NZ at Frankfurt: Transit of Venus

by Guy Somerset / 12 October, 2012
Interviews, poems, plus Glenn Colquhoun and his gourds in performance.
The Transit of Venus Poetry Exchange comes to final fruition tomorrow when five of the six poets - Germans Uwe Kolbe and Brigitte Oleschinski and New Zealanders Hinemoana Baker, Glenn Colquhoun and Chris Price - perform their poems resulting from the exchange in the New Zealand Pavilion at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The sixth poet, German Ulrike Almut Sandig, is in the final days of pregnancy and taking no chances.

You can read more about the exchange and the poets involved here.

In brief, it saw the three Germans visit New Zealand in June to witness the Transit of Venus on the 6th. They and the three New Zealanders were asked to write poems inspired by the Transit and to then collaborate on translations of the poems into each other's language.

Kolbe and Colquhoun were paired together; Oleschinski and Price; and Sandig and Baker.

I met the poets in Berlin a week ago as they were completing the workshops in which they translated their poems with the help of a third-party professional translator assigned to each pairing.

Below are my interviews with the poets, a poem by each poet - in both its original and translated form - and finally a recording of Colquhoun during his performance of his poems from the project at the Museum fur Volkerkunde in Hamburg last Sunday.

It is possibly all a bit trainspottery on my part - but if you can't be trainspottery about poetry and translation what can you be trainspottery about? Apart from, er, trains.

(The chap in the picture, by the way, is Charles Hawtrey. And give me one good reason why not.)

Now just dive in. Don't be frightened.

Hinemoana Baker's notes to The fifteen paces between my socks and my shoes

The following phrases/words reference and/or quote poems by the three German poets who partnered with us in the Transit of Venue project:

“every cent of you making war” (originally “every cent of them/making war”), “space station” and “Ginger Bee” – Brigitte Oleschinski, translated by Andrew Shields, from Geisterströmung (2004).

“grass-green ring” – Ulrike Almut-Sandig, translated by Bradley Schmidt, from Thicket (original title Dickicht) (2011).

“insistent songs” and “icebirds” – Uwe Kolbe, Sailor’s All, translated by Mick Standen and Jo Tudor, from Sailor’s Home (anthology) (2007).

I saw, and loved, the word “transiteers” in a blog written by Toby Manhire for the Listener about the Transit of Venus event.

The newborn body/light phrase in section four, verse one, is from a podcast I listen to called The Mental Illness Happy Hour. A listener called Anne wrote in from Berlin about her atheism, and how her wonder at the natural world, physics and biology is no less intense simply because she doesn’t believe in a deity of any kind. The link to her full response is here.

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