The Art of Showing Up

There are few things more frustrating than setting time aside for someone or a group of people who then fail to show up. You may have prepared work or rehearsed for a performance in advance and you spend your time when you should be meeting them in a curious limbo with one eye on the clock. You daren’t start anything that requires focused concentration in case they do actually turn up and interrupt what you’re doing. If you’ve prepared work, it sits there without comment and unfinished. If you’ve rehearsed for a performance, it’s demoralising facing a reduced audience because people who promised to show didn’t turn up. When the no-shows fail to send apologies afterwards, it feels like a double blow: not only did they not turn up but they didn’t value your time enough to acknowledge it had been wasted.

Naturally emergencies occur or transport breaks down and, individually, some no-shows have good reasons for not being there and an after-the-event apology isn’t just a courtesy, it’s an acknowledgement someone was inconvenienced. No-shows don’t include those who signed up for an event or agreed to a meeting but warned the organiser that due to disabilities/health issues/transport/caring responsibilities, they may not be able to be there, because the organiser has been given chance to make contingency arrangements.

When one or two individuals become a group of no-shows who can’t be bothered to send apologies either, they need to bear in mind:

  • They are now labelled as time-wasters and will be treated accordingly
  • If someone has prepared work in advance of a meeting, they won’t be inclined to do such a good job or dedicate as much time to preparation if another meeting is arranged
  • If an event organiser has to deal with performers who are no-shows, those won’t be asked to perform again
  • If a workshop organiser is left hurriedly finding stand ins, you can bet the people who didn’t show up won’t be asked again
  • If the no-shows are members of a club or group and other club/group members managed to turn up, the no-shows are embarrassments and may harm the reputation of the club/group concerned
  • If someone regularly organises opportunities for other writers to perform or showcase their work, the no-shows are limiting their chances of taking up those opportunities
  • If someone organises opportunities for other writers puts on their own performance but then finds that people who promised to show up don’t, the organiser is less likely to bother with further events
  • Most local live literature events are organised by a volunteer or team of volunteers who will be less willing to give their time if their events are unsupported.

I regularly attend several writers’ groups and spoken work nights and also organise events both as myself and on behalf of other groups. There are some writers I know who enthusiastically sign up for performances or make promises to attend and I don’t believe them because, from experience, they won’t show up (this excludes those who say they may be there but can’t guarantee attendance). I also know when other organisers have been inconvenienced by no-shows. I have also been embarrassed when an organiser who knows I represent a writers’ group asks me where members of that group who’d signed up to perform don’t show up.

Be professional, be courteous and don’t underestimate the power of an apology, even after the event. If you find spoken word nights stop running, you don’t get invitations to perform or there are fewer opportunities for you to perform in your locality, ask if you contributed to that situation.

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Please Hear What I’m Not Saying

Please hear what I'm not saying poetry anthology to raise funds for MINDThe “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying” poetry anthology will be released on 8 February 2018 and includes 116 poets from around the world exploring a range of mental health issues. Editor Isabelle Kenyon said “I knew I wanted to work collaboratively with other poets and it was actually the theme of mental health for a collection, which came to me before the idea of donating the profits to charity MIND. This was because I knew how strongly people felt about the subject and that it is often through writing that the most difficult of feelings can be expressed. I think that is why the project received the sheer number of submissions that it did.”

She discussed how she selected the poems, “In some cases of course personal taste came into my selection, but I tried to be as objective as I could and consider the collection as whole. I wanted the book to have as many different personal experiences and perspectives as I could find. Because of this, I have not been afraid to shy away from the ugly or the abstract, but I hope that the end of the book reflects the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for mental health and that the outcome of these last sections express positivity and hope.”

Every poetry acceptance is a delight, but, on occasion, some strike a deeper chord than others. Editor Isabelle Kenyon’s acceptance of my poem, “The Gift of Sadness”, was one such occasion. I had a friend who edited a music magazine that also took short stories (and very occasionally poems because my friend wasn’t a fan of poetry). Our tastes overlapped and we shared news and gossip about bands, commiserated each other on rejections, I wrote reviews for her magazine and occasionally she’d take a poem. Her story stories were published by magazines and she’d been working on a novel. We were geographically 100 miles apart so contact was online, by letter or by phone. It seems ironic she is commemorated in a poem, but I have also written a published short story inspired by her. Even now, I have to catch myself as I reach for a phone to tell her about some new song that I know she’d have loved if she were still here to hear it.

An extract from my poem appears below:

Your parents’ words were a hollow
you’d retreat into until I could tug you out
with a ribbon of cassette tape,
wrap it into a vinyl spiral,
a stylus needle to stitch words
with music, wishing I could
get you to spiral out instead of in.

More information on MIND here. More on “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying” here.


Writing is Not Lonely unless you make it so

There are two myths in writing that are not true. The first is “write what you know” which is limiting, restrictive and should be “know what you write about”, i.e. do your research. The second is that writing is a lonely business.

It isn’t. Sure, you have to actually have to put the words on the page yourself and that’s generally done when you’re alone. But “alone” is not necessarily “lonely”. Even when alone you write with the knowledge of what you’ve read, you turn to other writers for inspiration, suggestions and advice. You join writers’ groups, either online or IRL. You don’t have to be alone when you write either. You can write surrounded by people (providing they don’t become a distraction), e.g. in a cafe.

Once you’ve got the words on the page, formed them into a poem and edited it as far as you can, you start thinking about beta readers, workshops, editors. You might take your work in progress to a writers’ group or post it in an online forum for comments. When you’re ready to submit, you read magazines and try and find the right place to place your poems.

Writers now are expected to get involved in promoting their work, particularly poets. Most poetry books are sold at readings rather than in bookshops. That means getting out and giving readings. A local open mic slot is a great way of meeting other poets and getting feedback on your work. But if you just turn up, read your work and leave afterwards, you might find that slots become unavailable because no one wants to listen to your performances if you won’t stop and listen to others. If you turn up unprepared, either mumble or shout into the microphone and make your audience uncomfortable, you’ll also find you’re not invited back. By all means, tackle uncomfortable subjects but poor presentation can ruin the best of poems.

But what if you want to set up your own events? You book the venue, do your own publicity, figure out your own set list and turn up hoping for an audience. But you don’t do that in isolation from others. If you want your event to be a success, you check local listings to ensure you don’t clash with a similar event. After all, giving an audience a choice of two events on the same date and time usually means they won’t go to either. You liaise with the venue to get the booking that suits you and to get the equipment you need. Obviously having the venue staff on your side by being polite and clearly communicating what you want gives you a better chance of a successful event. Being bullish and making unreasonable demands risks loss of cooperation and assistance, which will negatively impact on your event. When you do your own publicity, you rely on others to use your press releases, display your leaflets, share your event on social media and tell others about it. They will only do this if you have written your press release professionally, your leaflets are attractive, you have made it easy to share on social media (and not guilt-tripped people into sharing) and your reputation is such that people are willing to tell their friends and contacts about your event. The audience will only turn up if they’ve enjoyed previous readings by you or they trust the venue or they trust the person who shared your event. If you’re unrehearsed or show your audience contempt, they won’t be back.

What if you decide you want to do a reading with other poets, e.g. a festival event, a reading with a group with the same publisher or a themed event, e.g. to raise funds for a cause or to draw attention to a campaign? You can’t do it alone. You need to see who is available to read with you (reputation will take you a long way here), check availability of venues, check what other events are taking place, be sure who is doing what to avoid duplication or worse that some key task is not undertaken because everyone thought someone else was doing it, be clear about who is doing what publicity and whether there are any restraints on publicity (some venues will insist they do the publicity for certain channels, if you use a venue owned by a local authority you may need to do publicity through their press office). When deciding on a reading order, it’s best done collaboratively. A reader might need to leave early, another reader might prefer to read later in the order. If one person dictates the reading order without reference to others and hasn’t taken into account readers’ needs, upset and friction occur. A good team works towards a consensus with sensitivity towards the needs and approaches of individual members. If one team member assembles publicity material, they should check with other team members that the material is agreed by all and be prepared to make amendments. If two team members simultaneously produce material, a positive team will work to merge the best ideas from both. If a team is already discussing material produced by one member and, during the discussion, another member produces new material, suggests this new material is an alternative and is not talking about merging ideas, this member is not working collaboratively. When team members are asked to choose between material A and material B, they should refuse because they are actually being asked to choose sides, which divides a team.

For the event itself, everyone needs to be clear about the part they play. Someone running late without notifying or apologising (or having a good reason to be late) or someone failing do to what they’d agreed to do (without good reason; emergencies occur) puts stress and pressure on the remaining team members who may still be able to put on a smooth event or may find it impossible to put on the planned event. The disruptive team member(s) will find themselves isolated.

That isolation will come about through lack of invitations to join readings, other poets declining to join events organised by someone with a reputation for being disruptive or showing a lack of respect for others, audiences staying away and people no longer making recommendations and shares on social media. That’s when a writer becomes lonely.

Journeys in Translation 30 September 2017 write-up

The event had a simple plan: have a poem read in English and then the same poem read/performed in translation. There were 14 poems and 14 translations which would be included on posters displayed at the event. In addition display books would show further translations for audience members to browse through. We hit two problems before the event started: the venue couldn’t find a working microphone (which had been booked in advance) and a working replacement couldn’t be found even after an hour, and one of the translators didn’t turn up without sending apologies or giving a warning. Fortunately, one of the poets was able to provide a working microphone which we were able to use on the night. However, the German translator’s absence was still a problem. Had the microphone problem been resolved sooner (or a working microphone provided in the first place), I might have had chance to ask another translator to read in place of the absent translator.

We had an audience of at least 40. I gave an introduction explaining that “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” had only sought poems in English, a language common to all three co-editors, because we’d prioritised raising funds and wanted the anthology to be published quickly. It is currently on its third edition. At last year’s Everybody’s Reading, we’d selected 8 poems and printed them as postcards which were given out at Leicester Railway Station. These proved so popular, we ran out of postcards by the fourth day. This year, we decided to build on the success of the postcards and invite translators to translate some of the poems. To keep the project manageable, we started with 12 poems which have expanded to 14 and tonight we were going to have readings of the poems in English and one translation (there were 101 poems in “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge”.)

Journeys in Translation Event during Everybodys ReadingRod Duncan read his poem “but one country” and the Shona translation was read by Ambrose Musiyiwa.

Malka Al-Haddad read her poem “Children of War” in English and I read Dania Schüürmann’s German translation. Luckily I’d brought the display books so was able to read Dania’s translation from the book and got chance to rehearse it in my head while the first two poems were read. My written German is reasonable, but my spoken German is very rusty.

Chrys Salt read “The Insurrection of Poetry” and a University of Leicester PhD student from Syria (who doesn’t wish to be named) kindly read Ghareeb Iskander’s Arabic translation. Ghareeb hadn’t been able to attend and two people translating a poem into the same language would still use different phrases or words so reading someone’s else’s translation is not straightforward.

I read Lydia Towsey’s poem “Come In” and Giacomo Savani read his Italian translation.

Pam Thompson read “Dislocation” and Elvire Roberts performed her British Sign Language translation.

Marilyn Ricci read “Framed” and Ambrose Musiyiwa read his Shona translation.

Carol Leeming read “Song for Guests” and Malka Al-Haddad read her Arabic translation.

Unfortunately, as I was acting as master of ceremonies, I didn’t have chance to also read through my German translation of my poem, “Stories from ‘The Jungle’”, so had to make the decision to drop it. In hindsight, I wish I’d at least read one stanza of the translation.

I read Siobhan Logan’s “The Humans are Coming” and Antonella Delmestri read her Italian translation.

Ambrose Musiyiwa read his “The Man Who Ran Through the Tunnel” in English and Malka Al-Haddad read her Arabic translation.

I read Liz Byfield’s “Through the Lens” and Giacomo Savani read his Italian translation.

Kathleen Bell read “Waiting” and Ambrose Musiyiwa read his Shona translation.

I read Penny Jones’s “What’s in a Name?” and Antonella Delmestri read her Italian translation.

Trevor Wright read “Yalla” and Elvire Roberts performed her British Sign Language translation.

After the readings, we rearranged the chairs into a circle and had a discussion about translation, including whether multilingual people find that using a different language offers different perspectives or logic, why some bilingual writers only write in one language and don’t translate their own work into their other language, whether rhyme and rhythm can be translated into sign language, how translating different writers in a relatively short space of time prompted one translator to think about different approaches taken to writing the poems and the careful reading required to translate made one translator think about the poems she was translating and made her realise that the stories being told by refugees weren’t so different from her own story and how any of the refugees could have been her.

For more information about Journeys in Translation, see the Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/316952552020172/


Leicester Writers Club Everybodys Reading event flyer

Journeys In Translation Leicester 30 September 2017

Journeys in Translation Event during Everybodys Reading“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Nelson Mandela

With the Journeys in Translation event on the horizon, I’ve been thinking a lot about translation and in particular the challenges in translating poems. Journeys in Translation took 13 poems from “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” and via a Facebook Group and local call-outs asked people with knowledge of one or more languages than English to translate one poem into another language. Some translators were happy to translate more than one poem. So far the poems have been translated into 22 different languages, Arabic, Assmanese, Bengali, British Sign Language, Chinese, Danish, Farsi, Filipino, Finnish, French, Gaelic (Irish), German, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Shona, Spanish, Turkish and Welsh. Not all poems have been translated into all 22 languages, but every poem has an Italian, German and Portuguese translation. At the Journeys in Translation event, the original poem will be read along with one translation. There will be displays of posters featuring original poems and translations.

One translator commented that usually she translates into English rather than from English (her mother tongue) which put her outside of her comfort zone. She felt this led her to understand the frustration of not being able to instantly find the words she needed which gave her a “sense of powerlessness through loss of communication tools”. This prompted her to think about refugees trying to describe the lives they’d left behind, particularly where equivalent words aren’t available, and the further loss this creates. However, the close reading needed to translate a poem prompted her to think about the human aspect of the refugee crisis and how normal and comparable the refugee’s stories were.

There were examples of words for which there was no equivalent in the target language. For instance, apples are not native to Bengali so there is no word for ‘apple’, which led to a discussion about whether to leave the English word in the poem or use a Bengali word for another fruit, e.g. pomegranate instead. Did the original poet intend the focus of the line which was being translated to centre on the apple or on the act of a brother and sister sharing food? Would losing the word ‘apple’ create any loss of cultural significance? In the Biblical story, apple was the fruit that Eve ate so, in some contexts, an apple isn’t simply something to eat. In Shona, there is no direct word for astronaut, which presents a challenge when translating a poem about a girl who wants to be an astronaut.

Some poems presented other challenges. “but one country” is a speculum or verbal mirror image poem and some translators deliberately chose it to see if they were up to the challenge of recreating the form. Some translators altered the title from “but one country” to “only one country” which is more grammatical but ignores the way the original title makes the reader sit up and think because it’s not the expected word order. Translating the poem is not as straightforward as translating one line and moving on to the next, because each line has to work in both stanzas. The shape offers an additional test because the lines have to fit into their place in the poem’s shape otherwise the shape is distorted. In some translations, the original globe shape became more like a mountain looking at its reflection.

Some translators stuck to literal translations but others wanted to try and use the rhymes, internal rhymes and other sound patterns from the original poems into the translations. Occasionally that meant substituting alliteration and assonance in one place with alliteration and assonance in another.

Colloquialisms presented another challenge – did the translator use plain language as in the original or try and poeticise the language to make the translation look more like a poem? Metaphors need care in translation. Even though tigers don’t make dens (they take over a cave or hollow or smiliar natural shelter), one translation used “den” rather than “cave” to sustain an animal metaphor. The English sense of “alien” for “other” frequently doesn’t have a direct equivalent in other languages. In prose, there is space to offer an explanatory translation rather than a direct one, but poems don’t offer that space. However there were also benefits when translating some words: the Spanish word for ‘waiting’ includes the concept of hope, which enhances its context in the title of the poem “Waiting”.

After the Journeys in Translation event, there are plans to display all the translations on a blog.


Leicester Writers Showcase Ella @ 100

Leicester Writers Club Everybodys Reading event flyer

How to be a Successful Poet on Social Media

  • When was the last time you shared someone else’s status update/tweet/blog link on social media?
  • When was the last time you shared a link to your blog?
  • When did you last review or mention another writer’s book?
  • When was yours reviewed and who by? Have you ever reviewed a book by your reviewer?
  • When you had a poem published, did you help promote the magazine that published it or did you state you had a poem published without mentioning the magazine or linking to it?
  • When an editor sends you proofs of an accepted poem, do you only correct typos, spelling/grammar errors or do you see it as an opportunity to re-write your poem?
  • At open mic slots, do you keep within your allotted time or regularly overrun?
  • If invited to an event, do you turn up on time or do you have a reputation for always being late or frequently not turning up at all?
  • At a workshop, do you stay silent when other attendees are discussing and giving feedback on poems brought to/written at the workshop or do you join in?
  • When your poem is being discussed, do you expect unconditional praise or listen to the feedback with the aim of taking it away and assessing it later?
  • When you blog about the workshop, do you do a diary-style ‘I went to this workshop’ entry or do you share lessons or techniques learnt at the workshop?
  • When submitting poems to magazines, do you assume a standard submission format will do or do you check the guidelines given by the magazine?
  • Was your last post/status update about you or someone else?

We all slip up sometimes: the odd, unintended simultaneous submission, too tired to double-check guidelines after a long day, public transport failures meant we were running late and we irritably said something out of turn or reacted without thinking through the consequences. But only sometimes.

When you start out as a poet, it may feel as if you don’t have much to give. You want advice from other poets, feel you need all the feedback you can get, want the practice from open mic slots, feel you need to know how to get established.

But you are not a gawping drain of need. Behaving like one may get you immediate attention, but that will soon fade and isn’t a viable long term strategy.

You can give by listening and watching other poets, read work by others, share news and blog posts, help promote the magazines you want to be published in, promote the readings you want to be invited to take part in, even write reviews (two sentences on a bookseller’s site is better than silence).

Poet A getting an acceptance was not the reason for your rejection.
Poet B got the last open mic slot by patiently waiting their turn instead of trying to queue jump.
Poet C gets plenty of shares for her blog post because it wasn’t about her, but shared useful, practical information.
Poet D always gets an audience because she puts everyone at ease and makes them feel welcome.
Poet E got a mountain of incisive workshop comments because she took the time to feedback on everyone else’s poems.
Poet F got her book reviewed because she asked the reviewer before sending the book, instead of sending an unsolicited free copy and demanding a review in return.

Social media is for sharing, what did you share today?

Discussions: Poems in Translation

A friend bought a English translation of a poem originally written in Shona by Tavengwa Kaponda along to a workshop. This sparked several discussions that couldn’t be crammed into the space the workshop had.

There’s a school of thought that maintains translations should only be carried out by those fluent in both languages. But that ignores the fact that not all linguists are interested in poetry and not all poets have the time or motivation to become fluent in at least a second language. A German teenager may want to find out what her favourite band are singing or watch her favourite US TV show in English rather than badly dubbed into German. Whereas her British counterpart has no such incentive and languages aren’t treated as a priority in English schools. The Poetry Translation Centre pairs a British poet (who may not have any knowledge of the poem’s original language) with a translator fluent in both English and the original language. The translator provides a literal translation of the original poem and gives feedback on the translated poem so the British poet can be confident they’ve not strayed from the intentions in the original.

There are also two basic approaches to translating a poem. The translator can either work from a literal translation and try to reshape it into the original line lengths or sound patternings in the original. Or a translator can start with the sound patternings and rhythms and write a new poem loosely based on the literal translation, focusing on capturing the spirit of the original rather than the precision of the translation. Both approaches are valid.

There are additional complications when two languages do not have the same roots and also different cultural backgrounds. Some words don’t have an English cultural equivalent so are only translatable by providing an explanation rather than a short phrase. That can be done in prose but is difficult in poetry.

My workshop friend is fluent in both English and Shona so had no need to rely on a translator. However, a discussion about the difficulty of translating “nhemamsasa” from Shona into English became an introduction for others to have a go at translating the poem. Here I ran into two barriers 1) I have no knowledge of Shona and 2) online dictionaries are incomplete so, whilst they could give me an idea of what the original poem was saying, they couldn’t provide a literal translation. I did however have the workshop discussion and my friend’s translation so could combine Ambrose Musiyiwa’s translation, my snippets of literal translation and trying to keep the original structure.

The original poem:

Gwenyambira angakande mbira
.          mudziva otya kusara nechitima chechimanjemanje
.          Mutinhimra nhemamsasa mutasvi wenguva
.          anowana wakamumirira
pachiteshi paanodzikira

Tavengwa Kaponda

My translation:

The player might throw his mbira
.           in the river. Fearful he’ll miss the train, his heart beats
.           an inherited, ancestral tempo, rides through time,
.           where finds the mbira rhythm in wait
at the station when he gets off.

Translation will always be a compromise between what the original poet is saying and how they intended to say it. However, not translating leads to insularity. Reading only sonnets encourages the view that sonnets are the only poems worth bothering with, so, although translating is problematic, it is still worthwhile. No matter which individual languages we speak or don’t speak, they pale against the universal desire to communicate and connect. Mary Ruefle suggests the first translation “was when a mother heard her baby babble or cry, and had to decide in an instant what it meant.”

 


Haiku Competition – free entry:

Winner will receive a £100 Amazon voucher. Here are the entry details:

– The haiku has to follow the 5/7/5 syllable structure

– It has to be family friendly

– Only one entry per person

– It’s free to enter and open to all

– By entering, you retain full copyright but give us a non exclusive license to publish it on our site (as we’d like to publish some of the best entries)

The full rules and details are here: http://design.printexpress.co.uk/the-print-express-haiku-competition/