A welcome invitation from my friend, the Egyptian novelist and academic, Dr. Bahaa Abdelmegid, led to my first visit to Egypt, a new poem, a chance to follow up my father’s story and the opportunity to read my poetry at the 50th Jubilee of the Cairo International Book Fair and Festival which ran from 23rd January to 5th February 2019.
Bahaa, who teaches at Ain Shams University in Cairo (his PhD was on the poetry of Seamus Heaney and he has written extensively on English Literature including on James Joyce and Sylvia Plath) arranged for me and Adnan al-Sayegh to go to the pyramids at Giza. This was especially exciting as I have a photo of my father on a camel in front of the Sphinx with the pyramids in the background. It was taken in August 1918 when my father, aged 20, was presumably on his way home from India, from where he had been invalided out of the Mesopotamian Campaign of the First World War in 1917. I showed the photo and read several poems from Taking Mesopotamia (Oxford Poets/ Carcanet, 2014) including my poem, ‘Father’, at our reading on Sunday 3 February – much to the audience’s delight.
I had written a new poem for the festival – A Love Letter to Egypt – which was translated into Arabic by Ruba Abughaida and edited by Adnan – my first new poem since finishing my latest book, Gilgamesh Retold (Carcanet, 2018) and the start of my next book (hopefully). At an earlier event, I‘d had the chance to discuss poetry and translation with the hugely engaged and attentive audience who requested more such events in the future.
The trip concluded with a magical evening in downtown Cairo (The City that Never Sleeps) with Bahaa and Adnan and several poets and friends that we bumped into as the evening progressed. Standing by the Nile in the moonlight I reflected on how poetry has changed and enriched my life beyond measure – and was grateful.
I’ll be launching Gilgamesh Retold at the WOODSTOCK POETRY FESTIVAL, 7.30pm, Sunday 11 November. Tickets £5 to include a complimentary glass of wine and chance to read in the open mic (please book in advance). Do join me! More details about the fabulous festival and ways to book here – Woodstock Poetry Festival
Meet Jenny Lewis in person at the tenth and final BookBlast 10×10 Tour talk at Waterstones, Manchester, Deansgate @waterstonesMCR 6.30 p.m. Thursday 8 November. Theme: Claiming the Great Tradition: Women Recalibrate the Classics. In conversation with Michael Schmidt @Carcanet, chair, and poet & translator, Jane Draycott. Book Tickets
Follow this link for the full Bookblast interview online.
BY JAMIE McKENDRICK, JENNIE CARR AND MAYA CATHERINE POPA
On FRIDAY 6th JULY, from 6.30-8.30pm
At the Quaker Meeting House, St. Giles, Oxford;
Tickets at the door – £4
Doors open at 6.15pm. Refreshments available.
For details please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Jamie McKendrick has published six books of poetry, including The Marble Fly (O.U.P. 1997) which won the Forward Prize and, most recently, Out There (Faber, 2012) which won the Hawthornden Prize. A selected poems, Sky Nails, was published by Faber in 2001, and a new Selected Poems was published in 2016. Clutag Five Poems Series published his pamphlet Repairwork earlier this year. His translations from Italian have won the Oxford-Weidenfeld prize and the John Florio prize. Penguin Modern Classics have published his translations of five books by Giorgio Bassani and his translation of The Heron is due in 2018.
Jennie Carr has lived in the south and north of England and for a time in New Zealand. Her poems have appeared in various journals including Poetry News, The Cannon’s Mouth, Brittlestar, The Frogmore Papers and Oxford Poetry and in the anthology The Book of Love and Loss (Belgrave Press 2014). She won first prize for poetry in the 2016 Brittlestar writing competition. In 2018 she won the Littoral Press nature collection competition with her collection A Tilt in the Year.
Maya Catherine Popa is a writer and teacher in NYC. She is the recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s Editor Prize and winner of the Hippocrates and Gregory O’Donoghue Prizes. Her chapbook The Bees Have Been Canceled was a PBS summer choice in 2017. Her second chapbook, You Always Wished the Animals Would Leave, was published in March 2018. Her poems have appeared in PN Review, Tin House, Kenyon Review, Poetry London, and elsewhere. She teaches English Literature and directs the Creative Writing Program at the Nightingale-Bamford School in New York City.
Home Thoughts from the Red Planet
It was considered weakness to look back
so they didn’t speak of it, but images
spored inside their heads and spread
across their dreams at night. Some stashed
files, chose rare fonts – as if to keep the past
alive more vividly. Some wrote of trees;
oak, aspen, cypress, silver birch, pelts
of balsam fir across a mountain range,
the shape and texture of a leaf, the vibrancy
or calm of some particular shade of green.
A man described a wheat field ripening under sun,
the weight and sea-sway of wind-pulled crops.
A woman, haunted by cycles of return, explained
the pattern play of swallows in an autumn sky;
how they forage on the wing, the skim and swoop
of cobalt feathers across the surface of a lake.
Another recorded the last bee she’d seen, a red carder,
and sketched it in the margins of each page.
Through all their notes the memory of blue
in all its myriad shades, repeated and repeated.
Judge: Jane Draycott
1st: Home Thoughts from the Red Planet, Frances-Anne King
2nd: Vital Signs, Lesley Saunders
joint 3rd: Flash-flood/Quilt, Chris Poole; and Security Alert, Susan Wood
Commended (in no particular order): Sea Change, Sasha Rasmussen; Gravity Anomalies, Rowena Warwick; Expect Extreme Weather, Pat Edwards; Deception Island, Catherine Faulds; The Ignorance of Fish, Afric McGlinchey; Unripe, Jemma Borg
1st: The Hunted, Imogen Phillips
2nd: Everything’s Fine, Daisy Stillborn
3rd: Gone, Abigail Hawkesworth