‘STILL EUROPEAN’

I’m always humbled by so many things at my events: the poets’ or authors’ generosity, their depth of knowledge and skill. Few times have I felt more humbled than at this event, held on Zoom on the evening of February 25, when a large audience heard the words of seven poets reading their own works and those of a European poet of their choice.

I would like to quote a comment received from a member of the audience, which puts my thoughts in a much better way than I ever could: “I cannot explain how I feel when I hear pieces where the writer shares a deep experience of a place or of a piece of art, which isn’t directly part of their life, but they have extended their world to encompass it.”

The idea for the event came while perusing the fabulous ‘Poems and Pictures’ Blog, edited by Gill Stoker on the Mary Evans Picture Library website www.maryevans.com. Over 130 poets have been inspired by images held by the Library to write original works, and the Blog shows this pairing. Many images were of European artworks or of other subjects with a European connection – and I decided I wanted to devote a whole evening to Europe in images and verse.

The poets who agreed to participate were also asked to choose a European poet from any period, and to bring one work by them in translation, and if possible in the original. Images and texts were displayed throughout thanks to Gill Stoker’s mastery of Powerpoint (and her patience during the run-up to the event while dealing with a plethora of tweaks).

So, what can I say about this special evening? First a big thank you to Sarah Lawson, Fiona Moore, Gabriel Moreno, John McCullough (unfortunately unwell, but some of his work was read by others), Emma Page, Jacqueline Saphra and Richard Westcott and of course to Gill Stoker. Thanks also to audience member Alex Chronis, who read in Greek for us.

The poets brought us vastly diverse aspects of Europe – many unexpected ones, and many showing the darker heritage that still resonates, or still exists in its heart and at its periphery.

These were complex, profound works with uncomfortable angles. If we expected pretty vistas and nostalgia for the Grand Tour, we were in for a surprise. Even the Piazza della Signoria in Florence had, in Richard Westcott’s hands, a sinister side of murderous persecution of dissenters. We heard, and saw, the proud survivors of abuse in Jacqueline Saphra’s series of ekphrastic poems based on the paintings of Artemisia Gentileschi; the brave demonstrators protesting en masse in Belarus right now in the poems by their compatriots, chosen and read by Fiona Moore together with one of her own poems on the same theme; the grey sky falling on the poet’s head in John McCullough’s poem on Notre Dame (sadly, John was unwell and unable to join us in person) and the almost surreal image of a Polish bodybuilder in John’s choice, a poem by Szymborska; the bloodstained words of Lorca and about Lorca, performed by Gabriel Moreno; the short and tormented life of Therese de Lisieux, the young Carmelite nun brought into poetic focus for us by Emma Page. There were lighter moments, notable among them the guffaws provoked by Sarah Lawson’s clever pun at the end of her short P G Woodehouse spoof: Watteau, Jeeves! And Sarah’s choice of Jacques Prevert in the original and in her own translation; and in Emma Page’s ‘Three Kisses’ celebrating 1960s French cinema. And then one of the great favourites: the universal words of Cavafy’s ‘Ithaca’; and much, much more…

If you were there, feel free to email me your comments about the event at irena(at)in-words.co.uk and I shall post them here (anonymously if you prefer).

And if you wish to find out more about the poets and/or purchase their books and pamphlets, here are some links for you. Thank you!

Events

‘Proper’ summer is finally here and, while I’m reluctant to start thinking about autumn, I am inevitably and joyfully beginning to plan the first event of the ‘new term’. The first thing I did was to look back at all the in-words events from the very first one in January 2017, and I realised that over five years I hosted 49 readings, including a number of lectures by Graham Fawcett. 49! What shall I do for the 50th? I’m thinking that, although it would limit the numbers in the audience, I would really love to have an in-person event at the West Greenwich Library, like ‘in the old days’. And you never know, I may even be able to get to grips with ‘hybrid’…. Of course, it will depend of many factors, and as soon as I can, I shall post a date if not a full programme.

I love the new animation at the top of my homepage. Thanks to Paul Kley for creating it. The words on the flying page are not a quotation but a whole poem, a favourite of mine, by the Italian hermetic poet Giuseppe Ungaretti. It is impossible to translate, though countless attempts have been made. I am sure you can guess its meaning and I leave you to create your own ‘translation’ of it. Ungaretti fought in the trenches and those two lines represent a moment one morning – pared down to a sense of the absolute, maybe also of possibilities?

As we emerge from a not-yet-over pandemic and wake up every morning feeling the dread of conflict but also aware of the beauty of spring and the blessing of nature and community, Ungaretti’s words are more than ever appropriate.

I am taking a break from organising things over the summer. Whether I will be as dynamic as the train above, or I’ll take time on a siding, I’m not yet sure.

Either way, I am always happy to hear from you with thoughts and ideas, and wish to thank you for your support so far.

Be well!