Friday 18th January 2019
Festival De Poesia, Isla De Lanzarote at CIC EL AMACEN
Perhaps you can imagine how much I, as a lover of poetry, had been looking forward to Poemas 2019, Festival de Poesia, Isla De Lanzarote. We did hear one reading by local poets last year and although it was all read in Spanish by Spanish writers, it was a wonderfully informal event that I managed to ´gatecrash´ and to perform one of my own poems in English. This would be a more formal affair, I was sure, but I couldn’t wait to hear the rhythms and cadence of the poets who would be performing.
So at around 7.15 pm on Friday 18th January we parked in the underground car park of the Gran Hotel in Arrecife and strolled along to the Cic El Almacen, one of our favourite venues that we visited a few times last year. Our route took us down the kind of back streets, dark and narrow, that we would certainly have avoided at night in cities like Manchester or Liverpool in the UK but we have always felt perfectly safe over here in Lanzarote. When we arrived at the buzz and bustle that is a Friday evening in this converted cinema, there were already fifty or sixty people, from both sides of a fairly wide generation gap it seemed to us, mingling in the bar and many more wandering the adjoining ground floor galleries looking at the always interesting visual art exhibitions.
As we queued at the bar a young man began a conversation and we soon learned that Carlos, as he was called, was ´a poet from Madrid’ who had come over especially for this festival and was excited to be here to listen to some great poets. Perhaps thinking we were merely in the bar for a meal or to enjoy a quiet drink he urged us to go up to the second floor to enjoy the festival event scheduled for eight pm. When I explained that I. too, am a poet and worked in that capacity in the UK he suddenly threw his arms around me and gripped me in a very tight bear hug.
That was ok, if unusual, but then he similarly engaged with my wife, so although we were sure he was simply being friendly we moved away quietly and headed to the performance room upstairs.
As we stepped into what had once been the film screening room we found it almost full, and figured that many of those still downstairs in the bar might not actually get in. We found two seats near the front, however, and found that a very professionally compiled booklets had been left for audience members. This contained a timetable of events for the two day festival, a potted biography of some of the major players and a selection of a dozen or so of their poems.
I was just about to have a browse through to see if there was any vocabulary I might recognise among the Spanish text when the lights went down and a loud and friendly applause welcomed to the stage the mediator and facilitator of the proceedings. Jose Manuel Diaz is a poet and musical composer in his early forties and his work is widely published. He was born in Zafra, a town situated in the province of Badajoz in Spain, and he gave an opening speech that welcomed us all to the event and stated how proud he was to be working with, and introducing, the calibre of the poets we were about to hear.
He then invited to the stage Aleddin Delacroix and as she approached the lit reading lectern already wired for sound at the side of the stage, Jose took the middle one of three comfy lounge chairs huddled in the centre, and relaxed to listen to her work.
Her first poetry collection was published in 2015 and she read her opening poem softly but confidently before Jose gently asked her some questions from his seat. There was, as would be the case with all the artists he would introduce, an immediately apparent high regard for their work and a desire to make the poets and their poetry accessible and better known to this audience. Although I can’t translate any of the conversation for you I feel safe to say that he was asking about her career achievements to date and her hopes for career development.
He also established what would be a constant theme of the night in asking about where poetry sits with the rest of the arts and what kind of collaborative projects had she undertaken with fellow artists. There seemed to be some questioning, too, about the purpose of poetry and the importance of writing in the modern world, but his interrogation was always respectful and couched in open ended questions and having asked his question he would listen patiently and politely as artists developed their answers. That allowed the poets to fully respond. Jose was fully attentive as Aleddin gave her considered response and shared her sense of fun by finding a perfect short verse to summarise the reply she had given. She has a piece called C’est La Vie published in the programme, extracted from her collection De Eclipse de giroud, and I very much look forward to having it translated into English and learning more about the work of a lady who surely has a fine career as a writer ahead of her.
The second reader was a male poet of a generation or three older than Aleddin, being born in Madrid in 1953. As well as being a highly regarded writer, Ricardo Flores is a former radio presenter and as he strode to the lectern we were amazed to realise we had previously seen him deliver his poetry at another event. On that occasion, in fact, I ´gate-crashed´ a poetry evening to read one of my own poems at the beautiful El Patio bar in Teguise. The event had been organised by the local library reading group and several local ladies read their work in an event that Ricardo was hosting. He read then with the backing of a sweet Spanish guitar played by a colleague but tonight we learned that Ricardo delivers perfectly even without musical accompaniment. I make this point because it would become relevant later on in the evening.
Ricardo’s first collection was printed in 2009 and indeed there are four or five of his works now published in the impressive souvenir programme created for tonight’s event.
He speaks in a seemingly avuncular voice, and although I again might be misinterpreting, his seem to me to be poems of gratitude for the Lanzarote lifestyle and landscape. He emphasises through pauses and there is often a little chuckle that seems to reveal his love of life. The half a dozen poems he read live tonight held the audience spellbound until Jose then engaged him in conversation. Once again the questioning seemed to be around Ricardo’s work in general and his attitude to poetry in particular. The mutual respect between them was evident in the nature of this discussion and the audience several times laughed with him as Ricardo made his points about the power and purpose of poetry in what seemed a naturally self deprecatory manner.
The final reader was Lanzarote’s own Macarena Nieves Cacaeres, introduced as a writer and visual artist. Macarena also has her finger on the pulse of the social concerns of her gender and generation and her reading tonight spoke of gender issues, aspects of feminism and even an awareness of erotica.
She had asked the audience not to applaud after each poem, as she would prefer to judge the reading as a selection of works that somehow spoke to each other to make a cohesive point. Jose therefore waited until she had completed her reading before directing his questions to her. He then listened attentively to her explanatory replies that seemed to me to suggest that she believes in the ability of poetry to address issues and at the same to enable the writer to come to a greater self-awareness.
At the end of Macarena’s reading there was a ten minute interval whilst the stage setting was slightly re-arranged, and a huge burst of conversation and chat amongst the audience exploded around the room. This showed how revealing had been the readings and interviews and people seemed very opinionated about some of the points of view that Jose had teased out of the writers.
The second half began with all three of the ´comfy´ chairs taken, with Jose now sitting in between two artists. Rafael Lechowski is Polish born and is an artist working through many mediums, such as rap, jazz, poetry and, according to the programme, also as a poetry slam artist. He is widely respected as a recording and published poet and has worked at many Festivals around the world.
Sitting opposite him was Russian born Maria Poddubnaya who studied at Escuela de Arte y Designo de Alicante and at the IMF Business School in Madrid. As the number of traditional print publishers around the world seems in continual decline there are people who argue, quite rightly, that with new technology and methodology there are more ways than ever for a poet to get their work out to the general public. However poets have to make a living and the business skills that might enable them to monetise the work they do, on web sites or whatever, are invaluable.
A power-point slide show was being projected on to the back wall of the stage as Jose begin to ask each of his guests about their the diversity within each of their individual careers. His line of questioning seemed to invite each artist to justify that diversity and to seek their response to anyone who might claim that working with other forms may dilute the effect of the poetry. Both artists seemed to strenuously defend the importance of engaging ´all across the arts´ (to borrow my UK company name).
I once appeared at a festival as one of a panel of four in a similar professionally mediated debate in front of a live audience, with the event also being broadcast live on radio. I was on the panel as community artist, and my fellow panellists were a Professor of English Literature from Manchester University, rap recording and tv star Akala and Mike Garry, a widely published poet. We were all asked, by a considerably less neutral interrogator than was Jose here, to explain why we didn’t just stick to writing poetry !
As I had a background of occasionally performing on stage with a cast that interpreted my poetry ´through the medium of dance´ and even with circus artists performing on high wire and trapeze as I delivered poetry you might guess which side of the argument I was on.
As evidence of their own attitudes to cross disciplinary work, Rafael and Maria utilised the slide show to introduce us to publications under the umbrella title of Arscesis. The projections showed the creative process that privileged poetry even amongst beautifully painted illustrations and exquisite photography. These handmade books, (I can think of no other way to describe them) were then on display as we all left the theatre and as I browsed through a couple of them I was reminded me of Fine Press Poetry run by my friend, fellow writer and independent publisher Andrew Moorhouse, based in Rochdale, England.
It seems to me that Andrew’s collections, which include collections by Andrew Motion, Simon Armitage and Carol Anne Duffy, and those of Arscesis, share a similar ethos of high production values and aesthetics and a belief that collaborative work between artists from different genres strengthens each art form.
It felt as if Jose was allowing his guests the freedom to expand upon similar thoughts and I was interested, when he invited questions from the audience, to see what their response might be to the seemingly persuasive arguments and impressive evidence Rafael and Macarena had offered. If I guessed correctly, it seemed that there was a lengthy soliloquy from one audience member in which he seemed to urge the writers to refrain from engagement with other art forms.
To that I can only wonder how few of us would have ever heard the work of Leonard Cohen had he not set his words to the music of his guitar, which, incidentally was made in Spain, and how few of us might have ever heard of Lorca had Cohen not celebrated his work in song?
I believe that writers like the poets seen at this festival have the right to collaborate and expand their wok in any way they wish, and to seek any platform from which they can proclaim their poetry. Everyone who spoke here tonight proved themselves worthy and eloquent ambassadors for their art and I applaud the organisers of this festival that gave them that opportunity.
Too often in the UK I felt that artists working amongst the community were made to feel they should only be delivering their art in a pristine, more rarefied atmosphere. I was impressed by how seriously, but lightly, these artists took their work and how justifiably proud and unashamed they were to be seen as poets. They all had work included in the Festival pamphlet and merchandise on display and sale. The whole evening was superbly guided by Jose, and I look forward to bringing you occasional updates on the careers of artists like Rafael and Macarena over the coming years.
What this lovely occasion proved to me was the point of an observation made to me in an interview with American songwriter Hugh Moffatt that ´we must intend what we write for light years of travel.´ In just the way Hugh was recommending these artists were looking after their children, their poems, and preparing them for the big wide world and journeys into new genres, new languages to new audiences and out into the universe.
By the way another writer, of a different style, will be launching a new book, The British Connection To Lanzarote And The Canaries at Hotel Natura palace on Thursday 7th February at 7.00 pm. We have heard Mr. Yaskiel speak before, about his life as a young man working as a publicist and writer in the pop music scene of the sixties and he is a charming and engaging speaker. This book, and talk, may focus on his work over here as editor of the glossy, quarterly Lancelot magazine.