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Festival Three Pack

18/08/2006
My first trip to this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival yesterday. I had tickets for three events, but could only make it to two of them. I couldn’t make it to the poetry translation workshop with George Szirtes, which was the event I had really wanted to attend, but I managed to pass my ticket on to a colleague, who gave me a report and passed on some notes. Rob Mackenzie was there and has blogged about it here.
The other two events were a panel discussion about literary translation (interesting, but not fascinating) and a poetry reading: Paul Farley, Vicki Feaver and Hugo Williams, each of whom I’d heard before. Although Paul Farley had an irrititating tic of bending his books back so far and so frequently you thought all the pages would come tumbling out at any moment, he and Feaver were superb. Their work is imaginative and powerful. Farley has a pitch-perfect ear. His poetry puts me in mind of Don Paterson (who publishes him at Picador) but has none of Paterson’s laddishness. I get a sense of rootedness from his work, but a rootedness that allows him to explore. Feaver interrogates and illuminates women’s experience with a precise eye, leading the audience down unexpected paths. Fine work.
Hugo Williams, on the other hand, I can leave or leave. With some exceptions, his stuff started off tediously but, at some point, would pique my interest slightly. It sounded shapeless and prosy, and he read somewhat hurriedly. I simply didn’t connect with him, but he didn’t do anything with his material to make me connect with him. It didn’t help that he began with a poem about letter-writing class in boarding school. The last couple of lines turned it into a poem about memory and writing, but not in a terribly interesting way. However, he lost me completely later in the set when he seemed to say we were in England. I can’t stand that at the best of times, but it riles me particularly in festival season, when Radio Middle England and the London press suddenly remember the existence of Edinburgh.
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