Meeting Notes 2018

Social event with visit from Ali Clarke of Surrey Hills Art

It was good to welcome Ali Clarke from Surrey Hills Art who shared ideas about her Surrey Unearthed project and possible ways for MVP to become involved in this – one being the next anthology – and also her Travelling Reading Room project.

It was good too to welcome Maureen Jivani who thanked all in MVP for donations to CRY.

We shared refreshments and read out favourite poems. These were many and varied and included work by Anna Akhmatova, Carole Satyamurti and Jackie Kay as well as Brian Patten, Seamus Heaney and RS Thomas. There was work from the beginning of the last century and some written within the past year. There were solemn themes as well as joyous ones. There were German, Russian and American poems. There was a great interweaving and overlapping of many threads of themes.

Notes by Helen Overell.

8th January 2018

Poetry in Translation, presented by Rose Wagner

Rose led a lively and thought-provoking discussion on whether poetry is lost in its translation. With so much to discuss on this theme, the group looked at why it is important for us as poets to read poetry in translation, to help understand and learn from poets of other backgrounds, cultures and languages. The group explored the difficulties of translation, the need to convey social context and the problems that arise when there is no literal translation for a particular word or phrase. Also, discussed were the difficulties in doing justice to the original rhythms and rhymes and whether or not this is possible and how much of this is necessary.

There was an interesting conversation regarding how poetry differs from prose and the problems arising for translation from poetry techniques such as rhyme, rhythm, imagery. Not forgetting the differences between languages in structure, idioms and style. The methods and challenges of poetry translation were considered, together with the modern practice of pairing poets with native speakers/linguists to collaborate on a final translated poem. For example, beginning with a literal translation as used in 'Modern Poetry in Translation' (the magazine started by Ted Hughes in 1965) and also by Sarah Maguire who founded the Poetry Translation Centre.

The group reflected on the depth and resonance of a poem and how this might be enfolded and expressed in a different language. Rose illustrated this point by providing the group with poems to read that had been written in French, German and Spanish and translations of these into English. In addition, further looking at poems translated from Russian and from Hungarian. At the same time, it was considered that the act of translating seems akin to building a bridge between different cultures and different times.

By discussion and reading of a number of poems with their translations, Rose provided the opportunity to enhance the group's appreciation of the complexities and pitfalls of the task. In conclusion, it seemed apparent that poetry is not necessarily lost in translation when the work is carried out with sufficient skill, care and sensitivity.

Poems considered that had been translated from the original language

Suggested further reading
'Centres of Cataclysm – Celebrating 50 years of Modern Poetry in Translation'
Edited by Sasha Dugdale and David and Helen Constantine, Bloodaxe Books, 2016

Notes by Sharon Williams.

29th January 2018

UA Fanthorpe, presented by Heather Shakespeare

The presentation from Heather provided a fascinating insight into the poetry by Ursula Askham Fanthorpe (UA Fanthorpe). Born in Kent 1929 and from a somewhat privileged background, she attended St Anne's College, Oxford then later taught at Cheltenham Ladies' College for 16 years. However, she felt unfulfilled in that role and only started writing poetry in 1974 whilst working as a medical receptionist at Burden Neurological Hospital, where she felt she had found her subject matter at last. A fascination with hospitals came about as a result of an accident when she rode her pedal cycle in Oxford. From the mid 1980's onwards UA Fanthorpe wrote prolifically and also took up residencies at Lancaster, Durham and Newcastle universities, as well as receiving many awards and honours such as the Cholmondeley Award (1993); first woman to be nominated for Professor of Poetry at Oxford (1995);CBE (2001) and the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry (2003).

Heather explained to the group that she had only encountered the work of UA Fanthorpe four years ago and had been drawn to reading further. Heather's knowledge and enthusiasm provided a lively discussion on UA Fanthorpe's style of poetry which displays her humour, empathy for the outsider and a need to 'drop out' in order to find her voice.

The group read a diverse number of poems. The first poem For Saint Peter had been written by UA Fanthorpe in 1984 in a caravan in the grounds of Burden Neurological Hospital where she used to take her lunchbreaks. Next, the group read Casehistory: Alison (head injury) and then the List. These poems, all from her first anthology (Side Effects), reflect her fascination with the stories behind the medical case notes she handled in her job. They also express her connection with people who had no voice, and her sense of vocation in speaking for them through her poetry. The poems Earthed and Stanton Drew were then read, providing evidence of UA's love of England, its landscapes, archeology and history.

UA Fanthorpe regarded a poem as "a conversation between the poet and the reader", but some of her poems read as conversations in their own right. Knowing About Sonnets, in which UA wrily debunks literary criticism, was read as an example of this. The next poems explored by the group were BC: AD and Not the Millennium, both of which express UA Fanthorpe's Quaker faith. Her preoccupation with the futility of war was examined in the funny yet disturbing poem The Young Person's Guide To Arms, whilst Fanfare, a poem addressed to her mother following her death, considers the affections and tensions within the mother/daughter relationship. Rounding off an interesting evening, the final poem Atlas is one in which UA Fanthorpe illustrates the maintenance of everyday issues – such as undertaking household tasks and administration – as being the sensible side of love.

Further reference

Listen to an interview with UA Fanthorpe and hear her reading the Master of the Cast Shadow

Collections by UA Fanthorpe

(All published by Peterloo or Enitharmon)

Notes by Sharon Williams.

26th February 2018

Haibun workshop, presented by Diana Webb

Diana gave an excellent presentation on 'Haibun: Landscape and Portrait' beginning with a brief description of haibun in which prose and haiku are each enhanced by the other. A haiku is a breath-length poem in which perceptions come together within a moment and resound beyond this. Haiku need not follow the 5-7-5 syllable rule – there are single line haiku called monoku as well as two line haiku. The link between the prose and the haiku can be one of counterpoint, refraction, condensation and narrative momentum. The haiku can provide an oblique link & shift to the prose thus opening another dimension to the writing and the journey of the reader.

Diana led an exercise on matching up prose and haiku which had been separated for this purpose. In this way we explored the nature of the relationship between the haiku and prose within a haibun. We were invited to write a haiku and then prose in the voice of the child in a Banksy picture. We looked at examples of haibun written in response to landscapes from around the world and were invited to write our own in response to landscapes on postcards. We then looked at haibun giving portraits of people including Diana's 'Formidable' which holds a vivid and affectionate account of her aunt and also two haibun in response to portraits by Cézanne. We wrote our own haibun based on postcards of portraits by Cézanne, Modigliani etc. Diana has invited us to submit our finished pieces for consideration for publication in 'Time Haiku.'

Notes by Helen Overell

24th March 2018

Poetry of Rivers, presented by Tony Marcoff

This evening Tony conveyed a comprehensive presentation on 'The Poetry of the River'. Tony explained how he had incorporated his own work within the poems to be reviewed. By way of illustrating how the river had contributed to his own creativity. Firstly, the group looked at an image of a Japanese Ukiyo-e wood block print. It was explained that the river scene represented the floating world of pleasure relating to the old world quarter of Tokyo. Which tied up to the reading of The Floating World by Ryoi Asai (written after 1661).

The group was given the opportunity to read the poem Rising Damp – U A Fanthorpe (1929-2009). This poem highlighted the rivers of London and provided a wonderful ending with a sinister twist by reference to the rivers from Greek mythology. Further poems to read relating to London include: Windsor-Forest – Alexander Pope (1688-1744) and The Wey – Ravil Bukharaev.

The poem the Four Quartets – T S Elliot (1888-1965) was discussed in terms of how the river in this poem could be interpreted as an indication that rivers are sacred. Tony read to the group his own prose poem The River Mole – Tony Marcoff (2017). Explaining, how Ezra Pound spoke about sacred spaces being in the mind whereas for Tony, the sacred space is the River Mole.

Next, the poem In a Notebook – James Fenton, written with three stanzas in italics and the remaining two in standard text. So, it was effectively read by two members of the group to illustrate the change of mood in the poem. Followed by The One Book – Velemir Khlebnikov (1885-1922). The many rivers mentioned, enabled this poem to facilitate a moment of beauty; as each river has its own personally. Other river poems to consider reading are; Old Leaves from the Chinese Earth – Sadanand Rege (1923-1982) and Japanese River Tales – Ted Hughes (1930-1998).

Subsequently, Tony guided the group through an exploration of various poet's haiku, tanka and monoku (one line haiku) of the river. A most thoughtful presentation on 'The Poetry of the River' concluded with the group listening to Tony reading his own prose poem, a hymn to the mother – Tony Marcoff (2017).

Further reading and listening:

Notes by Sharon Williams.

26th March 2018

Surrey Unearthed Poetry Walk

Eight poets and friends met at Abinger Roughs National Trust Carpark to walk a circular path from there to Piney Copse. The weather was kind and the sun shone, if a little hazily, later in the day. Setting out from the carpark, we shared impressions as we walked, marvelling at the gnarled Witches Broom Tree and wondered at the reason for the vase of daffodils perched amongst the branches, identified the various birds from song and sight; wrens, tits, jay, pheasant, buzzards, crows and, of course, pigeons, commented on the many signs of spring; tiny tree buds on the beech, yellow star flowers of lesser celandines, the bunches of green leaves that herald bluebells, and marvelled at the slow worm that basked on the grass in the middle of our path – a rare sight for most of us with its copper scales and black flickering tongue. Another rare and unexpected sight was the steam train chugging its way along the base of the North Downs, distinctive whistle blowing, heading back towards Dorking.

Three stops along the way allowed time to write on the sights and sounds of the walk and to digest the notes handed out on some of the historic and landscape facts about the area – details of the water wheels, mills and hammer ponds powering 12 diverse industries through the ages along the Tillingbourne – how Thomas Henry Farrer, who owned the land as part of the Abinger Hall estate, helped Darwin's research on earthworms by keeping a worm journal – the memorial cross for "Soapy Sam", Samuel Wilberforce, a bishop and son of William Wilberforce who lead the movement to stop the slave trade – and the purchase of Piney Copse by E.M. Forster from the proceeds of A Passage to India to deter developers.

A companionable and relaxed walk in beautiful surroundings which will hopefully unearth and inspire poems for Surrey Unearthed, the Mole Valley Poets Anthology, to be launched in June.

Notes by Sue Beckwith.

7th April 2018

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