Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Moniza Alvi, Katia Kapovich, Joan Margarit & Andrew Motion: Arvon Foundation Gala Reading

November 9, 2008

Saturday was the last day of Poetry International Festival at Southbank, celebrating the Arvon International Poetry Prize. This last event was, for me, one of the most inspirational poetry readings I have been to so far and a great way to finish this amazing project.


Andrew Motion was the first reader and, due to the closeness of the Remembrance day, he read out a couple of poems inspired by war heroes. One was based on an interview he did  with a man who fought in the First World War- last man alive from that period. Now aged 109 years, ‘the man is very frail physically but still quite intact in mind, the kind of person who has lived so long, that he might as well live forever’(Motion). The poem very well expressed the idea of getting old but also just the idea of an old man like Harry Patch reflecting on his life seemed very vivid and frightening yet kind of familiar in one way or another.


Suddenly everyone you know


And they visit you

And you visit them


Another one of his poems was based on the words of a young soldier James Farrer- a bomber pilot who died aged 20 during Second World War. This poem looked at the complete opposite side of the life spectrum. It was inspired by his diary entries that Motion got access to through Farrer’s mother. This idea, to me, seemed very interesting. I felt as if there and then on the dark stage, Motion was speaking through Farrer’s voice, bringing him back to life this one last time- or rather, ironically bringing back Farrer’s thoughts on life and his fear of dieing young.


We live by death’s negligence

And I believe that


Katia Kapovich- a bilingual Russian poet, came next. She is a tall woman with a strong voice who beneath the darkness of her poems manages to entertain the public with her jokes and reflections on her first visit to London-stories of how she ended up carrying an empty take-away coffee cup for half a day because she just couldn’t find a rubbish bin and when she finally got rid of it on the side of a street, she got charged by the police. Kapovich doesn’t like sentimentalism and this is reflected in her poetry with it’s rather gloomy rural settings. Here’s what I managed to note down:


She seemed happy with my paper coffin


To stare at nothing

Seemed to be her hobby,

Same as mine ( from the poem A paper Plane to Nowhere)


Sometimes truth necessitates madness ( from the poem Hero)


A man forgets man

Rather than forgives


After Kapovich came Moniza Alvi who started off with a few poems based on her reflections of 9/11 and what came after. These poems had titles such as How the world split in two and How the words feared the mouth, drawing our attention to the emotional hurricane that followed 9/11 and a set of questions with no answers- answers that perhaps the readers could contemplate on. The poems were electrifying, especially since Alvi’s warm voice is the kind of voice you would want to hear reading a children’s story before bedtime-not poems about 9/11 and rape. Yet I believe this approach is a part of her unique style.


Alvi then introduced to us Joan Margarit, one of Spain’s major modern writers, whom she has invited to read – a man with a strong handshake and a deep voice who also happens to be a great speaker (even though he read out most of his poems in Catalan). Alvi was right, his poems are great in translation and I felt such warmth and humanity both listening to his Catalan and by reading the translations on the screen behind him (I also realised the power of reading poems in Catalan and how I definitely must learn to speak it!). His poetry is full of melancholy and candour, reflections on life, aging and grief at the death of his beloved handicapped daughter. Standing there on that stage he looked like some kind of a prophet- teaching us and guiding us from his rich life experience yet not imposing anything on us; Simply inviting us to reflect on life with him. He makes everyday emotions seem mystical and unusual- connecting them with the deep realms of sub consciousness. He was truly inspirational and I just had to buy his book- a perfect ending to the Poetry International Festival.

See for yourself:


Midsummer night’s dream by Joan Margarit


We have stopped the car

beside a wall of cypresses.

It’s thirty years we’ve lived together.

I was an inexperienced youth  and you

A warm and helpless girl.

The last opportunity is casting

Its shadow over the moon.

I am an inexperienced old man.

And you a helpless middle-aged woman.



“the past falls open anywhere”

October 26, 2008

… and that is what it did this afternoon for this blogger. Of course, so does the future. And the present. Especially the present. Many impressions, opinions, ideas, nascent reactions, conversations, observations.

Today Sean O’Brien delivered his TS Eliot prize lecture, on the subject of Michael Donaghy, Black Ice and Rain and City of God.

The text will be available tomorrow on the Poetry Book Society’s website; until I’ve had a chance to read it I don’t want to say much about what he said. I took notes but there were too many things flying around in my brain to process it very efficiently at the time, and more has happened since then – in the form of conversations, observations and the posts written earlier today by fellow bloggers in attendance. So I’ll sleep on it before saying anything in detail about the substance of his remarks!

(My notes, however, are written up more patchily, or notily, than this piece on my own blog, Baroque in Hackney.)

I’ll just say this. With the two big Donaghy Collecteds – prose and poetry – due out in March, what O’Brien is doing with this lecture seems to me significant. He’s heralding in the next era, he’s laying the foundation stone for the corpus of serious critical work about Donaghy’s poetry – as distinct from the memoirs, grief-stricken anecdotage and tributes already written about him (among which I count my own two offerings, both written in the months or even weeks after his death in 2004). (Joshua Mehigan also wrote a fine piece for the New Criterion in the USA in about 2005, but that also seems different in kind from what O’Brien delivered today.)

This is not a review or critique of what O’Brien has to say. I’ll leave that, as I say, for after I’ve read the lecture. But one thing he did was to say – and here it will be better to check with the text – that Black Ice and Rain is one of the finest, or did he say the finest, poem in English of the past fifty years. He explicitly takes on the implicit limits imposed by comparison with Browning, and lists several ways in which he thinks this poem opens out the capacities of the modern dramatic monologue – or narrative poem. I remember that much, and it’s a big thing for him to do.