Thursday, 4 December 2008
I'm still playing catch-up after the Karlsruhe Bücherschau, but I'll attempt to write a full report here. I'd a lovely time. I thought I'd be lonely without my partner - who always comes on my jaunts - but, as it happens, I loved having time alone to wander the streets, Christmas market and shops, and to loll in my hotel room. Anyhow, I had the company of some great Irish poets in the evenings, so that banished any chance of loneliness.
I met poet Ann Leahy, and her sister, at Dublin airport and we traveled together; a smooth journey. We were met at our hotel, the Kaiserhof, by Alan Hayes, publisher with Arlen House and Vice President of Clé the Irish Publishers' Association. We had the afternoon free and I wandered the magical Christmas Market, which was on in the square beside our hotel. There were cute wooden cabins selling Glühwein, iced gingerbread, wooden Xmas decorations, jewelery, snowglobes, candles etc. etc. It was all very sweet and Christmassy.
That evening we went to hear poets Celia de Fréine and Eva Bourke read at the Bücherschau which took place in a building across the road from our hotel (yes, we were spoilt).
Eva Bourke was born in Germany but has lived much of her life in Galway city and is an English language poet. She began with a moving poem about a photograph of her mother from 1914, when her mother was just 6 years old. She then read a poem which touches on the reasons why she writes and drew the conclusion that poets are readers and storytellers. I would agree that most writing is a direct growth from a writer's love of reading and books.
Much of Eva's work draws from nature and the sea, especially in Connemara, and she has a stunningly wide and vivid vocabulary. In a poem lamenting spring's non-arrival in the gloomy west, she says 'funerals creep like black snails' past her house, and 'I'm in pack-ice up to my neck'. In another poem about mist in June she described the mist as 'heavy sodden felt'.
Celia de Fréine is a bilingual poet with collections in both Irish and English. She read in both languages and, like Eva, is often inspired by the landscapes in Connemara. She began with a poem about a selkie (seal woman) which was also a metaphor for moving between languages. Celia spoke about the way Beckett wrote in French to achieve a sparsity of language in his work and that that is what she does when she writes in Irish.
She read from Fiacha Fola, her collection which deals with the experience of, and fall-out from, the Hepatitis C scandal. Also from Scarecrows at Newtonards (where the poet was born) with poems in the voice's of Shakespeare's women among much more.
We all - including poets Matthew Sweeney, Mary Noonan and Ann Leahy - went for dinner afterwards in the Kaiserhof's restaurant, and a jolly time was had of eating and drinking, and chat about German food, wine and Schnapps, Irish poetry, and all manner of things.
I had all the next day free, so I explored around the town and a huge shopping centre, Ettlinger Tor, which was utterly fab. It's so lovely to go into shops you've never heard of! And the Germans do Xmas decos and fripperies so well. I had a ball. Prices were keen, too, for clothes and food and drink of every kind.
That night was my reading with Donegal poet Matthew Sweeney and Tipp born Ann Leahy. Ann read first from her début collection The Woman Who Lived her Life Backwards and the audience of German, Irish and Americans were appreciative of her work. I didn't take notes that night, as I was sitting up on the stage, but Ann read several poignant poems about her childhood and family.
I read next and I have nothing to say about it really, except that I tried to read a mix of themes (place/fertilty/mourning/a token 'funny' one etc).
Matthew concluded our reading with some poems in German, from his collection Rosa Milch and English ones from Black Moon. His work often consists of hugely enjoyable and surreal parables, and he was highly entertaining. He also looked very fetching in a shirt with a pattern of hot air balloons! It's French, apparently, and very á la mode in an off-the-wall way. Very Matthew, indeed.
More lovely dinner that night (I had a fish called 'Zander' in German, 'pike-perch' in English on the menu) in the hotel and more chatting about art, language and poetry with retired German professor Eoin Bourke (husband of Eva) and Matthew S. In the morning I went to the Kunsthalle (art gallery). It was a most confusing place of closed doors and endless stairs, but I enjoyed the Hans Thoma pastorals and, mostly, as usual, the Expressionist madness in the Orangerie, which was a good trot from the main gallery. Home then to my own beloved boys and man, and to my sincerely beloved bed!
It was a wonderful, educational trip for me; I enjoyed using my bockety German and I learnt a lot and even started a few new poems. A success all round, I'd say.