Hilton Fest: Island poetry

2008-09-10 00:00

Invitation to a Voyage is the title of one of the talks on offer at The

Witness Hilton Arts Festival this weekend. Stephen Gray and Carole Beckett are giving the talk based on the book Invitation to a Voyage —French-language Poetry of the Indian Ocean African Islands, which Gray edited with Beckett as language consultant.

The first anthology of its kind, it features a wide range of poets from the Indian Ocean African islands of Reunion, Mauritius, Madagascar, Seychelles, Comoros and Mayotte.

“There are a lot of parallels on these islands with what is happening in this country,” says Beckett, a retired former head of the French department on the local university campus.

Beckett has known Gray since the sixties when they met at the University of Aix-en-Provence — Gray was teaching English and she had gone to study French.

While Beckett was on the Comoros in the early nineties as an interpreter for Robert Fincham of the Institute of Natural Resources, she encountered local poets and subsequently spent a sabbatical collecting their poetry which was published in 1995 as Anthologie d’Introduction à la Poésie Comorienne d’Expression Française.

Gray, in his introduction to Invitation to a Voyage acknowledges that Beckett’s book and his connection with her helped smooth the way when visiting the islands in search of poets and poems. So how did Beckett work with Gray on the book? “Stephen speaks French but he doesn’t use it often. He can translate, but with some of the younger poets who use puns and invent words you really have to know and understand the language.”

Their collaboration has provided access to works both lyrical and provocative; voices as seductive as the islands themselves.

• Invitation to a Voyage, a talk by Stephen Gray and Carole Beckett, is at 10 am on Saturday and Sunday at The Witness Hilton Arts Festival.

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