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.


2 thoughts on “StAnza – St Andrews: Fourth and fifth day

  1. Pingback: Blog Geart Tigchelaar: StAnza – St Andrews: Fourth and fifth day | ensafh

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