Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Missing Slate: Cambridge to Berlin

First, mea culpa, I haven't been writing in here much. My best excuse is that by my standards I have lately been writing poetry quite prolifically. Given that for the past four years I've often wondered if the blog is simply a giant, elaborate, elegant avoidance technique to keep me from writing actual poems - writing more poetry and less blog is A Good Thing. Also, there's just summer (such as it is) and busyness and all that.

On 29 July I spent the afternoon and evening in Cambridge, where I was one of the readers at the Judith E Wilson Drama Studio for The Missing Slate's anthology launch evening. This extraordinarily international journal - based in Pakistan and with staff and contributors from all over the world - has now published a few of my poems and an essay I wrote on poetry in translation. It was a real honour to be asked to be part of the evening, and in such good company. (Also, we all enjoyed the food and literary cocktails, including The Master and a Margarita and Go Set a Scotch Dram.)

The other writers who were reading included Karen Leeder, Martyn Crucefix, Vahni Capildeo, Hubert Moore, Sarah Fletcher, Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese, Fiona Inglis, and Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik. There were translations from German and Polish (and readings in the original languages), poems on everything from the Santiago de Compostela train disaster to the Lampedusa refugee crisis, and much more. Literature editor Jacob Silkstone also reminded us sensitively of the challenges faced in Pakistan by those working in areas such as literature, and paid tribute to Sabeen Mahmud, who was assassinated in Karachi earlier this year. 

Before the evening, it was also lovely to spend a few hours walking around Cambridge. It helped that it was a day of summer sunshine, or at least enough of it. As I was sitting on a wall of the river terrace at Trinity Hall, a punter drew up near me, pointed at me and said to his passengers "See that girl sitting on the wall? Her great-grandmother was the first female Nobel Prize winner. Very impressive." I decided to take this as a compliment. Cambridge feels so peaceful and beautiful, it's hard not to be swept away by it. I also found a public piano in a shopping centre and as there was music on the stand, I was able to spend a few minutes picking my way through a Bach Invention I used to play years ago.

The week of the launch, The Missing Slate published another of my poems, 'Berlin'. This one goes back several years - I think I visited the city in 2008 and I'm sure I wrote the poem not too long after that, although I also revised it a few years later. Berlin fascinated me in an unusual way. I think I've travelled quite widely, but I have never been to a city which I could compare to Berlin. It is unique and it's haunted by all that happened there.

Cambridge, July 2015. Photo by Clarissa Aykroyd


  1. I can't think of any poem you've written that I like better, or am moved by more, than your 'Berlin'. It's extraordinary. And in your post here you describe that city in a way which coincides exactly with my own experience with it. Did you make it to Potsdam? That, too, is a haunting place, hauntingly beautiful too, and one which in itself contains countless microcosms, each worth spending time with, and going back to again and again. As for that piano in the shopping center, I would have done exactly the same.

    1. Thanks so much, Mark, that means a lot. I like this poem too. It is quite an accurate depiction of how I felt in Berlin. I think it carries, for want of a better expression, an exceptionally strong psychic charge of the events that have occurred there. I believe all places do but in Berlin it's to an extreme. I was quite bewildered and a little frightened, but also seduced by the city.

      I didn't go to Potsdam, but I've heard it's amazing. If I go again to Berlin I will try to.