Thursday, May 23, 2013

Poetry, sunshine and a few under the belt... or 52 euros



Its been a swell day.
A walk in the lovely Humboldthaim Park and lunch, on turkey stew, with Paul …
Then back to Invalidenstrasse for an afternoon with my Victorian Vocalists…


And suddenly it was 6pm.
The sun was gleaming encouragingly, the cellar was bare, and brother John’s newest book was staring invitingly across the table at me ..
Three stones with one bird
I pulled on my harem pants, picked up the book, and headed out into the sunshine. Well, not wholly the sunshine. I headed for the Katz Orange. Not for a meal (thank you Alpenstück lunch!) but for one of Oliver’s cocktails. One. I, who, a couple of months ago, had never tasted a cocktail.

With my delicious ‘Three shades of green’, I opened the book. Well, the first thing anyone does when he opens a book is -- look for himself in the index and credits. Oh blimey! This book has been a wee while in the making … did I translate forty odd poems from the French for this? Well, some I remember – the best (Verhaeren) and the worst (Renée Vivien, Irène Hamoir) – and I know I did Baudelaire and the likes, but some I don’t remember at all!

John’s book, 52 euros, is a remarkable thing. An A to Z of European poetry, one woman and one manpoet for each letter of the alphabet, and the writers chosen from all Continental countries and from all ages. And, one may say, of a range of fame and ability. People like I, and some of my international friends, have literally translated the originals into English, and John has ‘re-poemed’ the result. There is absolutely no doubt that he has vastly improved, by his adaptations, some of the originals!


There are some curious poet-people in his A to Z. An awful lot who lived and died with TB, or in sanatoriums. A lot who were depressives. In life and in politics. A selection of lesbian ladies. Hardly a one who seems to have had a happy life.  But only one who got her head chopped off.
The array of poetic voices, however, is delicious. For not all of them were neurotic, tubercular, sexually inverted and early-dying. For every self-centred, dreary Maeterlinck and Yourcenar (both translated by me, so I know) there is a handful of wonderful poets of whom I have never heard …the fabulous 19th century Giuseppe Giusti with his ‘Mr Snail’, the convival Jens Zetlitz with his 18th century drinking song, Edith Sodergran  with her brief tale of the ‘Three Sisters’  – great stuff!  And there is always the likes of Verhaeren, of course, glorious in any language. But superb in English.

As I made my delighted voyage of discovery through the book’s pages, Oliver exchanged my ‘Three Shades of Green’ for a ‘Mezcal Mule’ and finally an original kind of ‘Margarita’. No wonder two fascinating hours went so quickly …

Poetry, sunshine and a few under the belt…

Hard to beat.

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