Friday, 14 June 2013


To the BL last week, to record, alongside his reading in Arabic, some of the English versions of the London-based Iraqi poet's poems that I've been making with him over the last two or three years. He's on my right. The Punjabi poet Amarjit Chandan, who conducted the interview with Kareem accompanying the reading, is on my left. The photo was taken by curator Stephen Cleary. 

The series is 'Between Two Worlds: Poetry and Translation'. It is an  audio recording project conducted by the  Library in collaboration with Amarjit Chandan. The aim is to to record for posterity a wide range of poets who are bilingual or have English as a second language, or who otherwise reflect the project's theme of dual cultures. Most of the poets selected have migrated to the UK from the countries in which they were born.

The format is a reading of a selection of poems followed by an interview on the personal experiences and situations that may have influenced the poet's creative work. There over thirty poets recorded so far. You can listen to the readings on the Library's website. Abdulkareem Kasid's recording should be there soon.


Museum as fortress? Something for the heritage industry? It's about ten miles from Calais and near where we had a family holiday three weeks ago, in an area thick with Second World War memorabilia. Mr Todt was chief architect of the German motorway system in the 1930s. He was employed to design this massive gun emplacement, to house a gun pointing directly towards Dover. And now it's private museum, the work of an individual enthusiast. It's an enormous space inside, with lots of weapons and some puzzling signage: 'The funboards are specific to this site . . .' In one glass case there's an RAF string vest as issued apparently to all pilots, the idea being that when you were taken prisoner you unravelled your vest and used it as a rope to climb down from your cell. Can this really be right?


Going through old files on my computer I came across this. I've long been preoccupied with Domenicino's Frescoes for the Aldobrandini Villa, many of which are in the National Gallery (where, when I last enquired, they could only be seen on Wednesday afternoons and not always then). The scenes are depicted as if on tapestry hangings and the most famous shows a burly, dwarf staring out at the spectator holding his manacled wrists in front of him. Researching them took me to an Italian site. I clicked on Translate and this came up. . .

Algid mount, under which form a small lake near the Latin way, called the Lago of the Quarry, or the Size of Rocca Priora. Reached the villa Lookout, servants for the giuochi of water, than ivi in great number make themselves, which were perfect to you from Orazio Olivieri di Tivoli, Engineer of the villa of Este. The palace is vague, and delicious much its situation, than ago to give the name of Lookout. 

Four but of these facts more do not exist, being be it saws to you, and it transports to you in Rome, these are three the by hand skillful one in entering, and that one on the door. In bottom a rappresentazione of the mount is looked at Parnassus in relief, on which they are Apollo, and the MUSE, ciascuna di.le which sound a istromento for the force of tlie water, and forms with a music concert. 
In the same palace then veggono ne' express ceilings several facts of the Writing, paintings to coolness, do not give the Domenichino, as it is grossly expected; but from the Knight of Arpino, and quantunque, according to the usual, works of a corrected design cannot dirsi, also deserve of being seen, being of the best ones than that artist. 
In the following room Davidde is represented, that the Golia Giant kills; and finally in the last room Giuditta observes itself continuation from its slave, than door the head of Oloferne. The figure of Giuditta is of one amazing beauty. As far as the merit, like garden, it is on the taste of the other villas of Italy; but the delicious situation, in which it is found, very influences not to remain displeased seeing the trees cuts to you in several shapes on purpose. 

Friday, 18 January 2013


This is Amanda Welch's account of her Hackney Downs project, which she has been working on for the last three years or so. The book is out now, and she writes: 

The open-ended process of making memory drawings recording my frequent bicycle trips across Hackney Downs was the starting point for the Hackney Downs work. The relationship between the drawings and the paintings and constructions which followed was not a straightforward one. The drawings were memory jottings. They were not ideas for paintings. At first every attempt to make ‘art‘ out of the drawings seemed a betrayal of their nature. Eventually I did find a way of working directly which, instead of developing ideas from the drawings, in a sense paralleled their ad hoc, ‘non art‘ method of construction. I have tried to tell the story of this journey in my book. The book could be said to be its concluding work.

'It was really strange, when I first went through that door into her studio, I felt a bit dismayed – at first sight everything looked amateurish and self-indulgent, but then, as soon as I started looking around and she started talking about the work it became so witty and engaging and stylistically quite sophisticated but in a very unpretentious way. She really does have a feeling for paint and materials and a way of including text and such a great sense of humour . . . So much stuff I see now seems to bear no relation to how people live their lives or what really matters, but Amanda seems to have caught it in the most natural way.'
                       Rosemary Haworth-Booth

More information on Amanda Welch's website:

62 pages 25cm x 20cm with 90 full-colour illustrations.  £12.50 + £2.35 p&p. Available from The Many Press. Enquiries to johnhopewelch AT

Saturday, 5 January 2013


Photographs by Amarjit Chandan


A new Many Press publication, the first for ten years, this is the first extensive publication of London-based Iraqi poet Abdulkareem Kasid’s work in English . . . Well-known in the Arab world as a poet, essayist and translator – in total he has published around forty books – he was born in Basra in 1946. It was in 1978 that he left Iraq and fled to Kuwait. To avoid being found and sent back he left Kuwait for Yemen, where he settled in Aden and worked as an editor of the New Yemeni Culture magazine. He was living close to the house in which Rimbaud lived – appropriately enough, as he has translated Rimbaud into Arabic. Between 1980 and 1990 he lived and worked in Damascus. 

There are different poetic worlds in London that scarcely overlap and this seems a pity. In my introduction to Cafés I’ve written: Abdulkareem Kasid is part of that Arab diaspora which carries on a rich and varied cultural life in this country but which only sporadically comes into more general view. A collection by another London-based Iraqi exiled in London, Songs of the Tired Guard by Buland al-Haidari, appeared way back in 1977. It was translated by Abdullah al-Udhari, who published it with his own TR Press. Al-Haidari died in 1995. Still resident in London is Saadi Youssef, whose selected poems Without an Alphabet Without a Face, translated by Khaled Mattawa, appeared from the American publisher Graywolf Press in 2002 

The café as a site of sociability and meeting place for writers . . .  It features significantly in the work of Fawzi Karim, another London-based Iraqi poet, whose collection Plague Lands appeared last year from Carcanet, in versions by Anthony Howell and Abbas Khadim. 

Cafés has two poem sequences. In the title poem the short sections have, paradoxically in view of the underlying subject matter, a certain lightness of touch, but always edged with darkness.  ‘Windows’ treats its themes of oppression, nostalgia and flight in a manner that is oblique and enigmatic.

Translating poetry nowadays is often a collaborative affair. The title sequence was first translated into French by Kader Rabia. I made an English version of the French which was then worked on in close consultation with the poet. The sequence ‘Windows’ was translated by the poet working with his daughter Sara Halub and this version was then worked on by David Kuhrt, again in close collaboration with the poet.

Cafés is available for £3.50 and if you’re interested in a copy you can contact me at 
johnhopewelch AT 

From Cafés

A café near the bridge – 
At daybreak
The boats call there.
They wait and wait
Then set off again, empty
Moving without oars
So where could those boats be going?

A café, when I was a child
And all I can remember
Is a white fox fur
Hanging there when you went in.
Eyes closed it had a child’s face, 
And shadows blown this way and that by the wind – 
A café which, no doubt, existed 
Only in my dream

The boat, that cast anchor 
In the river, alongside the market,
It’s no longer a boat
Since summer surprised it with whiteness 
And the chairs were lined up on its deck
And the passers-by came on board
No longer waiting  
For its siren to sound.

From Windows

Open in summer,
closed in winter.
In autumn 
I don’t know 
why I close them
or open them,
in spring 
I don’t remember 
what I should do.

Once I carried my luggage
And walked away
followed by windows. 

What windows are those 
smelling of vinegar  
and my mother’s fragrance! 

In the desert there is a window. 
Why has no-one seen it 
but me?

on a distant path,
in mountains that are merely memory
where waters run vaguely, 
one small window 
looks out. 

This man  
carries his window with him
as he walks


The poet and translator Bill Shepherd, who always published as W.G.Shepherd, has died. He died at his home in North London in October. He was seventy-seven. I’d known him well ever since we both attended a discussion group that met at the poet Anthony Howell’s Hampstead flat at the beginning of the 1970s. Assiduous in sending out his work, Bill was in other respects quite reclusive as regards the poetry world, hardly ever going to or giving readings, or seeking to engage in any of those ancillary activities that nowadays take up a lot of many poets’ time and which seem to constitute what it means to be a proper, ‘professional’ poet. 

I published three chapbooks of his poems under my Many Press imprint. These were The Antonine Poems (1976), The First Zone of the Growth Furnace (1983) and The Gifted Child (1991). For many years Bill’s main publisher was Anvil. They brought out a pamphlet Allies in 1968, one of their earliest publications and three more collections followed. 

Characteristic of him was his independence, his open-mindedness, a readiness to move off in different directions. As a result of Anthony Howell’s workshop his writing took a rigorously experimental direction. ‘I was made up by Jeremy Prynne’ he told me once, a phrase to conjure with .. . They were contemporaries at Jesus College in the 1950s and the reference was to their participation in a college dramatic performance. He was in correspondence with Prynne many years later in connection with this area of his work. Subsequently he was to write some very powerful confessional poems, some of which I published in The Gifted Child, and which are the substance of his last collection Mother’s Milk which appeared from Tony Rudolf’s Menard Press in 2006.

Bill’s move into translating was an unexpected departure – he only had A Level Latin but, having become intensely preoccupied with translating Horace, he did the Odes and Epodes, and went on to translate Propertius. These both became the versions published in the Penguin Classics series. He was working full-time in industry and, as he described it to me, it was like being possessed. His final venture in Latin translation was his ‘Statius: Silvae’ done jointly with Anthony Howell and published by Anvil in 2007. The combination of two translators with their separate points of view, and in one case each offering versions of the same poem, is illuminating. 

The last time I actually saw Bill – we were regularly in touch on the phone subsequently – was during the Summer. He had just come through an exceptionally gruelling course of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. It was a fine afternoon and we sat in the garden. I recall him sitting very upright on his chair, wearing a baseball cap, and recounting a brief ‘psychotic episode’ he’d had in the hospital as a result of all the medication he’d been having as well as a period of prolonged sleeplessness. The first part of this was something terrifying – I don’t remember the details – but later he became convinced that everything that was going on around him was all one enormous entertainment put on just for his benefit. Bill was no stranger to extreme psychological states but this was all narrated in the same humorous way  as the way in which he tended to observe ‘the poetry world’. It can be a paranoid place, and sometimes you feel that just about everybody, including some people you would least expect it of, feels under-appreciated. Bill appeared unusually free of all this and his take on it all was refreshingly open-minded and humorous. 

Copies of W.G.Shepherd’s three Anvil collections are still available. 'Mother's Milk' is available from the Menard Press. I can supply copies of ‘The First Zone of the Growth Furnace’ and ‘The Gifted Child’.

Here are five of his poems . . . 


In Zeus' oak at Dodona 
Pigeons privately murmur. 
No breeze blows 
Yet foliage whispers. Every leaf 
Is written upon. 
Ears detect or imagine 
In the spring's trickling 
A slight modulation. 
The girls called 'pigeons' tap 
(At random?) on gongs. 
The interpretation 
Is cryptic makeshift, 
The oracle plain. The meaning 
Is what an oak tree means. 

Diamond glances grow dull.
Springtime hurt
With pleasure but memory dims.

Rainbow dalliance fades
In her wardrobe. Summer is null,
Autumn a burden.

Bloom on peach degrades
To dust on eggshell. Mirrors peer.
He works far away . . .

Cyclamen porcelain
Petals for nails
Tip ladylike hands.

Wine and fright
Shake fingers plucking from foil
Her sunset capsules.

To impersonate the heron god
was more effective than prayer.
A feathery man on stilts
was glimpsed in the marshy wood
towards first light.
Boudicca was defeated by magic.

Hectic monkeys jump nerves,
nerves, in surprising green fur.
Parrot kaleidoscopes heckle.
Insect electrons glitter.
Through graveyard railings the owl
blinks honest, absolute eyes.

Lightning greasy with rain:
His outcry was
Songs like the Hamburg mail
The Abelard generation

She was prepared to believe
The fraudulent label – it was her father’s violin
But they said, ‘you must learn the piano
First.’ She crossed her fingers
In the name of Guarnerius, Guarnerius is in heaven,
No kin to the keyboard with its ready-made notes,
She reneged – they would impose
A kind of nunnery discipline.
She climbed instead the domestic Eiger face,
Doing the thousand things that have to be done. 

Friday, 4 February 2011


I was walking down Portland Place the other day and there it was, a big handsome brass plate: ‘Anaesthesia Heritage Centre’ Opening hours were given but with this caveat: ‘An appointment is recommended.’ Well you would need one wouldn’t you? The website recommends ‘Blue Plaques and Buildings: a history of anaesthesia walk around London’.

Ah yes, the ‘anaesthesia of heritage’. I first came across this institution on Beverly Rowe’s website where, among other things, he has an extraordinarily comprehensive list of museums in London. I’m sure it was the ‘Museum of Anaesthesia’ then, but we must move with the times. When I was teaching in East London, pupils’ ‘mother tongues’, Bengali, Punjabi or any number of others, were referred to in official documents as ‘heritage languages’. It’s a deeply ambiguous term.

Raymond Queneau is part of the ‘heritage of modernism’ I suppose. Beverly Rowe has updated his diabolically ingenious English versions of Queneau’ sonnets. He writes: You can now get new randomly-selected sonnets at a set interva. I describe it as a slide show. When you select that option, the poem is refreshed every two seconds but you can change the interval. . .With the extra sonnets and line shuffling, there are now 261,245,548,225,364,000 possible different sonnets.

I suppose this raises the question whether there is perhaps a ‘crisis of productivity’ in poetic output? I was struck by this comment from Laurie Duggan on his ‘Graveney Marsh’ blog: In its rhetoric of constant innovation it resembles nothing more than the ethos of late capitalism, where redundancy has no connection with utility.