Friday, 13 November 2015

Everything you need for a poem is 'Everything you need for a Poem'

Absolutely delighted to be making my publishing debut in Bulgaria (in Bulgarian) today ... Exactly two weeks after it got its passing mention in the Guardian after an outing at Sanctum, the poem 'Everything you need for a Poem' has been translated by Yuliyana Todorova and published in the newspaper Kambana along with a piece about how I came to write it in the first place. Huge thanks to Yuliyana and Emilia Mirazchiyska - also my colleagues now that I've been asked to join the editorial team at Iris News international poetry magazine - for making this happen. Also to Rosen Karamfilov who a) let me loose on translating his own poems and b) put me in touch with Iris News in the first place - and above all to Margarita and Vasilena Shiderova who took me to Koprivshtitsa on the train that day, appear in the poem and, in Vassi's case, even supplied the title. The poem is, of course, for them.
The Bulgarian version is published here while the English version, which was published by Message in a Bottle a couple of weeks ago is here.
I've also been reading 'Everything you need for a Poem' whenever I've appeared at Sanctum - Theaster Gates' marathon durational performance art project here in Bristol - which is how it got its mention in the Guardian.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Watching Keleti

Straight off the overnight train from Brasov,
we were negotiating in the left-luggage office
over notes we’d got from the cashpoint –
simply too big a denomination.
Destinations casually flick-flacked down
the announcement boards. Underground,
there were arguments at the ticket windows
and a gathering of new arrivals, about
to be addressed by their seasonal hosts.
We ordered bacon and eggs in the canteen,
under high ceilings painted with cupids
by Austro-Hungarian imperial regimes.

Tonight, on TV, where day-glo wristbands
of festival-goers were just so much background,
tired teenagers hanging their heads in the aftermath,
squatting on the steps of Keleti Station,
a reporter’s grasping at the drama of the situation.
It depends which passport you have in your pocket.
It didn’t seem to matter at the time. It does now.

 Tom Phillips 2015

Friday, 19 June 2015

SE European connections

Colourful Star - the blog I also run with the Bulgarian artist Marina Shiderova and her sister Vasilena - has been online now for close on 18 months. Every Friday we publish a new painting and poem in a sort of ongoing conversation between a young Bulgarian painter and a not-quite-so-young English poet which, from time to time at least, unearths unexpected connections and common ground. This week's post - our 77th - combines a kitchen still life with a poem about learning the Bulgarian word for aubergine and you can click through to it here. There are many other collaborative pieces on the site - on subjects ranging from monasteries to Shakespeare, the Cyrillic alphabet to pumpkin soup - so do feel free to have a look around.
There have been some other developments with projects connecting with SE Europe. The summer issue of Modern Poetry in Translation will include translations of poems by Iliyan Lyubomirov which I've been working on with Iliyana Mircheva and Tsvetomira Peykova. Iliyan published his debut collection Нощта Е Действие in Bulgaria last autumn - a collection which has seen him win one of Bulgaria's most prestigious literary prizes, 'Southern Spring', and attract what to a poet in the UK can only seem an unimaginably huge readership. Our translations will be the first to appear in a UK-based journal and hopefully we will be able to find a publisher for the English version of the full collection in the near future.
Further translations of contemporary poetry from Kosova, Albania, Bulgaria and Serbia will also be appearing later in the year in a feature for Jacket 2 which will look at the work of some of the many poets I've encountered in SE Europe in the last few years.
It's very heartening to see an interest in the region's diverse cultures emerging again. It isn't impossible, of course, to find translations of contemporary writing from SE Europe, but even in the internet age they can sometimes be difficult to track down and the work of the latest generation to start publishing in the region is certainly all but invisible to the English-speaking world. In the interim, of the books recently come across, I'd certainly recommend these:
At the End of the World: Contemporary Poetry from Bulgaria, ed. Tsvetanka Elenkova, trans. Jonathan Dunne (Shearsman, 2012) 
A Balkan Exchange: Eight Poets from Bulgaria and Britain, ed. W. N. Herbert (Arc Publications, 2007)
Lightning from the Depths: An Anthology of Albanian Poetry, ed. & trans. Robert Elsie and Janice Mathie-Heck (Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Illinois, 2008)
Under the Banners of Melancholythe collected literary works of 1930s Albanian poet Migjeni, trans. Robert Elsie (Centre for Albanian Studies, London, 2015)
The Horse has Six Legs: An Anthology of Serbian Poetry, ed. & trans. Charles Simic (Graywolf Press, St Paul, 1992).

The collage at the top of this post is by the Bulgarian artist Marina Shiderova: you can see more of her work here.

Sunday, 31 May 2015


An old UHER tape recorder with grille front,
gear-stick controls, red stripe on the monitor
warning of distortion and unusable testimony:
we trained on these, lugged them out to gauge
public opinion about the morning headlines,
asked interviewees to switch off fridges
while we tested levels with a question
about what they had for breakfast.
Banks of them charged in a cabinet
and you’d know which one was reliable,
which one might snarl no matter how
carefully you threaded the sprockets.
Dun tape fed through at seven and a half inches
per second: fifteen minutes to the spool.
In that time you had to get the story.
And now, behind glass, it squats there –
analogue dinosaur beyond its sell-by date.
This one was found in the House of Leaves,
chosen by the regime in Tirana to record
interrogations. Every week or so,
someone must have done what I did
and wiped accumulations of dirt
from the playback and recording heads.

Tom Phillips

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Words of walking

For the last few months I've been writing a regular column for Bristol 24/7 magazine. They're all (sometimes rather tangentially) connected to walking in one way or another - things I've seen walking through the city, unexpected places I've ended up etc. There are links to a few of them here:
A short, sharp stab in the sole
At the pointy end of Spike Island
The art of walking
A load of dead men peeing
The ideology of our zebra crossings

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Another 'Unknown Translation'

Another 'Unknown Translation', one of these poems originally written in Bulgarian and then translated into English emerged unexpectedly ...

The day after

The men continue to gather
in the squares and streets of the town.
Why are they here? They say they’re waiting
but they don’t know what for. The women
have decided to leave them and look for
a different name for contentment.
The children have gone with them,
they've accepted their fate.

The dark sky descends from the mountains
to warn those who will listen
that there has been a mistake. The sea
promises to build castles of sand
and to destroy them again every night.
Outside the doors of offices,
we grow frightened for no reason
and write silent letters in smoke.

Nobody remembers when this began.
The airport’s full. We want our things,
the things we need, but there is
nobody we can ask.
If only some definite disaster
had appeared, if only we could
foresee when it would happen
or where it would end.

Everything we’ve lost
returns to the squares and streets
where we have to wait
while the men decide to apologise
and ask the women to come home.
Under the clouds the children play
with new friends on the beach
where the sea no longer sings.

9 May 2015
Tom Phillips

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

New poem and artwork at Colourful Star

Just a reminder that there's a new post on our Anglo-Bulgarian poetry-and-art project Colourful Star ...