Monday, November 1, 2010

The Bible, Shakespeare and Proust

22nd October

In one of the most magnificent venues the Manchester Literature Festival has seen this year – the Baronial Hall at Chetham’s School of Music – two of Manchester’s most prominent poetic figures are sitting, having a glass of wine and chatting about poetry; from the reasons behind writing and translating to what their luxury item would be on a desert island.

John McAuliffe – poet, co-director of the University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing and editor of The Manchester Review – is chairing the evening and conducting a relaxed interview with Michael Schmidt – OBE, FRSL, poet, professor, founder of Carcanet Press and P N Review (the list goes on).

With these titles and accolades thrown around, it is suffice to say that the chosen luxury item on the desert island, after the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare, is Proust – ‘that way you at least have some sort of library’, says Schmidt. And so, after the formal introductions the intent and appreciative audience is treated to Schmidt reading a few of his favourite translations of his own.

Between the handouts of poems passed through the audience and the stories he relates to each one, it is clear to see how Schmidt has risen from his beginnings in Mexico reading lyrical poetry to becoming one of the most notable names in literature today. Over only a couple of sides of A4, Schmidt has covered Mexican-Spanish, Greek, German, Russian, Anglo-Saxon and Irish – though nothing is cluttered or rushed.

The talk is centred around Schmidt’s translations, though as McAuliffe probes a little more to find out just how Schmidt manages all he does, it is revealed that translation is something to do when one’s own poetry isn’t flowing. That is not to undermine translation – it is as important as everything else in poetry – but for a man with as much on his plate as Schmidt, one must wonder where he finds the time.

Schmidt’s next volume to appear is entitled ‘The Lives of the Novelists’ which, he reveals, is already over 1000 pages and is only just beginning the 20th Century. Schmidt’s obvious passion for poetry and literature is unceasing, and if one were stuck on a desert island with him, it would be a good while before he ran out of things to talk about.

by Charlie Cocksedge

Charlie Cocksedge is about to complete an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester, and is currently wondering what to do next. He is open to any offers!

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