On the eve of Edinburgh's inaugural international poetry festival, we're thrilled to share a guest blog post by Julia Sorensen, communications manager at Push the Boat Out.
There is a Sylvia Plath poem called “The Couriers” – one of the first in Ariel – that starts:
The word of a snail on the plate of a leaf? It is not mine. Do not accept it. Acetic acid in a sealed tin? Do not accept it. It is not genuine.
When I first read the poem I didn’t really know what to do with it. For years it’s been a bit beyond me, really. Sometimes poems speak to me on a visceral level. I don’t need interpret them literally because I can parse them through feeling. Sometimes I just get poems, or they get me. I think when that happens, I’ve found the poetry that works for me, because certainly not all of it does. But sometimes poetry works for me even if I don’t get it. Sometimes with poetry that I love, like Plath’s “The Couriers”, I need to hear what someone else gleans from it before I can form any thoughts of my own.
I’m making two points which vouch for the existence of poetry festivals, especially when they’re varied in content, genre, form, presentation, space, visualisation. The first is that poetry is a particularly subjective thing. I am a poet, but I’m quite picky about the kind of poetry I like. That’s not to say that poetry I’m impartial to isn’t excellent. It’s just to say that because poetry is so distilled, so particular, what makes for good poetry doesn’t make for poetry preferred by everyone. In a group of a thousand people, there’d only be a few at most you could fall in love with.
The second point is that poetry – and literature in general – benefits from being collectively attended to. Independent reading can be personally meditative and transformative, but we also learn things when we read and discuss with other people. We can play with new ideas and this is particularly true with poetry because of its particularity, it’s peculiarity. Countless times I’ve told someone what I like about my favourite lines and they’ve responded “yes, and”—they’ve added something.
You already know that StAnza does an excellent job of finding poetry that speaks to you and making room for you to speak to other people about poetry. Push the Boat Out: Edinburgh’s International Poetry Festival is going to do that too this upcoming weekend (15-17 October) at Summerhall.
We’ve got reading and discussions from Caroline Bird, Raymond Antrobus, Malika Booker, Arusa Qureshi, and Nadine Aisha Jassat; we’ve got headliners from Nova Scotia the Truth, Dave Hook, Billy Letford, and Harry Josephine Giles; we’ve got Double Bills from Alycia Pirmohamed and Anthony Anaxagorou, Andrew McMillan and Fiona Benson, and Cynthia Miller and Seán Hewitt. You can also come to our takeover events, our open mic, our film fest within a poetry fest, see art installations, hip hop shows, and get a pub lunch at Sheep Heid and (try) to beat Michael Pedersen, Janette Ayachi and Peter Mackay/Pàdraig MacAoidh at skittles.
While I love the first two couplets of “The Couriers”, the last line in its singularity speaks to me the most. The poem as a whole is arguably pessimistic, but I think it’s sometimes alright to take a beautiful thing out of context and lend it our own feelings, lend it to them, make meaning differently. So, to autumn, and to Push the Boat Out happening in Edinburgh outside of August:
Love, love, my season.