The U.K. Launch of Music & Literature no. 6: the Forum / 21 November 2015

  George Szirtes speaks to the audience

George Szirtes speaks to the audience

On 21 November, the Forum in Norwich hosted the launch of Music & Literature no. 6, featuring the work of Alejandra Pizarnik, Victoria Polevà, and Dubravka Ugrešić. Both the venue and the location befitted the occasion: Norwich is now a UNESCO City of Literature and the Forum is both a hub for cultural events and a home for the excellent Millennium Library. We descended from the atrium into a snug underground room where Daniel Medin, co-editor of Music & Literature, welcomed us to the event and introduced the evening’s presenters: Megan Bradbury, Cecilia Rossi, George Szirtes, Joanna Walsh, and Roman Yusipey.

Szirtes, a poet and translator from Hungarian, praised the depth and breadth of material—essays, interviews, letters and diaries—that Music & Literature provides for its readers. The journal is unique, he noted, in publishing such a range of material on both the lives and the works of each artist it features. Szirtes also spoke about his experience of translating Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai, who was featured in M&L No. 2 and subsequently won the Man Booker International Prize in 2015.

  Cecilia Rossi answers questions about the poet Alejandra Pizarnik

Cecilia Rossi answers questions about the poet Alejandra Pizarnik

Norwich-based author Megan Bradbury then gave a beautiful reading from an essay about Alejandra Pizarnik, “An Overdose of Seconal,” written by Enrique Vila-Matas and translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey. We gained a moving insight into the oeuvre of “this solitary, desolate lady of poetry,” described by her compatriot Luis Chitarroni as “an extreme lyric and a tragedy.”

We also heard a sample of Pizarnik’s poetry—poem 21 from El árbol de Diana / Diana's Tree and “Works and Nights,” the title poem from Los trabajos y las noches—read by Cecilia Rossi, who lectures at the University of East Anglia and has written extensively on Pizarnik. Rossi has won a number of awards for her versions of Pizarnik’s poetry, and translated excerpts from Pizarnik’s Diaries for the issue. Following a question-and-answer session about her experience of bringing Pizarnik into English, Rossi read out an extract from the Diaries. It was a bittersweet reflection on a day of “empty happiness” spent quietly reading poetry; Pizarnik notes that she experiences her “greatest happiness or well-being” on days like this, when she is left alone to read and write, but muses a sentence later that “it’s not possible for a human being to be happy if turned into a machine for making and reading poems.” A poignant portrait emerged of a tortured woman who, despite her great talent for literature, felt that she had “little talent for life.”

  Roman Yusipey (L) with his accordion as George Szirtes (R) reads "Three Improvisations on Music"

Roman Yusipey (L) with his accordion as George Szirtes (R) reads "Three Improvisations on Music"

The next section of the event focused on the work of Ukrainian composer Victoria Polevà. After a poem in praise of accordions written expressly for this evening and read by George Szirtes, we were treated to a compelling interpretation of Polevà’s Null by Ukrainian accordionist Roman Yusipey. The stark power of the music was heightened by the intensity of Yusipey’s performance: the intimate venue meant we could see every expression on the accordionist’s face, every pressure of his fingers on the buttons of the instrument. The experience of listening to Null is described by Polevà herself in a conversation with Anna Lunina, translated for the issue by Rachel Caplan and read to us by Bradbury and Medin: “In Null you must come to this void state: it is a very resonant state, it resounds, it is an echoing desert. As if there was nothing at all, and yet the void rings with sound.”

Yusipey then read from the same interview in Russian, to give the audience a feel for the sound of the original language, before playing again—this time a haunting piece called De Profundis by Russian composer Sofia Gubadulina. There was one unforgettable moment when the accordion stopped playing notes and started breathing, slowly, in and out: it sounded uncannily like a human being.

The third section of the event featured work by and about Croatian writer Dubravka Ugrešić. First, Medin read a portion of “Home Away from Home,” Damion Searls’ entertaining account of spending time with Ugrešić in Amsterdam. Although “emotionally supercharged with the trauma of exile,” writes Searls, Ugrešić’s apartment was also “filled with beautiful things, European culture, home cooking, and the warmth she spread around her.”

  Joanna Walsh reads from "Writing in a State of National Emergency"

Joanna Walsh reads from "Writing in a State of National Emergency"

Joanna Walsh, an author and critic, then read a piece of her own writing entitled “Writing in a State of National Emergency: On Dubravka Ugrešić.” Walsh reflected on how Ugrešić has continued to carry a state of national emergency around with her whilst living in exile in Amsterdam, and on the need for writers to keep writing in times of crisis. She also read from Ugrešić’s account of a year she spent studying in Moscow in “A Story about How Stories Come to be Written,” translated from the Croatian by David Williams.

The evening was rounded off by an apt piece of music: a tribute by a Ukrainian musician (Vladimir Zubitsky) to an Argentine one (Astor Piazzolla), again performed with spirit and flair by Yusipey. It was the perfect end to a fascinating evening of music and literature—and to cap it all, as we stepped outside, we saw that it had started to snow.

Romy Fursland

This event was made possible thanks to the generous support of the UEA Alumni Annual Fund and the British Centre for Literary Translation

  L to R: Roman Yusipey, Cecilia Rossi, Daniel Medin, Joanna Walsh, George Szirtes, & Megan Bradbury

L to R: Roman Yusipey, Cecilia Rossi, Daniel Medin, Joanna Walsh, George Szirtes, & Megan Bradbury