Poetry Parnassus at the South Bank was a real treat, giving as it did an opportunity to share the world in words with some of the most eloquent poets of the age.
Thanks to Barbara, who spotted the event and needed an arm to lean on to get there, or I would have missed readings from poets from five continents, comprising two Poet Laureates, two Nobel Laureates, and a gold medallist.
Simon Armitage compered and I notice he is launching his new book ‘Walking Home’ today. Alas, I can’t be there two days running!
His first poem of the evening brought the mists near Hebden Bridge into the packed theatre of the Royal Festival Hall. It brought back memories of Arvon and Ted Hughes’ house, also the appalling flooding in recent weeks.
I have an affinity with bees, having once kept honey bees and recently discovering bumble bees nest in my greenhouse.
Poets taking part were Simon Armitage, Seamus Heaney, Bill Manhire, Kay Ryan, Jo Shapcott and Wole Soyinka. The stories of persecution and solitary confinement which came briefly into some of the introductions, emphasised for me the vulnerability of poets as they walked with pride across the mauve carpet, softened by leafy yellow shadows, to the tiny white lectern.
Kim Hyesoon the poet from South Korea ‘whose poetry explores women’s simultaneous existences as grandmothers, mothers, and daughters in the context of Korea’s highly patriarchal society’ was brilliantly brought to life by her translator. Another famous poet (sorry did not take notes so this is mainly from memory) took us on a car journey, a metaphor for love. There was a poem about an eye test to illustrate unique ways of seeing and another poem with touching imagery about revisiting a school and insisting on seeing the school chronicles that were brought from dusty recesses. The poem was a journey both personal and political.
Bill Manhire read among other poems a fantastic list of things owned in the 50’s ‘toy soldiers’ items of clothing, dovetailed here and there with an emotion. Brilliant.
A poem highlighting the trouble in Ireland was about two lorries arriving in the same street but with forty years between them and was written in the form of a sestina. Seamus Heaney was a treat that will last me the rest of my lifetime. Of course he pandered to the audience by reading ‘Diggin’, where digging through his own family roots he comes to accept his own heritage and family traditions.
I am not into facebook and incapable of twittering, but this is where apparently, detailed debate has and will continue to take place. This event however and many of the poems will stay with me.
I managed to get last minute tickets for a workshop on Saturday with Bill Manhire. This was an opportunity to share a table with students/poets from all around the world, many of whom were daunting in that they were so well read!
The second ticket was to ‘Body Work’, a life writing class. Unfortunately I did not know the work of Elisa Biagini, a well known poet from Florence until I met her at the workshop. But now I know she is passionate about the role of woman in society. She reminds me of the fervour of feminism in the sixties.
Some of her books are tiny on very heavy paper with translations. She also enjoys creating poetry/art installations, one at this event has poems on hangers that have to be unbuttoned in order to read them ‘The launderette’.
Oh and the workshop. There was much discussion on body parts, those we like those we do not. But just how is it that some students can write reasonable poems in 15 minutes while others like me, just explore and brainstorm ideas in the time? But at least I am looking forward to using them later in the summer.
As I caught the bus and then the train to Brighton I could not help but be aware that one of the poets was finally granted a visa to attend Parnassus only four days before the event. A a timely reminder of the freedoms we enjoy in this country.
Now I have just ordered some books from Amazon, googled and found there is a touring Poetry Panassus so I’ll have to do better in keeping myself informed. It links with the nature of this blog really, I moved here four years ago and am still ‘finding my feet in Brighton’.
Note – You may be interested in this link added a month of so after the above post.
A personal journey in to poetry on an Arvon course at Ted Hughes house in Hebden Bridge.