Don’t be a reader, if you want to have only a choice. Don’t be a reader, if you want a low passive voice.
The title does leave little for wonders. My first questions when I first saw this title were quite focused on a feminist perspective: why is she a half-formed thing? Because she is a female? Because she is not a woman yet, but a young girl? Or because she needs someone or something to be a girl? Or a female? Or a woman?
Then I started reading it. And from a half-formed thing perspective the reader is pushed into a whole difficult world. Her world. Her reality. Sometimes we are lost. We wonder with her. This girl that leaves her name outside. That takes us into her intimacy without answering the question we first ask, when we meet someone: what’s your name?
But this she does not know. She does not know how to enter the world itself. She does not know anything but her love for her brother. A love which is not always recognisable.
And even though I high rated it, I would still advice you not to read. It cracks something in us. Something I can not explain. It makes us feel unsteady, uncomfortable. With a knot in the stomach. As if we knew we should reveal her secret. We must! But we can not. We can not tell because there is no name attached. We can not feel destroyed because it is fiction. We can not… We can not help her, nor all the other half-formed things in our world. Because, we are half-formed as well. Just like this girl, we just became complete when our story ends. When we close the cycle. But it is shocking how as soon as we open it, we can not stop reading it.
Everyone reenters the room with Foyles bags. The visual message of how good the first session was. The natural day light is disappearing and I decide to take a photo of the background that have been placing us in these conversations. I also come prepared after buying a pin to support women writers. Not because they need financial support, but because they need people to believe in them. In the UK, a high percentage of men do not read novels written by women. The question is: Do women write as women or do they write as writers? The Swedish guest replies ‘being a woman is too confined’, but then it is also true that most times women are giving voice to those who silence themselves, other women.
While questioning if there is a sense of entrapment in women’s mind, the opinions vary. And the tension vanishes when the author of ‘Butterflies in November’ says she gives recipes at the end of her book, apparently her editor said there was food in every page and with her characteristic humour she highlighted ‘you have to feed your characters, it’s a long novel!’. We do get trap in the conversation, ‘I never met any ordinary person, sorry’, one says. ‘We say love so easily, but what is love? Do we feel it?’ other wonders, gesturing around in order to get understood. And discussing a theme as real as ‘Equal women’, I get trap in time again. Since both the novels here, today, were both published twenty years ago. Why did it take all this time to have these women at a huge festival like this? It is something we can think about for awhile. After all, they are right ‘language has been used to get power and justify it, instead of building bridges’. I look outside, to what I photographed before. There, are bridges everywhere.
It is now week 2. It is also ten past. Brian storm is here, and so am I. As I ran the slippery stairs with my shinny shoes a man crosses my path, a duvet around his shoulders. It is windy. And cold. And for the second time in this festival, I am late.
This time the weekend pass bracelet is bright yellow, as the one I once wore at the hospital. It seems like ages ago. With the help of my fingers I realize it was ages ago. Entering this room I am getting so used to while heading to my favourite and only seat, helps to smooth my uncanny notion of time and how it flies. Also, how ironical and annoying time does not seem to fly when I’m on a plane. These are the kind of things that crush my mind in those twenty minutes of waiting until the marvellous session.
I’ve been waiting with expectancy this talk: Home is elsewhere. Perhaps, since I first saw the festival’s program. The first readings were terrific. The best so far, I dare to admit. One of the stories remind me of myself and my life in London. One of the Nordic writers was talking about how one of his friends used to drive a touristic train in Stockholm, while a recording told the tourists how beautiful the city they were seeing was. And every time he heard that voice playing over and over the same compliments he thought about kidnapping the guests, breaking the radio. ‘yeah, it is true. It is a beautiful city. But there are other streets not as polished, like the one I grew up at’. Those are the ones he wanted them to see, with or without a recording. Those streets are also part of the city. I smile, wondering how this can be perfectly applied to London. Or any other city really. But we can not explain it to others, in fact those streets are a secret we are expected to keep.
During the readings there is space for everything. Especially, fear and loneliness. We hear about a boy who have lived in Finland, since the age of two. But who is asked about his home country even though all he remembers is actually Finland. Feeling an outsider, he decides to buy a snake even though he is terrified of it. Because just like him, it is misplaced between the animals, even if they never get to bite anyone. After that, whenever he had guests they simply ran away with excuses and questions, ‘what if it hides in your toilet?’ or ‘what if it chokes you during the night?’. But his answer remained open ‘what if it doesn’t?’. ‘What if it starts using the toilet as a cat uses a box?’. Just like that, he said everything.
The last reading is about a British woman who wants to leave her home. However, at the airport she is strangely and strongly interrogated about her nationality, simply because she is muslim. Within the serious subject we laugh with each other. Especially after this particular story, we discuss how books can easily become our home, our escape from the world. Or simply feel home for retaining a reality that only we know of. Most times we become refugees of ourselves and libraries can protect us better than a single dominant definition of home.
I think about it again and again, since in libraries we do keep secrets as well. ‘You never control how people read you’, ‘belong is complicated’, ‘Literature is dangerous, books changed me. I saw the darkness in me’. And all of these small bits of information are whispered between the panel and the audience. It is a secret none of us can keep. It is scary, and with words we can cope with the reality of being ourselves. At the end, I did want to question them, but thankfully there was no time. Now I can carry on smiling, and holding the secret for it. Walking away with an advice, ‘if people try to fit you in a box or put you out of it, bring up the snake’.
Due to my recent adoration for Anne Carson I believe my last day dedicated to Poetry started with viewing her, walking hand in hand with her husband. Certainly happy with the lack of recognition that London mostly gives. It is incredible how these poets let themselves go by the river and it is even funnier how someone from yesterday’s panel saying ‘we do not arrived here floating in the river Thames’ can be found contemplating it as if it was a mirror of the soul.
My thoughts are gathered. One of the poets recognises me, I can see it in her face. She is one of my favourites too, for her wonderful readings. Her published book is designed in a way that looks exactly like the traces of the personality she gives away. It is in fact a mirror. In a silvery physical sense, in a inner and metaphorical way. Today, her poem talks about big themes: war, migration, family. It was a continuous narrative of ‘My mother said…’, ‘my father said…’, ‘my brother said…’ and ‘my grandmother said’. I struggled with it. It was poetical, but one could easily give away his own attention to the green jeans of the poet beside her. Mine drifted to the youngest poet trying not to burst into laugh. Fo that reason only, I looked away. It is his turn after. He asks for a moment before he starts. ‘I am very touched’, but still he wanted to laugh. And I with him. Not because the theme was funny, not because it was said with a Mexican accent. Only because it was contagious. It was poetry without words.
It is said that the biggest problem of our society is the human ming and ignorance. Which to a certain extent everyone should agree. Entering someone’s mind, poetry and literature in general are changing it, influencing it, developing it. Acknowledging this ignorance and this “treatment” could be the reason why we love reading. But it is not. In fact, the reader believes in the timelessness of poetry because he strives towards timelessness himself. In fact, we, readers, follow the poetical lines of words steadier than a train in its track because in other place, some other time another mind is describing what we feel, as a character, as a person. Sometimes even better than if we wrote it ourselves. And without saying a word, we find comfort from words. We fit in to a world that only writers talk about.
There is a big discussion in the room, this time about collective emotions, a poet relate it to propaganda. The filthiest word of the last seminars. Of the world really. While another one believes that collective emotions should exist. Both are right. Not only because a single truth does not exist, but also because it is easily understandable that both feel the expression in different ways. And for that, I’m grateful. Because I agree with both. The session finishes with an interesting and powerful point, ‘all kinds of language are a potential work material, it depends how it is used’. To which the last poet simple replies ‘No’.
We finally allow ourselves to freely laugh.
It was the last talk of the first day. I had an headache and reddish eyes. But the theme was interesting enough: ‘Home is the Mouth of a Shark’. And yes, it was about refugees.
Roughly an hour before I had listened poetry from women who had arrived to this country without their children, their parents, their lovers. People who had their family killed, who can not cook dishes from their countries. People who preferred to die trying to save themselves than to fear their last days alive. And these people dream awake more than we do asleep. ‘I dream’ became the motto to launch a wall of dreams in Southbank. I have them all in a newspaper. More than six hundred. I cherish them and touch the paper carefully, every sentence is meaningful. It belongs to someone. And I know that like Patti Smith I will use this in my art.
Before we enter this next session, a lady is sitting on the floor, the newspaper largely opened before her crossed legs. I can not help but smile towards the match. As if her posture was as rough and primal as the dreams before her and their poetry.
My neck is sore and I do not seem able to focus. I suddenly forget it when we listen poetry in my favourite way, in the poet’s mother language. No translation. It finishes in a strong and familiar way: ‘I want to die in a country where they know how to pronounce my name’ (from what I understood, but the message I got it right).
One more time I find it interesting how the real life assembles the metaphorical meaning of poetry. The poet Hardy could not be present, due to political reasons no one was allowed to leave the country. Still, there she is. Trespassing the physical borders of her country with her poetry and her fears and dreams being read by the rest of the panel. What a magical moment, hearing those voices taking ownership of this meaning with no credits.
Once again, the theme was hard to discuss. ‘Everything written is political’ since it is written in a certain time. Poets were expressing how happy they were now that poetry was not as reviewed as before. However, people do expect them to say the right thing and talk about those themes. Readers have hope. And they put that hope on the writers and the poets in order to be heard. After all, ‘power structures enable your power’. And at the end of a discussion as intense and in such a tense subject a writer shouldn’t have to say ‘Sorry, I swear I hadn’t anything more than coffee’, as they did.
Now that I have established the background of the panel, in a literal and physical sense, I can mention one more time how I adored these conversations. Until now I did not mention names, because I initially felt that they were representing more their own culture than themselves. However, in this post I am not certain if it will be possible. Mainly, because Anne Carson was there.
The theme was a difficult one, how did biography and some aspects of the poet’s personal life help us analyse a poem. If they could at all. The matter seems simple enough. Except it is not.
Most of the discussion was around Plath, since the first speaker was a big fan of her. I can understand why, I am one of those fanatic Plath’s readers as well. And to the mention of her poem ‘Daddy’, tension and good humour absorbed the audience. Other controversial themes helped easing it away, ‘I’m going to talk about russians’ got a good response from us and so did my favourite ‘Money’, said Anne Carson. With a calm and wonderer voice. ‘But first,’ she added ‘I am going to talk about what happened in the hotel last night’. And that was how she captured my fascination. The meaning of poetry became even more real, there and then. She calmly told her situation when during the check-in she was asked if she wanted a room with a view for more twenty-five pounds per night. I can imagine now her calmly personality, with her questioning eyes saying a simple ‘no’. But then she arrives to the bedroom and she realizes there is a window occupying a whole wall, except it is all scratched. Nothing goes in or out except the day’s clarity and the darkness of the night. It is horrifying how the view can only be accessed if it is paid, even if it was there before. This is what she believes to be the relation between poetry and the world.
Other important remarks were made, an American academic, Plath’s lover, said that while writing a biography you are claiming something on that person, you are turning it into a matter and the truth is: no one lives on a thesis. The truth is: ‘some things hurt too much to write about’. Which means that is wrong to claim that someone wrote a poem or created a character based in just one truth.
Then we finally get to the Q&A point. I want to believe I will always remember the time someone asked ‘what about poets that write memoirs?’ and Carson, with the characteristics that I mentioned before, sneaking in the others’ silence slowly approached the microphone to say ‘Unreliable’. Among the audience’s laughs another writer approached the question to explain that she was a poet who wrote a memoir as true as she possibly could. But in the end she was not sure of how true it was.
From that point on I was dreaming with a coffee warming my hands, while listening a mad writer shouting: ‘isn’t that what poetry does?!’. My thoughts are not coherent at this point and I look at Anne Carson truly believing that I could write a whole post about her replies, specially all the traces around her honest ‘I don’t know’. But the academic does, we all do and agree with her statement. ‘If people were thinking harder, we wouldn’t be in this political situation. But that is a theme for another conversation’. Another time. When it is over. When it becomes History.