Category Archives: Uncategorized

Translation as Conversation

“I like the elements of ‘serious play’ in Arne’s work. ‘gingko leaf fairy tale’ links the Brothers Grimm and Hiroshima to suggest, touchingly, both a loss of innocence and a reconciliation with the past… ‘the forgotten dream’ makes succinct comedy from inarticulacy.”

“The conversation with Christine has been, like her readings, measured and occasional. Her work deals in nuance, glimpse, intuition, and part of its appeal for me is that I don’t always understand it entirely.”

Extending the Possibilities: Translation as Conversation is a piece I’ve written for the Year of Conversation website. It outlines my reflections on translating the work of Arne Rautenberg and Christine Marendon, over many years.

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Arne Rautenberg & Ken Cockburn, St Andrews, 2019

I was lucky enough to read with Arne at this year’s StAnza festival, and to hear Christine read at the Portico Library in Manchester.

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Christine Marendon, Portico Library, May 2019

“A Year of Conversation 2019 is about us all celebrating, initiating and exploring conversation in our lives. There will be some events involving many people at places you might expect – festivals for example. But there will be many conversation events that are smaller and more intimate too. What is a ‘conversation event’? It’s simply something that’s been planned – that you might have planned – in which conversation plays a significant part or which gives rise to conversation. So it may be a performance of some kind or it may be a group of people (you have) chosen for a special reason to share a meal. There will be information about events on the website, but there will also be space for you to reflect on your own experiences of conversation.” Tom Pow, Creative Director, A Year of Conversation 2019

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Does Poetry Pay?

RBS £1 note

“We are planning to put together a number of case studies on where authors and other creators get their income from and we’re inviting authors to be featured in blogs on the subject. Don’t be shy! These figures really help us in campaigning and negotiating.”

I’m a long-term member of the Society of Authors, which I’ve always found to be a supportive and smart organisation. When I saw this recent call for a blog post I decided to respond, partly to help with the SoA’s campaigning for a better deal for writers, and partly as a way of reflecting on my own situation now and over the past 14 years when I’ve worked freelance.

If you’re interested in how I’ve been making a living as a poet you can read my contribution here. The page gathering all the various authors’ case studies, which will be expanded in the coming weeks and months, is here.

Revisiting Outlandia

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In August 2010 Alec Finlay and I visited Lochaber as part of The Road North. Our destination was Outlandia, a newly-built mountain hut, or artists’ field-station, commissioned by London Fieldworks (Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson), designed by Malcolm Fraser, built by Norman Clark. Located a short, steep walk up from Fort William’s Braveheart car-park, it looks across the glen to the western slopes of Ben Nevis. You can read the account of our visit back then here.

Four years on and we’re returning to take part in Remote Performances, a collaboration between London Fieldworks and Resonance104.4fm. Over the course of a week, a series of specially commissioned artist performances and programmes created with local residents were broadcast live from Outlandia.

Driving north we stop and test the waters of Loch Eilt, a fondly remembered station from 2010, and we’re staying with Bruce and Jo, and many of the participating artists, at Frisealach in Lochailort, the house of Malcolm Fraser and Helen Lucas, where we also stayed a couple of nights in 2010. On the track up to Outlandia, Alec picks and I eat an angel’s-wing mushroom, prompting a Proustian memory of our previous visit; eating them raw in the hut with oatcakes, and cooked for breakfast at Annie Brigg’s the next morning, with fresh eggs from her chickens.

Our contribution to Remote Performances is a reading of the long poem The Road North, which developed after and to some extent out of the blog we kept over the year we were travelling. In the hut we sit with our backs to the window at a table supporting a large sound-desk. There is no electricity supply to the hut, and Bruce tells me all the equipment is powered by a hydrogen generator, which runs off hydrogen drawn from the atmosphere.

When I look up I see tree-tops and rain patterning the high roof-window. After a introduction from Tam Dean Burn, we’re on… back in Outlandia, recalling B-roads and Passing Places, and speaking to people… here, there and everywhere. We read the whole poem apart from the two Epilogues, which we don’t quite have time for.

That reading is available on Sound Cloud, as are all the other Remote Performances broadcast from Outlandia; and the poem will be published in book form by Shearsman Books this autumn.

With thanks to Bruce and Jo for the invitation to take part, and to everyone who made Remote Performances possible.

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