Tania Kovats, guest selector at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, has taken Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us (1950) as her inspiration. This looks set to be an illuminating discussion about what poetry is, finding poetry within archives, sailing manuals and ships logs and the transcendence quality of language. Rachel Carson said, ‘no-one can write truthfully about the sea and not mention poetry.’
J R Carpenter and Don Paterson talk meaningfully about where poems come from. Carpenter is keen to stress her undisciplined route following meandering lines of enquiry, while Paterson encourages his students, he is Professor of Poetry at St Andrews University, to ‘go find trouble’ when they are stuck. Both artists read from their work and we hear an extract from Carpenter’s ‘Along the Briny Beach’ which includes fragments from Elizabeth Bishop, Lewis Carroll and Conrad, amongst others, and Paterson reads one of Kovat’s and the audiences’ favourites ‘Wave’.
Paterson is very open about his terror of the sea, the difficulty of articulating where you are and what that does to space and time. Kovats speaks about the horizon line and its importance in her own practice. During the Q&A Carpenter highlights our use of vocabulary previously assigned around the sea and sailing which has now been appropriated to describe all aspects of the Internet such as router, port, ship, ping, navigator and explorer, to list only a selection.
The geo-political issues surrounding the ocean, which are being expertly explored in other sessions, are both pressing and insistent but this is a delightful and luxurious exploration of the infinite possibilities of language and poetry in the hands of two accomplished practitioners.