April 20, 2013 § 1 Comment
Even the great and verse-obsessed poet Yang Lian says “friendship first, poetry second”. There are many of the highest things in life at which China excels (food and poetry being two that leap to mind) and the greatest of these is friendship. It’s more than simple hospitality, lavish though this is. What you experience in China is closeness, kindness, and boundless generosity. The friends I met on the first Poet to Poet in China have barely changed. Perhaps there are a few grey hairs among us all, but Xiaodu, Xi Chuan and Zhai Yongming look as youthful as ever. And the warmth between us also remains unchanged after all these years.
TRUST ME! Yang Lian ended his emails with this battle cry in the early days of organising the festival. Trust and friendship are central to people in China. They matter to me too and perhaps this is why I feel comfortable in China, even when things may seem strange or chaotic or your schedule may change beyond recognition on a sixpence or you may be faced with turtle soup…..
Our trip was as much about friendship as it was about poetry. As perhaps both of these are kinds of love there is no conflict between them. I am so grateful to have made some of my best and strongest friendships in China and to see the years only deepen them.
So this post includes photographs of some of our friendliest moments. Not all of them: sometimes I didn’t have my ipad and on these occasions Bill Herbert stepped in as official photographer… an act of heavenly friendship in itself.
Chief among these moments for me is Mrs Gold’s scouring of Yangzhou for a panda for my daughter. Our schedule meant that there was no time for shopping and I knew I could not return home without a panda for Lucy. Mrs Gold knocked on my hotel door at 9am the next morning with TWO pandas, one of them so large I had to buy a new suitcase. She would not accept any money for them. It was an act of friendship. My daughter almost died of ecstasy when she saw Bao Bao… And I kept the other for myself to remember Mrs Gold.
April 18, 2013 § Leave a Comment
It was not possible to post while away as WordPress is one of those sites that the Chinese government quietly, politely and firmly declines access to. No matter… It didn’t change the fact that the Slender West Lake festival was a truly unforgettable 4 day banquet of friendship, poetry and hospitality. It was also a triumph of cultural diplomacy for Yang Lian, who devised and led the whole thing.
Here we all are, including international poets Arthur Sze, Joachim Sartorius, Sean O’Brien and Bill Herbert and Chinese poets Xichuan, Xiaodu, Zhai Yongming, Yang Lian, Yang Xiaobin. This photo, eight years on from the one in my last post, was taken in the garden at Slender West lake, after a poetry exchange like no other. As we travelled down the canal in a decorative boat, groups of school children gathered on the banks and we stopped to read them our poems and hear great Chinese classic poems recited back to us. To say it was moving is an understatement. I have never seen such a passionate engagement with poetry among all ages and types of people. In Yangzhou, poetry is as much the art of the common people as the literati, and the appetite for it was enormous.
The opening ceremony was an impressive event, involving a water ceremony and balloons released over the pavilion, as well as poems linking this first international poetry festival to the timeless poetic heritage of the city.
Here the little children gathered and paid rapt attention to my rendition of Cheng Du Massage! I was then rewarded with a beautiful chorus of a classic Chinese poem.
We went on to work on translations of Li Bo and each other’s poems in a shady pavilion in the gardens. Many of these poems will appear in anthology edited by Bill Herbert and Yang Lian. There was also an intensive dialogue on the meaning of the local in a globalised world, a hefty topic which developed our appetites for the daily amazing banquet of local food, mostly based around the fresh fish of the river.
After Slender West Lake we travelled on the Nanjing, for a very different sort of gathering. More photos will follow in a new post.
April 9, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Tomorrow I fly out to Shanghai with poets Bill Herbert and Sean O’Brien for a two city Poetry Festival in Yangzhou and Nanjing. There are many aspects of the trip that are very exciting – these cities being at the heart of China’s ancient poetry tradition, home to Li Po and Du Fu For one. But, for me, the trip is also a reunion with some Chinese poets I know well and can’t wait to see: Xi Chuan, Tang Xiaodu, Zhai Yongming and Yang Lian.
In 2005 I took Bill, Antony Dunn and Pascale Petit to China to work with these poets. This idea grew out of some translation work I had done with Yang Lian at Cove Park. our work was such a success we hatched a plan to bring others in and Cove Park’s Poet to Poet was born.
The friendships, professional relationships and translation work begun all those years ago have continued to blossom in the intervening years. Yang Lian has gone on to put together many festivals and projects with British poets in China.
I hope to post on this site while I’m away. Posts have been infrequent lately as I have been rewriting my memoir and it takes a great deal of dogged concentration to do properly. Prose writers I salute you! And poets, here I come for my hug in Shanghai!
October 22, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The invitation to contribute to this anthology was a timely one for me. For the last couple of years or so I have been thinking about and working with a collection of letters – from my father to his mother, detailing the meeting, marriage and emigration to Canada of my parents. It’s an incredible cache of both information and material for a writer and the profound effect they have had on me is detailed in my essay, Afterlives.
What I have learned from these letters is that we can never know as writers when or even if our next piece of work will be. When a piece of writing demands to be written, it is just like being taken on a journey into another life. And the delight of this, the delight in this, is the closest thing to rebirth there is.