Evening all – so here is my first late blog post of 2015. I started writing it last night but I kept falling asleep halfway through sentences, and then waking up and having to go back and delete things that made no sense at all so I decided to call it a night and do the post today, in the hope that I would be less tired. I’m definitely less tired but I wouldn’t say that I’m leaping about with the joys of spring.
I got back from the Goran’s Spring Poetry Festival in Croatia at about 5pm last night but I left my hotel in Zagreb at 5am in the morning to get a ridiculously early flight. At Zagreb airport I got a pain au chocolat which was my first in about five days – those of you who know me will know I’m addicted to these. Luckily the plane was half empty and I had a whole row to myself so I stretched out and wen to sleep from Zagreb to Frankfurt as if I was still in my bed at the hotel. At Frankfurt I got a second breakfast – scrambled eggs, toast and bacon with a cup of tea and orange juice because I knew I wouldn’t have time for much else for the rest of the day. So I am putting lack of sleep as one of my excuses for the missing Sunday Poem yesterday. There are a couple of other factors as well – formatting issues with a poem that a brilliant poem sent – I can’t seem to get indents to work so if anybody has any idea how to do it, please get in touch. It doesn’t work if I copy and paste from a Word document. Another poem I wanted to post up, I’m waiting for the publisher to get back in touch and issue a ‘permissions licence’ which I’m really hoping they don’t want money for. However, I always try to have three or four poems waiting in a line so that this sort of thing doesn’t stop me so the lovely Keith Lander has been bumped up the queue today.
Going back to work after gallivanting around Croatia for the last five days has felt a bit like getting an ice-cold bucket of water thrown over my head and not just because of the weather!
Last Tuesday night it was all a bit stressful because at the last minute my flights were cancelled. The organisers of the festival sorted everything out and booked me on a new flight, but that meant I couldn’t get the train as the flight was too early, so Chris had to drive me. We left at 4.30am and I flew to Paris on a very crowded flight where a woman kept falling asleep on me. From Paris to Zagreb there was a bit more room – one empty seat next to me.
I got into Zagreb at about 3 in the afternoon and after I checked into the hotel, I went out to get something to eat. This was the first time I’ve been abroad on my own, and to be honest, I was quite nervous about going out on my own, which sounds a bit wimpy and pathetic but it is true, although I don’t know what I was nervous of. Anyway, I found a really nice restaurant and ordered a huge amount of food because I was hungry that I didn’t manage to finish.
On Wednesday night it was the opening ceremony of the festival. Every poet taking part read one poem each. There were lots of poets from all over Europe – Iceland, Romania, The Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Albania and I’m sure some others that I’ve forgotten about. I was the only English poet taking part in the festival. All of the poets who weren’t Croatian had their poems translated into Croatian and projected on a screen behind them. That first night, it was amazing to hear all the different languages – it was like listening to music and I was quite happy to sit there and let the words wash over me.
The next day, all of the poets taking part got on a coach and we went to Riejak which is a town on the coast. To get there we had to drive over the mountains, so we went from a warm, blue sky spring day into snow at the sides of the roads and then back down into sunshine again. The main reading for the Versopolis poets was on Thursday at midday in the theatre. We all read for about 15 minutes each.
All of the poets taking part in the festival read at various stages and in various places – usually three or four poems, but sometimes just one or two. It was about the second or maybe the third day that the most lovely thing started happening. Without any discussion or agreement between each other that I heard, the poets started to read English translations of their work. They didn’t read translations of every poem, but most people read at least one, which made me realise that we write poetry to connect with one another. Which sounds either very grand or obvious – I can’t decide which, but I think it is a truth that I’ve only just realised, after seeing poets, whose first language isn’t English stand up and read their poetry. I can’t imagine how scary that must be, to read your own poem in another language.
One of the poets said to me that I had an advantage when I was reading because I speak English and I can be understood where-ever I go. I’d never even thought about it before until I went to Croatia.I was hugely aware of it during this trip – and I hope I’m explaining it properly when I say I felt lucky to be writing in English, that I had not appreciated this before, that I felt slightly ashamed about this.
I had lots of fun on the five days as well. On Friday night, a group of festival poets went out to a bar and danced till 3am. I’m most relieved that the Czech poet Jonáš Zbořil persuaded me that staying out any later was just getting carried away.
There were lots of other people that I spent time with and I did start naming them all, but I’m hoping to get some poems from them to feature here in the coming weeks, so I will save all my stories about them for then! In summary, it was a fantastic, fantastic experience and I’m really grateful for the opportunity.
I also managed two runs while I was away – one 7k down the harbour in Riejak and then one all the way up the castle and I am injury free, so I am so happy I could dance about. This week the challenge is to get up to 8k without a return of the injury.
Today’s Sunday Poem is by Keith Lander, who sent it to me when I was working on my sestina a couple of months ago. This sestina is great fun and goes along at a fair old pace. This poem has recently been published in the magazine Envoi. I read once (I think it was in a text book by Kim Addonzio that a good sestina has to be about something that you’re obsessed about and what could be more obsessing than the process of aging? I also like how the different details about the ages of this man’s life in the poem slowly build up to make a vivid and detailed picture of it.
Keith Lander is a retired software engineer who has been writing poetry since the start of the noughties. He studied poetry for three years with the Open College of the Arts before obtaining an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2008. His work has appeared in a number of magazines including The North, Envoi, The Interpreter’s House, Prole and Obsessed with Pipework, as well as a few anthologies (most recently Heavenly Bodies). In 2011 and 2012 his entries to the National Poetry Competition reached the longlist.
Thanks to Keith for letting me use his poem
Sixty – Keith Lander
From skriking one to brattish ten,
through pubes and acne to fucking at twenty,
wife and kids and house by thirty,
holidays at Centre Parcs by forty,
daughters’ weddings and a flat at fifty,
then grandkids to babysit at sixty.
Count the coffee cups you’ve supped by sixty.
Measure the sugar in lumps of ten.
Think of the ulcer you nursed at fifty,
the bottle of scotch you quaffed at twenty.
Remember how life began at forty,
though the end arrived on the stroke of thirty.
Keep the blood flowing, be damned to thirty.
Unblocked by statins you’re good for sixty.
Grecian two thousand will camouflage forty,
but nowhere to hide for embarrassed ten.
Testosterone pressures the veins at twenty.
Little blue pills are needed by fifty.
With midlife crisis raging at fifty
you deceive yourself you are only thirty,
try to pull birds who are barely twenty,
with balding head that more befits sixty
instead of just watching the news at ten
and accepting you’re over the hump by forty.
Whatever they say about reaching forty
they say again on the road to fifty,
and you know in your heart that the ten
short years, which you drove up to thirty,
you’ll drive even faster on the way to sixty,
and you wish, how you wish, to be twenty
again, with a bird on a beach, twenty
thousand miles and a lifetime from forty.
But it’s not to be. The car’s parked at sixty.
You’ve the birthday balloon they gave you at fifty,
yet you don’t feel one day older than thirty—
in fact you’ve been acting as if you were ten!
The truth is at sixty you’ve forgotten ten
and at fifty you gave up dressing like twenty,
but thirty at forty was an outright lie.