‘The line is the most basic and yet also the most mysterious aspect of writing poetry,’ says British poet Jamie McKendrick and many of us braved the rain and sleet on Saturday 21st November to learn more. Jamie was the ideal instructor for our international group, for not only has he won pretty much all of the major poetry prizes in the UK, he has also translated extensively from the Italian and has taught in London, Oxford, Gothenburg, Brno and Salerno.
Throughout it all, he has retained his modesty, wit and personal warmth, which makes him such an engaging and supportive workshop leader. Clearly erudite, he provided us with plenty of illustrations and quotes from sources as varied as Miroslav Holub, Giorgio Agamben, Thomas Wyatt, Rilke and Ungaretti, yet you never felt that he had all the answers. Jamie was always happy to listen, try out new interpretations, question himself and us. We discussed enjambement, form and free verse and fashions in poetry, the relationship between music and poetry, and how the only rules that matter are what works best for each poem. We decided upon line breaks in a poem which had been transcribed as a prose fragment, we translated the work of a Serbian poet, and we learnt to think through colour. I’ll leave you with a beautiful quote: ‘The best poetry always has a mystery at its centre; it withholds something, which makes you want to go back to it later.’
After the workshop, we had a reception and a series of readings from Offshoots 13. Many thanks to our editor Caroline Thonger for organising yet another cracking and varied evening of readings. We travelled all around the world, from India to Scotland, from Mount Kilimanjaro to Vietnam, from Geneva to Tunisia, all rounded off with a liberal sprinkling of Afghan-flavoured sushi. Thank you to all of last night’s readers: Pamela Baillie, Jennifer Clark, Rosalind Yarde (in absentio), Bashir Sakhawarz, Lang-Hoan Pham, Jane Cottingham, Bill Jones and Corinna Sarronwala.