What makes a good poetry event? This is merely a personal theory: when you recall a good poetry happening, your ability to convey factual information about it has to fail at some point. That is, you should be able to say: “these were the poems”, “these were the questions”, “these were the answers” and so on, but, if it was good poetry, surely at some point you slipped into more abstract realms, you lost track of time, you experienced something peculiar, ultimately––something poetic. About these latter things it is nearly impossible to provide facts; they are like moving sands. I have recently had the chance to test this theory again.
The event, which took place at ECLA of Bard on the 6th of September, was a reading and discussion with Susan H. Gillespie, whose translation of a selection from Paul Celan’s works has just been published with Station Hill Press, Inc. (Barrytown, NY) in a bilingual edition entitled Corona: Selected Poems of Paul Celan. An experienced translator of German philosophy and literature, Gillespie is also a Founding Director of the Institute for International Liberal Education of Bard College.
In his opening speech, ECLA of Bard Rector and Provost Thomas Rommel commented on the fortunate duplicity of Gillespie’s career, pointing out that she is a true professional in both translation and international education. Rommel also provided suggestive examples to illustrate Gillespie’s versatility. On the one hand, he recalled an event at the American Academy in Berlin, where Gillespie made a decisive comment in a discussion on Theodor Adorno, only later revealing that she is the translator herself. On the other, he spoke about a document which attests Gillespie’s first visit to ECLA of Bard (then, ECLA) in 2004. ECLA’s merger with Bard, Rommel suggested, was made possible by Susan Gillespie. These are the facts.
Now, the other side, the one that does not quite obey facts. At some point during Rommel’s speech someone accidentally switched the lights off. Rommel jokingly adapted his talk, mid-sentence, and invoked a “bridge between darkness and light”. It was meant to remain an accident, however amusing. Yet, as it would soon become clear, and as if the speaker had opened some kind of Pandora’s box, things started revolving around the motif of darkness and light. And, in general, things started revolving; nothing was quite linear anymore. By the next step we were already on moving sands. That evening, poetry began with a light switch.Read more