The film show is in the evening at APW a converted printing works complete with auditorium, bar and much else. Slowly the hall fills up and, eventually, overfills. The idea of poetry-film is not films that may be poetic but rather the interpretation of an actual poetic text, often through computer work. We see about a dozen short films including a relatively early but ingenious version of Austrian sound poet Ernst Jandl created on an Amiga computer, move on to a snappy rhythmic interpretation of a Peter Reading poem and many others involving drawing, reading, performance, stop-frame animation, abstraction, grotesque and mixtures of them all. The one that takes my breath away is by one by Taiwanese poet, Ye Mimi, They Are There But I Am Not. Here is the link to it. Its timing, its restraint, its depth, its spare lyricism, the quality of its feeling and thought and its sheer simple precision seemed far beyond the rest to me. There was a fine comic-grotesque version of a poem by Ingeborg Bachman, an excellent rap performance by an exiled American Cambodean poet, versions of Billy Collins (his 'Budapest') and Mahmoud Darwish at the end reading one of his to simple figure images and arabic script in motion. Everything was pretty good and some excellent. The ones that dealt with issues might be most effective in moving emotions but their intentions are clear from the start. They set out to do something and do it. Sometimes they collapse into a kind of bathos (I don't blame them, their cause is great and drives them into grander forms of rhetoric) before recovering. There are extranous reasons for admiring these and indeed people do admire them. John Giorno speaks a fine comic poem against family values. Everyone laughs and claps loudly in approval of the message before returning to their family values. Another poem rhapsodises about freedom and jazz, and all the good things one might rhapsodise about and everyone claps. Sure we clap. It's easy.
We like to be told we are free spirits laughing at convention. It help us to go on with our conventions. We have businesses to run, deals to clinch, jobs to go to, articles to write. I don't think this is precisely hypocrisy but a kind of social behaviour, like people who want to be thought interesting at parties and declare, 'I am mad, me, quite mad!' You can bet your bottom dollar they are saner than you are.
But I love Ye Mimi's film and I love her poem. The two together are a bringing out of the poem not by illustrating it or referring to it, but by realising it at quite another level. I shall be looking out for her work.
We meet old friends from last year, poets and translators. Then a drink at the bar with Herr Stehle, Dr Wohlfahrt, and friends. I try something called a Budapest cocktail (that's two Budapests in one evening, neither of them anything to do with Budapest) simply because of the name. It contains rye whisky and lapsang souchong and a few other things. It is pleasant and strong. Then we are off to a late meal of naan dipped in whatever curried sauce is available together with nibbles of tandoori chicken. It is late.
Today we fly to Kelantan to see the shadowplay of Wayang Kulit based on the Ramayana. The play can last several hours and involve trance and healing. Fortunately Pauline will be there to interpret for us. Kelantan is about an hour's flight to the north. We stay two nights then return here on Sunday and stay the night before flying back to Singapore to catch our flight to the UK. I don't know whether there will be wifi in Kelantan but I have a strong suspicion there will be.