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Staging European languages and memories: the sounds and rhythms of the Great War

GuestBlogger24 November 2014

pencil-icon Written by Stefanie van Gemert, PhD candidate, UCL Dutch

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Is there a particular rhythm to war and violence? And if so, does it sound staccato, repetitive like machine guns and marching boots? Or are its sounds tempting, magical perhaps? Do they appeal to universal feelings of longing – for mum to be proud, for the kiss of a pretty girl? Alex Marshall’s article in Saturday’s Guardian explores these questions, discussing the allure of the ‘ISIS anthem’.

On Tuesday 4 November we did something similar at the Bloomsbury Theatre, exploring sounds of the First World War in a multimedia and multilingual performance: ‘I died in hell – (They called it Passchendaele)’.

A century after the Great War began, violence seems to be everywhere. Even in peaceful Bloomsbury we cannot escape the updates on our mobile phones: yet another child wounded, another journalist killed.

As global citizens, we are extremely well-connected and yet continuously distracted, under the bombardment of 140-character shallow opinions and beeping newsfeeds. How can we, in this state, relate to the overwhelming global violence in a personal manner?

This event, organised by the Centre for Low Countries Studies and the Flemish-Dutch cultural magazine Ons Erfdeel, involved a writer/artistic director, a translator, a video artist, seven students from UCL’s School of European Languages, Culture and Society (SELCS), two professional actors and a European collection of poetry and film footage of the Great War. Its collage-like structure and its multilingual approach underlined the global aspect of this conflict: something to be reminded of in November when poppies appear to be symbols of a straightforwardly English tradition.

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An appointment with Dante

Jack H CDean30 May 2014

Dante, by Sandro Botticelli

Dante, by Sandro Botticelli

Into the spirals of UCL Roberts building I descended. My second UCL Festival of the Arts event was an hour of getting to grips with 13th century epic-supremo – il sommo PoetaDante Alighieri.

Professor John Took’s (UCL School of European Languages Culture and Society) profound love and passion for this subject seeped through this hour-long seminar. He must have drawn breath on all of one occasion as he delivered a great river of speech on the man he considers to be the ‘world’s greatest love poet’.

There’s nothing effete about Commedia – the Divina was added later by Dantian disciple and fellow wordsmith Bocaccio. Hell-like apparitions abound. The Roman poet Virgil leads Dante from the dark wood through the layers of the Inferno, through to Purgatorio and Paradiso. Most of all, Took says ‘enjoy the story, my goodness is he a yarn spinner’.

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Live poetry is something else

newseditor13 June 2013

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Ester Naomi Perquin (Photo: Henk Brinkman)

pencil-iconWritten by Stefanie van Gemert, PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at UCL.

Over the past few weeks, I got to know someone special. It sparked off as an online encounter – an email trail about translations.

Her name is Ester Naomi Perquin, and she is an award-winning Dutch poet. I was invited to translate her work for the Contemporary European Poets series.

Translating someone’s poetry is a slightly schizophrenic experience. While weighing Ester’s words and analysing her work, I felt I was peeking into her brain, aligning my thoughts with hers. I quickly realised her poems were products of literary craftsmanship: with depth and a refreshingly humorous side to them, though often heavy in subject matter.

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Live at Lunchtime: Poets of UCL

newseditor10 May 2013

As part of UCL’s Festival of the Arts, UCL English demonstrated its contribution to the arts by hosting a lunchtime poetry reading event featuring the work of two alumni, a current PhD student and published author Professor Mark Ford.

Professor Mark Ford, UCL English

Mark Ford, poet and professor, UCL English

Professor Ford opened the readings with his poem ‘Christmas’, published in 2011. It was a sharp contrast to the usual experiences of happiness, warmth and celebrations associated with the festive period. Instead, Ford told a story of a fateful slip on hazardous winter ice.

The character sees his friend fall whilst enjoying a pastrami sandwich in town, but despite scaremongering attempts to raise his friend, his body lies still.
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