Falmouth University was lucky enough to have a visit from Georges Szirtes, renowned poet and translator… and I was fortunate enough to take part in a workshop that he ran. Here are the things that struck me, learning from this gentle, gifted man.
Lesson one: make the most of everything you can whilst at Uni
Not strictly from Georges, but from my tutor Eleanor Yule. In a tutorial last week, she remarked that my name wasn’t on the list to be considered for George’s workshop. He’s a poet – I’m not. My simple logic. But you love words and you’re attempting a kind of translation for your screenplay assignment… be brave.
And so I was, and it was epic. To think I nearly missed it because I was intimidated.
Lesson two: you don’t have to be clever to enjoy poetry
I once took a poetry class when I lived in London. I lasted about four weeks before I couldn’t take the sneering mockery from the (established) group. I felt inferior, and I think that’s always been my relationship with poetry. I never got all the grandiose interpretations, and I certainly couldn’t cope with the language/rules of its structure.
Georges said that there was an advantage to structure, because it asks you to go somewhere you wouldn’t in order to fit the form. It often takes you somewhere better when you sit with it.
He was also at pains to stress that he was an art student first, and came to love poetry. Georges told the group he wasn’t clever, and enjoyed poetry for what it was.
Lesson three: jump into the water
Don’t be afraid of a poem. Jump into the water of it, and move around it. Feel it in all its dimensions… the sounds, the rhythms, the compression. Forget the tendencies for grandioseness.
Enjoy the sensations.
Lesson four: poems don’t have to take much time
In the summer of 2015 when we were sailing in Galicia, I wrote a haiku a day. In this workshop, could I remember what the form was? No. I remembered a Japanese monk called Basho; I remembered that it was about a moment and that the last line was often an internal reflection. Completely forgot that the form was 5-7-5.
In the last twenty minutes or so of Georges’s workshop, everyone in the class wrote a haiku, and then another, with something linked to the first. And then another, with another link. Georges’s point comes to mind about taking yourself somewhere where you wouldn’t go. I would have balked at the idea of three connect haikus, but one, then another, then another. That was manageable.
I leave you with the cascading haiku, as they formed in class this week…
Morning on the beach
Dog digging deep in the sand
Stone lost to the tide
Tide pours up the beach
Washing the footprints away
Busy in its job
Dog chases spume
Watery tumbleweed rolls
We watch with envy