Letter from the Director: Summer 2003

Jules Mann


I write this from Rotterdam, where I was invited to attend a seminar for a new international poetry website on behalf of the Poetry Society. This neatly coincided with evening events of the excellent Poetry International Festival put on by Stichting Poetry International, which has been running for 34 years. Their website, launched in November 2002, establishes a virtual platform which aims to present the best selection of poetry – available in English translation – from around the world. "Available in English" is an important caveat because by its very nature some of the best poetry is untranslatable. However, bearing that in mind, the site provides an essential gathering point from which to explore contemporary poetry around the world. Not just poems but news, interviews, reviews, articles and multi-media: one section, "Camera Poetica", contains a collection of short films of poets reading their own work. Watch this space for news of developments of a UK presence on the site.


The Poetry International Festival evening readings were conducted in the poet's native language, with the translation projected above (in Dutch). Luckily, dual-language pamphlets were available in English, an incredible boon to English readers and no doubt for the poets as well, to distribute their work to a wider audience. The June 2003 issue of Leviathan Quarterly features a selection of these English translations. If poetry in translation interests you but you'd like to experience live readings with super-titles in English, mark your calendar now for the bi-annual Poetry International at the Royal Festival Hall, next taking place in October 2004.


Thanks to dedicated publishers, poets and translators working together, the state of poetry available in English from other languages appears healthy. I'm delighted to report that we have received a record number of entries this year for the Poetry Society's reinstated Popescu Prize for European Poetry in Translation. Results will be announced on 22 September, and we hope to be able to organise a reading for the winning poet and their translator at the Poetry Society shortly thereafter.

This May several exhibits at the Chelsea Flower Show reportedly emanated from poetry (a natural progression, of course), according to several articles in the Independent. Irish garden designer Mary Reynolds was inspired by the lines "Come away, O human Child! / To the waters and the wild" from Yeats' poem 'The Stolen Child'. HMP Leyhill's romantic garden took as its theme William Henry Davies' famous couplet "What is this life if, full of care / We have no time to stop and stare". The best that we manage in the Poetry Society's no maintenance roof garden is a few sow thistles, but we highly recommend you read Matthew Caley's Third Prize winning poem in this year's National Poetry Competition, 'Low Maintenance Roof Garden', which is now posted up on our website along with David Hart (Second Prize), Julia Copus (First Prize), and the ten Commendations.


In order to foster our next generation of poets, the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award competition casts the net as far as possible to find talented young writers. Out of 100 overall winners, the top 15 are selected and invited to attend a residential writing course at Arvon. Since it began six years ago, quite a few of the young poets attending these courses are now appearing on the literary scene.


Following a dynamic semi-final event at the GLA Assembly Chambers in mid-May, the respect slam 2003 showcase team of young performance poets has now been selected. They will appear in the Millenium Dome at London's respect festival on 17 July. While this project was limited to Greater London, we know there's a growing interest in young performance poets' work around the country and hope that these young "slammers" will have a chance to meet each other. The long-running Young Chicago Authors Slam Team came by the Poetry Society a few weeks ago to swap performance techniques with some of the young respect slammers.


NPD ten years on – this day of celebrating the art form of poetry has burst the seams of a single-day poetry fest! Poetry events and book promotions in bookstores and libraries ripple out from both sides of the designated "day" and we are thrilled to read from Arts Council England literature reports how this campaign has turned into the single largest celebration of an art form in Britain. "Britain" is this year's theme, and in addition to launching a campaign to post a new section on our website entitled 'Poetry Landmarks of Britain', the Poetry Society will have its own poet in residence to help promote and contribute to this year's celebrations. Roger McGough has agreed to be our poet in Covent Garden and virtually on our website, so please do visit the National Poetry Day page for news over the summer and through all of October.



Poetry News, Summer 2003