Monday, 30 November 2020

Conversations on poetry, translation, identity and travel

 It's been my great pleasure over the last week to take part in online broadcasts with both Pankhuri Sinha and Sujata Pal - two writers living in India who have very generously invited me to join them in conversations about poetry, translation, identity, travel and much else besides. Both conversations - which really consist of me talking a lot in answer to their questions! - are available to watch online. You'll find the one with Pankhuri, from Saturday 28 November, here and the one with Sujata, from Monday 30 November, here. The pandemic has closed down our lives in so many ways and yet both the initiatives that Pankhuri and Sujata have set up - these regular broadcasts with individual poets and also international online poetry 'gatherings' - are building new connections and opening opportunities despite everything.

Sunday, 1 November 2020

Up in the air with Frank

Why is it, Frank O’Hara, I’m thinking of you
in 1950s New York at 35,000 feet over Europe
and my watch says it’s 9.05, but we’re no longer in England?
Piled clouds look benign. Another jet hangs still
against the paling sky. Out of centrespreads,
pictures of the baths in Budapest spill.
No news on the poets in Ghana, needless to say.
I’ve not been long away, but the man beside me
sounds like a regular from the corner shop
that closed down when we were packing that day.
Or the bouncer of the bar we went to at Christmas
when smokers got round a foyer window ledge
so they could get round the smoking ban.
Outside this window there’s only weather,
and that isn’t ours right now.
If we were over the sea, furling ships’ wakes
streaking white across blue would be something.
It can’t be different for others …
Although I can also hear you saying:
‘Art shows on long flights might be an idea.
Or not lifejackets but poetry collections
to be reached for under your seat.’
Heading east, not west, the towers of Manhattan
aren’t going to emerge, bristling, from the Hudson,
as they did four decades ago when my father swore
he was never mugged because of the raincoat he wore.
Not that being anyone has changed in that sense
while still learning to live in durations unmeasured.
At this altitude, my ears refuse to adapt to the pressure.
But what’s not such a far cry from seatbelt signs
is my father ignoring their insistent warnings
to show me the Badlands unfurling below.
Because such things did occur – as did
him saying he wanted to come back as a seagull
so it’s likely he’s come back twice now –
once as a seagull and then as
whatever a seagull aspires to be.
Tom Phillips