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The World Record by the editors Neil Astley and Anna Selby (Bloodaxe Books, 2012)

Our Poetry Library Book Club in June took place on the eve of Poetry Parnassus, when we looked at the accompanying anthology The World Record (Bloodaxe Books, 2012).

Poetry Parnassus was the idea of Southbank Centre Poet-in-Residence, Simon Armitage.  In Greek mythology Parnassus was the home of the muses and the home of Orpheus, the first poet.  In the introduction to the anthology, Armitage says he came up with the idea to invite a poet from every nation competing in the Olympics - 204 altogether - to Southbank Centre as a sort of "anti-Olympics": "Parnassus was conceived as non-commercial, non-corporate and decidedly (at least in terms of medals or "winning") non-competitive happening."  Poetry Parnassus took place from 26 June to 1 July and it was the largest gathering of world poets the UK has ever seen.

Last year a call was put out so that anyone anywhere in the world could nominate 3 poets that they would like to see appear at the festival and Southbank received over 6000 nominations of poets, spoken-word artists, rappers and praise singers.  Not every poet that was invited was able to come but they each contributed a poem to anthology.  Armitage has said he wanted the anthology "to be a snapshot or cross-section of global poetry".  The anthology has been edited by Anna Selby, who has co-ordinated Poetry Parnassus at Southbank Centre, and Neil Astley, editor of Bloodaxe Books, who has published the anthology.

We were delighted that Neil Astley was able to join us for the first half of our Book Club and take part in the discussion, and some of the Poetry Parnassus poets also popped in including Team GB's very own Jo Shapcott.

For the Book Club we looked at a poem from each of the five continents: Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and America.

You can read the poems we looked at here on The Guardian's Poetry Parnassus Interactive Map:

Asia - Indonesia, Laksmi Pamuntjak - "A Traveler's Tale"

Laksmi Pamuntjak was born in 1971 in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, where she still lives.  Her first collection of poetry, Ellipsis, appeared on The Herald, Scotland, 2005 Books of the Year list, making her the first Indonesian whose book has been mentioned as an international book of the year.  Her second poetry collection The Anagram was published in 2007 and she has written short stories and recently completed a novel.  She is also the author of the bestselling Jakarta Good Food Guide a new take on food writing.

"A Traveler's Tale" was published in Not a muse : the inner lives of women, a world poetry anthology c2009 for which Pamuntjak wrote the introduction.  This anthology is available in the Poetry Library.

1. Do you find the opening of this poem evocative/intriguing?
2. What do you make of the line that begins "Folks often mistake / the soul for the spirit"?
3. Is this an environmental poem?
4. What do you think of the line breaks the poet has used, ending lines on words like "the", "and", "or"?
5. Is this poem about actual travel or about going on another kind of journey?

Europe - Luxembourg, Anise Koltz - "Prologue"

Born in Luxembourg in 1928, Anise Koltz first wrote in German, but found she could no longer do so after the death of her husband, a late victim of the Nazi occupation. After a long silence, she began to write again, but almost exclusively in French. She has also written children's books in Luxembourgish. In 1963 she founded the Journées littéraires de Mondorf, to bring together writers from around the world, to develop links between Luxembourg and the international literary scene. A founding member of the European Academy of Poetry, she is also a member of L'Académie Mallarmé (Paris), Pen-Club Belgium and L'Institut Grand-Ducal des Arts et des Lettres (Luxembourg).

In the UK, At the Edge of Night = Au Bord de la Nuit translated from the French by Anne-Marie Glasheen and drawing on four of Anise Koltz's books, was published by Arc in 2009. This collection is available in the Poetry Library.

1. Why do you think the poem is split into two halves? How are the two halves different?
2. Who do you think is the "you" of the poem (the "Ladies and Gentleman" who are being addressed)?
3. Keats famously wrote that "Beauty is truth, truth beauty." What do you make of the last lines of this poem, which say that "Because this poem is a lie / it has the right to be beautiful"?
4. The poem makes a distinction between poetry "decorated with flowers" and poetry which "buries your dead". How does this relate to the idea of poetry as a "lie"?
5. This poem is in translation. How do you feel about reading poems which are in translation rather than the poet's own original language?

Australia - New Zealand, Bill Manhire - "Entering America"

Bill Manhire was born in 1946 in Invercargill, New Zealand.  He joined the English Department at Victoria University, Wellington, in 1973, where he has worked ever since, and the creative writing course he set up there has been highly influential on young New Zealand writers.  As well as a dozen collections of poetry, Manhire has edited several anthologies and has also published short fiction, essays and interviews.  He has won the New Zealand Book Award five times and he became the inaugural Te Mata New Zealand Poet Laureate in 1997-1998.

"Entering America" was first published in Manhire's 2007 collection Lifted published by Carcanet and available at the Poetry Library.

1. What do you make of the way Bill Manhire has used crossing out in this poem?
2. Does Manhire feel sorry for these men who are being made to take off their shoes?
3. Have you ever heard of the design on the side of a sock being referred to as a "clock"?  (From the 16th century onwards, an ornamental design on the ankle or side of a sock has been called a clock.)  We had to Google "socks" and "clocks" to find out this information.  Do you mind when you have to look something up to understand a poem?
4. Is the poet just telling us a fact about socks or is there more to the final line?
5. Does this poem have to be only about entering America, could it be about entering any other country?
6. Could this poem only have been written by someone who wasn't American?

Africa - Nigeria, Wole Soyinka - "Her Joy is Wild"

Akinwande Oluwole "Wole" Soyinka was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature. He has published eight poetry collections and is also known for his political and human rights engagement. He has been arrested several times and imprisoned twice, one involving a long spell in solitary confinement. Soyinka was born into a Yoruba family in Abeokuta. He studied at the University College, Ibadan (1952-54), and then the University of Leeds (1954-57) from which he received a degree in English Literature. He became a Professor of Drama and Comparative Literature at the then University of Ife in 1975. He is currently an Emeritus Professor at the same university. Soyinka has played an active role in Nigeria's political history.

The Poetry Library holds collections of Soyinka's poetry and verse dramas, available for reference and loan.

1. Who, or what, do you think the "she" of the poem is?
2. This poem was originally published in 1967 (Nigeria gained independence in 1960) - what difference does this make to our reading of the poem? The Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Nigerian-Biafran War began on 6 July 1967 - should this influence our reading of the poem?
3. Do you find the lines "dreaming that the tribe / had slain the senile chieftain" to be optimistic or pessimistic?
4. Do you find the poem to be optimistic or pessimistic overall?

America - USA, Kay Ryan - "Flamingo Watching"

Kay Ryan was born in California in 1945 and is now acknowledged as one of the most original voices in contemporary poetry although her work went nearly unrecognized until the mid 1990s.  She has published seven volumes of poetry and her book The Best of It: New and Selected Poems (2010) won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  Ryan was the sixteenth United States Poet Laureate 2008 to 2010.

"Flamingo Watching" was published in Ryan's collection Flamingo Watching published 1994.  Ryan's Odd blocks : selected and new poems (Carcanet, 2011) is available at the Poetry Library.

Listen to Kay Ryan reading "Flamingo Watching":

1. Does anyone know what a "furbelow" is?  (Strip of gathered or pleated material attached to skirt or petticoat / Showy ornaments or trimmings.)
2. How does this poem make you feel towards the flamingos?
3. Has Ryan deliberately made the flamingo a she?
4. Would you have read the poem differently if you hadn?t heard Ryan's introduction to the poem?
5. Do you like the way Ryan uses internal rhyme/assonance?  Does the closeness of the rhymes to each other give the poem a particular quality?
6. The rhyme is really hidden within the poem, it's not appearing obviously at the ends of lines.  Is this hidden structure expressing something about the flamingos?

General concluding questions

1. Can you see similarities between the poems?
2. Did you have any preconceptions about what a poet from a particular country or continent might write about?

Read S.J. Fowler's Poetry Parnassus Blog on the Southbank Centre website to find out more about what went on during the festival:

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