Monday, 15 July 2013

Poems in Wolf's Clothing


 To the LRB Bookshop in Bury Place last week for the launch of The Wolf 29, which includes my review of Alvin Pang's When the Barbarians Arrive. Good to have James Byrne and Sandeep Parmar back in London after sojourns in Manchester and New York with an edition that's to my mind stronger than ever. Brilliant interview with Charles Bernstein, for example, many superb poems in translation (Habib Tengour, Shamshad Abdullaev, Damir Sodan) and an "autography" by John Kinsella.
    At the LRB (great bookshop, by the way) there were readings by three considerable poets, all of whom have poems in the new issue. Forrest Gander was first: if this was a name in a novel (say by David Lodge) for a character who's a combat-trouser-wearing, geo-ecological, slightly long-haired American poet you'd think it was a bit obvious but here he is and that's his name: Forrest Gander. He was an endearing reader, both for cheekily enlisting the help of Byrne's mother and partner (Parmar) from the audience to elucidate how an interesting 3-part form worked in a translation from the Spanish and for the little shuffling dance he did with his feet as he seemed to bodily engage with the cadences of his lines.
    Victor Rodriguez Nunez is a major Cuban poet I hadn't - to my shame - previously heard of. He read sonorously and beautifully his original Spanish and then his American wife Katharine Hedeen would read, more quietly and soberly, her English translations: the contrast was effective, emphasising that "prolonged hesitation between sound and sense" where (according to Paul Valery) poetry resides.
    CD Wright - Gander's wife, in fact - was the big draw for me as I'm a huge admirer of her work in all its range and intensity. Slight disappointment, then, that her reading was so fleeting: one poem, tantalisingly good, and then she withdrew. Talk about leaving an audience wanting more...

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