Each year The Poetry Society commissions a lecture given by a prestigious poet on an aspect of contemporary poetry. Often with the aim of bringing lesser-heard voices to the UK, past lecturers have included Carolyn Forché, Rita Dove, Anne Carson, Les Murray and Charles Simic.
“Who does not, when talking or writing, occasionally have the strange feeling that somebody else is moulding the words, holding the pen? And so both may at times be heard in a poem, a distinctive voice and a choir.”
The Shedding of Skins and Schemes: a voice of one’s own and the voices of others
Jan Wagner is the outstanding German poet of his generation. His lecture, delivered in English in Oxford, Liverpool and London, was on influence and the exchange of poetic ideas across borders; of the teachers poets must find for themselves (and then distance themselves from again). Interspersed with readings of some of his own poems, Wagner’s lecture draws on poets such as Rimbaud, Heym and Brecht, Popa, Pound and Hughes, and the poet-translators who have carried their work between cultures.
Wagner’s collection Self-Portrait with a Swarm of Bees (Arc), translated by Iain Galbraith, won the Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize 2015. He has translated into German poets including Armitage, MacNeice, Shapcott, Simic and Sweeney.
Presented in 2017 with the generous support of New College Oxford, the University of Liverpool, King’s College London and the Goethe-Institut.
The lecture is printed in full in the spring 2017 issue of The Poetry Review, which is available to purchase online. You can watch the lecture in full, as delivered by Jan Wagner at Queen’s College, Oxford on 20 February 2017, on this page or directly at our Vimeo or YouTube pages.
Photographs from the Kings College London leg of the lecture.
All images: Kevin Lake for The Poetry Society