Lanzarote Poetry Festival 2023
VERSOS, VOLCANOES Y VIENTO
review by Norman Warwick
Over the past few weeks we have delivered a comprehensive preview of this event as well as an exclusive interview with its organiser, Mercedes Minguela (below left). She must have worked countless hours over the past months, in contact with poets she knows from all across The Canary Islands, offering them the chance to come over to Lanzarote and give their own time to a three day event that she must have promised them would be worthwhile.
How hard she worked, and the high regard she must have already been held in by these friends, was evident on Sunday 27th November with a public recital in The Plaza de la Consticucion in Teguise, more popularly known as the Plaza de los Leones. More than twenty much loved poets from The Canary Islands each read a poem and a couple of tourist-visitors to the island also stepped forward to volunteer a contribution of their own. Everyone who contributed was asked to post a photo of his contribution or her contribution to their favourite social network, associating that with the festival hashtag.
The Lanzarote Poetry Festival 2022 had actually opened two days earlier, on Friday 27th November with an evening recital at The Timple Museum with the participation of the twenty featured poets from The Canary Islands and the archipelago.
The following day was given over to a street recital led by Luisa Molina from the literary group, Letras para el Alma and Delia Martin, a tour guide from Patrimonio,in a strolling recital through the historic streets of Teguise. The almost two hour pilgrimage included nine or ten short presentations about historical buildings, corners and streets, and at every juncture a different pair of poets each read a self-penned poem about the location.
Then came the glorious Sunday morning that closed what must surely prove to be the inaugural annual Lanzarote Poetry Festival.
Having been invited by Mercedes to make an English contribution from the square, I arrived fairly early, with Teguise still setting up for a day of thousands of visitors to the Sunday market in one town square and for hundreds of watchers and passers-by in a square only a hundred yards away. We saw the restaurant staff putting out their tables and chairs on the pavements, and we found the sound technicians putting up the system and check, check, checking one, two three, two two. two.
We helped Mercedes and her poet-friends hang samples of the poems to be read on stringed off perimeter of the performance area. There was a little stage, with a microphone set up, and a little registration desk for people to volunteer to deliver a poem. Mercedes was busy putting finishing touches to everything and making last minute conversation with the performers. So, after making sure my name was on the list as a contributor, my wife Dee and I headed over to The Chiringuito for a breakfast of Tortilla Espanol and chicken croquets, with a cup of frothed up cappacino for me and café con leche for Dee. We had a lovely spot at a table in the sun, the service was great, the price was more than reasonable and the staff were friendly and hard-working.
Although I hadn´t performed in my role as a poet for several years now, other than when I gate-crashed a writing-group reading at El Patio in Teguise a few years ago, I returned to the performance arena feeling pretty confident and at ease. All I had to do was step on stage and, like riding a byke, I was unlikely to fall off. Just as that thought popped into my head I remembered an incident seven years ago when I rode a bike that the previous occupants of our new home here on Lanzarote had left in the shed,….straight into my garden wall and banged my head. My wife says she doesn´t think I´ve ever been right since.
We found a spot to sit and listened as the twenty guest poets each read a poem, themed to the festival title Versos, Volcanoes Y Vientos. Throughout the concert I was growing more and more doubtful of my rights to be in this company. I began to worry that the poem I had selected might not be as appropriate as I might have hoped. I listened to words I couldn´t understand as the Spanish poems were all beautifully read. Each reader produced gentle rhythm and careful cadence and delivered their work with the respect it deserved. There seemed nothing savage here, (how could there be there in paradise?) but there were, nevertheless, reference made to climate change and social needs.
Mercedes Minguela was the epitome of this approach of delivering with absolute sincerity,……and then I was introduced.
The poem I had chosen was one I had written in 1971 just after Mankind´s first moon-landing, and subsequently was recorded as a song in four very different versions. I mentioned the poem, Doing The Spacewalk, in last week´s post on these pages in an article about how NASA Astronauts will be coming to Lanzarote to train on our ´lunar landscape´ next year.
The poem is very simplistic in form but addresses some contentious issues in its lyric,…. the ´colonisation´ of space, the future of the only planet we have made our home, how space exploration might affect our notions of eternity and immortality and perhaps even our relationships with our Gods. The short poem also looks at how Mankind has, in some cultures, romanticised the moon as a symbol of love.
I moved to the stage, though, by shouting up to the skies the lines of Can You Hear Me Major Tom from Bowie´s Space Oddity. I did this purely as an attention-grabber, as I knew the audience might not understand the language of my English poem, but that if they understood and recognised that chorus they might then put together what the poem was about.
I read at many. many poetry festivals in the UK,…standing soaked wet through in a thunderstorm close a radio mic-stand that was struck by lightning in a deserted town hall square in Bolton comes to mind,….but coming on to a crowd of a hundred or so, all wondering what the heck, on a tiny stage shadowed by a huge church tower etched into a clear blue sky in a temperature of almost thirty degrees is something I will remember forever.
The first thing that struck me, (if we don´t count that lightning a few years ago) was the politeness, the courtesy and the attentiveness of the people around the square. It was typical of Canarian good manners, with audience members properly listening, and my fellow poets also paying me the courtesy of listening to the words. That is a long way from the sound of pints being served and slurped, tills clanging, and the barmaid shouting ´time gentlemen, please´ just before I was due to read, all of which was part of soundtrack to many readings in England.
So, after reading Doing The Spacewalk, I stepped down to polite applause and a couple of handshakes, and listened to one young female tourist who stepped out of the crowd to follow me, and delivered her work in Spanish.
So it transpired I was the only English-Language poet to appear among twenty well respected Spanish Language poets at the Lanzarote Poetry Festival 2022 and even at the age of seventy, I was thinking that would look pretty good on my cv.
My thoughts were interrupted by a young woman who introduced herself to me as Montse Fillol, a poet from Gran Canaria. She said nice things about Doing The Spacewalk and asked why I hadn´t performed it in Spanish. I made my usual excuses and explained that I had even translated the work into Spanish on a Search Engine but was still sure I couldn´t properly pronounce what I was reading.
She asked if she could borrow the Spanish version and take it to the stage and read it but, then, realising we had a copy in both English and Spanish, we agreed that, if allowed, we would go back on stage to read it together.
We quickly agreed that we would read it verse by verse, first in Englsih and then in Spanish, and as we took to the microphone I instinctively realised this lady was a professional and knew what she was doing. It felt very comfortable working with Montse and I am so grateful to her for enabling me to more fully deliver the work to the audience.
I have since learned that she was one of the Festival´s featured guests and that she is an excellent writer of poems such as Viento de Mala, as well as a poem called Lanzarote.
Mercedes and her literary colleagues alos enjoyed support from island literary groups including letras para el alma and jeuves literarios, both groups from Teguise and literature viva from Arrecife as well as the rerading group paralabras from Playa Honda. The department of literature and language of the grammar schools (from Teguise) and its studnets also contributed.
If the Lanzarote Poetry Festival is given a second opportunity to take place next year, I might try to persuade Montse to collaborate with me on a poem, Fillol Warwick collaboration so that we could legitimately read together as a duo.