Writing round the table

Helsinki’s poetry moon festival, Runokuu, is in the last week of August. I spent it with a dozen colleagues, translating Finnish poems and listening to some of the poets. That was the perfect way to mark ten years of living in Finland. As I’d hoped, the poetry translation workshop made me think hard about a challenging kind of writing.

Words whirled through my head all week, so that by Sunday dinner I was even dissecting the restaurant name on the receipt. My stomach is still settling, so I can’t tell you everything I learned around the table last week, but I can tell you the menu.


Get the mezze.

Share. If there’s some strange shellfish in there, watch how others prise them open. If you’re not sure how to tackle those claws, ask. If you’ve made that sauce before, say what spices you used. Try a bit of everything.


Pick one.

Stop eyeing your neighbour’s plate, it’s probably no better than yours, even if it looks prettier. Even if it is tastier, they chose it, let them enjoy it. You don’t have to switch dishes or split the last fragment. Yours might be a bit boring, but stick with it. Eat it up.


Choose your favourite.

See how this restaurant cooks that classic. You’ve eaten a thousand tiramisus and a million vanilla ice creams. The memories of them resurface on your tongue. Is this one the perfect balance – or bland? Does it look as weird as it sounded on the menu?



Sip that espresso.

Let that herbal tea infuse before you pour it into others’ cups.


Back in your kitchen

Recreate the recipe.

Follow it to the letter and see what happens. If you forget the pepper, is it edible? If you haven’t got all the veg, what can you use instead? Make it again from memory. Ask a foodie friend to taste it. Invite a whole load of people over and make a vast vat of it.

A huge thank you to FILI – the Finnish Literature Exchange – for organising the poetry translation workshop and to Michal Švec for leading it. Thank you to the three poets who shared their work with us: Sinikka Vuola, Susinukke Kosola, and Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen. Friends who workshopped with me, as we get back to our own kitchens, let’s keep swapping recipes.

new retreat dates – seuraavat retriitit

2 thoughts on “Writing round the table

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