Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tafelgenoten, Antwerpen

Late last year, my phone rang as I was boarding a tram carrying 5 enlarged photographs and a bag of groceries. It was Andy Fierens, inviting me and my native English to take part in a poetry exposition called Tafelgenoten .

When I left New Zealand, I made myself a small promise that I would say yes to all adventures that didn't appear to involve the police and foreign jails, with one or two other safety promises installed in the small print.

Andy explained that the project involved me reading a poem into a camera, with the film then being installed inside a book where it would become part of a larger exhibition of many voices ... Spanish, Iraqi, Dutch, Polish and etc, to be displayed at Permeke, one of Antwerpen's public libraries.

Of course I said yes, it sounded like a marvellous adventure ... if you discounted the fact that the photographer who hates to be photographed had to read for a camera.

The poem arrived ... ee cummings 'I like my body when it is with your' .

Coming from a country that was settled by Victorians and dour religious folk from Scotland, I blushed. New Zealand, American and Canadian friends fell about laughing ... 'You're going to read that?!'

Indeed I was, not only that but when I mentioned the raunchiness of said poem to the Europeans, they were surprised ... wondering what the problem was. I muttered something about the childlike innocence of the 'colonials'.

Last night those who read were invited to the official opening of Tafelgenoten. We were able to view the collection.

It was fantastic. The concept is brilliant ... they had selected a range of voices from the many languages that are spoken in the city of Antwerpen - last count, I heard that there are something like 165 different nationalities living here - filmed us, inserted the film into a rather nice little collection of hardcover books with a translation in Dutch on the inside and laid them out on tables with headphones attached.

I survived viewing my little book film, having been so involved in reading the poem, I had no real memory of anything else that I might have done ... had I fidgeted or twitched, blushed or stammered. From memory, last night I was the serious woman reading one of 2 English poems. The other poem was read by Nigel Williams, a rather famous English stand-up comedian who lives here and performs in Dutch.

Afterwards, we all moved to the cafe attached to the library ... and it was there that I met a poet or two, a photojournalist and Mario, the cameraman and film editor for the project. Websites came up, as they do ... and it turns out that you can visit his his cultural magazine-style website here .

It's well worth exploring and he has a superb interview, in English, with Carlos Ruiz Zafon, author of the book Shadow of the Wind online. To reach it, click on 'Meer Boeken op Kingkong', then select 'interviews' and you'll come to a list ...

Anyway, grand adventure over, here are the details of Tafelgenoten:
Tafelgenoten loopt van 25 januari 2007 (Gedichtendag!) tot 24 maart 2007.
Locatie: Bibliotheek Permeke - Comprimeerzone eerste verdieping, De Coninckplein, 2060 Antwerpen
De toegang is gratis. De tentoonstelling kan worden bezocht tijdens de openingsuren van de bibliotheek.


Alison said...

Sounds like a great time! When do I get to see the film? :)

woman wandering said...

Any old time ... it's a public exhibition in the library :) Next time you're over we can go visit or I'll give you directions so you can wander along on your own :) The cafe attached to the library is superb, so make sure we/you call in there.

Anonymous said...

I've always loved that poem and I would REALLY love to hear you read it! Well done and I do like the way you make these decisions to have adventures!

woman wandering said...

Thanks traveller one. It's probably more about saying yes to the adventures that find me :)

And when we do finally meet, apparently all participants are receiving a copy of their reading ... I'll let you hear it then if you like.

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic opportunity for you and a lovely evening!

Peter said...

Love the concept, hate the location. Well, that needs an explanation.

When Antwerpen city council decided to build their new central public library ("Permeke") they chose to locate it right in the middle of an impoverished crime-ridden area near Central Station.

The library, along with chasing away the local prostitutes, was intended to upgrade the area.

For a limited period of time, there was even a mobile Police station right in front of the "Permeke" central library.

Years later the project partly turned out to be a failure: most elderly acquaintances never visit the library anymore when it became clear that a new library does not decrease crime: at night the area is basically not safe.

A close friend was recently attacked a few steps away with a knife - local police officers confirmed that safety in the area is still 'problematic' at night.

Great project, shame on how Antwerp city council is still ignoring the streetcrime problems in this impoverished area.

woman wandering said...

It was lovely Tara.

I know what you mean in terms of the area Peter. I was a little uneasy wandering along the street from the tram at 8pm. It's a pity because the library seemed stunning and I'd quite like to join ... not only that, I'd like to return to the cafe. There were some lovely vegetarian snacks on offer ...

I guess we can only hope that eventually the area will improve ...