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Saturday, 7 July 2012

Poetry Parnassus: Aftermath

Last week, for those who didn't know, saw the unfolding of Poetry Parnassus, a festival in which a poet from every Olympic country visited London's South Bank. Well, nearly. Unfortunately some poets were unable to secure visas, but most made it.

Parnassus took place as part of the Southbank Centre's Festival of the World. Between 26 June and 1 July, London was treated to bilingual readings, discussions, signings, bombastic events (see below), translation labs, parties, workshops and lots more.

Many of us were asked to act as Buddies for visiting poets. This meant that someone was there to welcome those who didn't already know/live in London, but it also forced us Brits to actually shuck off our shyness and interact with people we otherwise wouldn't have met. I was teamed up with the awesome Jenny Wong, representing Hong Kong, though currently based in London (we were able to meet for a nice pint before the festival week started), Mr Arjen Duinker from the Netherlands and Oman's Zahir Al-Ghafri, who I sadly didn't get to meet, but who I hope had a grand week.

Shout-outs are due to many people. At the risk of missing out those who put in crazy hours to make it all happen, those that spring to mind are Bea Colley, Live Literature Producer at the Southbank Centre, Anna Selby, Literature and Spoken Word Coordinator at the Southbank Centre, Swithun Cooper, Chrissy Williams and Chris McCabe from the Poetry Library and all of the many, many volunteers I saw helping lost and bewildered poetry fans.

The Jamie Madrox Award for Inhuman Multitasking goes to Maintenant's S.J. Fowler, who didn't seem to sleep, choosing instead to divide his time between throwing packed events, reading his own poetry, running workshops, filming, uploading said films, buddying international poets and generally hurling his entire bodymass into experimental poetry.

I'll leave you with the highlight of the weekend, the Rain of Poems. Organised by Chilean art collective Casagrande. While their metamorphic self-titled magazine puts Fuselit to shame (past issues have included pages filling underground walkways and letters from Chilean schoolchildren being transported to the stars), this was still more impressive. How often do you get to see a helicopter bombing London with thousands of poems in English and Spanish? Speaking to Julio Carrasco from the collective, I learned that just 20 people, or thereabouts, worked on translating approximately 300 poems from various languages into Spanish.

When the poems were dropped, they suddenly became valuable. Everyone really wanted them (myself included - there's photographic evidence of me getting told off by security for flinging my bag at a tree to dislodge a poem) and it was a pretty impressive (at times violent) scramble, in which the moral maze of decking a child for a bilingual verse was frequently meandered around. Poetry could do with a few more spectacles like this. Without the violence, of course. Poets aren't violent. We wear frilly shirts and write about spring flowers.

Anyhow, back to reality. The festival is over, and I don't know when, or if, we'll see its like again, but I hope it happens in the near future. It did my heart good to see polite houseguest of the arts Poetry getting such a damned good hoedown.

What's that? You want to see the Rain of Poems? Filmed by Cambodian poet Kosal Khiev? Very well!

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