Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My mother's peony dress

I think this is 1950s, possibly early 60s.
Original 1950s dress bought in Portsmouth 35 years ago
The peonies are early, just flowering. They  remind me every year of my mother's party dress. But I can never picture it exactly. In my mind, it's strapless, floor length, printed with hand-sized pink heads, exotic and extravagent. It was always in her wardrobe, the full skirt taking up all the space behind my father's suits.

Even during punk, fashion was stealing from the forties and fifties. Was it to do with the elegance that comes from need? The inventiveness of making do? 

Portsmouth, where I was a student, was a fantastic hunting ground. Poor, run down, it had as many charity shops as anyone could dream of. When I went back to Surrey to work, there were the jumbles in East Horsley that have almost mythical status in my memory. I jumbled in the afternoon to dress up on Saturday night.

A lot of my finds have gone, including ankle tight trousers I made from fabric printed with 50s scenes of Paris in a vague Bernard Buffet style. These two prints survived. They're not as loose around my waist but the blue one will see this summer again. 

And of course my daughter now has her eye on the suitcase on top of my wardrobe. Her prom dress is a homage to the fifties in ironic Brighton style. And she's promised the sequinned sixties number I wore to the TS Eliot awards party that won a compliment from the delightful Mark Doty, just before the announcement that he'd won it that year.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Arc: poetry of the world

Tile in a clay poem made by children
Who'll find me the word for birch in the world's languages when I need it? A translator. A poet. 
Birch is paper and wine. Some trace the word to Sanskrit (bhurga a tree with bark used to write on). Coleridge called it Lady of the Woods. 
Arc Publications is one of the UK's leading presses for poetry in translation. Its Arts Council grant was cut last week. 
Arc's list brings us the poetry of the world, from places where the birch does and doesn't grow. 
Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti is one of them. He told the Guardian, "I learn from trees. Just as many fruits drop before they're ripe, when I write a poem I treat it with healthy cruelty, deleting images to take care of the right ones."
Barghouti has twelve poetry collections in Arabic. His Collected works was published in 1997 and his first major book in English translation, Midnight and Other Poems, was published by Arc in 2008.  
This is an extract from his long poem, Midnight. There is more on Arc's website.
"you stay wide awake, when all others go to sleep,

afraid that the stars will fall

without your hands to nail them

to the ceiling of the night.
The weary sun's rays settle sugar in grapes,

crimson in cherries,
honey in figs

and olive oil in jars.
War itself,

leaning on its cane,

strolls occasionally

down the corridor of peace." (Mourid Barghouti, Midnight, Arc 2008).
Here are some of the poets on Arc's list from countries above and below the equator, whose work is available because of the work translators and poets do together.... and as a consequence give us the world view a language contains within each line, character, space and full stop. 
Kunwar Narain, Amarjit Chandan, Meta Kusar, Doris Kareva, Regina Derieva, Ewa Lipska, Victor Rodriguez Nunez, Cathal O' Searcaigh, Tomaz Salamun, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Georg Trakl, Claude de Burine, Valerie Rouzeau, Cevat Capan, Kristina Ehin, Gabriel Ferrater, Mila Haugova, Soleiman Adel Guemar, Dorothea Rosa Herliany, Yannis Kondos, Sabine Lange, Inna Lisnianskaya, Bejan Matur, Larissa Miller, Miklos Radnoti, Tadeusz Rosewicz, Eli Tolaretxipl.....among the many others. 

Saturday, April 02, 2011

They don't like poets, those people at the Arts Council

Arc publishes poets from all over the world
and many in translation, as well as the inimitable
Ivor Cutler and artist Glen Baxter.
Someone got very angry the other day when I suggested that the Arts Council has become irrelevant. I was talking about how support for poetry and particularly poets has been systematically destroyed by that same body in recent years and wondering why. Last night, at Fabrica's new show, I learned that animation's suffered a similar attack. Is it that poetry has no expert champions anymore in the funding places? That poets who've done so well for themselves won't speak out when the form they work in is under attack?

I tried to contact my south east regional council members recently with a complaint. The Arts Council no longer allows members of the public to do this. If the Arts Council chooses not to forward an email to a member of the regional council, it won't. It filters the content of emails and decides if a question about the arts in your region is appropriate for a regional council member to read. If an administrator decides it's not, you have to make your enquiry through a relationship manager.

I was talking to the tax office recently about a couple of letters I received. One arrived a month after the posting date, the other two weeks. It's too confusing to even attempt to repeat the sequence of events or conversations. I was in quite a good mood, though, and eventually I laughed and asked the person on the phone if he'd ever read Kafka. His reply was beautiful: no comment.

And I think that is where we're at with the whole lot of them who take our money and redistribute it, including the Arts Council. Perhaps we need to just change our idea of what they claim to do. Not listen to what they say, but look at what they do.

They take money away from Arc Publications and Enitharmon, two independent poetry publishers (independent being the key word) and give money to Faber & Faber.

According to the Bookseller, "Faber has reported a record turnover of £17.5m for 2010." Sales were up 10% and the chief executive and publisher Stephen Page said: “We are delighted with last year’s performance. Sustaining our profit and growing sales while investing in our digital future and launching new businesses was an excellent achievement. The momentum of our publishing success has carried through to this year and we have just completed a very satisfactory first half.”

Arc needs people to speak up for it and draw attention to this kind of strangeness. Was this what the Arts Council was for? To fund big business and millionaires?