Posts tagged Robert Hass

Robert Hass and Serhiy Zhadan

Last night, the second reading in the main hall was rife with moral questions. American poet Robert Hass’s poems and his comments touched on the aftermath of Word War II in Amsterdam; the rape of German women in Berlin by Soviet soldiers; sex traffic in young girls in Bangkok; and the alcoholism of a mother. They almost seemed to be interrogating issues raised more vaguely by Serhiy Zhadan’s poems, which opened the reading. I say vaguely because Zhadan uses elliptical streams of associations rather than precise statements. Zhadan, from the Ukraine – (personal disclosure, my father’s parents left Tchernogov in 1905) – read energetically, with the enthusiasm, it seemed, of the young and morally righteous – and touched on Russian oligarchs stealing eastern European resources “with dispensation from Jerusalem,” about Islam, about Chinese drug smugglers, gypsies (with “lazy movements”) and so on.

In Poetry and Ethics, Natasha Saje writes that “In one sense, poetry itself is an exercise in othering, in trying to understand something or someone foreign from oneself.

“Transactions between writer and reader are like transactions with real people, and that is why they matter,” she says. “Moreover, because of poetry’s intimacy – the readers of a poem are simultaneously addressee and speaker – I believe that some poems create an ethical disjunction for their readers.”

She discusses her discomfort when “the poet is making art out of others’ suffering without any risk or consequence to himself or herself”. She quotes Susan Sontag’s comment that “No ‘we’ should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people’s pain”; “what matters precisely is who is killed and by whom”.

And she notes that Sontag suggests “a narrative seems likely to be more effective [in conveying pain] than an image. Partly it is a question of the length of time one is obliged to look, to feel”.

For me, listening to selected poems by Hass and Zhadan on Friday evening, it seemed that Hass had a clearer narrative, or at least one clearer to me. After the reading I asked him why he, not Jewish, was so sensitive to the fact of the Holocaust: “I was born in 1941,” was his answer. I didn’t get a chance to speak to Zhadan, with his careful attention to ethnicities (Chinese, Polish, Islamic) and interest in, as one of his titles reveals, ‘The History of Culture at the Turn of this Century’.

Is there a new narrative in this new world? Perhaps because I have not experienced the aftermath of the end of the Soviet Union (thanks to my ancestors, who went to America from the Ukraine and Romania), I don’t quite understand exactly which culture Zhadan refers to when he writes about it unpleasantly entering his bloodstream:

this is how the era began,
this is how it turned – awkward, heavy like a munitions truck,
leaving behind dead planets and burnt-out transmitters,
scattering wild ducks in the pond

[ . . . ]

When choosing your course of studies you should find out
among other things –
if the culture at the turn of this century
has already pressed itself into the veins of your slow arm [ . . . ]

(translated by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps)

Perhaps readers of this blog have suggestions?

Poets’ boat trip

Yesterday, the festival poets and staff of Poetry International eased into the festival with a boat trip along the Maas, followed by a reception with the mayor at the Rotterdam town hall, where Rotterdam translators and festival poets read together. After that we all ate dinner outside in a beautiful garden at the home of former Poetry International board member Jan Hendrik van Dorp. Many thanks for Jan Hendrik and his wife Elisabeth for their wonderful hospitality.

Michelle Tjoe, Eduardo Espina, Robert Hass and Correen Dekker © Sarah Ream

© Sarah Ream

Yan Jun © Sarah Ream

Correen Dekker, Erín Moure, Øyvind Rimbereid © Sarah Ream

Eduardo Espina reading at the town hall © Sarah Ream




© Sarah Ream

Interview with Correen Dekker

Correen Dekker © Sarah Ream

Could you tell us about your role in the 42nd Poetry International Festival? What will be different about the festival this year compared to previous festivals?

As one of the two programmers, I am responsible for the content of the festival programme, but my role also involves thinking in broader terms about the form and structure of the festival and the type of events that we organise. Working in this context, it is fascinating to see the impressions of the public regarding the new scheduling of the festival events. This year, the frequency of events increases during the week of the festival, with the highest concentration at the weekend, including a large variety of programmes during the day. I think that we have reflected the festival theme in our events more than during previous festivals. The festival poets too, will be extremely busy this year: they have been actively involved in the planning of the events and be appearing multiple times during the festival.

I first began working at Poetry International as an intern. One of my responsibilities then was to organise a translation workshop for poets: they concentrated on translating the work of one festival poet into their own languages, and interpreted and discussed the meaning, syntax and metaphors, and unravelled a poem in detail. To translate poetry requires such an intense reading, and I definitely find that interesting. That is also the reason why we decided to launch the project ‘Met andere woorden’ (In other words) this year – to give an introduction to translation – and, indirectly, to reading poetry too – to large groups of Dutch people. And, for the first time, we have also organised a translation symposium, at which professional and aspiring translators can meet and exchange ideas.

Tell us a little more about the festival theme, Chaos and Order, and how it relates to your work.

The theme has seemed very relevant in the weeks preceding the festival, which are always chaotic in terms of work, and this year is no exception. I think that we all feel the tension of the unknown aspects of a new schedule; nobody knows exactly what to expect. However, the choice of theme this year stemmed from our interest in various forms of social engagement and our curiosity about how poetry reacts to these. I think it is impossible not to see chaos in newspaper reports and not to recognise various attempts to impose and find order, from events on the world stage to the frustration people feel in cities – places that are constantly ‘event-inducing’, so to speak, and are thus becoming more and more uninhabitable.

Which events, workshops or sessions are you are most looking forward to?

So many, for various reasons: Les Murray being interviewed by none other than Robert Hass is a unique event that I do not want to miss. But I am also looking forward to hearing more about the work of Eugène Savitzkaya, Øyvind Rimbereid and others. Furthermore, I am curious to see how panelists will reflect on the ways in which the Internet affects the development of poetry in the ‘This is me’ event. I personally think that the Internet provides many opportunities for the dissemination of great poetry, but, at the same time, I ask myself whether my impressions are one-sided because of the language barrier and whether there is more I am unintentionally missing. So I am keen to hear what the festival poets think about this.

Correen Dekker is a programmer for the Poetry International Festival.