Friday, 2 October 2009

Larissa Miller, Francis Ponge and Conviction in Poetry and Politics

The Kings’ Lynn Poetry festival was a joy as ever, an interesting mix of poets and the sun shone. This was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the festival so a surprise special anthology was put together to celebrate the event. It contained poems written by poets who had read at the festival over the years. I must say it was an honour to be in there snuggled between Pascale Petit and Peter Porter, a position I doubt I shall ever achieve again and which I only owe to the vagaries of alphabetisation.

Pascale Petit read some of her new poems that she is writing that are based on the work of Frida Kahlo,. These were impressive and as I love Kahlo’s work I shall be looking out for that collection when it comes out. Michael Hulse, Kit Wright, Annie Freud, Moniza Alvi, John Harley Williams, Lachlan Mackinnon were there but I was interested especially in the work of the French Poet Valerie Rouzeau, the Basque poet Eli Tolaretxipi and most of all the Russian poet Larissa Miller
I have included the links to their biographies and websites so you can read some of their work for yourself.

I found the power of Larissa Miller’s work particularly moving but then I am a sucker for that big Russian lyrical melancholy and poems wrung from experience of repression that most of us may never experience. It is worth listening to some of Larissa’s poems read by her in Russian on her website as then you get a true sense of the rhythm, sound and tone. There is something about listening to good poems read out in languages I have no knowledge of that I savour. There is still that sense of sound and rhythm, the moment now and then when you realise the universality of the spoken word, the sound and cadences of a voice saying something that matters. Of course I always have the sense that anything such as the instructions for putting together an IKEA bookcase may sound interesting and somehow beautiful in many languages and I wonder whether the same could be said of English, I shall have to ask an English non-speaker.

Speaking of foreign language poets, I gave a friend a copy of Unfinished Ode to Mud, a new translation of some of Francis Ponge’s poems by CB Editions for her birthday. The man is a superb poet, he looks at the simplest of things in the simplest of language and he never turns away, he keeps looking until everything is seen. To look without blinking is a rare skill. In a notebook, I have had for some years I have an extract from one of his prose poems, Memorandum, which C K Williams translated, in which Ponge writes of ‘the only interesting principle according to which interesting works can be written, and written well.'

“You have first of all to side with your own spirit, and your own taste. Then take the time, and have the courage, to express all your thoughts on the subject at hand (not just keeping the expressions that seem brilliant or distinctive). Finally you have to say everything simply, not striving for charm, but conviction.”

It has always seemed like a good way to tackle writing of any kind to me.

Come to think of it, in this season of the party conferences, Ponge’s Memorandum might be a good thing for politicians to embrace. The Sun has announced grandiosely that it will no longer be backing Labour as if this statement alone ensures that the coming election is a dead cert for the Tories. As we all know the Sun is the great arbiter and dictator of political wisdom and the common man’s opinion, hence the topless models as the essential statement of how women should be viewed. Rupert Murdoch no doubt rests easier knowing he is now in bed with the future government of the UK, as what the Sun says goes of course, elections he probably sees as mere formalities. Perhaps it’s the other way round and David Cameron is relieved to be in bed with Rupert. All that snuggling up on the media mogul’s yacht last year must have paid off and was worth the fuss in other newspapers that attended it about the free flights. Real convictions in politics rather than the snake-charming of the electorate are probably too much to hope for in the run up to the next election. I am sure The Sun will put me right on who is the most likely to be convicted ( I think that’s not the verb from conviction but it sounds about right).

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