I am doing the Knowledge – of world poetry. (Today, it’s poet Moniza Alvi)
“Doing the Knowledge” is a phrase used normally to describe how taxi drivers learn the map of London by going through it, so they know routes to take their passengers there. I am exploring the little-known-to-me or unexplored writings of poets
from outside the British Isle.
My guide and basic map is a book with 4 DVDs “In person: world poets” filmed and edited by Pamela Robertson-Pearce and Neil Astley of Bloodaxe Books. Fifty-nine poets are featured, and they have also been videoed reading their poems and giving some small introduction.
I happened upon the book when I recently visited a large chain bookshop (but, nevertheless, a genuine real-life shelves/stairs/cafe bookshop). And there I confronted my own mortality: 4 floors of books…. clearly there was no way that I
could read them all in a lifetime, even if I began immediately and did nothing else for the rest of my life. (As if to underline the mortality idea, the sign in the shop was classical temple design and therefore unfortunately looked like the entrance to a mausoleum). As with all unconquerable projects, you just make a sigh and make a start. So I dived into the poetry section.
The opposite of knowledge is ignorance – and when I looked at the book about world poetry, I knew I was looking at terra incognita (which was how they wrote “unknown land” in olden maps). Growing up in the UK, the poetry we studied at school was entirely written by people who lived in the UK – even if the poets sometimes were famous for going to the Continent to fight in world wars and write about them.
So – Moniza Alvi – one of the poems featured in the Bloodaxe poetry book is the wonderfully titled “I would like to be a dot in a painting by Miro”. The poet introduces it on the accompanying DVD this way:
“Being on the edge of things is quite a positive place to be and, growing up, I felt that I was a little bit inbetween the Pakistan of my birthplace and England, where I grew up.”
I have found a separate Youtube video, where the Poetry Channel Website have put together the reading of the poem while the camera scrolls across a typical Miro painting, a surreal naive explosions of lines and dots, squiggles and colour. It helps to see/hear both together.