Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Cambridge, London, Grantchester

Clock tower, Trinity College
Since last writing I’ve continued with the Rilke translation project and have drafts of four of the elegies now. Of course the final version will have to wait until I’ve done the whole series, after which I’ll go through all of the Elegies again, to make adjustments.  Translation is not easy.  However, don’t assume I never leave my study. I do, either for events in Cambridge or to go to London. Most recently I went down to participate in the launch of issue 26 of The Wolf magazine, which has a poem of mine in it.  I went into town early and caught the matinee of the National Theatre’s new production of Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer, which I’d never seen staged.  Some of the acting was too broad or sit-comish, but there was plenty to like in the piece. 

The launch was held at The Poetry Place in Covent Garden, with James Byrne hosting the evening.  The readers were, in order, Sophie Meyer, Michael McKim, Helen Moore, Ruth Padel, Giles Goodland, and myself.  Lots of people came and there were some excellent readings. I always enjoy performing for The Wolf because the audience is so expert, you don’t have to do a lot of explaining.  It happened that Marilyn Hacker was in town that day to judge a prize, so she came to the event and then joined us after for dinner.  It had been a while since we’d seen each other, so there was a good bit of catching up to do. She is prospering, making plans to go to Turkey with a group of American poets and then to Tripoli for the first Libyan international literature festival, organized by Khaled Mattawa.

To continue the international theme, I will mention that I’ve become acquainted with a poet from China named Iok Foung Lin. She is a Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall this year and in fact is my next-door neighbor.  Iok Foung is from Macau, a city with an interesting history and, like Hong Kong, was recently placed under the Chinese sovereignty.  She has published three books of poems, and is working on a history project while at Clare Hall. We’ve had some good conversations about our respective nationalities, and I was reminded again how much easier it is for poets from different countries to be friendly than for the countries themselves.

Another Visiting Fellow I’ve spent time with is Thomas Glave, a fiction-writer and essayist who teaches at SUNY Binghamton.  After having several conversations in the dining hall over the past month, we made a plan to walk to Grantchester, a village about five miles south of Cambridge.  Cambridge has had glorious spring weather here this year, with daffodils, cherry blossom, and all sorts of flowering shrubs.  So the walk across Grantchester Meadows, with the slow-moving Granta flowing through them, was lovely.  Once arrived at Grantchester, we found the Old Vicarage, where Rupert Brooke was a lodger for a couple of years. A commemorative bronze statue of him stands in front of the house, currently owned by the novelist Jeffrey Archer.  Not far away is The Orchard, a place where you can have tea and, if the weather is fine as it was that day, have it outside.  Exactly what we did, with a view of flowering trees and a stretch of countryside. The Orchard distributes a little brochure recounting the history of how the place came to be what it is and informs you that earlier customers have included most of the Bloomsbury set, not to mention Brooke’s “Neo-Pagan” friends.  Through half-closed eyes you could look around and half imagine you’d been transported back to those days. To feed the illusion, I’ll add a few lines from Brooke’s “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester,” which was written during a fit of homesickness in a Berlin café where RB was at the time, almost exactly one hundred years ago:

I only know that you may lie
Day long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester. . . 

On the grass at the Orchard, Grantchester

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