Ryan van Winkle in Berlin - Part 2

Ryan van Winkle in Berlin - Part 2

© Ryan van WinkleAs I reflect on the past ten days in Berlin, participating in the Poetry Festival and the 'VERSschmuggel: Scotland – Germany' workshop sessions two particular things keep returning:

My friend Björn with potato:

© Ryan van Winkle While I was working on my own translations of Björn Kuhligk's poems, I was also busy doing interviews for my poetry podcast (which you'll hear here soon). And one thing I noticed and was impressed by was how well-matched the pairs of Scottish and German poets were. I know that in writing this blog I was intending to highlight the differences / pre-conceptions of different cultures coming together but – really – through the conversations I've recorded I discovered that for many, similarities between poets was the most striking and rewarding aspect of this experience. I particularly enjoyed seeing how Don Paterson and Michael Donhauser got along. Both said, enthusiastically, that it was brilliant to meet a poet from a different part of the world who shared the same feelings about poetry. The special thing to me is that even though we – as people – didn't speak the other person's language, we could speak to each other and communicate in the language and spirit of poetry.

Between all the poets was a genuine camaraderie and sense of respect. Throughout the week Anna Crowe and her German counterpart Odile Kennel worked amongst peels of laughter as they tinkered on silly Dr Suess inspired verses. That both poets' sense of playfulness mirrored the other's was a remarkable thing and, as much as I'd like to say it was down to luck, my conversation with the organiser Aurélie Maurin highlighted the fact that each poet was carefully considered both in terms of poetic style as well as in terms of thematic interest and temperament. So, while the work of Jo Morgan and Katharina Schultens – at first glance – would appear disparate, the organisers rightly sensed similar underlying concerns inherent in their style and thematic choices. I don't think I've ever been part of a festival or reading where the organisers understood so well everybody's work, backgrounds and histories. The work inherent in that understanding is impressive and sensitive and perhaps even a little manipulative – and it is only as I write this sentence that I begin to appreciate what puppet masters were at work.

In fact, in English, the name VERSschmuggel even has a clandestine and plotting tone meaning: 'smuggled verses'. Perhaps I was involved in something more illicit than I expected. But, joking aside, I think this is a great title for a translation / transliteration process where new works are created and inspired by new relationships with a range of poets.

My poem on a t-shirt!

© Ryan van Winkle I also had the opportunity to visit a German high school. It was gigantic and labrynth-like but the English class we visited was manageable and bright. The students had worked on German versions of my poems and English versions of Bjorn's work. One of the most amazing things about this experience was simply seeing how good and thoughtful these students were. At the end of one reading Bjorn exclaimed – 'oh, that's much better than mine – let me see that!' I felt the same way and I don't think either of us was being facetious – we seriously learned a lot from their word choices and I'm still debating changing some of my own translation. The experience was a reminder of the thousands of tiny decisions we all make as poets (and as speakers, I suppose) in order to create the best effect. It was pleasing to realise the subtly of word choice was not lost on these students.

Also, I found this amazing and unforgettable hat:

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Ryan van Winkle
June 2014

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