An extraordinary day at Rich Mix, surrounded by around thirty poets and artists, the remarkable staff of English PEN, a handful of volunteers and all told, over a few hundred people watching on. I arrived around noon, to soundcheck and set up the theatre space where the performances would take place, and i left the building, conversations still beginning and growing behind me, around eleven hours later. Exhausting, physically, of course, but resonant in every way, from the originality and range of approaches to the deliberately overwhelming task facing the English writers, to the evocation of those we were celebrating, always somehow present, both comforting and confrontational to ourselves.
This last part cannot be escaped, and again, as last year, it did fold in on some of those presenting their work. More than once it was said into the microphone, 'I couldn't write poetry about this', or something to that effect. With this I respectfully take issue. Indelicacy, obstinacy, clumsiness - these are at work whenever some experience in the world is rendered in words, always failing to grasp the thing, always lessening. It is not true that someone's sacrifice or pain when reflected upon in text is made worse. It is true that bad poetry will perhaps, lightly, do this, seem insulting to the profundity of the thing it seeks to literally describe. But no one in this festival thinks with such formulaic reduction and for the most part the work that was shared was most powerful when oblique, evocative, strange, menacing and beautiful in its idiosyncrasy. We had Chloe Spicer for Dina Meza, with her imaginary cut out friends, bounding into the audience, Hannah Silva for Narges Mohammedi building a soundscape around her poem, Kate Wakeling knotting for Nurmuhemmet Yasin. We had Nelson Aguilera's son in the audience, approaching Jeremy Noel Tod just before he began to present a piece for his father. All the performances can be seen on the site here http://www.theenemiesproject.com/englishpen and I would urge a perusal of this resource, it carries some of the spirit of this very special, very intense day.
It almost goes without saying that I hope this happen again, the second festival becoming a tradition in the third. At times one feels hollow, that it is just this, a day of removed solidarity. But this doubt must be expected, embraced, pushed aside, and when Tony White presented his marvelous dialogue with Ahmed Naji, he said what I, deep down, had hoped to hear. He said though it might feel like what you are doing makes no difference, when the writer a continent or ocean away from you, facing censure, oppression and pain, hears of you mentioning them, celebrating them, thinking of them, it gives them great heart. I wish for no more, ever, from any work I should do. From giving another human, if only just one, if only for a moment, an inflection of solidarity, warmth, courage, I am myself encouraged to keep up the little this festival is.