Wednesday, 30 January 2013

From Erbil 4

The image, top left, is seen everywhere: Molla Mustafa Barzani, Kurdish president and leader of KDP in military kit. I will upload the photograph I took of the same image

Yesterday, the last grey day, work a little improvised but to good effect. We split into two groups at the university, Lucy and Adam taking a fiction writing workshop, me in charge of the poetry workshop. It began with the usual arrangement of poets, myself, Gulanar and Omar. with myself in charge. I only discovered that some minutes before the session.

By this stage I am usually happy to take on anything without worrying about it. I took the chair, introduced the subject slowly but briefly, making it clear that I wanted the students to be involved.

I first asked them to put up their hands if they had ever written a poem. One girl's hand eventually went up at the back, I asked her about it - then a few more hands went up. I then asked Gulanar and Omar if they could remember their own first poems.

There is a tendency to talk about poetry generally, about its spiritual values, about its subjects, about its traditions. That's very interesting but it is a fully dressed discussion in, I suspect, fairly predictable clothes. I wanted something a little more naked. It takes work and persistence moving discussion along. I tried to do that by finding a breathing space in the poets' talk and asking them to read a short poem. We finished up reading two poems each interspersed with discussion in which I would constantly try to involve students.

Then, after an hour or so, we got into a circle and I gave the students a sonnet to write, not a familiar form for them I think. I talked about the idea of fixed length, about the way the sonnet can develop from one subject to another and then to something surprising. I told them to ignore rhyme and just to use their instinct in where to end the line (we had discussed the concept and meaning of line earlier). They were lively and bold. I'd just dash around between them. I told them that the poem probably wouldn't be finished, but that they should feel no sense of obligation or responsibility. It's not a weight, it's just words.

Some wrote in English, some in Kurdish, some in Arabic. Their English was very good. The girls were confident in reading, and there was at least one very mature and talented boy.

It will be clear from the above that I loved doing this. I thought it was a worthwhile thing to do. People were appreciative, the whole was fresh to them. I have never felt comfortable talking de haut en bas - I like conversation.

From all I hear Lucy and Adam's class took a similar line and was also very successful. More perhaps in the summing-up blog.


I talk about my own experience above because that is where I was, and what I saw. It's what I know. After lunch a sleep. Rachel rings to ask if I would read We Love Life Whenever We Can, my Mahmoud Darwish adaptation, at the end of the proceedings in the evening. The poem is in Bad Machine.

An early tea then on to the bus. The evening is long, close on four hours. The first hour and three-quarters or so at the Peshawar Venue, is the Reel Iraq group reading the work they had translated from each other in their four days. They are clearly a close confident group. The readings are beautiful in English: John Glenday's quiet but perfectly balanced translations set the tone. The Kurdish and Arabic poems, as read by their authors, are emotionally intense and dramatic in performance. The Scottish English has a precision and delicate sharpness that offers a match in terms of concentration. I can't judge the Arabic and Kurdish poems, but they make good poetry in English. Jim Scarth makes a thank you speech. I am then invited up by the lady who had earlier referred to me as Mr Scissors. Having been told the pronunciation of my name after that, she calls me Mr Scissors again. I suppose she is under pressure. It's quite funny. Mr Scissors reads his adaptation of Darwish to general good will.

After the peformance, a break, a musical interlude by a chamber group, another break, then some serious and spirited folk dancing in magnificent costume. This is considerably cheering and we clap and some people dance in the relatively empty hall, which loses a little of its Stalinist sternness. Some affectionate leave taking, plenty of photographs.

Stay up till 3:30, three double Bush Mills. Wake at 6am, have breakfast. Delayed start. A summing up blog to come next time.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Dear Mr. George,

I had to dash off and almost slammed the door behind me at the poor performance of the NYIO, Beethoven was spinning in his grave then,on the other hand I couldn't help preventing myself from dancing with Samarqand and Sabreen from Reel Iraq and others when the Kurdish music and dance started, wished there were more songs and dancing.