The idea of being on an adventure

The question when you’re on an adventure is usually answered that you’re on one as soon as you have left your doorstep. You can have an adventure in your back garden, if you want to. They say. One who inspires me greatly to get started in long distance cycling is Alaister Humphreys. He cycled the world around in four years and is now promoting microadventures in order to motivate people to go out and about. Take your bike and sleeping bag after work and go to the hills, cook your beans, sleep under a starry sky, boil water for your morning coffee and be on time for work again.

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Our wildcamp site close to the German city of Coesfeld.

All well and good, but it wasn’t until we reached Germany that we both had the idea of being away, of being on an adventure. We had time for a bike trip of approximately a week. We thought it would be nice to cycle along the river IJssel to Nijmegen and then a bit of the Roman Limes (the border line of the Roman Empire along the river Rhine). A bit touristic from the start, but what the heck we said to each other. Why not discover your own country a bit more?
We left Harns in the early morning and cycled along the old dyke to Spanga where we would meet a friend of mine (and my sponsor of my first big trip, Kleine Beer Brouwerij). Next day Kampen was our destination, where Ydwine’s sister lives.

 

 

After Kampen we followed the IJssel and there the ‘trouble’ started. The weather was really good, maybe a bit too hot and because then it was still a holiday so a lot of people were out and about. Above that The Netherlands is a bicycle country as you might now, so elderly couples on their e-bikes overtook us whistling and chatting while we panted on our loaded bikes in the blazing sun.
We still don’t know if we missed a turn or haven’t looked on the map properly, but all of a sudden there weren’t any other cyclists anymore. You would say that was a relief, but it was even worse. We got in the village of Giethoorn, which is called Venice of the North. Very small paths with loads of tourists that walk from one side of the village to the other side if they weren’t on the water. We struggled, but we survived!

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Giethoorn

In short, we didn’t make it to Nijmegen, we took a turn to the left in the direction of Germany, to Münster. Away from all the day-trippers. As soon as we were over the border and there wasn’t a living soul in sight, we could breathe again and said to each other that we now had the idea of being away, of being on an adventure. For me a big part of being on an adventure is wild camping. We did it once, since there are far less campsites in Germany than in The Netherlands. Wild camping is almost impossible in the crowded Netherlands where you can see a house or a farm in every field you’re standing in. Is that also why microadventures are more for countries like England and in Scandinavia for example. Or did we make a mistake from the start to follow a popular route? Or is it that I think The Netherlands is a bit flat and boring, so that I only have the idea of being away when I’m abroad, in unknown territory?

Than I’m lucky to say that we want to go on a longer trip to experience something beyond the packed, planned paths of The Netherlands and make an adventure of our own.

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At the fortress of Bad Bentheim.

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Writing course

Last week Thursday I got a mail if I could and want to stand in for a writing course on the island of Skylge (Terschelling in Dutch) from Friday till Sunday. The lady who was going to give the course had sprained a knee. Was I up to it with no experience at all in giving such a course? On such short notice? Who am I to comment on what other people write? As a whipper-snapper. But if I didn’t do it, the whole weekend would be cancelled. I didn’t have any ‘hard’ appointments, although I had to miss out the birthday of my girlfriend, but as a writer the Frisian literature always comes first.

Skylge

I was glad in a way that I didn’t know it weeks in advance, otherwise I would have a longer period of slight nerves. Now I had to go the following day, get the papers and stuff from the teacher and get on the boat. In that short time I read as much as I could. Fortunately I actually have some experience with judging other people’s stories and poems, since I’m an editor of a literary magazine (Ensafh) since a couple of years. So I do comment on what other people write. And there would be only three participants and not a whole class. That made some difference.
Of course I rented a bike when I got off the boat to cycle to the beautiful Folkshegeskoalle Skylgeralân (Folk high school). A pittoresque place for courses, retreats, but you can also stay there as a ‘normal’ guest. The director gave me a short guide round the place, showed me the room where we had the course and where my room was. She told me that someone mentioned that if she had known beforehand that there were so little participants, and there was a stand-in, she probably would have cancelled the weekend. Luckily the participant told me that of course it wasn’t because of me and my very short notice of taking up the course, but the fact was that there actually should have been two teachers and the year before there were more than ten participants. But here we were and we had to make the best of it.

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One of the buildings at the Folkshegeskoalle (behind the top most windows was our ‘classroom’)

And so we did! They got all various kind of assignments: write a piece for the newspaper, write an exciting story about a dead horse that is still sometimes seen by fishermen, write visual poetry and what not. All that creative writing went accompanied with beautiful weather, so that we could let the nature and the island influence what we did, and therefore we could sit outside and write.
Soon it turned out that there was an advantage in being with such a small group. The participants got way more attention than with a large group. Last year they had to hear all the stories, get a few points of feedback and that was it. Now they could even quickly change some things and ask me for information after the feedback round. In another case I could go out with a single participant to read her story and talk about how she could improve it. You can’t do that with more than ten participants. That and the fact that I joined in with most of the assignments was greatly appreciated.

I got the chance to bike a bit, to swim a bit and learn a great deal about giving a writing course and about my own writing. So it was a very fruitful weekend which I would love to do again without hesitating!

Translation showcase

In this final blog post about StAnza I’m going more in depth about curious things we ran into translating each other’s work. As an example I picked out one poem, that is Selkie by Rachel Plummer. The others participating in the Showcase were Stewart Sanderson, Sigrid Kingma, Robin MacKenzie and Tsead Bruinja.

First of all, here is the original and the Frisian translation:

Selkie

‘Selkie’

The first thing we ran into was the title. Most people in Scotland know what a ‘selkie’ is, but we don’t have such a mythological figure in Fryslân or The Netherlands. A selkie is a seal who can shed her skin when she comes onto land and can transform to a woman. In principle she can put it on again to submerge under water. The tale goes that a man hides her skin, so she is forced to stay with him. The poem draws inspiration from this mythical creature as it is written for a project combining LGBT-issues with Scots folktales and myths. The Selkie then is a perfect transgender reference.
To come back to the title itself. I chose to keep the typical ‘selkie’, knowing that it would have to be introduced in Fryslân either way. I did changed the ‘ie’ into ‘y’, since every word with that corresponding sound ends in an ‘y’ in Frisian. Like ‘taksy’ (‘taxi’) or ‘anty’ (‘anti’).

‘The secret me is a boy.’

I translated the first line into ‘De geheime ik is in jonge’. Very literal, but it is a bit forced in Frisian. We came up with ‘Stikem bin ik in jonge’. Sounds good, but a bit off compared to the original. ‘Stikem’ is more ‘on the sly’, thus not completely what is meant here. We had to have that ‘secret’ in, which is ‘geheim’. But then we had an explicit ‘I’ (= ‘ik’) in the translation and not in the original. We had to have the third person singular in it and therefore we chose for the comma at the end of the sentence and then beginning the second line with ‘dy’t’ which is referring back to ‘in jonge’ (‘a boy’). After that we could easily use ‘hy’ ‘er’ (‘he’ when it’s net stressed) and ‘him’ and we would be back to the third person singular. The problem could thus be solved in a very natural way.

‘the big fish’

Swimming with the big fish is a figure of speech in English. Not in Frisian. But the English expression is well known in our region. When a reader wouldn’t know it, the meaning in Frisian is still the same. That he/she wants to be part of it all, but in all its frailty is different, ‘he swaggers / like a mermaid’. So we could keep this beautiful line without it losing meaning in Frisian.

‘He’s whiskered’

Doing a translation sometimes plays tricks on you: you are thinking too hard and you’ll miss the obvious solution. At first I translated ‘He’s whiskered’ into ‘Hy hat burdgroei’. You have the facial hair, but not the meaning that he has whiskers as a seal. Tsead cleverly came up with the most evident solution of using ‘snorhier’ which means both ‘whiskers’ as ‘having a moustache’. Beauty in its simplicity.

‘Thick-skinned / Quick-finned’

The doublet ‘Thick-skinned / Quick-finned’ couldn’t be translated straightforwardly. ‘Thick-skinned’ became easily ‘Tsjokhûdich’, but ‘Fluchfinnich’ would be very artificial. I lost the rhyme, but I hope I gained something with the alliteration. The indefinite article ‘in’ is assimilated when you would read it aloud, so the rhythm would remain.

‘always turning tail’

The line ‘always turning tail’ is ingenious because of its double meaning. By just translating it with ‘sturtswaaiend’ or ‘swaait mei de sturt’ would only have the literal meaning of the sort of flapping motion the tail does. Sigrid came up with the even inventive ‘sturtswyljend’ which has a second figurative meaning to it: to do the last bits and pieces of ones work, to do some last things. So the word has the movement in and a deeper meaning of getting done and out and be out of the way.

‘Rough-voiced / Black-eyed’

Then on to the last one. Another doublet: ‘Rough-voiced / Black-eyed’. The ‘-ed’ couldn’t be translated like that without sounding forced. But the black eyes were interesting. Having a blue eye in Frisian has the same figurative meaning as in English, it means that someone has punched you in the face. Of course, seals have black eyes, not blue ones. That’s a little freedom we took here, since we thought the figure of speech was equally important, not to say more important.

 

This blog may be quite different from my regular travelling blogs, but I hope I could take you on a different journey in the world of languages. I hope I have showed you what great puzzles there can be with words, meanings and sounds when you translate. And of course, how much fun these puzzles are when you have found a way to lay all the pieces together.

 

 

StAnza – St Andrews: Fourth and fifth day

Have I already mentioned that StAnza 2018 was the best poetry festival I ever went to? But then again, it was my first…

“A poet is always dissappointed. It’s the essence of life.”
– Maud Vanhauwaert

On Saturday it rained all day, but we didn’t care about that, since we were tucked up in this lovely and warm Scots house. The thing was that Sigrid Kingma, another Frisian poet, and I were collaborating with two Scots poets, Rachel Plummer and Stewart Sanderson, to translate two of each other’s poems. We already made drafts back home, but now we had a chance to talk about it and ask each other questions. We dived into each other’s work, trying to get the meaning behind every sound, every sentence break and point. Then it goes further than just a close read. Every nuance has to be right, but still it has to sound good in Frisian as well. You want it to be so natural, that the reader has the idea that he is not holding a translation in his hands.
We had the Frisian-Dutch poet Tsead Bruinja and Robin Mackenzie with us to guide the process, but moreover to think with us. Later on this week I would like to go more into detail about that process on the basis of one or two poems. During a venue on Sunday we read the original poem and the translator would read the translation and talk about some matters he/she ran into, that could either be a difficulty or an interesting component. Actually are those two things one and the same. The audience had the poems on a print-out, so they could read along or come with questions or even suggestions.

 

I work as a translator, but that is merely prose. I did some poetry once, but not all that much. Last year I sat with the Danish poet Carsten René Nielsen in his apartment to translate some of my poems into Danish just before I had to go on stage with it. That was the first time to collaborate and to talk about your work neatly and precisely to get the translation as smooth as possible. Working with another language makes you really think about the work you’ve written in your own language. It’s fun to work with different languages you have some basic skill in yourself, as you expand your vocabulary at the same time.

“If someone doesn’t like it, they can translate it themselves.”
– Henri-Paul Campbell

To stay at the translation theme I’ll say something about a panel discussion I went to with the already mentioned poet Tsead Bruinja, the Flemish poet Maud Vanhauwaert, the American-German poet Paul-Henri Campbell and a publisher of translations (I’m sorry I didn’t write her name down, and I couldn’t find hers on the website either). After each poet said something about their poem and the English version, there followed a “regular mud-slinging about translations”. It goes too far to state everything that has been said, so I’ll expand on one thing. Paul-Henri asked the other poets whether if the translator should be a poet himself. Tsead answered that David Colmer, who translated for him and Maud, is a novelist, but what makes him translate poetry well, or any translator, is the feeling for musicality and rhythm. Every poet on the panel, but I guess every other poet and readers of poetry, can agree that how a poem sounds is equally important as the meaning of the words themselves. As Tsead put it very nicely: “There is a story in the music of the poem.” The hostess took that even a step further by stating that “sounds are forcing a meaning into the poem”.

“Translators are not slaves of the author.”
– Maud Vanhauwaert

And I was sometimes lost in translation in the poetry culture at StAnza. As I’ve written in my previous blog, a poet was told after his performance that everybody should feel comfortable, not awkward and especially not insulted. This notion was at times strange for me for example, Andy Fierens read his mommies and daddies and daddies, which sketches the abundance of love that some people have so they’ll share it with someone else. The poem was on the edge of humour and seriousness, and contained no moral judgement: that was left open for the audience. It was obvious too that because of this openness, the audience interpreted the poem in different ways. While I thought it was an nice way to discuss societal issues, a guy behind me asked his girlfriend whether the poem was promoting adultery. Andy even got told he shouldn’t read that poem anymore. For me this difference of what should and shouldn’t be read is more open, as I prefer edgy, rough poetry where the poet him/herself can set the limits. So coming to a place where poets were corrected for content was curious. What does such a setting do to the language and message of poetry?

“Jazz comes from America, so that’s why Al Qaida gets my vote.”
– Andy Fierens

To go back to the musicality within poetry, I want to say something about the slam poetry contest. Believe it or not, it was actually my very first one I went to. To be frank, it’s not completely my cup of tea (as I’ve expected), but I enjoyed myself nonetheless. Andy Fierens was the mc and was that in an enthusiastic, but not in a too exaggerated way, which I found good. The fact that there was a wide range of age, style, quality I found great as well. And I agreed on the winner, Jo Gilbert, although I wouldn’t have mind if Emily Elderfield had won. The one had a more absurd humour, where the other was serious.

When Eleanor Livingstone and Annie Rutherford asked me to have a seat in the plenary wrap-up of the festival I immediately said yes. Not because of the money but I agreed upon the fact that as the Guest Blogger my input couldn’t be missed. Later on I regretted it a bit, because I don’t see myself as super talkative. But I managed without saying something stupid and I have had moments I trampled more over my words. How much more comfortable it is to lose oneself in a poem and the fact that you can hide a little behind a piece of paper.

This isn’t the last blog post about the festival, like I said. But I do want to thank Eleanor and Annie and everybody at StAnza for everything. All went smoothly and the communication was sublime. The accommodation and the bike were perfect. Now I would like to give a couple of people the floor to say what they think of StAnza.

Light up the darkness

This time no report about what I did, experienced or whatsoever. There is coming a blog post about yesterday and today, don’t worry. But that will come tomorrow or the day after. It gives me a bit more time to reflect and for the writing itself. And for once my mother-in-law doesn’t have to check my English. Its at the end Sunday, right.

But what I do want to do, is to show you St Andrews through my eyes. Not in a too touristic kind of way. I searched for a different perspective. It was a nice oppertunity to play with my camera. It’s a rather new hobby to me, so I grab every chance I get to further explore photography. But my goal was still yo show you the characteristics of St Andrews. I hope I succeeded in that. And if I would have to give this series of photographs a name, it would be ‘Light up the darkness’.

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StAnza – St Andrews: Third day

I feel like a kid in a candy store. There are way too many colours, choices, tastes. You just can’t pick them all. The great amount that you do eat makes you sick… Of pure joy. I had another great day with Old English, poetry (surprisingly), a good chat and laugh.
I don’t know what I like best, cycling or listening or writing poetry. I’m very glad I don’t have to chose. In fact, the two can be combined smoothly as the sea and the beach.
It would be my last day with the bike, so I swallowed down my breakfast, flushed it away with two cups of coffee and took my bike from underneath the stairs where usually the golf clubs are stashed. I went for a short ride to Strathkinness. Long enough to enjoy the outdoors, to clear my head and think about the day ahead.

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“It’s not like: Boom! I’ve made this up, I’m a genius.”
– Chris Jones about the common usage of kennings in Old English poetry

Chris Jones gave a workshop Old English for poets. A hundred years ago I specialized in Old Frisian, so I was really excited. We dived into kennings. I’ll give you the definition of the Wikipedia site: “A kenning is a type of circumlocation in form of a compound that employs figurative language in place of a more concrete single-word noun.” Battlelight for sword, wavestallion for ship. In Old English you have bonehouse for body. In Old Frisian you have something similar, namely benena burcht (bone-fortress) for womb. A modern day kenning is for example the word ‘skyscraper’. What was great about how Jones gave the workshop was not only his laidback and at the same time enthusiastic way but that he just let us play with kennings so to speak. He gave us tools to use them in our writing process, or maybe better put, to start writing. An exercise to get going. To expand the kenning in either a poem or in a new word that you could use. Maybe all of the words you think of are rubbish, but at least you’ve started writing. We weren’t forced to write a whole poem or come with ten kennings for let’s say a computer.

 

 

I really admire slam poets, because I can’t do without my papers. Slam poetry to me is a bit of mix of theatre and poetry. I would almost say it’s all about performance, but by stating that I do the form of art wrong. It’s words coming out of their mouths, they have something to say and it’s the way they say it that’s how the message gets through or how (much) the audience is entertained. Therefore I thought it was a pity that Hannah Raymond-Cox did only one ‘poem’. It was lively, fresh, fast and funny.

“If I had the perfect avocado, I could avoid a depression again.”
– Hannah Raymond-Cox

Catherine Wilson read both from paper and tablet. She performed a remake of the poem ‘Night’ by William Blake. The music that was played on the background of her last poem she did was absolutely of added value. Nowadays poets just turn on the radio or ask a musician to improvise, so they can say they are multimedial. That doesn’t always work out that easy. But that was not the case with Wilson.

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Catherine Wilson

You’ve read it in the blog about yesterday that whilst talking about poetry, you get to talk about language as easily as when you’re talking about the sky you get to talk about clouds. I met the same woman from Galicia as the night before. Her mother tongue is Galician, but since it’s not taught in schools her Spanish is better. When she translated a Scots poet into Galician, she found out again that her mother tongue is far more natural and has much more music in it. Such a story sounds like the perfect Frisian love poem to me.

“Do you know a word with more than one syllable. He looked at me and said: ‘Wanker’.”
– Martin Figura

I mentioned theatre when I wrote about slam poetry, but what really was a theatre piece was the show Dr Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine performed by Martin Figura. I should have gone to another venue actually, but I got the wrong ticket. I didn’t regret it for a single second. Unbelievable how he performed for a whole hour straight. With no hiccups, ‘uh’s’ or whatever. He took us through his whole life. A trip with his adolescent son and the ups and downs with his daughter with what he lovelingly stated as irritable down syndrom, his second marriage, that he wasn’t the first to turn to Bukowski to change his vinex sweater for a leather jacket.  The audience laughed, was moved, was impressed by the great set-up and the perfect timing with the pictures behind him.

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Right after dinner it was time for the Quiet Open Mic at Zest Juicing and Coffee Bar. There were 23 poets who had signed up for it. So too many to mention them all. A lot of voices, a lot of variety. A tear, a laugh, an ‘oooh’. It was all there, it was lovely. I was goofying around a bit with my camera, so I only filmed one poet. It’s Roger West you see in the video. After his performance it was mentioned that the intention was that no one should be made felt awkward, embarrassed or insulted. That wasn’t the case with West in my opinion. Shouldn’t poetry be on the edge of the border? Where is the border? When do you go too far as a poet?

I had to run back to the Byre Theatre to be just in time for the readings of Pitta Little and Mark Ford. When you read for an hour there has to be a laugh as well, which brought Little to remark that she wishes to become an elk if she was resurrected. She already sees herself stepping into a garden eating the roses. Ford intrigued us all with his poem about a pool full of peanuts at the very start. It was the very first poem he ever wrote.

“A swimming pool full of peanuts is not worth the trouble.”
– Mark Ford

My fellow Frisian poets Sigrid Kingma and Tsead Bruinja had arrived. After the readings, while an open mic was going on downstairs we had a drink and a chat about poetry, dead poets, everyday life, what we had to do at the festival. I didn’t want to go to the pub. I told them I had to write this blog post. My old friends can confirm I am easy (too easy) to persuade to have another beer in a pub. So I ended up with a Guinness in the Criterion. Again a same theme popped up in the conversation. It wasn’t about the musicality of poetry, that you have to stay true to the poet you’re translating and that you have to please your audience as well, it was neither about the reluctance of saying that you are a poet, but that you say I write a poem now and then. No, it was the theme where we started the day with. Toilets, and things people do there. But I won’t further bore you with that, instead of that I’ll get ready for a day of translating the poems of Rachel Plummer and Stewart Sanderson. And you should get ready for a new day as well!

 

StAnza – St Andrews: Second day

The weather couldn’t have been better for a Poetry Walk by Morag Wells. And a great start of the second day, actually the first day fully programmed. Morag led us around the city, reading poems at certain locations. She linked the tour with the student life. St Andrews has a population of approximately 18.000 inhabitants, with 8000 students. Therefore students have quite an influence on the city. Everywhere you look there is a student. It keeps the city young and dynamic, I suppose. The cabby who brought Thomas and me to our hotel was slightly less positive. He thought students are taking over, so it’s impossible to get an affordable apartment in St Andrews.
Anyway, students have their own traditions and Morag told us the one about students diving into the sea on the first of May at 4 o’clock in the morning.

I liked the fact that she read both older poets like Edward Muir and Helena Farnell, the latter joined our group as well.

Earlier on I wrote that The Self is one of the main themes at this year’s StAnza. Will Harris, the same one I mentioned yesterday said that inheritance is all you’ve got, it’s something active and living that grows within us. I agree with him about that. I tried to shake off my Frisian roots a few years ago when I lived in Denmark. That is stated a bit strongly, since I was still writing in and translating into Frisian, but I didn’t want to have anything more to do with the Frisian language than just that. So no meetings about getting a better position in schools for the language etcetera. But I guess it’s too deep inside my bones and marrow. I came back to Fryslân and I am involved in quite a few things concerning the language.

“I’m here for a good time, not for a long time.” – Vanessa Kisuule

Vanessa Kisuule who did a reading during lunch had a completely different experience and therefore a different opinion. Her parents came to England from Uganda when they were in their twenties. She was raised in English, she never learned Ugandan and was never interested in it. “It was a part of my heritage, which wasn’t relevant.” Until she met her grandmother, who doesn’t speak English. From the stories others have told her, she feels related with her. They both have the same character traits, but there is nothing to bridge the gap in order to talk with her, let alone be friends. A good example how important language is. But Vanessa is not the kind of woman to be kicked off her feet by that. She is campaigning for joy, a thing that is seen as not intellectual and naive. “Joy is fucking grown-up.”

“That a poet is being playful is extremely important.” – anonymus spectator

Furthermore I saw Thomas Möhlmann perform in both Dutch and English (which I understood both). He’s not only a great performer, a great poet, but also great company. I had a bit of a dip when I went to the Town Hall again for the second Border Crossing that day (the first one was with Will and Thomas) to hear Owen Lowery and Martin MacIntyre. Lowery took me by the hand and with his calm and clear voice led me into his world. In other cases you can get even sleepier, but quite the opposite happened. MacIntyre read both in English and in Gaelic. I loved it. Especially the poem about a WW1 soldier who came back at the station in Preston and had a mental breakdown. I didn’t understand a word, but how MacIntyre performed it, you could feel every bit of pain and sorrow. The poem he is reciting here below is not the one, but a nice example of a bilingual poem.

Outside the Byre Theatre my trusty steed waited for me and I was desperate to go out for a ride. I talked to a fellow poet during the Poetry Walk and she recommended I would go to West Sands. It wasn’t a long ride, but I could catch my breath and ponder about all the splendid poetry I’ve heard. I loaded up my batteries to scribble out some notes I took and just before six o’clock there was David Eyre. He wanted to let me check a translation he made with an online dictionary. He did a bloody great job. He thinks Scots is not getting the attention in schools and in public as it should be. He wants to show people the link to the other countries overseas and point them at the similarities. That we really have something in common language-wise, so that we all belong to the north sea-region. I think as well that languages, especially minority languages can help each other out, enforce each other. Borders can be crossed so easily, when you do you see how much in common we have on many levels.

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Then it was time for the last poetry reading of that day. The Dutch poet Ester Naomi Perquin brought her poems with a lot of humour. Of course I knew her by name, but I have to confess that I have never read a single poem of hers, let alone have seen her live. So it was sheer delight seeing her on stage. In the break I had a short chat about identity again with another spectator. She was English and came to live in Scotland. It was just then that she felt English for the first time in her life. She asked me if I felt Dutch or Frisian. I have to say that I’m Frisian first of all. However it depends on whom I am speaking to if I say I’m from The Netherlands, or from Fryslân. Countless times I have said the same phrase: Frisian is the language being spoken in the northern parts of the Netherlands, to clarify what my situation is. After the interval the poet Michael Symmons Roberts came on stage who brought us a bit more classical poems from Manchester where he lives. And then some jazz and some pints to wrap the whole evening up.

“Love is like driving intoxicated. You think everything is going fine, but than you look in the mirror and the road is covered with bodies.” – Ester Naomi Perquin