Continental Shift, Royal Festival Hall, June 29
It being a poetry event, the appeal to switch off mobile phones before the show was done in rhyme. But halfway through a poem by Wole Soyinka, a ringtone could be clearly heard throughout the auditorium. Soyinka stoically finished the poem before adding, 'I apologize for that', took out a mobile phone and switched it off. He had another one in his other pocket and so switched that off as well. Unfortunately, the performers had not been in attendance to hear the request.
This was the big event of Simon Armitage's 'Poetry Parnassus', a brave attempt to bring a poet from every competing Olympic country to London for a very international festival. Nobel prize winners, Pulitzers and laureates from seven countries were brought together. Armitage himself was a Master of Ceremonies allowed a couple of poems but it was Jo Shapcott who represented Britain with some bee poems.
Soyinka, from Nigeria, came next, in a rather more benign mood than his political activist past would have led one to anticipate. A list provided of biographical notes on the whole cast of Parnassian poets demonstrated just how many writers are exiled, banned or pursued by regimes across the world and how political engagement is not really a choice in so many countries. We are spoilt in this country by having the opportunity to engage with anything else, without having the one, big over-riding issue to deal with all the time.
Full report here.