Sunday, October 31, 2010
Friday, October 29, 2010
I have it on good authority that certain factions in the poetry world can be a little, shall we say, unapproachable. The editors and writers of the poetry quarterly Magma couldn’t be further from this description. A very smiley Clare Pollard briefly explains the purpose of the magazine – to support and publish new as well as established poets – and encourages any writers in the audience to submit work for consideration.
She then welcomes Jacqueline Saphra to the “stage” with a précis of Jacqui’s poetic career: her award wins include first prize in the Ledbury Poetry Competition and her collection The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions (Flipped Eye) follows the pamphlet Rock’n’Roll Mamma (Flarestack). We are treated to seven very varied pieces, from the short and sweet My Mother’s Vocation (humorously rhyming “parts”, “hearts” and “foreign tarts”) to the slightly longer ode to “tall as totems” asparagus, Last Harvest. She also reads Seventeen And All That Shit, a piece about perceived ugliness that appears in the November issue of Magma Poetry, tying into its theme of beauty.
Next up is Alan Buckley, working towards his first collection after Shiver (the tall-lighthouse) was named the Poetry Book Society pamphlet choice for summer 2009. He opens with Peaches, which has already appeared in Magma and includes some lovely language; “doped with syrup” one such example. A second Magma appearance is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which Alan explains, in one of many snippets of anecdotes, is a found poem (this one from the blurb on the back of a DVD boxset).
The third reader is lecturer Sarah Jackson, who gives us Vanishing Twin from her pamphlet Milk (Pighog Press), shortlisted for the prestigious Michael Marks Award last year. I really enjoy the incredible imagery of Clam, rustled up during a writing retreat in Scotland, particularly the line “snapping the clams like children clapping”. The more recent It Shined, written while on holiday in Brittany, she divulges, is rather more disturbing, as is the similarly grammatically challenged (a current obsession for Sarah) The Most Quiet, although the wordplay here keeps it from being too intense.
Clare Pollard (herself a distinguished poet, with three collections through Bloodaxe under her belt, including Look, Clare! Look!) returns to the front of the bright and airy new Cornerhouse Annexe (a sorely needed space and much used since its opening) to discuss Magma Poetry further with co-board member Jacqui and to field questions from the floor.
The MLF events I've squeezed into so far (packed houses all round) have incorporated as much fascinating production detail as they have incredible reading, and this was no exception. We discovered that the magazine was the result of a night class and is run as a collective, with a board and rotating editors, all volunteers. This helps keep the project fresh and provides different voices, different angles and different opportunities each edition for budding contributors. “We’re a broad church,” says Clare and indeed the March issue, edited by Julia Bird, takes the theme “knock it down”; Clare has picked “journeys” to guide the one she helms for June. The magazine relies on submissions, of which it receives a staggering 2,500 at each foray, and, to stand out from the crowd, Clare suggests being arresting, entertaining and amusing. “I like a joke,” she laughs, and we all join in, much enthused by how down-to-earth the approach taken by the team behind this leading literary tome is.
by Sarah-Clare Conlan.
Sarah-Clare is a freelance writer, editor and press officer. She is the co-creator of Ask Ben & Clare, author of the award-winning Words & Fixtures, and regular contributor to Manchester Blog Awards 2010 Best New Blog 330 Words.
Beirut 39, a long-awaited enriching event, held on Tuesday evening at the impressive Manchester Town Hall. As I set foot in, I’m stood in awed stillness before the extravagant Town Hall entrance. I attempt not to appear too amazed, though I can’t resist taking glimpses of the ornate architecture; my eyes trace the sinuous curves of the arches and the intricate detail of the elegant surroundings (creating a classic sense of stepping back in time).
As I ascend the spiral staircase, I am led to the Lord Mayor’s Parlour; a luxurious room furnished with ruby red carpet, velvet chairs and encircled by portraits framed in gold. Manchester Literature Festival has certainly selected a memorable venue for our first-appearance guests of honour; Yasin Adnan from Morocco; Ala Hlehel from Palestine and Abdelkader Benali from the Netherlands.
For those who are unfamiliar, Beirut 39 is a unique and exciting anthology, presenting a keyhole into the contemporary Arab world; expressed through the eyes of thirty-nine freshly talented, award winning Arab writers. Collectively, the extracts attempt to unlock the keyhole, revealing the inner voice and presenting a real reflection on the contemporary day-to-day Arab life.
On arrival, visitors crowd around the Waterstone’s bookstall, making sure they grab their personal copy of Beirut 39.
Meanwhile, some visitors promptly head for a comfortable front-row seat. Cathy Bolton does the honours, she briefly explains the event is organised jointly by the Manchester Literature Festival, in association with Literature Across Frontiers. Cathy swiftly hands it over to the chair, Claire Armistead (Literary Editor of the Guardian) who warmly welcomes the three representatives of Beirut 39. Before the guests can shed any light on their account, Claire points out that Beirut 39 is written originally in Arabic and translated in English by Samuel Shimon.
First up is Ala Hlehel, a Palestinian award-winning writer. The audience listens intently as Ala presents his reading of “The story writer”. Absorbed, we learn that Ala’s story is deep-rooted in political conflict and culture. I’m deeply moved by the poignant ending as are others in the audience. The protagonist gets an inspiration to write after his moment of revelation; “It’s not right that you’re a school boy and do not carry a pen.” Claire reiterates, "Ala writes about normal people in extraordinary situations.” Next, we have Abdelkader Benali, a Morrocan-Dutch award-winning writer; the mood is lightened as he, in good spirits, stands up and pronounces, "I’m glad to be here!.” He presents an avid reading of his not-so-joyfully titled piece "The trip to the Slaughterhouse" – his account about siblings focuses on the theme of gender differences with undertones of domestic violence. Abdelkader adds that his story has some personal references; the confident personality of the girl reminds him very much of his own sister.
Out of the blue, the audience is interrupted with a high-pitched musical sound from another room. At ease, amid the hubbub of sudden laughter, Abdelkader proclaims, "Thanks for the music!”
Last but not least is the Morroccon award-winning writer, Yasin Adnan. Yasin presents his reading from Two stories: "Small talk on shades of White". Whilst reading, he pauses a little, reminding the audience that he is, “Reading in English,” although he speaks very little of it. We learn that his story, like Abdelkader’s, is also focused on the theme of gender relations (seems like it’s a recurring theme for the Moroccans).
Claire invites members of the audience to ask questions. There is a natural flowing discussion between the three writers who mutually agree; although the themes of their work may be on serious issues, this is balanced by adding humour, sometimes a caustic dark-humour.
Ala Hlehel, the Palestinian writer, admits: “If reality is miserable then you have to write with some humour, otherwise I will cry in my stories!”
Abdelkader explains he uses, “Humour as a tool to make his writing go faster.”
Yasin adds further, “Irony is a system of thinking.”
Overall, Ala Hlehel’s first-hand perceptive account, on the reality of living in a conflict-land, certainly stood out. What a privilege to hear the Arab perspective from the Arabs! Indeed, Claire aptly concludes the evening with some food for thought on 'co-existence': “Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.”
by Nazia Bashir
Nazia is a teacher of English in Lancashire with a keen interest in exploring diverse cultures.