Saturday, 21 February 2015

Shopping in February

Today it felt like spring
so I walked through town:
the amplified evangelists
were in full swing.
In the franchised mall,
I thought about
smoking a cigarette
but that is now against the law.
Up a reinvented street
I went into a shop,
talked Madara and Shumen,
bought red peppers, feta cheese.

Tom Phillips

Wednesday, 24 December 2014


This year has been pretty quiet on Recreation Ground, but there are reasons for that. At the beginning of 2014, I was a virtually unemployed sub-editor with time on my hands and the prospect of a rather cheerless January ahead. Then things started to happen.
One night I set up a group on Facebook as a possible space for the writers and artists I’ve met in SE Europe to discuss a putative cultural exchange project. Within only a few days, this was populated by more than seventy people in half-a-dozen different countries and plans were underway for a first exchange visit. This took place in June when, thanks to Arts Council England and the British Council, I got to spend an extraordinary week in Prishtina, hosted by the Club of Kosova’s Writers and coordinated by my dear friend Adil Olluri. Not really knowing what to expect, I was overwhelmed by the energy and enthusiasm of the poets, novelists, playwrights and theatre directors I met. Together we spent long days discussing translation, collaboration and exchange – or, often as not, comparing our experiences as artists in the UK and Kosova. Since then we have continued to work together and the fruits of this first project should emerge in 2015.
On another day in January, my Bulgarian friends Marina and Vasilena Shiderovi and I launched the online project Colourful Star – and every Friday since then we’ve made a collaborative post, usually in the form of a painting by Marina with a poem by me (for the most part in English, but when I’m feeling brave in Bulgarian too). It’s a project about finding common ground and, again, we have plans for developing it in 2015. Marina and I also now work together on children’s stories – the first one of which, ‘Nicholas – The Stolen Reindeer’ – was released as an app last week.
Meanwhile, this year also saw me begin working with two Bulgarians in Canada on the English translations of poems by Iliyan Lyubomirov (aka Augustin Gospodinov). Published in the autumn, his debut collection has become one of the most successful books of Bulgarian poetry since the end of communism. Again, we’re hoping that 2015 will see our translation of the whole book published.
At the same time, I’ve had the good fortune to work with Theatre West again (and with the Tobacco Factory) on ‘Coastal Defences’, to climb Mt Lovcen in Montenegro thanks to a conference at the University of Niksic, to spend another three weeks in Vermosh in northern Albania with the Balkan Peace Park Project, to be an attendee at the birth of Bristol 24/7, to be hired as a tutor by Bath Spa University and to see my daughter graduate with a first. Not to mention that I turned 50 and celebrated 25 years of marriage to Sarra.
This is not supposed to be a ‘look at me, I’m enormous’ moment (although, somewhat inevitably, it will look like that), but rather an acknowledgement of the openness and welcome with which these various unlikely proposals and schemes have been greeted.
A very happy Christmas and New Year to one and all.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

A new venture

My collaborator on the Colourful Star project, Marina Shiderova and I are also working together on multimedia children's stories - and the first one has been published as an app in time for Christmas.
'Nicholas - The Stolen Reindeer' is a seasonal adventure about Mary Torpipit - a little girl who lives in the mountains and who finds herself having to set out on a quest to save Christmas.
As well as Marina's illustrations, the story includes animation, music and a voice over (in the English version, recorded by Lydia Blakemore Phillips).
There are more details and information about how to buy the book here.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Colourful Star is 50

Colourful Star, the Anglo-Bulgarian online project I run with Marina and Vasilena Shiderovi, has reached its fiftieth post. Over the course of this year, we've been posting paintings and poetry every week, with a view to creating dialogues and celebrating common ground between artists and writers in different countries, different cultures - and, indeed, different generations (me being the oldest by a long way!) Sometimes these collaborations have been occasioned by anniversaries or holidays; at others they have reflected aspects of Bulgarian history or folklore; at others again, they've brought together an image from rural Bulgaria with a memory from growing up in England. Occasionally, as with today's post, they've been bilingual and included a text in both Bulgarian and English. Click here to link through to our site:

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Supermarket thoughts

At the check-out they were saying
that the price of goods was related
to what’s being charged for those
who may have arrived late
or early – depending on how you look at it.

‘Foreign’ hangs over a day-to-day scene
like cumulo-nimbus, like a definition
not yet reached by lexicographers.

All that’s good about England
is reduced to everything
that’s not shouted at a till.

It’s not much, but I’m sure
that you’ll tell me
that what I’ve said so far
is counter-productive.

I’m trying my best –
and watching people
hand over cash, take home
these gallons of milk,
the plastic bottles
containing something
which, indisputably, they need.

Tom Phillips 2014

Sunday, 23 November 2014

let's put this behind us

let’s put this behind us
so we might recall
creaking stairs
ceiling skylight
early morning
rumpled sheets
a scattering of clothes

let’s not forget
how often how much
I’ve called on
your forgiveness
but also the taste
of vegetarian stew
cooked on single hob
left to go cold
in front of the gas fire
mantelpiece decorations
envelopes in primary colours
traffic music muffled

and let’s remind ourselves
that the past
cannot be altered
other than by how
we remember it

Tom Phillips

Friday, 27 June 2014

Princip's Footprints

The Museum of the Austro-Hungarian Period: Sarajevo 1878-1918 had only opened a few years before. Housed, appropriately enough, in an Austro-Hungarian building on the north bank of the Miljacka river, it faced onto Obala Kulina Bana street and the Latin Bridge. It was here that Gavrilo Princip had fired the shots which killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia. For many years, there had been a pair of footprints cast in a paving slab which marked the exact spot where the Serbian assassin stood on the morning of 28 June 1914. These disappeared in 1992. Shelled, sniped at and nearly starved out by Serbs, the Sarajevans changed their minds about Princip. Before, when every Sarajevan was also a Yugoslavian, the gawky student from Belgrade had seemed, if not a hero, then at least a foolhardy patriot. He had struck a blow for independence from the Austro-Hungarians and set in train the series of events which led to both the demise of the Empire and the unification of the southern Slavs in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. During the siege, however, the Sarajevans had come to regard Princip as just another Serbian ultra-nationalist, much like the ones firing on them from the hills and imprisoning them in their own city. Circumstances transformed the assassin. While communist historians had co-opted him as an anti-imperialist and a pre-revolutionary revolutionary, many Sarajevans now bracketed him with Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic. Some also pointed out that, even if the assassination had been motivated by a desire for freedom and independence, it had also been the catalyst for the First World War. Restoring the commemorative footprints might reignite the suspicions of those who believed the Balkans to be a ‘powder keg’, a danger to the rest of Europe, a chaos whose conflicts would inevitably spread. In 2009, the only problem with not reinstating the footprints was that Sarajevo was no longer a city under siege in a civil war. It was the capital of a country which incorporated the Republika Srpska where thousands of Bosnian Serbs continued to regard Princip as a hero.

            The museum took a diplomatic line. Outside, a stone in the wall carried an impeccably factual inscription: ‘From this place on 28 June 1914 Gavrilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia.’ A screen beside it showed a clip from a TV dramatisation, an English one, with Edward Fox as the ill-fated archduke. Inside, the exhibits attempted to tell the story of Austro-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia from the Ottoman Empire in 1878 without offending anyone. There was no mention of the chronic economic decay which afflicted the Ottoman Empire in the late nineteenth century. Nor was there anything to suggest that the Austro-Hungarians had annexed Bosnia out of self-interest, expanding the buffer zone which, like a prototype of the Iron Curtain, ran from Hungary to the Adriatic and protected them from the purportedly dangerous East. Instead there were bursts of information about the complex administrative structure and technological advances the Austro-Hungarians had introduced. A caption admitted that trams and electric street lighting arrived in Sarajevo much earlier than in the rest of the Habsburg domains because the authorities wanted to test them on the dispensable Bosnians before they exposed the good citizens of Vienna and Budapest to such potentially dangerous innovations. Beneath grainy black-and-white photographs of the Serbian conspirators was the gun which Princip had used to shoot the archduke: the starting pistol of the First World War. Three other guns used by the gang had ended up in Vienna; this, presumably, was the fourth and ‘missing’ weapon. Beside it was the paving slab with the concrete footprints, as much a relic of the siege as a memorial to the assassin.
Tom Phillips