If you’ve been with us this year, celebrating our fiftieth anniversary, you’ll know that, together with Bloodaxe Books, we published an anthology of poems called Centres of Cataclysm and we held launches and study days in Oxford and Cambridge. We made new friends, published new poets and translators, recorded podcasts of poems from around the world, published blogs, education packs, translation workshops, articles, posts.
Over the year we published experimental, lyrical, formal, political and prose poetry, poetry from Old English and modern Persian, ancient Chinese and performance poetry. We published radical translations, translations of great faithfulness, by both acclaimed and expert translators and poets new to translation. We published poems from nearly a hundred languages and by hundreds of poets, we typeset and proofed tens of thousands of words and had correspondences with poets around the world.
We had readings in London, Paris, Oxford, Brighton, Edinburgh, we spoke and read poems in schools, libraries, colleges and community centres to retired poetry-lovers and teenagers who needed winning round and who were won round. We supported refugees with a special refugee issue and with royalties from our anthology, and we distributed the children’s issue ‘I WISH…’ to schools across the UK, together with materials for introducing the poems to young children. We also built a whole new website dedicated to the very first issue in 1965 www.modernpoetryintranslation.com and peopled it with poets and poems. Who says poetry makes nothing happen?
As we did all this (and I mean all of us – we did it with the support, encouragement and participation of our many, many good friends, our contributors, hosts, readers and audiences from all around the world) other people bombed hospitals and towns, they raped, mutilated and killed in the most frightful ways, they firebombed shops and chanted hateful things, they knifed and ran over strangers, they trafficked refugees and migrants and in doing so killed them. They sold lifejackets to children that absorb water and sink, they spoke against refugees and the poor, they set up walls and chains of soldiers and riot police. They bullied, they lied, they made promises they couldn’t keep and they cheated. They were racist and encouraged hate crimes, they sent aggressive and frightening tweets, they bluffed, threatened and bribed. In the summer of 2016 our human dignity lies around us in tatters.
It has been a shock for some of us to look round and see with such sudden sharpness that personal articles of faith (a belief in internationalism, in hospitality, in the importance of other cultural expressions and ways of being and in the common humanity that underpins them) are actually inimical to others. Now we, too, are eaten away by bitter impotence and the sense of some irrevocable change in the state of the world. 2016 is a bereavement of a year.
We might consider it a privilege to have got this far without the intrusion of such a grave political-existential crisis – our friends from other parts of the world have grown up with this sense of alienation and powerlessness and it is clearer than ever now how they have dealt with it. When I read poets like Golan Haji or Choman Hardi, Kim Hyesoon or Recaredo Silebo Boturu (in this issue) I see they have elected to put their faith in what Fergal Keane at a recent MPT reading called ‘the civilising power of poetry’.