Sunday, April 22, 2007

two erins and a genni

read last night as part of the final poetry cabaret: erin knight, genni gunn and erin mouré. the first poetry cabaret had two georges and a rob. When will we have three of a kind? We actually did have a full house for this reading, thanks to the audience.

Knight read from her first poetry collection “Sweet Fuel” (Gooselane Editions, 2007). She introduced her work by explaining that the title refers to the energy we use when we have no more energy. She also applied the idea to translation, which is an act in her book, that there is an energy that is needed between perception and language and that energy creates new energy.

Her work was interesting, containing a lot of metaphoric abstractions combined with very concrete imagery and some references to mythology. She also included translations from Spanish and also back translations: poems written in English, translated into Spanish and then translated back into English. The variations were quite interesting, such as a translation from “Silver, for words,/for their mercurial flow” to Spanish and then back into English as “A plated word, glossed/with the fluency of mercury.” [Milagro por el nevado in Three Translations].

My favourite bits of Knight’s reading:

The Sight:
“one blue egg/among three or four mottled green.”
“the dial tone, an acquired comfort,/ like sweet cheese, or the smell of burning dust/when you turn on the furnace the first day.”

Little Brown Bat:
“I held the other end of the rope of a small person’s panic.”
“At times I’ve been reminded of a bat’s naked wings./The sun skin stretched across its long fingerbones invites the/violence of an archaic past we don’t claim.”

As I’m flipping through the book hunting for the lines I marked down, I see other lines, other word combinations I admire. I plan to spend more time being energized by the sweet fuels in this book.

Genni Gunn read next from "Faceless," a collection of poems that focuses primarily on a fictionalized version of a woman who had a face transplant. Gunn was born in Trieste, Italy and along with being a writer and former musician, is also a translator. Translation links all three poets.

Erin Mouré, the final reader, works with three languages: English, French and Galician, a language spoken by about three million people today that goes back to the Middle Ages. She read from O Cadoiro (House of Anansi Press, 2007). Mouré explained that she wanted to explore the lyric turn, by which she was referring to the time when poems turned from praising God, a love that claimed to be wholly satisfying and complete, to addressing another, a love never complete or sufficient.

In order to do the research she went to Lisbon to read the troubadour poetry of the
medieval Galician-Portuguese songbooks, the cancioneiros. Mouré spoke eloquently about the various types of cantigas, including songs of love, and songs of scorn. Some of the of the songs may have been removed from the Vatican Library for being too racy.

I took a few notes about the poems, but alas somehow I ended up buying a different book, O Cidadán (House of Anansi, 2002), the third in a trilogy. Now I’m going to be buying the other two and O Cadoiro. Alas that means I can’t comment on the poems themselves! Mouré speaks eloquently about the poems in a fascinating post-face here.

During the Question and Answer, Stephen Brockwell, who did his usual exemplary job hosting, asked all three about the importance of a second or third language in their work.

For Mouré, this is are crucial. She said that she couldn’t be herself without them. She added that in Europe people are comfortable hearing and not necessarily understanding many languages.

Gunn said that she came from Italy when she was eleven years old and that she didn’t really return to her native tongue until she translated the works of a feminist author, thereby rediscovering her first language through translation.

For Knight being in love with language means being in love with more than one language. She learned Spanish fairly late when she was curious to know about the exciting things she was hearing in Mexico. Knowing other languages helps her to recognize the metaphors occurring in every day speech.

Brockwell asked what is gained and lost in the translation of a poem.
Mouré answered that any reading is a translation. We experience poems through our body, our experience and our own reading. She suggested we take a look at all the translations of Rilke in order to discover the multiple essences of a work.

Mouré finds she is less satisfied to read only in English. She said her mother tongue was silence, that her parents’ voices were a series of blah blahs, unless they mentioned ice cream, but a flower made sense to her. There are times when English does not suffice. We say “the snow fell.” In Galician “it felled the snow,” which sounds more beautiful.
“Je” and “I” are not the same exactly because they have a different cultural context.

The discussion returned to language and the notion that one has to be young to learn a new language, which is something the readers didn't agree with. Mouré said that Galicians believe Galician belongs to the people who love it. Galician is a supressed language that existed in microcosms, the words and expressions varying from one village to another. For example, there are fourteen words for firefly.

Mouré also spoke about the role of lyric in poetry. She believes the poet can’t get away from lyric. She feels that those who want to get rid of the speaking I, still have it there, but it’s suppressed. She recommends people read all ages of literature in different languages, to dive into different moments and places in different languages, even in translation.

Jeremy Dias asked a question about intent and meaning in their poems.
Mouré answered that she tries to see where words go and what they open to her, takes the beauty of the language, that there are so many things language can do; it can be forceful or delicate, can contain ambiguity and contradiction, which are a part of life. She went on to say that we live with contradiction, that resolution comes in different ways or not at all and that we don’t always have a message in life. Every love and death is singular. In the face of multiple singularity there are bound to be contradictions.

I was blown away by Mouré’s words and her poems. She is someone I plan to read more of. What a way to finish off the poetry cabarets!

I’m not blogging events on Sunday. Thanks to all of you who’ve read and discussed these entries with me this time around. Great seeing you at this year’s festival, another joyous celebration of literature. Spring is officially sprung. I'll see you at the numerous events coming up. The Bywords calendar is jam (and peanut butter) packed.

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