Saturday 25 April 2015

IDEA at Inönü University, Malatya 5:
Bond on Gibraltar, Dora Maar slandered, Rebecca haunted

Mrs Danvers is behiiind you!

I had a non-sleeping night on the Friday. A hardly sleeping night. A minimally deep-purple pretty well white-throughout night. So I missed the first session when I might have had - and would happily have had (among much else) - more Gallipoli with, among others, the world-trekking Australian-Italian-Hungarian novelist Inez Baranay to whom I talked properly only the next day.

But I didn't miss the very first thing, Finland-based John Stotesbury's keynote on 'An Emergent Post-Colonial Cultutral Identity? The Gibraltar Case'  which started with seven minutes of Timothy Dalton as James Bond in a car chase on Gibraltar from The Living Daylights. Bond grimaces and conquers, parachute-dropping at the last from a great height onto a glamorous woman's yacht (the full glory of the last three minutes is there for your delectation in that link) to great laughter and applause from the conference audience. We know the Bond game, we allow for it, we cheer at its irony knowing that is all over and done with.

That's a fine start to a film but that is all we see of Gibraltar in it. John took us through some Gibralter history and asked how does a new post-colonial literature emerge in a heterogeneous colony of some thirty-thousand people stuck on a rock on the end of a hostile nation? And how does alpha-male Bond represent the imperial power that  made Gibraltar British in the first place? Well, there is a native crime fiction, Gibraltar Noir. Joyce refers to Gibraltar (possibly, where he had never been) in Molly Bloom's monologue at the end of Ulysses. Owing to John's great range of expertise I referred to him in an earlier post as Professor of Everything and I don't exaggarate by much. His ability to flit from one area of knowledge to another is extraordinary. So, besides Bond, Gibraltar, history, ficitional writings on Gibraltar by Paul Theroux, Anthony Burgess and Caryl Phillips among others, post-colonialism, and native Gibraltarian literature - which has, he says, only just begin to exist, we had ideas of museumification, the ideas of local speaking to global. We also discovered that Gibraltar was full of holes like cheese and that the famous Barbary macaque monkeys that inhabt it had to be re-supplied by Churchill for the sake of omens (see the ravens in The Tower of London for symbolic comparison).

The whole was very like Bond's, skeetering down the precipitous path on that apparently endless road in Gibraltar. The next day's events, by a curious irony, were to echo the same precipitous progress. There was the parachute at the end and no lack of glamorous female scholars in the audience. It was all very uncanny, or, as scholars tend to say, unheimlich.


After John I was kindly rushed home in a car, slept an hour or so, then returned to the fray to catch a session I very much wanted to hear on Ekphrasis. Having written and delivered an MA course  titled Writing the Visual on the subject it was of considerable interest to me. The trouble was I missed the firts paper by the poet Nazmi Agil, about ekphrastic poetry as an agon between competing poets, in other words the poem being more about poetry than about art.

The second paper  by Özlem Uzundemir was thorough and pretty well convincing in a way I have been convinced before. It was a study of Picasso's relationship with the Argentinian photographer Dora Maar and how that relationship was treated by the poet Grace Nichols in her book, Picasso, I want my face back. Big bullying male Midas oppresses female talent. He defines her. She is defined by him. It's a fair enough thesis accompanied by some of Picasso's portraits of Maar in that late Cubist-Expressionist styleof his where everything is jagged and jarring (not just Dora Maar of course). The case is worth making each time and it was made.

I was immediately on stage to chair a session on Romantic poetry, the first paper (by Suna Özcan) comparing Keats' Ode to a Nightingale to Hardy's The Darkling Thrush, the second (by Seçil Erkoç) on Keats, tragedy and death, the third by Professor Rajeswar Pal on American Romanticism, specifically Freneau, but a great range of others, developing the view that American Romanticism precedes the English. The first two papers were good, solid work; Professor Pal's, as you might expect from a senior academic, packed in a great deal more, which is no shame at all on Özcan or Erkoç. I have a fondness for ideas that take a leap into the dark, risk running against the tide and being wrong. Being wrong is how we get to being right, I suspect.

That's a lot to ask. As it was I was in the chair trying to keep time while listening. I do listen, and listen hard because I am fascinated by ideas and arguments. It is satisfying to hear a well-made case but I would always be tempted to advise a touch of idiosyncratic madness.

Easy for me to say at this end of a life.


The very last session included a well-organised paper by Gaye Kuru on Salman Rushdie and the idea of monstrosity via Foucault, and a reflection by Mustafa Demirel on Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist in which, after various wrestlings, the west (colonialism and capitalism) turned out to bad and the east (Pakistan and Islam) good, which was an implicit binary in many papers. The middle paper of the three, by Nil Korkut-Nayki, was for me the best. It partook of both feminism and post-colonialism but its central concern was with a Derridean hauntology in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. I thought this paper was beyond dutiful in that it was beautifully constructed and felt like discovery throughout. The tendency of some theory is to cut its subject according to its tenet. We are invited to observe how well an idea works when any inconvenient  feature in the work is removed so the art may be deomstrated to fit the idea. That may still make for real interest in terms of proficiency. You can do this well but if it is less interesting to me that may be because I am a poet not a scholar and like things to go flash, bang and boom now and then. Nil Korkut-Nayki's paper was exhilarating to follow: ghosts and hauntings always are.


In the evening to the caravanserai for poetry. Here Robyn Rowland and her translator Mehmet Ali Çelikel perform six poems from This Intimate War: Gallipoli / Çanakkale 1915.Like all Robyn's work it is humane, highly charged and empathetic. It is the product of much research among the papers of both Anzac and Ottoman Turkish soliders and their relatives. The hall is cold but the feeling is warm. Here are some lines from one of the poems in the book, Sky fighting:

Fat and solid under wood and straw hats,
old stone windmills of Tenedos throw their fabric sails
to the wind, dance for the living, grinding flour.
Below their hil, Göztepe,
strange insects are uncracking from larva cages...

...Four-inch pointed steel with fins,
dropped by boxloads of 500, they hail terror,
can pierce a man from his head through his organs to his feet.
Silent, a hard rain and deadly, one kills Turan, son of Mehmed.

Between poems Robyn asks one of the audience to sing. She has heard her sing before. Here is a snatch of that singing.

Tomorrow: an excursion, after that, when I can, the text of my keynote.

Friday 24 April 2015

IDEA at Inönü University, Malatya 4: Frankenstein's Monster, Golden Tickets, Howl

From hotel to university, from university to meal, from meal to hotel. It is late. It is inevitably late. The mind is active (mine tends to whirr like a mad toyshop) and, while the bed is inviting, sleep may not come, or rather come fitfully, in small deep-purple patches, in between a night that is white and blinding. It is increasingly in those blinding white patches that I start writing poems or texts. It is then that they arrange themselves into a convincing dreamlike yet logical pattern. I am still in bed, and when I am home, C is beside me, stirring occasionally but asleep, the light on the phone set to dim. I write then eventually I turn over, put the phone down and, with luck, enter the deep purple.

But here in Malatya, the day begins and it's from hotel to university again.

My own keynote address came first this morning but in order not to interrupt the sequence of events I will save the text of it to the end of the series. (It was some forty minutes long so will take a few posts.)

Academic conferences are generally runs of papers grouped according to some perceived thematic link. The mind carries the freight of one paper over into another that way, not so much as a mess of miscellaneous notes, more a coherent narrative, easier to comprehend.

But there are papers that stand out, that are radically different, and Laurence Raw's first paper in the Grand Hall was one of those. He stood, he walked about, he spoke rather than read, he had a radio mic, and he talked about a term new to me, mesearch. His official title was 'Frankenstein, Radio and the Gothic Imagination' and  those were indeed the themes he explored but via the self.

Raw's own experience was of a recurrent cancer that meant he lost his voice and had to learn to speak all over again. He was effectively his own body of research. He was, as he put it, Frankenstein's monster.  He went on to recall a radio version of the Mary Shelley classic that brought the sensation of the monster and its movements closer to him. In the course of his paper he referred to my own keynote a little earlier, particularly - and in fact natutrally - to those parts of it that postulated unseen presences and shiftings of voice. His own writings in this area, he stressed, were therapeutic, which is a brave thing to assert in an academic conference where the concerns of the first person singular are usually left at the door. But there was a nakedness to this that showed academic procedure in a new light. His own well-established academic background was being interrogated by a non-academic persona. Was it self-indulgent? Yes, but that was the whole point. The complete field of human enquiry must include the self-as-other. We are our own Frankenstein's monsters: both Frankenstein and monster.

The papers that followed, on Gothic and 'the Paradigm Shift' about 'the emergence of horror literature', an essentially Marxist analysis by Entugrul Koç, and about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (now through Dahl, now in the Tim Burton - Johnny Depp film) as an aspect of Post-Colonial literature (those Oompa-Loompas recruited from the colonies to slave away in the high church of industrial capitalism), by Elçin Kandilci, were convincing - not that I needed much convincing in most respects - but were bound to seem a little conventional after that start. It all fitted except, in the case of Charlie, the poor family's own relationship to the Golden Ticket. They must see something in it beyond the rewards of capitalism and the desires of those 'hard-working families' we are currently hearing so much about.

The problem with most papers is that having chosen a methodology they snip and chisel away until the subject fits it. The two above didn't do that but one can see how cases are made and justified.

After a coffee break we moved on to the Gallipoli Panel. Since today - the precise day I am writing this - is in fact Gallipoli Day, the hundredth anniversary no less of that campaign and an occasion therefore of great pride for Turkish people, as well the day of commemoration of, shall we call it, the Armenian Genocide (as Wikipedia does) I am happy for the reader to follow his or her own links according to preference. Nations are institutions in which the official left hand is often best not knowing - or rather prevented from acknowledging - what the official right hand does or has done, nor is Turkey unique in this respect.

The project of the panel is entirely praiseworthy: it is to celebrate peace and goodwill between the Anzacs and the Turkish people, to celebrate their mutual heroism, humanity and sacrifice. The project does so by investigating and gathering material from the combatants of the time in the form of poems and letters and the oral evidence of relatives. The poems by Robyn Rowland (translated by Mehmet Ali Çelikel) written for the project and based on considerable research were to come the next evening.


Two more sessions after lunch, the first session (my choice out of the four offered) on the idea of evil as defined by Terry Eagleton (via Sevcan Isik), one on Campus Novels, in Bakhtinian terms (via Taner Can), the third on Susan Hill, a Kohutian Approach (by Mukadder Erkan). My attention is slipping a little by this time but I like the Bakhtinian insights into the Campus Novel by way of heteroglossia, polyphony and the carnivalesque. (I just like Bakhtin generally). We can go from Lucky Jim onwards, but I wonder about Jarrell's Pictures from an Institution and, indeed, much later, Tom Sharpe's Porterhouse Blue and about the whole idea of farce in this context.

The last session of the official day included 'Reverberations of Allen Ginsberg's Howl in Turkey' by Zeynep Ayça Germen, which was chiefly about an exhibition of Turkish art in response to Howl. Yes, America is bad, New York skyscrapers are Moloch, peace is definitely better than war, and the best minds of Ginsberg's generation might have been 'destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked' (actually starving?) but I wasn't sure that Eliot was a stroll through a well-kept civil park, which is not my memory of The Waste Land, nor that New Criticism was an academically stifling force. Howl is a terrific poem of course but I kept wanting to know what it meant to specifically Turkish readers. Was it just about monstrous America? In what way was it about its Turkish readers? Where did Howl have its roots? How far was it in Jewish texts, in the Bible (in the prophets), in Milton, in Blake, in Whitman? I didn't even ask about Turkish translations of the poem. Even so the latter were unreasonable matters to bring up in the Turkish context. I talked to Zeynep afterwards and she was delightful so I was sorry to have asked question beyond the text of the title. I ask politely of course, downright courteously in fact, or think I do. But I once I start thinking I start asking.

The evening was dinner at the Two Trees (my hotel) followed by a quiz (at which my own table did middling well) and dancing. I join the dancing. I always do, figuring out my own best appropriate steps after watching others. Dancing is delicious. I was just heading out of the hall after a first bout of dancing when a couple of women got up and invited me to join them. I did of course. They were lovely. So many are. It is good to dance.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

IDEA at Inönü University, Malatya 3:
Travelling exotics and simulacra

Berkan con guitar

Berkan Ulu, who was kind enough to invite me, picks me up at the hotel in a borrowed car. It is very good to see him. He had spent a semester at UEA some years ago where I befriended him and we kept in touch. We chat on the way in. He says I haven't aged. He certainly hasn't. He looks as boyish as ever. It's a respectable drive from hotel to university which is on a campus with great gates. Downstairs in the entrance hall there are two tables with books and programmes. The angels stand and serve, smiling, pleased to see us. And there is Susanne Klinger whom I first met - again briefly - at UEA where she was doing her PhD. Now she is teaching here.

Lunch is in a big hall described as the ball room. Is there dancing in it now? Perhaps there was once. Large circular tables seat some six or seven. As usual, I know no-one, but sit down with Susanne where I see a space at the same table where Ian Galbraith is sitting. I have only once met Ian and that rather briefly at a Sebald event in Norwich. He lives in Germany so we are unlikely to run in to each other too often.

My keynote is written (I will post the text at the end of this Malatya series) so I don't need to prepare for anything but I do intend to be alert. First I have to wake up. I have my notebook, as supplied by Inönü, I make conversation as we all do.

Conversation might be good or it might be difficult. I am highly aware that this is the hundredth anniversary of Gallipoli of which we will, understandably, hear a lot, including a full discussion and poems at a book launch, but also that it is, at the same time, the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian massacre (or, of course, genocide depending on where you stand - the UN calls it genocide) of which we will, understandably, hear little or nothing. I haven't come here to say anything about either but will listen with curiosity.

I am immediately sorry to have missed Ian's keynote as others mention it with pleasure. I hope mine might go well. But it's straight back to the Grand Hall for three papers, one on Rose Macauley's The Towers of Trebizond (I am still waking up through this one) followed by one on the travels of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and her experience of a hammam, this being compared to a similar account by a male traveller. The title is fascinating in itself, taken directly from Wortley Montagu, A Spectacle which would Make a Hundred Painters Drop their Brushes in Astonishment. It will remain my favourite title of the week. Naturally there is reference to Ingres and other orientalising painters. And of course there is a feminist perspective, feminism being the basis of many papers, even more than post-colonialism. It is beautifully constructed by Julia Szoltysek so it works as both argument and art.

The third paper is by US Professor of Rhetoric, Sarah Orgun-Perrault. It is set in terms of rhetoric but its subject is trust. How far should we trust scientists when they are explaining things to the public? Should we ask whether a scientist is being supported by an industry that might influence the scientist's position. There is the relationship between the specialist and the specialism, there is the trust between the scientist and the scientific community and there is the relation of both to the third term: the public. Sarah is arguing for scepticism about scientists claiming to reassure the public on behalf of their own commercial interests. There is always a cui bono question, of course. Whose interests does a professional opinion serve?

My slight unease with this line of argument is that it is based on an assumption of bad faith on one side only (the good side may be, indeed it is in this case, my side, which - oddly enough - troubles me more). The trouble is that the other side simply reverses the bad faith argument and addresses it in terms of personal integrity. an integrity which they presume to possess. I can't help feeling that if we attribute all good to one side and all bad to the other we abandon argument altogether. The other side may think just the same of you. To my somewhat idealistic cast of mind it would be better to assume that the other person is acting from genuine convictions but is wrong. Then we try to prove him or her wrong.

Yes, but has always been my instinct. It gets me into trouble sometimes, especially with my own side in so far as it is a side rather than a view. On the other hand I am pretty sure that it's the yes but in me that has made me a poet.


There is a very good set of papers after coffee on the idea of truth in biography and memory generally, centering on Baudrillard's argument about simulacra, the idea that we live in a world of copies that we take for the real world.

There are two particularly interesting papers on Julian Barnes's book England, England where a rich businessman buys up the Isle of Wight and turns it into a theme park based on received ideas of England. In Barnes's hands this turns into a political fable with commercialism at its core. How far can a nation sell itself? The date of the book, 1998, is not discussed but it occurs to me that it will have been written the year before, the year of the election that brought Tony Blair and New Labour to power and saw the death of Princess Diana whose funeral represented - or seemed to represent - a crisis point for the monarchy. If one could have had a simulacrum of Princess Diana in 1997 one would have made a fortune. (But was she, in her way, already a simulacrum of herself, I wonder).

These are clever papers by Elzem Nazli and Yigit Sümbül, arguing along similar Baudrillardian lines. There is a reality somewhere, goes the argument, but the simulacrum has taken its place. Something (England / the empire?) has hollowed out. There is of course a clear political reading available: vested interests exert their power by leading us away from reality towards an alternative version that seems still more real while going about their wicked business.

And it's true, it's only that I have a problem with ideas like reality and authenticity. I suspect they too are constructions. I recall the chicken tikka masala argument of some years ago. This most popular of dishes in England is a fake, not a real Indian dish. I understand that but the assumption that if we only looked hard enough in a particular village, down a particular street, behind a particular door, in a particular kitchen, in a particular pot we would find an authentic ur-dish that we may call reality seems a little fake in itself.

But who cares and who knows? I don't. The papers are exciting and invite discussion especially from John Stotesbury, Professor of Everything in Finland, who was actually born on the Isle of Wight. He is an echt Vectian. In order to make England England you have to kick the locals out. He is reality in the flesh. Take that, Baudrillard!

Then we drive away away, down winding roads, rising among hills to the Kalegöl Hotel overlooking the lake produced by the dam. It is spectacular. The sun is setting. It is spectacular. I spend time talking to Susanne. The evening is fading into night for me. I need more sleep.

At Kalegöl

IDEA at Inönü University, Malatya 2: Prequel

The Double Tree Hilton. I was on the sixth floor - at the back

I was going to write a number of posts from Malatya as the conference went on but days were so full and wifi contact being only available first thing n the morning and last thing at night, it grew impossible.

Furthermore, as soon as I returned on Sunday, I was committed to going back to London on Monday for the presentation of the Wingate / Jewish Quarterly Book Prize of which I was one of the judges and had to report back in a little detail on two books as well as say something of poetry on the long list and read one of my own poems. It's quite a long trip down to London and one gets back late so today is the first day I can take a shot at getting some of it down.

Even so I am doing it while reviewing the new Penguin Book of Russian Poetry for the New Statesman and reading the work of about twenty poets in preparation for the day of Oxford teaching and reading on Monday at Kellogg College (staying overnight Sunday and Monday). Tomorrow night I am in London again, reading at Keats's House. Once back from Oxford I am reading in London (with Katharine Kilea and Mona Arshi) the following Friday and taking part in a conversation at the South Bank on Saturday before rocketing off to Lumb Bank to teach a solid week of the Arvon Course with novelist Monique Roffey, and back in London again on Sunday to read at Imperial College in a reprise of the Mathematics of Freedom project.

Sometimes it is hard to get one's breath.


Let me, all the same, put down as much as I can about my stay in Malatya, about the conference, the themes, the papers, the people, the evenings and days.

I should preface this all by saying it was a terrific conference with something like 120 papers, three keynote addresses, of which I gave one, as did Ian Galbraith and John Stotesbury, special sessions on the hundredth anniversary of Gallipoli with Australian poet Robyn Rowland and others. The presenters included poets, playwrights, novelists, scholars, and students at various levels from doctorate down to masters.

All this takes serious organising and co-ordinating and if timetabling in Turkey is a flexible enterprise nevertheless everything gets done.

The whole was helped along by marvellous students generally - and rightly - referred to as 'angels' Such sweet, warm and efficient people deserve the highest praise. And since I expect some of them might be reading this I want to thank them, as I do all the senior academics who brought us together.


Having been part of the Writing and Reading in the Digital Era session with James Knight and Mauricio Montiel at the London Book Fair on the 14th the first flight I could get was 22:30. I had had to get up pretty early to get to Olympia for the LBF. It was a surprisingly warm day and if pushing my red trolley along while wearing a raincoat was a little uncomfortable on train, underground and bus it was even less comfortable inside Olympia which is very much like Baudelaire's 'fourmillante cité', a proper ant-swarming city. I have already said something about the event in a previous post so all that remains to say is that after a lovely lunch with Mauricio and James and Mauricio's friend, Ana, I made my way to Heathrow 2 and hung about for several hours before boarding.

The flight is about three and a half hours and sleep is not really an option since a meal is served at just the point one might fall asleep. Landing at Istanbul I made my way to domestic flights for the plane to Malatya. That's another two hours or so in less luxurious style than in the international part of the airport. The passengers were different too. Gnarled old men and women, the women veiled and scarved, one or two young men, a couple of men in business suits and hardly any girls. That's another hour and a half flight, still awake.

At Malatya I was met by one of the angels, Hurize, and one of the professors over from Ankara, a very nice guy with whom we kept up a conversation, along with some others arriving at the same time. By the time we arrived at the hotel I was walking dead. I had been awake for twenty-four hours. The idea was to take me straight to the conference to hear the first keynote (originally to have been given by me) by Ian Galbraith, but I asked if I could miss the morning sessions and grab some sleep, if only an hour. I was sorry to do this but had seen from the programme that, straight after the day finished we'd be taken to a reception at a hotel some way from town for abig meal. That was impossible.

So I went to my large room with all its mod cons, showered, and lay down on the bed, setting the alarm in time to be picked up in time for lunch.

I'll proceed from there in the next post.

Thursday 16 April 2015

IDEA at Inônü University, Malatya 1

After a sleep of an hour or two I was ready to enter the fray at the University. Berkan drove me in. I got to know him when he spent a semester at UEA and we became friends.  He is one of the people running the show here, IDEA being a large conference running over several days with over a hundred papers, that moves around the universities of the country.

A little about Malatya first. As I wrote yesterday it is chielfy known for its marvellous apricots which, the brochure tells us:

  • Helps the brain function and reduces stress
  • Cures the damaged tissues of liver
  • Makes bones shapelier and stronger
  • etc. Right through another eight cardinal virtues and blessings. Besides which apricots taste nice.

The city is in the Upper Euphrates Basin in Eastern Anatolia, that is a long way south-east of  semi-European Istanbul. It is mostly high plateau with predictably hot summers and cold winters. It was an important point on various trade routes nd the Silk Road. It has deep history.

The first of the apricot virtues is useful at the conference itself. I have arrived at lunchtime. The first person I meet is Susanne Klinger who, again, I first met at UEA when she was writing her PhD on translation. We chat over coffee, then lunch, and head into the first session. There are always four on offer and one could move between them all but this time I opt for a non-fiction slot that includes papers on Rose Macauley, on Lady Mary Wortley Montague and on Ethos and Persona in Popular Science Texts in the context of rhetoric.

The first two two complement each other, both on aspects of orientalism and the idea of travel writing. The Towers of Trebzon paper given by Fatih Oztürk concentrates on the figure of the monkey and what it signifies in Macauley but I m not fully hearing as I am still waking up. The seond, by Julia Szoltysey is in many respects a feminist paper about the perception of the harem as presented by Wortley Montague and by Edmondo de Amici. It's a beautifully constructed talk ending with Ingres. Afterwars I chat to Julia briefly about other western artists' representation of the harem, thinking Delacroix but time is short.

The third of the papers by Sarah Orgun-Perrault from the USA is about the way we trust or do not / should or should not trust scientists. The terms of rhetoric she refers to concern technical knowledge but also the relationsip between ytechniocal athority and its context among peers as well as its relationship to public. It's very clear and animated. At bottom it comes down to concerns about capitalism and climate change. It is a whirlwind guide to the rhetorical reading of science and potential interest. Because it is whirlwind it has to present science as an undisputed, undifferentiated whole, and the moral scepticism that should question at as similarly coherent and totalised. There are, in effect, bad scientists paid off by the petro-chemical industry and good, socially conscious opponents. My suspicion is that both the science and its audience are split. I am essentially in agreement with her but a - probably unavoidable - simplified account of anything touches a slightly discordant chord with me.

The trouble is however I count myself of the left-liberal persuasion I resist its polarised rhetoric as much as I do that of the right, however more dispiriting and dangerous I find the right. I say 'the trouble is' but it gets me into trouble with both sides. But if that's where you have to be, that is where you have to be.

The session afterwards about the relationship autobiography and biography and fiction, and readings of Julian Barnes's England England in the context of Baudrillard was gorgeous and exciting but I can't write it up now as I have to be down in the lobby to be taken back to the conference and make my own keynote. I'll return to Barnes, Baudrillard and biography as and when I can,

Now wish me luck.  A picture to follow plus any typo editing.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Arriving in Malatya via the London Book Fair

I am writing this about 20:15 local time in the Hilton at Malatya. It has been a long two days.

Yesterday, Tuesday, I woke very early about 4:45am, and stayed awake knowing I'd have to catch the 8:16 from Wymondham to Olympia via Stratford, and then, after the London Book Fair, scuttle off to Heathrow. This actually entailed two separate trips. I won't go into detail but getting to Olympia involves a change at Shepherds Bush where the right trains are infrequent. I had to be there before 12:30 since I was doing a spot with the Mexican writer, Mauricio Montiel, known on Twitter as El Hombre de Tweed, and the English poet James Knight, also known as The Bird King and @badbadpoet.

Bird King, Hombre de Tweed and a character calling himself George Szirtes

I had never met either before but we had been in plenty of correspondence via Twitter, reading each other's work. This being Mexico's year at the London Book Fair, Mauricio was able to invite both James and I for a 45 minute reading and conversation at Author HQ, a very well attended spot in the ordered chaos that is LBF. My problem is that I was dragging my trolley fwith clothes and other stuff for the Turkey conference as well as wearing a raincoat as an in-case over the next four or five days. Controlling the trolley was like having a big red dog at one's heels, not easy to steer through great crowds.

Neither man looked exactly as I had imagined he would though elegant Mauricio was within in my imagined spectrum. I thought James would be more freaky, wild-haired or shorn-headed, an ear and nose-rings type but he was a tall, handsome young gentleman of impeccable politeness. He had kept his real identity quite separate from his Twitter persona or poet mask, as had Mauricio, the Man of Tweed (appropriately wearing a tweed jacket). Mauricio, it turned out, had already composed a novel of some 400pp in the Tweed voice and character, a novel that might stretch to as much as 650pp, entirely in Tweets. Mauricio'svery sweet friend Ana who worked with Book Fairs was with him too.

Our event came. We read and talked and answered questions from a large audience. The most interesting question came from our chair, Julio, who asked how far the internet, and in particular Twitter, had changed the way we - and people generally - think. That is a very big subject but we had a brief shot at it. I might write more about that later.

In the audience, poet Clarissa Aykyord and, on the way out, poet and writer Richard Gwyn whom I had first met in India. But there was time only for a few words as everyone was caught up in business and crowds.

Afterwards we went for a late lunch somewhere nearby (as Mauricio's guests) and continued a conversation that could have gone on far longer. I suspect it will.


This is dully written stuff just recording what happened. What happened next was the trains to Heathrow, hours of waiting at the airport for the 22:30 flight, writing a little in the main lounge, then the three and a half hour flight on a very comfortable modern plane the only difficulty being that they served an evening meal about midnight. Landing at Istanbul I had to transfer to an nternal flight, which was another hour and more of waiting with a distinctly non-international group of passengers in headscarves and fur caps, very old women in versions of village wear, men with not quite tidy  cultivated stubble, then onto a smaller but perfectly comfortable plane to Malatya.

By this time I had been up about 22 hours so was feeling the lack of sleep. I and others were at met at the arrivals lounge and driven quite a long way to the hotel. That was about 8 local time. The idea was that we would be rushed straight to the conference but I was exhausted and asked to have an hour or two to lie down. After a little concern that I would miss the first keynote lecture by the translator Ian Galbraith (I did in fact miss it), it was agreed that I should rest because it was perfectly obvious how exhausted I was by just looking at me.

So Berkan Ulu, the kindly writer who had invited me, called for me at the hotel at 12:30 and drove me to the university, which is where the account of the conference will begin in the next post.

What did I see of Malatya? Broad highways in hazy sun, much building-in-progress, little sign of inner city life. It was like the outskirts of Erbil in Northern Iraq or of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Raw, expanding, rural and only just urban. Malatya is a big apricot growing region and a major army base but I saw neither apricots nor military, only miles of highway and unfinished construction. Something sandy about the light too.

Thursday 9 April 2015

Travelling man

From Norwich to Canterbury via Stratford International yesterday morning to examine a PhD. Train packed to crowded standing only because of earlier cancelled train, hence meet Nick who had booked the earlier train and whom I had not expected to bump into, which allows for a nice chat on the train which is over twenty minutes late into Stratford which means a scramble to catch my connection at the International which, fortunately, is also a mite late. But all is OK in the end. The fast train cruises through Ebbsleigh and Ashford Internationals and arrives on time in Canterbury. I hop into taxi with friendly driver and am plonked down at the Rutherford building.

It is too warm for a winter coat and two heavy shoulder bags. Bad strategic decision.

Time for conversation and a sandwich with Caroline, the internal examiner, before launching into an hour and a half or so of viva, which is intense, fun, and very demanding of concentration but it goes well for the candidate, then it's nibbles and a glass of celebratory champagne in the university cafe, before being given a kind lift back to the station.

I only go as far as Stratford Int, then make my way to Tom's house where I am to stay the night. Tom is out and I am tired so I sit and lie down before deciding to pick up a frozen meal (a korma) at Tesco. Into the microwave with it, add a little diced apple, consume and wait, listening to the R3 concert and reading. Tom returns about 10 and we sit up talking till about 1 am.

Night but so-so. An ideal of 5 hrs a night would be a good thing.

Today morning on the Overground for another meeting at about 10:30 that ends about 3pm, return to Stratford, change at Chemsford, back to Norwich, onto bus to see Rich and Helen and the grandchildren who are a delight. Lukas greets me all big eyes and smile and exclamations. There is chance for some snatched conversation with H and R but soon enough Clarissa, who has been looking after Marlie all day, returns with her andwe both read to them etc and wait till they're dispatched to bed, then we drive back.

Once home to bed, we both lie down sleep an hour before a light supper of omelette and toast.

Occasionally I notice I am getting older and that the type 2 diabetes does bite now and then.

Head and heart are as busy as ever but the flesh is bruckle and (time) the feynd is slee.  Not so much timor mortis, as timber mortice.

A quiet few days before the London Book Fair (more on that later) and the flight to Turkey to deliver a talk at a conference, on return from which two events in London one after the other in short order.

Meanwhile, reviewing the new Penguin Book of Russian Poetry for The New Statesman. Very good as far as I have read.

Translating. Writing. Corresponding.

The usual.