Saturday, 7 April 2018

Revolution of the Mind

Here's my prefatory note to my latest published translation - Anatoli Gradinarov's 'Revolution of the Mind' - which is now available as an e-book from Amazon and elsewhere.

What is your true potential as a human being? That is the central question running through Revolution of the Mind. Clearly and succinctly challenging orthodox understandings of how the human mind works, the book presents us with the tools to examine our own mental behaviour and recognise the complex of interactions between the conscious, subconscious and unconscious which give rise to, distort and ultimately trap us inside our thoughts, our emotions and what Gradinarov calls ‘the nightmare of the self’. This, though, is not a self-help manual. It certainly doesn’t provide a readymade programme for transforming your life. On the contrary, Gradinarov challenges any kind of programme or dogma and instead encourages an inquisitive form of self-observation which can take us beyond the self-created roles, mental self-images and illusory virtual worlds generated by our territorially motivated egos. Those already familiar with Zen Buddhism, Jungian psychology, phenomenology and even existentialism will recognise some of the strands which feed into Revolution of the Mind, but Gradinarov brings a whole new perspective to questions of identity, perception, understanding and, above all, happiness. In many ways, the answers he indicates are simple – but they are answers which you have to find for yourself.
In translating Revolution of the Mind, what struck me is the precision of Gradinarov’s language. For a translator, of course, this is a challenge – but one which, I hope, with the generous input of the author himself, we have managed to overcome. The precision of language too reflects the precision of the ideas contained in this book which are illustrated with experiences from everyday life that all of us can recognise. This English translation from the original Bulgarian text is a collaborative work and, to me, that also serves as an example of what Gradinarov is talking about: translation is not something which happens according to a programme. You can’t simply feed the original text into one end of a matrix and expect a perfect translation to emerge at the other. It’s about collaboration and calibration, about being prepared to relinquish your own territory in the name of finding common ground. As Revolution of the Mind repeatedly reminds us, the borders which exist between us are entirely of our own construction. All we have to do is recognise them for what they are.

Tom Phillips

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Beginning with the city

Ah, Sofia,
I want to write you a poem
but where to begin?
With your pocked facades
and unruly pavements?
With your non-stop shops and trolley cars?
The sociology of balcony design
or the semiotics of disconnected electrical wiring?
With the slow progress of pensioners
burdened with bags crammed full
of secondhand clothes and bargains from Billa?
With the kids after school in a сладкарница
laughing with disbelief into their mobile phones
or the pyjama’d men chain-smoking
between satellite dishes and sheets out to dry?
With the chess-players waiting for opponents
among the students with Шуменско bottles
on the benches that line the theatre gardens?
With your pigeons, your magpies, your jays?
With your trees coming into blossom
and newly hung with мартеници?
With the light on the snow of your mountain
or the spit and crackle of a pantograph
as a tram pulls round the corner
outside the Palace of Justice?
With the coffee and cigarette sellers
in their subterranean kiosks
and the customers crouched down
with plastic cups of espresso?
With your dog-walkers walking pert dogs
that trot in circles by the Borisova lily pond
or the crowd of commuters dispersing
through subway labyrinths and emerging into squares
and ad-hoc bazaars with snow-drops in jam-jars
and embroidered tablecloths laid out by piebald furs?
With the bagpipes keening over traffic noise
by a zebra crossing on your Yellow Pavements
or a jaunty trilling accordion by the open door
of a souvenir shop on sun-splashed Vitoshka?
With waiters laying tables outside cafes
on the first good day of spring,
with the smell of rose oil in Serdika metro,
the taste of баница, the burn of ракия
with a lightning storm one humid August,
or with the disc of the moon poised, silver,
above the gold domes of Nevsky?

Ah, Sofia,
I wanted to write you a poem
but even in plain view you’re elusive
and I am only just starting to know you –
so for now there are only beginnings,
but those beginnings, it seems, will be endless.

Tom Phillips

Friday, 2 March 2018

Balkan Poetry Today returns for 2018

Balkan Poetry Today 2018
Call for submissions

Following the success of Balkan Poetry Today 2017, Red Hand Books and editor Tom Phillips are delighted to announce that submissions are now open for the next edition, Balkan Poetry Today 2018 (due September 2018).

What we are interested in:

1.      Translations of contemporary poetry from SE Europe into English

2.      Reviews and essays in English relating to contemporary poetry from SE Europe, translation, SE European literature and culture generally

What do we mean by SE Europe? We have no fixed definition and welcome translations of work from the languages spoken across the SE European region and by poets who identify themselves with the SE European region and its diasporic populations.

Please send:

1.      A maximum of five poems along with biographical details of both the poet and translator. We are not able to publish bilingual parallel texts, but having the poems in the original language is also helpful during the editorial process. Poems can be of any length, but please be aware that space is limited and longer poems may have to be excerpted.

2.      For prose, it is best to first approach the editor with a short proposal outlining the essay/review you would like to submit together with a brief biographical note. Prose works longer than 2,500 words are unlikely to be accepted.

Please send all submissions to: by Friday 20 April 2018 at the latest.

Before making a submission, please ensure that you have all the necessary rights/permissions from authors, publishers etc to publish the translations you are submitting. Unfortunately, at this stage, Balkan Poetry Today is not able to pay contributors or cover the cost of translation, translation rights, foreign publication rights etc.

Reviews of Balkan Poetry Today 2017

“This first issue of an exhilarating new journal is sheer delight” Ian Brinton, Tears in the Fence

“As a reader and critic, I warmly recommend Balkan Poetry Today, strongly believing that even the most fastidious readers will find poems that move them” Danijela Trajković, The High Window

Balkan Poetry Today is published by Red Hand Books. Ffi:

Friday, 21 July 2017

Balkan Poetry Today #1 is here

Now here's a thing ... Red Hand Books has just released the limited first edition print copies of 'Balkan Poetry Today 2017'. It features work by some contemporary 30 poets from a dozen countries across SE Europe translated into English - some of whom are being published in English for the first time. This issue also includes sections focusing on poetry from Bulgaria and Macedonia, as well as an essay about other recent translations of SE European poetry into English.
The idea for this annual publication probably originated about ten years ago when I first became interested in the region and realised that, despite the heroic efforts of a few individual translators and a handful of dedicated anthologists, it's still pretty difficult to track down English translations of contemporary SE European poetry. A decade of contact-making, chance meetings and quite remarkable coincidences and a huge amount of support from the publisher (Richard Eccles), the contributing poets and the translators later - and 'Balkan Poetry Today' has arrived as a 120-page volume with an e-book version to follow shortly. You can find out more - including who's featured in #1 - by following the Facebook page and Twitter @BalkanPoetryTdy A huge thank you from one very relieved editor to everyone who has helped to make it happen.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Blue pause

The empty geography
of a once crowded street
resembles a gallery
after it’s closed.

Who knows what
is going to happen?
I’m looking for signs
but none appear.
Silence embraces the world.

Absolute illusion!

The lights change.
The traffic returns.
Noisily, angrily,
it rushes by
like ambulances
carrying pregnant women.

And then another pause,
a pause for thought, for breath,
and on the opposite pavement
a boy strokes the face
of his girl –
they’re holding hands
in the shadow of the offices
where they work,
and carry on doing it
even when the skies open
and the rain hits the windscreen
of car after car.

Once again
the lights are changing.

Tom Phillips, July 2017

Saturday, 8 April 2017

A snippet of autobiography

I don’t know why I write. My parents weren’t what you’d call ‘arty’. My mother loved the theatre and painting flowers, but aside from the Desert Island Discs pairing of The Bible and Shakespeare, the books in the living room were mostly by Alistair Maclean and Hammond Innes. My father once bought an anthology of “story poems”, but this, it turned out, was because he wanted to learn a stretch of narrative verse to perform at one of the village amateur dramatic society’s music hall evenings. That said, my mother was descended from a family of art dealers and occasionally mentioned a book – a catalogue raisonné of Dutch and Flemish painters – which one of her forebears had published in the nineteenth century. It was simply known as “the book” and every time it was mentioned she’d wonder who had written it or whether any copies remained extant. My father – who was a flight engineer with what was then BOAC and travelled a lot – also began bringing home paintings by an artist in Tehran. Our living room was slightly unusual in having a portrait of an imam over the fireplace and a winter scene from rural Iran in the hall. When my mother felt like it, we would sometimes take out the complete works of Shakespeare and read plays together, she and I alternating lines. For some reason, she also asked me to write a poem to read out at one of the Christmas parties that they held – largely because everyone else in our street held Christmas parties – and that must have been the first poem I ever wrote. Its rather conventional – and presumably borrowed – gist is that Christmas has lost its meaning and become an orgy of materialism – although reading it now, I can’t help but detect the origins of a much later poem about suburban life, ‘Portishead’.
Whatever its satirical intent, the poem seemed to go down well enough and I wrote another, rather similar one about package holidays for one of my parents’ summer parties – also held because everyone else in our street held summer parties. This would have been when I was around 14 or 15 and writing a novel called ‘It could happen here’ in which my secondary school had become a prison camp. I bashed that out on an old manual typewriter that my father picked up at an auction in Leighton Buzzard. Large sections of the manuscript are in red ink because I never fully mastered how to change the ribbon and had to resort to using the red ribbon when the black one ran out. At some point, I also wrote a poem – plagiarised almost entirely from D.H. Lawrence and T.S. Eliot – called ‘Look, weed entwines in the tide’. My aunt – who worked in a pharmacy in Richmond that was frequented by rock stars on methadone scripts – showed it to someone who was the nephew of someone who was possibly quite important in a major publishing house. Whoever it was detected the DHL and TSE traces immediately, but suggested that, with a bit of practice, I might get the odd poem published somewhere (although not by his major publishing house).
Now eighteen, I went to Australia. I didn’t write anything much while I was there – aside from long, overly detailed letters to my father (so over-detailed that he insisted on several occasions that I fly home immediately) – but once I was back in England, the sparse landscapes around Dubbo in New South Wales and the end-of-the-road atmosphere in Cairns in Queensland (not then a go-to holiday destination) started making demands. Somehow I had to make sense of those places and writing about them seemed to be the only way to do it. I’m sure that I didn’t do them justice, but those flat horizons with intermittent trees, the smouldering tail-ends of bush fires and the St Andrew’s Cross spiders clacking their legs like knitting needles above us on a terrace in northern Queensland were probably what started this whole business of thinking that it’s possible to make small corners of sense in the world.

Tom Phillips

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

European Union

At first it might have been coincidence
that we heard so many car horns
shifting through the Doppler effect,
or checked in at hotels where girls
in Sunday best held hands and sang
interminable folk tunes.

Only, the following day, new couples
emerged from a scaffolded church
with candles lit, and family groups
assembled in a park for photographs
where filigree blossom coincidentally
obscured the Stalinist backdrop.

Thirty, forty weddings eased
from municipal ceremonies to pose
beneath late-flowering cherry trees,
anticipated pleasures, and advice
they’d hardly need, being of an age
when all has seemed so changed.

Such innocence again around the square,
these brand new starts, this expectation,
Romanian sunlight on dove-grey dresses. 

Tom Phillips
From Recreation Ground (Two Rivers Press, 2012)