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The black hole

by Sarah Ream on June 21st, 2010

Each year as the festival draws to a close, there’s talk amongst staff about the ‘black hole’ that will inevitably follow in the days after the festival: the post-adrenaline dip when sleeplessness and overwork finally take their toll; when we emerge, utterly drained after a week of running around the labyrinthine otherworld of the City Theatre, blink confusedly at the sunlight and try to refind our place amongst real-world people busy with their lives, lives that have nothing to do with poetry. When we realise how much we miss our colleagues, who we’ve spent nearly every waking moment with in the past week; when we wonder whether we will meet any of the poets again, and if so, who, and where and when. The desire to prolong the festival, despite our tiredness, means that Poetry International staff and freelancers, along with just a few hard-core poets, tend to stay up as late as possible on Friday night – this year, several colleagues winding their way home after a long night met poets who had already gone to bed, slept and woken up, ready to take their early taxi to the airport. On Saturday, after so little sleep and a heavy morning of moving boxes back from the theatre to the office, it was no wonder that after the staff sat down in Café Floor to eat lunch, and started to say goodbye to each other and leave, that, like exhausted children at the end of a party, we became melancholy, and there were tears.

On the way home, I thought about the accumulations of our lives: the people we meet, the places we see, the possessions we acquire, the books we read, the experiences we gather. The joy but also the burden of having so much, and gathering more and more; the realisation that we can’t hold all of this in our hands, in our memories – that some good things have to be allowed to slip away into absence. Tiny, bittersweet scars.

The door of my train carriage came to a halt right in front of a poster advertising the festival: 11-18 June. It was over.

Later, back at home, I drank tea and leafed through the New York Review of Books that had been delivered in my absence. There was an essay by Charles Simic (who wrote an essay on prose poetry for Poetry International this year), a review of a novel translated by David Colmer, who translated Nyk de Vries’ poems for the festival, and a piece about festival poet C.K. Williams’ autobiography of Walt Whitman. This wasn’t reassuring simply in terms of coincidence, or of having had ‘big names’ associated with the festival; it was a reminder that texts, unlike human encounters, aren’t contained by geography or time – a poet’s non-presence doesn’t prevent us from experiencing their work. Perhaps the black hole could be mitigated a little – after a lot of sleep – through reading.

  1. Thomas McCarthy permalink

    Aha! Sarah, neither are you all forgotten by the poets and translators who attended this year’s wonderful Poetry International. We will remember the efficiency, yes, but also the friendship and poetic fellowship of the staircases and foyers of the grand Theatre in Rotterdam. As I walk here by the sea in West Cork, I think of you all in faraway Rotterdam. Thank you, it was a wonderful week of important encounters, of friends made through linguistic interaction and the attentive listening of brilliant audiences.
    Salut! Rotterdam,
    Thomas McCarthy

  2. admin permalink

    Thank you, Thomas!

  3. ron winkler permalink

    No sea here. And no oblivion. You swarm of fairies.

  4. Well said, Sara. Was lovely meeting you in Rotterdam and well done to you and everyone at PIW. What a festival!

    Jen Matthews
    Munster Literature Centre

  5. Richard McKane permalink

    My friend the Francophone Algerian Poet, Adel Guemar, and I often talk about ‘trous dans nos memoires’. It’s poets who bring rainbow light to these black holes, that can even suffuse dementia.
    I have very happy memories of my time in Rotterdam at Poetry International when I talked about Anna Akhmatova and of my correspondence with Martin Mooij and subsequently translated pamphlets of the late Ryzhi and Leontiev and Purin. Then somehow we lost touch. I’m back and my first major book of my own has been published in England Out of the Cold Blue (Hearing Eye) though my editor John Rety died suddenly of a heart attack three days after the launch reading. I know Katia Kapovich was with you this year, a fine poet whom I’ve translated. I now live in the provinces and have stopped interpreting… but part of me remains in Rotterdam, ticking over. May your successes continue! Richard McKane

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