I’m very pleased to have an essay in the new issue of The Dark Horse magazine. The Horse is the only literary magazine (indeed, the only magazine of any kind) that I always read from cover to cover. It really is one of the very best in the UK: beautifully designed, entertaining, and with probably the best poetry of any UK journal.
The Dark Horse is always elegant and visually interesting
I met its editor, Gerry Cambridge, when we were both performing at the Granada Poetry Festival in Nicaragua in February, and Gerry was kind enough to commission me to write a piece about the Festival. I was delighted, because I’ve always admired and enjoyed The Dark Horse and this was a pleasant way to sneak in there without immediately having to risk Gerry’s opinion on my poems… Anyway the article is there, and I had great fun writing it. (If you’ve seen my post about the Festival, you’ll have some idea why: and if you haven’t, put ‘Nicaragua’ into the search box and it should come up.) And alongside my essay is a fine group of moving and highly original poems by the excellent Kei Miller, a fine essay by D.M. Black on the Scottish poet Robert Garioch, a highly amusing and incisive essay by Helena Nelson on ‘Poetry in the Age of Hype’, new poems by Douglas Dunn, Stephen Payne, William Bedford, Martin Crucefix, Rory Waterman and others. There’s also an interesting piece by Charlotte Newman about R.S. Thomas, a poet who has always fascinated me. Altogether a really excellent issue full of variety, and written by people who know about poetry, care about it, and have the ability to write engagingly.
Gerry reads from the Poet-Mobile, Granada Poetry Carnival, Feb 2013
I go around all the time recommending The Dark Horse to people. It really is outstanding: I have a subscription – yes, I actually pay to read it and have never regretted it. And I’ve arranged a special deal for new subscribers: Take out a subscription and Gerry Cambridge will send a free copy of the magazine to anyone you like. Just click here to subscribe, – http://www.thedarkhorsemagazine.com/subscribe.html – and then email firstname.lastname@example.org to tell him you’ve seen my blog, and give him the address where you’d like the free copy sent. Merry Christmas!
I’m just home from what must be the world’s most magnificent and delightful poetry festival. It’s the International Poetry Festival of Granada, held each year in Nicaragua’s most historic and beautiful city, and this time I was lucky enough to be invited. I knew it would be exciting but I truly had no conception of what it would really be like.
Nicaraguans have a genuine and universal love of poetry, and the week was packed with events ranging from the open mics which ran for hours every day with audiences consistently around 50 or 60 people listening intently to local poets, to the enormous evening readings where poets from more than 60 countries read their work (with Spanish translations) to audiences that filled the city’s main plaza and must have numbered thousands.
And as if the readings weren’t enough, on Tuesday 19th (as every year) there was the city’s Poetry Carnival – a vast colourful procession of bands, dancers, poets and everyone else, led by an elaborate horesdrawn funeral carriage, carrying the coffin of Arrogance and Insensitivity! And, of course, the parade stopped at every street corner through the city for short readings by countless poets.
Highlights of the Festival were splendid readings by Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal: a priest, Liberation Theologian, love poet, champion of indigenous cultures and hero of the campaign to overthrow the Somoza dictatorship, he was a charming and modest figure in loose blue trousers and white smock, his bushy white hair escaping from under a black beret. He read his famous ‘Oracion para Marilyn Monroe’ (‘Prayer for Marilyn Monroe’), and his touching and profound poem about the song of the cicadas which emerge from their 17-year sojourn underground only to sing and die: ‘En Pascua resuscitan las cigarras’ (‘At Easter the cicadas come back to life’) and other poems which are nationally known in Nicaragua but a marvellous new discovery for me.
With Ernesto Cardenal at the book fair
There were also overwhelming performances (see video below) by Raul Zurita, who has written a kind of modern Divine Comedy on the recent traumatic history of Chile; and a characteristically delightful, intense and picturesque reading by Gioconda Belli, again a heroine of the Sandinista revolution – whose devotion to the arts and education as well as to democracy is the foundation of this amazing event – a festival to which richer countries would never dream of giving such resources but which this small country gladly offers to the world.
Just listent to Raul Zurita’s poetry as music if you don’t know Spanish, and share his extraordinary lament for the sufferings of his country under Pinochet’s dictatorship, in which he was arrested, tortured and exiled.
The Friday night reading, when with a succession of other poets I suddenly found myself up in the lights on the platform, reading into the beautifully-tuned sound system and gazing over a sea of faces stretching into the warm distance of the beautiful colonial Plaza, felt like flying. There was a magic in the moonlight, the vast, warm, appreciative audience, the sense of speaking – almost singing – the poems, English and Spanish, into this beautiful living space. Maybe that’s what it’s like to play a rock festival.
I was delighted to meet Gerry Cambridge, Scottish poet and editor of The Dark Horse magazine, for the first time, and also the fine New Zealand poet and publisher Roger Hickin. The three of us spent a good deal of time together, and also with the Taiwanese poet Yang Ze and the Icelandic poet Gerdur Kristny… I could go on, because it was the most wonderful opportunity to make friends and hear the most diverse poetries from all over the world. And as a bonus my old friend Ken McCarthy (www.kenmccarthy.com) came over from Guatemala for a couple of days to hang out, browse the bookshops, hear the music, marvel at the Carnival and enjoy the poems.
Roger Hickin, New Zealand poet and publisher
Other poets whose work I loved included Gemino Abad (Phillippines), Margaret Randall and Jerome Rothenberg (both USA), Peter Boyle (Australia)… I could go on. And then there was the food. And the wonderful Phillips Montalban reggae band one night. And the great Mexican salsa orchestra another night. And the trip through the islands on Lake Cocibolco. And the tropical heat, and the scarlet and purple bougainvillea flowers, and the misty volcano in the background, and the Toña beer, and the Flor de la Caña rum. And the magnificent kindness, hospitality and efficiency of our hosts.
Shuffling off the plane at Manchester Airport this morning at 8.30 it was England that seemed, for a moment, like a dream. It’s not often one gets the chance to experience so intensely. Thank you Nicaragua, thank you Granada. In the slogan of the Festival, ‘Poetry is the Song of the Cosmos'; and it really did feel true.