Poetry Centre

Weekly Poem for 23 November 2015

  • an essay on midges


    as if all the letters had suddenly
    floated free of a paper
    and formed a swarm in the air;

    they form a swarm in the air,
    of all that bad news telling us
    nothing, those skimpy muses, wispy

    pegasuses, only abuzz with the hum
    of themselves, made from the last twist
    of smoke as the candle is snuffed,

    so light you can hardly say: they are –
    looking more like shadows, umbrae
    jettisoned by another world

    to enter our own, they dance, their legs
    finer than anything pencil can draw,
    with their miniscule sphinx-like bodies;

    the rosetta stone, without the stone.


    by Jan Wagner, translated by Iain Galbraith


    There are two exciting Poetry Centre events this week: on Wednesday we host a spoken word/open mic evening, with a featured performances by Maddie Godfrey (Finalist in the Australian National Poetry Slam, 2015), andlive music by Steph Masucci. You can find more details on our Facebook page.

    Then on Thursday we launch our occasional lunchtime poetry reading, Eat My Words, with Emma Jones and Harry Man. All are very welcome. The reading will be from 12.15-1pm in T.300 (Tonge Conservatory), Gipsy Lane, Oxford Brookes. Contact us for more details.

    ‘an essay on midges’ is copyright © Jan Wagner, 2015. It is reprinted from Self-Portrait with a Swarm of Bees (Arc Publications, 2015) by permission of Arc Publications.

    Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring poems from collections shortlisted for The Poetry Society’s Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize 2015, judged by Olivia McCannon and Clare Pollard, and supported in 2015 by the British Council. We begin with the winner of the competition, which was announced this evening. You can find out more about the competition and all the shortlisted books on the Poetry Society website.

    Iain Galbraith's poems have appeared in Poetry Review, PN Review, Edinburgh Review, Times Literary Supplement, Irish Pages, New Writing and many other journals and books. He is the editor of five poetry anthologies and translates poetry, fiction and drama. A winner of the John Dryden Translation Prize and the Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry Translation, his recent translated books include W.G. Sebald's poetry and John Burnside's selected poems in German. He is an occasional lecturer, and in 2014-15 taught Poetics of Translation at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. He was born and grew up in the west of Scotland and now lives in Wiesbaden, Germany.

    Of the winning collection, the judges said: ‘Galbraith converts every challenge (formal, lexical, metrical) into an opportunity, matching Wagner’s ingenuity and investment at every step, having internalized the “primal syntax” so completely that everything he writes hits the mark. The result is a perfect sufficiency: a set of poems in English that somehow inhabit the same skin as the German, with their own autonomous heart and lungs.’

    Jan Wagner studied English in Hamburg, Dublin and Berlin, where he has lived since 1995. A poet, essayist and translator of British and American poetry by Charles Simic, Simon Armitage, Matthew Sweeney, and Robin Robertson, he was also, until 2003, co-publisher of The Outside of the Element, a boxed loose-leaf periodical based on an idea by Marcel Duchamp. He has published six volumes of poetry and has received numerous awards, including the Mondsee Poetry Award (2004), the Ernst Meister Prize for Poetry (2005), the Wilhelm Lehmann Prize (2009) and the Friedrich Hölderlin Prize (2011).

    Since it was founded in 1969, Arc Publications has adhered to its fundamental principles – to introduce the best of new talent to a UK readership, including voices from overseas that would otherwise remain unheard in this country, and to remain at the cutting edge of contemporary poetry. Arc also has a music imprint, Arc Music, for the publication of books about music and musicians. As well as its page on Facebook, you can find Arc on Twitter. Visit Arc’s website to join the publisher’s mailing list, and to find full details of all publications and writers. Arc offers a 10% discount on all books purchased from the website (except Collectors’ Corner titles). Postage and packing is free within the UK.

    Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.