Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Harmony is death! Astrid Lampe talks to Nia Davies

It’s now well over a month since the second North Wales International Poetry Festival ended and I’ve been reflecting on how the experience has shifted my view of poetry. Encountering so many new poetic approaches was a multidirectional but pleasurable linguistic confusion! One particular approach that has altered my way of thinking about poetry is Astrid Lampe’s poetry and her words ‘harmony is death’. Like many of the other poets at the festival her approach opened up a space for me to think in new ways about what poetry is, what it can be and what working with text as a medium means. I asked Astrid to expand upon what she meant by these memorable words. Here is her reply:

‘People think that the best poem is a perfect performance. But to me that is death. People stick to death by worshipping monuments. They stick to death by adoring great poems and their perpetual value. Established beauty, I find, especially in the long run, quite boring. To me poetry is a handy tool within reach for everyday surviving. By being adorers, we rely even more on the great poets who wrote all the amazing stuff than we rely on our own verbalization, our own reading skills. Language, thought and ideas are moving all the time. It is not a fountain - it doesn’t spurt up in one go. The adventure is in the process - poetry is an open space not a narrative. Every new poem is, as well as an artistic contribution, a fresh definition of what poetry is or can be. 
I don’t even like the idea of a poem. I prefer ‘poetry’ because there is no final pinning down of language, it is about decisions, choices. It is about media, particularly the new media, and it’s all changing all the time. It is very good to have a strong idea but the moment you adore your idea you will be a slave to it. Poetry is not a programme. I like to move through poetry as I move through space.’
And here is one of Astrid's poems with translations into Welsh by Eurig Salisbury and into English by Dianne Butterman. 



al mijn werk is lichamelijk 
ook als ik geen lichamen ik

ook als ik geen -  
ben ik een verpersoonlijking van deze poëzie
ik kan me niet beter uitdrukken dan in mijn werken 
mijn ik is er tot in de intiemste aard in verwerkt

ook als ik geen lichamen ik

wat ik me voorneem is helder 
maar mijn uitwerking wil daar altijd aan voorbij 
wat ik me voorneem is helder 
maar mijn voornemen wil altijd oplossen 

niets liever dan dat 

(oplossen oplossen) 

er op los in dit werk dat ik niet ken

veelal pakt het zo uit dat het verdomd lijkt - ‘verdomd…’
of ik met dit werk een taboe had willen slechten 

maar ik zou niet weten wat voor taboe (laat staan óf het een taboe)
deze waterende vrouw 

ik portretteerde haar zoals ik zelf water

ik laat het gelukzalig lopen



corfforol yw fy ngwaith
hyd yn oed os wyf nid cyrff wyf

hyd yn oed os wyf nid –
y farddoniaeth hon wedi’i phersonoli wyf i
nid wyf yn medru mynegi fy hun yn well nac ar gerdd
yr hyn wyf yn y modd mwyaf personol

hyd yn oed os wyf nid cyrff wyf

mae’r hyn yr wyf yn ei gynllunio ar fy nghyfer yn eglur
ond mae f’ymhelaethu â’i fryd bob tro ar fynd ymhellach
mae’r hyn yr wyf yn ei gynllunio ar fy nghyfer yn eglur
ond mae fy nghynlluniau â’u bryd bob tro ar ddod i fwcwl

dim mwy na hynny

(i fwcwl, i fwcwl)

dod â’r peth i fwcwl yn y gerdd ddieithr hon

daw’n aml i’r amlwg ei bod yn edrych o beth diawl – ‘i’r diawl ag e …’
fel pe bawn i’n ben set yn y gerdd hon ar dorri tabŵ

ond wn i ddim sut fath o dabŵ (os tabŵ wedi’r cwbl)
y fenyw hon sy’n piso

mae’n piso’n union fel yr wyf i’n piso

yr wyf yn gadael iddo lifo’n braf

Cyfieithwyd gan Eurig Salisbury



all my work is bodily
also if I no bodies I

also if I no –
I am a personification of this poetry
I cannot express myself better than in my works
my I is integrated into that in the most intimate way
also if I no bodies I

what I plan for myself is clear
but my elaboration always wants to go beyond that
what I plan for myself is clear
but my plans always want to resolve

nothing better than that

(resolve resolve)

to resolve it in this work that I do not know

often it works out that it damned well looks – ‘damn it…’
as though through this work I wanted to break a taboo

but I don’t know what kind of taboo (let alone if a taboo)
this pissing woman

I portrayed her the way I pass water

I allow it to blissfully flow

Translated by Diane Butterman

You can read another poem 'Hollands Diep' by Astrid Lampe in English and Welsh translation on the festival website: 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Ondřej Buddeus - a brief interview

Ondřej Buddeus (1984) is a Czech translator, poet and a sporadic essayist. He translates from German and Norwegian (J. Winkler, J. E. Vold, A. Mortensen et al.) and is editor-in-chief of the contemporary Czech poetry magazine Psí vino and is writing his doctoral thesis in Scandinavian studies. His work has been translated into German, Italian, Polish and English. In 2011, he published his début text collection 55 007 characters with spaces and a picture book for adults, Orangutan in captivity tends towards obesity. He was nominated for the Magnesia Litera Prize, Bank Austria Literaris and Dresdner Lyrikpreis. In 2013, he was awarded the Jiří Orten Prize for his collection Swiftly.

Ondřej spoke to festival blogger Nia Davies...

Nia: I've been reading the poem Chatroom: The History of the Coca Cola Trademark in Central and Eastern Europe from 1990 - 2011. Like you I was born in 1984. So, though our educations began at different sides of Europe and we didn’t have to endure field trips to the same places, I share the same feeling of distant familiarity with the later events you describe in the Chatroom: the Gulf and Yugoslavia wars, Operation Enduring Freedom etc. In a chatroom you address in this poem I could say we share an awareness of world events, we are similar, ‘I am normal, and you?’ you seem to say. There's distant feeling of world 'experience'. You endure ‘field trips to Prachovské / skály and the Rwanda genocide’. The poem seems to explore the banal/shallow knowledge of online ‘friendship’. We both went to dance classes as the world trade towers came down and started work when as the war in Iraq began. This we share. I’d like to drive more too but I am scared of parking. So we must be ‘friends’. What do you think of this kind of ‘friendship’ we have? Do you find the kind of expressions and relationships one makes on the internet material for making poetry?

Ondřej: The one who is telling this poem, is actually not me. I always thought that here is speaking someone younger that me (let’s say 5 years) – so the situation is a little more complicated, because I’m reading that person's experience with the same eyebrow-lifting as you are – and perhaps with the same feelings. Is it his/her indifference (how can she/he equate a field trip to some local landmark with a genocide?) that is provoking me? Or it is not insensibility at all? (He/she knows well about what’s happening around her/him and has a very limited chance to do something). So is she/he a caring person or asocial idiot? Is she/he a guilty victim of infotainment and egoism or quite the reverse? I don’t know.

And based on this ambiguity it starts to be fascinating for me somehow – that person is speaking my language (and yours as I see, as well). Then I start to ask me if she/he isn’t too similar to me (since the “common/shared language” is an important cultural phenomenon and one of the pieces composing the identity) – and if yes – am I a person with the caring awareness or an idiot? Again, I don’t know. Do I really have to be friends with this person (yes, it is fictional, but nevertheless…)? The chatroom communication is extremely limited to the textual level (no voice, intonation, body language, gestures – so it is like all the social media an interface of role-playing-game), it brings a very special kind of friendship – a friendship-playing game. And this is something that you, me as well as that guy or girl do share and do intuitively know very well. Therefore I can hardly imagine that this identity– and relations– gaming/gambling will not be a part of what (and how!) we are writing. Or at least some of us.

Nia: can you tell me more about your ‘picture book for adults’?

Ondřej: It is a book with a very long title, namely 'Orangutan in Captivity Tends toward Obesity'. I wrote a series of three-lines poems (not really haikus) often using small paradoxes, minimalistic puns etc. There is one in English as well. It’s a kind of small subversion of the “artworld” where when you’re not speaking one special language, you are more or less invisible. It’s called “you knows”:

if be there no
English there
artist nobody!

I showed the texts to a friend, illustrator and artist Alžběta Skálová. Together with graphic designer Martina Kupsová we started to elaborate on a book which in its visuals uses the very same simper-subversivity as the texts do. And then, after all the work, we found out, that the pics and three-liners on the page compose something complex, you actually can’t separate them from each other when reading it. We knew from the beginning that it is going to be a book for “homo ludens” and because it is using the strategies of children literature, but the motives are from the adult world, we’ve created this category 'picture book for adults'. It’s nice and almost unmerchantable, because booksellers know only picture books for children or books for adults and if there is something in between, it’s rather confusing.

From Orangutan in captivity tends towards obesity
Ondřej Buddeus will be performing tonight at the final event of the festival - 'All ears' at Bangor University. You can read his poem in Welsh and English translation on the festival website.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Christine Huber - a brief interview

Austrian poet Christine Huber's work mixes poetry with sound, music and visual arts. Her recent works include Durchwachte Nacht. Gedankenstrich made together with Magdalena Knapp-Menzel (Edition Art Science, 2010), striche streichen an Audiobook with a composition by Christian Utz (audiobeans / zeitzoo, 2011),  and alles auf anfang poems with drawings by Ilse Kilic and Fritz Widhalm (das fröhliche Wohnzimmer-Edition, 2013).
Christine Huber
You can read her poem ‘boden’ - ‘the ground ‘ in the original German with English and Welsh translations on the festival website

Christine spoke to festival blogger Nia Davies about her work. 

Nia: You work with sound and music alongside poetry and you have also collaborated on pieces for radio. How do you place words and sounds together in your recent work? Is it a form of interpretation - i.e. do you make language respond to sound or sound respond to words? Or is there another process at work such as storytelling or the construction of an atmosphere? In other words, can you describe how do these mediums interact in your collaborations?

Christine: For all my collaborations I can say that they were really collaborations - so I cannot answer what came first or second. Mostly the composer came to me with a sort of setting - they had the idea, e.g. a story or a subject / theme and also some texts, but often these texts were too long or they did not fit perfectly. So my job was to make them short enough for a composition or to find new words that would fit the given setting.

Why did they come to me? My poetry works with sounds - in this context the sound and the rhythm is the most important factor. These composers never had problems following my poetry. They understood perfectly that it is about music and not about making sense, that making-sense is something deriving and at the same time vanishing - like melodies in the context of new music - and that most of the work consists of constructions made from words. Or to talk outside the context of music I describe my work as sculptures made from words, trying to be as abstract as possible.

Nia: What is for you the ideal way to experience poetry? Reading alone or listening to performances or recordings? And: Is there something about radio that allows you to do what you want to do with a piece?

Christine: All the mentioned varieties 'to experience' poetry (by the way a wonderful formulation) are, to my mind, different emanations. And I would not like to miss one. But I, myself, cannot read poetry without a voice - that means, when I read I always have a sort of speaker in my head. If i know how the author reads his poems so it is this voice, otherwise I invent one. 

In terms of radio, in Austria, the Austrian broadcast union has not much space for poetry and the space that is given is within a strict scheme: 7 to 9 minute pieces, read by an actor or actress, a lot of music between the poems, twice a week. Private radio stations are not concerned with poetry at all.

Nia: Can you tell me something about the poem 'boden' - or 'the ground' as translated into English by Peter Waugh and yourself. My feeling is of a voice or voices placed or moving through somewhere between groundedness and flight, the experience of being present in the 'noisy' world but also being somehow winged - 'wings like hands on ground'. Can you tell me something about these earthly wings? And how did the experience of movement work on language when you wrote (and translated) this poem?

Christine: What you describe as "earthly wings" - I cannot give much commentary. I tried to start from scratch and like all beginners I had not very much awareness of what I was doing (or at least I tried to work as if I did not have too much awareness of what I was doing). I just try to trust my experience - in all kind of senses - in writing poetry. The translation (Peter Waugh made the first draft and I worked over it) helped me to realise that there is a construction there much more then I had originally planned. Nevertheless I skipped two stanzas - they seemed OK in the German version, but the translation showed that not every word had found its proper space until then.

To me it is interesting that your questions do not mention the grammar, which I like to call 'broken grammar'. I always make mistakes, on purpose. I use the rhythm of a sentence and turn halfway through it into a new period. What a hard time we had to find solutions in the English language! On the one hand it should not sound wrong, on the other hand it was meant to show that the grammatical rules are, like 'making sense', something that can always be discussed anew, at least within poetry.

Christine Huber will be performing at events tonight in Bangor, in Caernarfon on Monday 21st and at other events across the festival. Find out more on the festival website where you can also read Christine’s poem ‘boden’ translated into Welsh and English.

International Encounters - images from the opening night

"Unfinished ode to the clitoris" - Violet Grigorian borrows the bardic staff to perform a new poem in Bangor last night. 

Zoë Skoulding introducing the poets.

Ifor Ap Glyn presents his multimedia poem about adults learning Welsh.

Vassilis Amanatidis performing.

Astrid Lampe performing.

Marie-Louise Chapelle.

Last night the North Wales International Poetry Festival opened in Bangor with performances from poets Ifor Ap Glyn (Wales), Vassilis Amanatidis (Greece), Hasmik Simonian (Armenia), Astrid Lampe (Netherlands), Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl (Iceland), Marie-Louise Chapelle and Violet Grigorian (Armenia).

The winner of the Translators' House Wales translation challenge in English was also announced by judge Ned Thomas. Stuart Mudie was awarded the bardic staff for his translations of Víctor Rodríguez Núñez's poems.

Tonight the poets will be performing in Bangor at Blue Sky Cafe and in Mold at Clwyd Theatr Cymru.

You can read poems in English and Welsh translation from all the poets at

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl - a brief interview

Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl is an Icelandic poet, translator and author of four novels. His most recent novel Illska (Evil, 2012), was awarded the Icelandic Literary Prize and the Icelandic Book Merchants' Prize. Sometimes Eiríkur makes (award-winning!) animated poetry and quite often he performs (mind-blowing!) sound poetry at festivals of art, music and poetry. He has also published a book of poetics, Booby, Be Quiet! (2010, poEsia).  His forthcoming book of poems is Hnefi eða vitstola orð

You can read one of his poems in English and Welsh translation on the festival website.

Ahead of his performances in North Wales this weekend, Eiríkur spoke to poet and festival blogger Nia Davies.

Nia: I saw you perform earlier this year at StAnza in Scotland. I found your performance exhilarating and warm - a celebratory subversion of the medium of language and sound. It seems that experiment is central to your writing processes. And you’ve hinted elsewhere that your route into poetry was one of a fight with boredom.  Would you agree with that? In other words, how does restless figure in your practice?

Eiríkur: I used to be really nervous when reading on stage. I would tremble horribly and read too fast – people were always complaining they didn't catch what I was saying, asking me to slow down, which would make me even more nervous, so my feet would start trembling and when I'd clench my legs to stop them my hands would start shaking, so much that I'd not be able to read the text I was holding, and when I clenched my arms I'd start stuttering and fumbling with my words. At some point, a little over ten years ago, I realized that if I went in the opposite direction and spoke louder and faster I could get rid of all that nervous energy, or at least put it too some use. I guess that's not really restlessness but it's a related matter – living is mostly a question of what to do with the energy, how to preserve it and how to spend it. I do like dicking around, fiddling and playing around – with paper, word, Word, flash, sound, whatever's around to be played with. 

I used to live in Finland and I'd speak Icelandic to my then wife and she'd answer in Swedish, and our son would jumble everything together, while our friends spoke mostly Czech, French, Mandarin, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Finnish – and being immersed in languages like that is like fumbling around in the dark, feeling your way around, trying to pair things together more or less blindly, so you start seeing etymological strands everywhere (like noticing that the word for draft beer in Finnish is "tuoppi" and in Brazil it's "chopp" and feeling that they're almost the same). I guess what I'm trying to say is that I enjoy the experiment, I enjoy the fumbling around, I enjoy being nervous and I enjoy learning new things. 

I think that malforming or destroying or stretching the language does have a deeper philosophical point, as well as a political and social point, but I'd be lying if I didn't own up to the fact that I do it because I enjoy it on some rather primal, instinctual level. I've always had the notion that art cannot only be entertaining, nor can it only be remarkable – it needs to be both. It needs to both bring the mountain to Mohammed and get Mohammed to come join the mountain. If that makes any sense. 

Nia: I loved the poem in which you played with the non-sensical/sensical words of an a legendary Icelandic blacksmith. This poem reminded me that both in Iceland and Wales poetry is a very important part of culture, identity and even everyday life. This enviable centrality of poetry can for poets be both an encouraging support, and key to continuity, but also potentially a conservative restriction.  What is your relationship with tradition? Is there something telling here in how you inverted the story and language of the blacksmith? 

(Is this the poem I saw? On Lyrikline?)

Eiríkur: Yep, that's the one. Æri-Tobbi is the name – Mad Tobbi. 

My relationship to tradition is a troubled one. Choosing Æri-Tobbi to work with isn't exactly a typical choice for someone meaning to give homage to his past – he's mostly seen as some sort of joke (and in the five volume tome, The history of Icelandic literature, he's not mentioned other than in passing while discussing someone else). It's not that I am not interested in the poetry or that it doesn't give me anything, this "having a tradition" thing – but I feel I want to subvert it, if only to escape the "nation-building" chauvinist parts of it, the parts used for political speeches and cocktail parties, where the president or the prime minister will use all of it, from Snorri Sturluson to Björk and beyond, to justify their own political ends, be they to encourage the now bankrupt bankers of old in the outwards excursions, or to garner support for increased isolationism, or the idea that Icelanders are somehow radically different. 

There is also a problem where this continuity of tradition blocks out other important traditions or influences from abroad. Iceland, for instance, doesn't have an avant-garde history. There are a few pockets here and there where something happened – but no continuity. Which is also why I like Æri-Tobbi – it's a way to create an imagined avant-garde continuity (as all traditions, like all nations, are beautiful figments of our imagination). 

Nia: Can you tell me what it was like being the poet in residence at the Library of Water?

Eiríkur: It was an honour and a pleasure. I don't know what more to say about it. It was a very hectic three months – I had a novel that just came out so I was constantly commuting to Reykjavík for readings, and the library was a quiet haven in between. I did organize two events there, a launch party for my novel, and a reading with my friend Angela Rawlings, which was wonderful. 

Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl will be performing at the festival in Bangor on the 17th and 18th of October and in Aberystwyth on Monday the 21st of October and at other events at the festival. Visit to find out more.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Doina Ioanid - a brief interview

Born in Bucharest in 1968, Doina Ioanid is the author of five collections of poetry which consist largely of prose poems. Her latest collection is Ritmuri de îmblânzit aricioaica or in English translation Chants for Taming The Hedgehog Sow. You can read a poem from this collection on the festival website in English and Welsh translation.

In advance of her performances in North Wales Doina spoke to Nia Davies about her work. 

Nia: You’ve described a process which takes place in your writing of making surprising connections, often undetected at first, between memories, stories and images. Through these connections come an element of the surreal. So do you believe that the neurological process of pattern-seeking is central to writing? And if so how do you harness this to create a poem?

Doina: Those connections between memories, stories and images leading to a surreal element are important for my poetry. The act of writing in itself supposes multiple connections, in order to understand better how you feel, how you perceive the world and your being in this world. What we usually call reality is a superficial word covering an enormous area of realities. The world's manifestations have many layers as well as many levels and that's why a poet needs to find his way through all this in order to seize or to catch sight of them, or at least a glimpse. Paying attention to what happens to you, inside you and outside you, becomes very important. Writing poetry precedes in fact the act of writing itself: I see, I watch, I hear, I listen, I feel and I collect images, sounds, words, pieces of dreams, little stories, sensations and experiences. I become a receptacle where all these personal and affective slides gather in a puzzle. But it's not only my brain, my mind who stocks these elements. My body, my senses participate as well. I am a sensitive reservoir, a deposit working to grab connections, words, rhythms. 

It's a long and subtle process, not entirely conscious, of maturation requiring an internal attention and a lot of patience before arriving to express myself, to put a poem on paper. I bear inside me this mixture, this compost. I walk with it, I live with it and one day it hits off immediately: I just feel I'm reaching the right word, the right rhythm - or maybe it is the other way around, they reached me. Anyway, the poem pours out of me in an amazing way. Of course, once the poem is there, in front of me, once it took shape and voice, I have to refine it, to do the final adjustments.

Doina will be performing in Mold on Friday the 18th of October and in Aberystwyth on Monday the 21st of October and at other events over the weekend.  You can find out more at 

Monday, 14 October 2013

Vassilis Amanatidis - a brief interview

Vassilis Amanatidis is the author of six poetry collections and two books of short stories. He studied History and Archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. His poems and stories have been translated into ten languages and he has translated into Greek the works of well known writers and poets, such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, e. e. cummings, Anne Carson and Witold Gombrowicz.  

Poet and festival blogger Nia Davies asked him about his poetry. 
Nia: Alexis Ziras has said that your work has no ‘apparent roots in contemporary Greek poetry’ and it is ‘connected with those works of literature which submit their grammar to the immense territory of the imagination’. How do you respond to this? Which contemporary poets (or artists more generally) do you feel a strong connection to in this immense territory and why? Can you describe this territory of the imagination?

Vassilis: The closer you are to your mother (and your first-mother language) the most secure you feel. This maternal bond makes you feel extremely special to your mother (language). Growing up is a procedure that involves an irrevocable sense of loss. This loss is valuable. Upon it we build ourselves, our poetry. There we decide which kind of poet we want to become. In order to grow up as beings and as artists we need love, acceptance and limits. If we don't get them we are filled with panic. But panic is the synonym of our illusion of omnipotence, autonomy and differentiation. We don't need panicked poets. We need poets who understand that maternal sameness is what makes us eternal children, but otherness and togetherness is what we need. This is the only way: from the 2-as-1 we go to the 1-as/with-all.

So I am not different and unconnected. I am just differently same, differently connected. And this is the immense territory of the imagination. A bridge between uniqueness and individuality, between the child and the grown-up, between this and that.

You can read more about Vassilis Amanatidis's work and a poem in English and Welsh translation at:
Vassilis will be performing in Bangor on Thursday 17th of October:

International Encounters 
Thursday 17th October, 19.30
Terrace Room 3, Bangor University, £6/8
Some of the most exciting contemporary poets from Wales and across Europe create encounters between languages in a multimedia context, with translation into Welsh and English. Astrid Lampe (Netherlands), Marie-Louise Chapelle (France), Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl (Iceland), Vassilis Amanatidis (Greece), Violet Grigorian (Armenia), Hasmik Simonian (Armenia) and Ifor ap Glyn (Wales).