Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Gwyneth Lewis

Gwyneth Lewis
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Flat Out Norwich

Gwyneth Lewis reading from Ovid's Black Sea Letters

NWW 07 Session Four: Gwyneth Lewis

Gwyneth Lewis has two languages, Welsh and English. She started by reading a poem that employs both languages as a starting point to address notions of trespass, danger and movement in language. Her relationship to movement, exile and language, she said, was different to that explicated by George and Eva. She was going nowhere, geographically, she felt, but her language was moving away from her, was in decline.

Hamid Ismailov

Hamid Ismailov
Originally uploaded by
Flat Out Norwich

Hamid describes how when he moves between speaking and writing in Uzbek to English, he moves from a palette with twenty four colours, to a palette with five or six colours.

Becky Swift, Kate Griffin, Brian Chickwava, Andrea Canobbio and HamidIshmailov

Sujata Bhatt, Michael Augustin, Geoff Dyer and John Beer

NWW 07 George Szirtes and Eva Hoffman

George read passages from Eva's work, and Eva some of George's poetry that began to form a dialogue between their individual experiences of language loss and language acquisition. They both shared a keen sense that their first language had a privileged relationship to reality.

NWW 07 Session Three: Eva Hoffman and George Szirtes

The third session in the series began with a short summary of the previous day's sessions, where some of the main themes included the following questions:

What do you take with you when you leave a place?
What is one escaping from and what is one escaping to?

George Szirtes and Eva Hoffman then took the floor to make language and discovery the focus for the morning.

Eva's starting point was the 'abrupt rupture' that occured between past and present when she left Poland as a teenager. Her main loss, she felt, was the Polish language - it had, she said, 'died for her at that time'. This central and formative exprience led her to see how language constructs us and shapes our internal lives as well acting as a tool. Without language she could not see or feel the world. This led to a highly exacerbated sense of language and a strong desire for the English language to be a new 'psychic home'.

George Szirtes left Hungary in 1956 with his parents. Both his and Eva's departure from Eastern Europe in the 50s were part of the wider Cold War politics of the era and the pattern of movement of people in the 20th Century. His initial experience of being in England was a warm welcome and openness - the sense that having left Hungary, his family were somehow heroic.

His English was restricted to three words when he first came to England. And those words, coming from a bilingual translation of AA Milne, were 'and', 'but' and 'so'. The sense of language both leaving and arriving as he started to attend school left a powerful legacy behind.

Monday, 25 June 2007

NWW Session Two: Hari Kunzru

Hari Kunzru initiated the second session and focussed on questions of mobility and the limits of selfhood: is mobility (in physical, intellectual, individual and mass forms) a liberating experience, or is it morally troubling, disturbing necessary fixed concepts and assumptions?

He read from his novels The Impressionist and Transmission to begin a discussion about the voluntary or involuntary nature of exile, the homogeneity that globalization unleashes while at the same time opening up new experiences.

Eva Hoffman pointed out that the 'shape shifting' capacity of the exile (and writer) was a necessary capcacity to have in order to blend in, to fit and not be noticed. But at the same time, this capacity also arouses suspicion and distrust. Thus in being able to blend in, one remains other because one cannot be trusted.

NWW 07

Jon Cook, Geoff Dyer and Hari Kunzru open the proceedings.

Session One: Hari Kunzru responds

Hari Kunzru responded to Geoff Dyer's statement by talking about class, ethnicity and the 'new England' that is emerging in British Cities. This response opened the floor for discussion.

Vesna Goldsworthy pointed out that there are writers who have to stay at home to find their place to write, and there are writers who have to travel in order to write about themselves.

Michael Augustin pointed out that Thomas Mann, who both traveled and spent time in exile said 'Germany is where I am', offering another way that a writer can construct a sense of identity and homeland through sheer force of ego and will if nothing else!

The discussion ranged across Rebecca West, RS Thomas, Nabokov, Lawrence, Auden and Kapuscinski. Questions of form became central to the discussion.

NWW 07 Session One: Geoff Dyer

The Existential Condition

Geoff Dyer led the first session on the Existential Condition. After a wide ranging introduction from Jon Cook, taking in Ovid, Mahon, Joyce and others on the nature of exile past and present, Geoff Dyer took the floor to open New Writing Worlds 2007: Exile and Imagination.

Geoff framed his approach to the wider subject of exile by talking about writers who have chosen to live abroad: an apparently 'minor' form of exile that still enables us to gain a particular view on the subject. He stated his aim of offering no thesis, no interesting case studies and no wide ranging international view. Instead he offered a series of pictures of English writers who made the decision to live anywhere but 'home'.

Does writing mean self-exile?

'Am I the last in the long line of working class, grammar school educated boys with a chip on both shoulders?' asked Geoff. Not quite, perhaps, but he turned to the work of DH Lawrence to explore the experience of another working class writer who lived his life moving from home to home and country to country.

Lawrence call England 'the country of the damned', and exclaimed a number of times 'I must go South!'. He made enough money to move around Europe and Asia but retained his Englishness, that included a rage against England, wherever he travelled and lived.

In 1922, writing from New Mexico to EM Forster, he noted 'one is a stranger nowhere more so than when one is at home' and this seems to offer a key to his views on belonging. For the flip side of being a stranger at home is a capacity to be at home everywhere.

While Lawrence was talking about geography, Geoff also felt that this sentiment of being everywhere at home could also apply to literary form. He honored those writers who 'crossed borders' from form to form, away from the comfort of the novel and in defiance of the arbitrarily drawn formal boundaries.

Auden and Isherwood were next up in Geoff's presentation. Both were said to have suffered artistic declines after leaving England for the USA. But in the case of Isherwood, the discoveies he made there were more important than the work he produced, Geoff felt. The utopian impulse of Californian life finds an echo in Lawrence's own utopian urges, and both writers find a bridge in the work of Huxley, another writer who moved away in order to find a sense of home.

Geoff finished off his presentation talking about Don DeLillo's The Names. Set within the International Risk community, the author portrays a 'supranational' business community in which each character seems to sound exactly the same. Lawrence was, in his way, trying to live a supranational life while at the same time constantly questioning and testing the sense of where he could feel both and home and free.

'Thank God I'm not free,' he said, 'anymore than a rooted tree is free.'

NWW 07 Opens

After a two days of events associated with the Norwich City of Refuge programme, the NWW07 Salon begins this morning at the University of East Anglia.

Professor Jon Cook will be opening and chairing the Salon, which takes place at the home of the world's leading creative writing MA.

The writers present at the opening session are:

Michael Augustin, Poet and Translator (Germany)
Dame Professor Gillian Beer
Nazand Begikhani
Sujata Bhatt
Andrea Canobbio
Amit Chaudhuri
Brian Chikwava
Geoff Dyer
Maureen Freely
Vesna Goldsworthy
Daniel Hahn
Eva Hoffman
Hamid Ismailov
Hari Kunzru
Gwyneth Lewis
Hisham Matar
Ian McEwan
George Szirtes

The event is organized and run by The New Writing Partnership.