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Poetry in Expanded Translation – an update

by Zoë Skoulding

Peter Riley’s review of books by Peter Hughes, Tim Atkins, Robert Sheppard and others refers to ‘expanded translation’ as what he takes to be a ‘new academic category’ of poetry translation in which canonical texts are translated or re-versioned in the interests of ‘modernisation, personalisation, and democratisation’. While Riley notes that ‘several academic conferences’ have been devoted to it, in fact the three gatherings to which he seems to be referring with such disgruntlement are all part of the same Arts and Humanities Research Council network, Poetry in Expanded Translation, which I lead with Jeff Hilson. Its aims and programme are freely available online  and it is the name of a field of continuing investigations rather than a particular type of translation. Serious and engaged critique of the kind that Riley writes is vital to contemporary poetry, but he is mistaken in identifying the activity of the network only with the types of translation described in his review. Sheppard has responded to the review itself at http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/, but my concern here is to correct a misunderstanding about the nature of our research, which is much wider in scope than Riley implies. This will become evident as publications emerge – there is already a special issue of Poetry Wales devoted to the project and there will in due course be books and journal issues in the UK and France. The following account of our activities is offered to set the record straight in the meantime. It is necessarily incomplete, since there have so far been over a hundred interventions, papers and performances as well as many intense discussions, but it should give a sense of the network’s interests.

Why would we want to ‘expand’ translation, and in which directions? The motive for pursuing this research is that in the UK we do not think about translation enough, and that many of the issues that Riley raises in relation to reading translations – for example the false assumption that any translation can be definitive – are insufficiently considered. Translation is too important to be left to translators, or translation scholars: it has long been, as Riley acknowledges in relation to Wyatt and Petrarch, a staple of creative practice that concerns poets directly and relates to all the ways in which poetries of different languages might speak to each other. It was my interaction with Riley through his mail-order bookshop in 2002 or 2003, paradoxically, that might have been the seed of this project. Having recently discovered the innovative UK poetry scene, I also bought pamphlets from him by Emmanuel Hocquard and Olivier Cadiot, their grainy and remote small-press mystique intensified by being in another language. He complained that hardly anyone bought books in French, which I took as a compliment. Even at the time it seemed strange, though, that despite the significance of translation to Lee Harwood, Tom Raworth, Paul Buck and others, the legacy of the British Poetry Revival has not been as international or multilingual as the energies that brought it about in the first place. It works both ways: British poets are on the whole little known in France, which tends to look to the USA for anglophone poetry. The pattern repeats in numerous other countries where more innovative areas of UK poetry are often invisible despite their links to international modernisms. Expanding translation, therefore, is a matter of finding different ways of reading and talking about poetry between and across languages, not just to develop international relationships but also to recognise and value the multilingualism of poetry in the UK.

The first meeting of the network in April 2017, hosted by Chris McCabe at the National Poetry Library in the Southbank Centre, did begin, it is true, with the question of rewriting or ‘intralingual’ translation, taking texts from the library that already contained an element of translation and reworking them collaboratively in a one-day workshop. This was because we wanted to look at how much translation already informs poetic practice, particularly within late modernist traditions. The participants were mainly from France, Wales and England, with some American-French and Trinidadian-Scottish transnational perspectives; some were translators, some critics; all were poets. Roman Jakobson’s distinctions between interlingual, intralingual and intersemiotic translation were a starting point in discussing the different kinds of equivalence that a translation can produce. While some of the experiments undertaken (which can be read in this special issue of Poetry Wales) remained intralingual, collaboration brought several languages into play, including Welsh, Spanish and Catalan as well as English and French. A reading and discussion with Vahni Capildeo and Michael Zand explored the ways in which translation cuts through time and place. Zand noted, for example, that the velar fricative, a sound common in different forms of Persian through the ages, was once common in Middle English and Old English and Saxon. He described Ruby, his translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam, as a process of drilling down through time to find unexpected connections that link languages and cultures.

The multilingual frontier town of Mulhouse provided a usefully non-metropolitan French vantage point for our second meeting in November 2017, when we met at the Université de Haute Alsace. Organised by Jennifer K. Dick with the involvement of Sandrine Wymann of arts venue La Kunsthalle, the conference focused on poetry, translation and the visual. This was an expansion of translation to consider its material forms, beginning with Olivier Gabrys’s dance interpretations of poems, in which he sees the whole body as a vessel for language. Form as the moment of performance was the focus of Valentine Verhaeghe, friend and student of Henri Chopin, whose use of the body as source and amplifier of the poem is also strikingly visual and gestural. The materiality of the page was a central concern in Bénedicte Villegrain’s discussion of Susan Howe’s ‘Melville’s Marginalia’ and Jennifer K. Dick’s paper on Jacques Sivan. Ekphrasis was introduced as both a form and complication of translation in Agata Holobut’s analysis of David Gascoyne’s poem ‘Salvador Dali’, which considered its language operations in relation to audio descriptions of artworks, while Vincent Broqua used Duchamp’s ‘À bruit secret’ to show recourse to the visual does not necessarily reveal or clarify, but can also create a space for the opacity of language that may not be understood or translated. Cole Swensen, on ‘translating with power tools’ explored the poetics of book sculptures by Guy Laramée, Su Blackwell, Susan Hoerth, and Brian Dettmer as a metaphorical and literal response to the future of recorded knowledge.

Moving back and forth between visual art and poetry produced a range of approaches to of image and form. Margaux Van Uytyanck, for example, began with Marcel Broodthaer’s  sculpture made of a casserole full of mussel shells, looking at how it plays on the similarity of the French la moule (mussel) to le moule (mould). From here she went on to consider Mallarmé’s ‘Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard‘ as a refusal of clear image where the empty shell of form is a transformation of absence. Translation suffers from its images, Capildeo reminded us, such as in the phrase ‘shine through’, which suggests that an authentic face is mystically present and capable of projecting itself’. In imagining the page not as a field but as a leaf, a fragmentary repetition of other leaves, she provided a model for translation that allows it to have a multiplied non-human life of its own.

Refusal of the myth of textual origin is central to the work of Lawrence Venuti, a presiding figure for the project as a whole. In his keynote for Poetry and Sound in Expanded Translation, the April 2018 conference in Bangor, he unpicked the instrumentalist logic of translation proverbs, such as traduttoretraditore. Forget fidelity, he argued: think about equivalence. There is no invariant in translation; there are only interpretants. Don’t respect the text: innovate. This is fighting talk in Wales, where many Welsh-language poets have resisted translation, particularly into English, as a threat to the integrity of a minority language. Yet what is being critiqued when Venuti attacks Robert Frost’s attachment to ‘the sound of sense’ is not sense, or sound, but the assumption that Frost’s own vernacular poetics is the only way to hear other cultures. How do we read what a translation is doing? When will translations be reviewed at last as translations, rather than as necessarily weak copies of ‘original’ texts?

These relationships are different again when ‘original’ and translation are part of the same text, as they may well be in situations where people and identities are in movement. Caroline Bergvall’s keynote talk, titled ‘Monolingualism is Dangerous’, described how her work listens to minority languages and the communities they sustain. Gathering participants to talk about song traditions or greet the dawn, she demonstrates how the play of languages becomes a space of possibility, offering new patterns of living together. Listening to her perform, for example from her multimedia work Drift, the ear tunes and retunes to shifting languages as the very notion of the linguistic border is interrogated. How far is this already translation? How can a work be translated when it already navigates more than one language? A way forward was suggested by Canadian poet Erín Moure, discussing her translation of the Portunhol of Wilson Bueno’s Paraguayan Sea, which slides between French and English, or ‘Frenlish': the question becomes one of sound, and how language inhabits the shapes of co-existing languages in one mouth.

Attending to sound in translation allows a thinking across frontiers, since sound bleeds through the edges and surrounds us, but the borders inevitably return, demanding a stretched attention as the ear is turned out towards another. The advantage of this interdisciplinary conference was that it also encompassed the insights of musicians and composers, such as my colleague at Bangor Andrew Lewis, whose electro-acoustic piece LEXICON, based on a text by a twelve-year-old dyslexic boy, puzzled over the elusive triangulation between sign, sound and meaning to which poetry translation constantly returns. Sam Trainor used musical notation to articulate a ‘contrapuntal’ approach to translation, while composer Richard Hoadley, who collaborates with many other artists, sees translation as fundamental to his practice. Some of this sonic thinking was presented through performances (to be made available online in due course), including Rhys Trimble’s and Nia Davies’ ritual for destruction of poetry by air burial, Lisa Samuels’ sound performance featuring local slate, or Lee Ann Brown’s investigation of ballad forms that had the entire conference singing along.

Through a structure that focuses on process and dialogue, Sophie Collins’ important anthology Currently & Emotion: Translations (Test Centre, 2016) dismantles many of the hierarchies that often dominate translation. Her paper proposed the intimacy of Platonic friendship as a translation model to replace fidelity, drawing on translations of Kim Hyesoon by Don Mee Choi. Her encouragement to celebrate linguistic playfulness in translation touched on a recurring theme of the conference: how do we keep languages and poetries in play, as well as in dialogue? Her emphasis on extending translational listening towards non-European languages highlighted another direction in which the UK’s translation-thinking could be further stretched and challenged. Nisha Ramayya, in her discussion of translation from Sanskrit via tantric practice, used Roland Barthes’ utopian concept of idiorythmie to describe the relationship between source text and translation. If power always imposes its own drumbeat, how might texts live their different rhythms alongside each other?

For Collins and Ramayya, as for many of the other speakers, the stakes in translation are high as they contest long histories of gendered and colonial relations. The cross-rhythms and reforging of relationships are evident within their texts, for example in Ramayya’s remarkable reading, but they spill out beyond them into new forms of sociality and politics. Édouard Glissant, whose Poetics of Relation was a recurrent reference point during the conference, reminds us that the zone of contact between cultures is one of inequality and opacity as well as potential and transformation. Expanding translation could mean finding more ways to enter and inhabit these in-between spaces, and understanding the patterns and structures by which we might do this.

In his review, Riley does not mention the Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (Oulipo), the famous group of writer- mathematicians whose work has been so influential on Atkins and Philip Terry in particular, whose work often ‘translates’ or adapts Oulipian techniques as much as it translates a source text from one language to another. Use of algorithmic process is another way of disrupting hierarchies, since the arbitrary constraint reveals the arbitrariness of all the daily and familiar constraints that have long since become imperceptible to us. Terry’s reading in the recent conference was from Exercises in Translation, which takes as its starting point Raymond Queneau’s early proto-Oulipo text Exercices de style, a description of meeting a stranger twice by chance, retold in 99 different ways.  What does it mean to translate a text already so dependent on its own rewriting? Terry’s solution is to invent further constraints, so that translation and constraint merge into one. These eventually lead not into abstraction but a sharp and surprising realisation of the text’s post-war context and its possible subtext relating to the suffering of the Jewish population in wartime Paris. Riley notes that ‘expanded translation’ is a term often used in Biblical study to describe the addition of informative notes; this is what Terry’s text does, among other things, as it marks the passage of a technique, as well as a text, from one language to another. Like so many of the readings and papers that were presented, it acknowledges the necessary complexity of that passage.

There are risks in expanding anything, not least translation. As Venuti pointed out at the close of the conference, if everything becomes translation, nothing is, and the struggle to make vital bridges between languages and cultures is undermined. There is further to go in the discussions that have begun over the past year, not only in terms of how UK poetry might be more accurately imagined to reflect its own multilingual reality, but also how its deep relationships with poetry from elsewhere might be acknowledged. How can we better recognise the intertextuality of translation, and the multiplicity of connections that are made when different languages and their thinking come into contact? How might the reviewing of poetry in translation accommodate such perspectives?

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Peter Finch on How He Writes a Poem

For the month of April we have the inimitable Peter Finch musing on how to craft a poem:

Collect the data.  All of it.  Research endlessly.  Nothing should be below notice.  The more specialist the better.  Scour and store.  Absorb this stuff.  Think about it and then absorb some more.  When there’s enough the poem will emerge.

Don’t collect the data. Ignore it.  Go with whatever feels right and is in your head right now.

Read.  This was the best single piece of advice ever given to me. Absorb as much of the poetry of others as you possibly can.  It matters not a bit that some of this might rub off, might influence you, might make you a slightly less original poet.  Absorb it all like a sponge.  This is how culture progresses.

Actually there are two important things here.  Poetry can come out of the night, out of left field, out of the very air and strike you dumb and then garrulous as it pours.

It is also perfectly possible, and on many occasions highly desirable, to create poetry from nothing. To start with an empty head and produce. To make it a piece of work. Poetry is labour not glory.  It is hard won.  Start now.

 

zen cymruPeter Finch was born in Cardiff where he still lives.  He’s known as an edge pusher.  His last collection was Zen Cymru from Seren Books. He is currently working on the Machineries of Joy, a collection drawn from the work of the last 10 years.

His Real Cardiff The Flourishing City has just appeared from Seren.

You can get a ticket (free) to the launch of real Cardiff The Flourishing City from Eventbrite here.

 


To read more of Peter Finch’s work visit his website at www.peterfinch.co.uk

Ailbhe Darcy on How She Writes a Poem

We kick off 2018 with the marvellous poet, Ailbhe Darcy, on how she writes a poem:

First, invest monstrously in your own personal mythology. Novelists build a fictional world for the space of a volume or several volumes, but the poet builds a fictional world across an entire life.

Then, disagree. A poem is a disagreement. You have a quarrel with yourself or someone else or the world or history or, most often, poetry itself. You make a poem because you’re ornery.

Sometimes you’ll carry around the vehicle of a metaphor for months without its tenor. Like a fidget spinner, it’s there and you can’t help fiddling with it. For a while my pockets were full of knotweed, with its femaleness and monotonous leaves. Another time, that damn umbrella. When the metaphor finds its meaning, it’s all used up and you’ll miss it.

Your job is an intense negotiation with language: you head into the poem with a list of demands but find you must compromise. Poets writing in rhyme can’t avoid knowing this, but it’s true for all of us.

Every poem is an argument about how a poem should be written; each poem has a bone to pick with the last poem. So the answer to ‘How do you write a poem?” is always going to be: ‘it depends.’

In any case, writing a poem isn’t the problem. Even writing better poems isn’t the problem. Not an intellectual problem anyway – only a practical one. Writing the poems you want to write takes more time than you have, that’s all: time to read all the other poems in the world, time to practice and practice and practice, and time to walk around in fresh air and comfortable shoes with an empty head for half infinity.

No, the real problem is what’s between poems. How do you get from one poem to the next? How do you survive those vast chasms when you seem to be nowhere near a poem? How do you maintain any faith that there’ll ever be another poem at all?

1. Write critically, unpicking the poems of others and putting them back together to see how they worked. I see this as a form of required service for the poet, anyway. If you expect anyone to read your poems, you owe it to the universe to respond to the poems sent out by others.

2.Write collaboratively with another poet. It’s a whole other way of being solipsistic and absorbed and bewildered.

3. Make a thing that isn’t a poem. Bake. Try this Amish cinnamon quick bread. http://www.redflycreations.com/2012/10/the-amazing-amish-cinnamon-bread.html

 

Ailbhe Darcy is an Irish poet living in Cardiff. Her first collection, Imaginary Menagerie (Bloodaxe, 2011), was shortlisted for a Shine Strong Award. Her second collection, Insistence (Bloodaxe, 2018), is due out in May. Poems from it appear in Poetry, Poetry Ireland Review and Poetry Wales. She has also written a book in collaboration with S.J. Fowler, called Subcritical Tests (Gorse, 2017).  Ailbhe’s poetry appears in FUTURE/NO FUTURE, Spring 2017 Vol 52.3 of Poetry Wales.

insistence cover

From the Archive: Joseph P Clancy

Elan Grug Muse reads Joseph P Clancy in Poetry Wales, Summer 1967

It’s the musicality of the lines that first grab your attention. The way the consonants bounce and roll against each other. It is strangely familiar, but you can’t quite place it. Joseph Clancy called it a cywydd, and although it is ‘inspired by’ rather than ‘based on’ the Welsh form, it retains a similar rhythmic musicality. Take the line “True entity without you”. Like a line of cynghanedd, it is seven syllables long, and there is a natural split in the middle;

True entity / without you.

This creates two natural stresses in the line;

True entity / without you

Then the alliteration of the ‘t’, falling both sides of the split on the same side of the rests (the ‘n’ in ‘entity’ somewhat swallowed by the dominant ‘t’) creates the percussive effect. It is this mimicry of a Groes or Draws consonantal cynghanedd that gives the poem its rhythmic lyricism.

Clancy developed this form of cynganeddol mimicry originally in order to translate Welsh Cywyddau into English (for his book Medieval Welsh Lyrics, 1965), later using it as a verse form in its own right. Although his form lacks rhyming couplets and full cynghanedd, he has maintained the syllabic meter, and at the end of each line he varies between stressed and unstressed syllables.

In Absence then is a cywydd with a small ‘c’. Split into five parts, it is the tale of separated lovers- a long distance-relationship in today’s parlance. The poet is alone and lustful on a cold Welsh coast, possibly the Aberystwyth seafront, a couple of miles west of the birthplace of Dafydd ap Gwilym (another Cywyddwr for whom the words ‘lustful’ and ‘alone’ can be used to describe the contents of his work, albeit in a slightly different sense).

Joseph Clancey was not the first magpie to take old Welsh verse forms and transform/bastardize/adapt/improve (?) them for his own use; Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas and Anthony Conran have all been accused of the same. In fact, two works titled Cywydd and Englynion by Conran appear in the same edition of Poetry Wales. However, Clancy is possibly one of the few Americans to have drawn inspiration from the Cerdd Dafod tradition, being a professor of English Literature at Marymount Manhattan College, New York at the time of publishing this poem in PW.

And so we come to the cywydd, the form that Clancy drew from so liberally in his work.  If maybe not developed entirely by Dafydd ap Gwilym into its modern form, it was certainly popularised by him; a poet whose socio-economic position in fourteenth century Wales meant that as a man of independent means he did not depend on poetry and the sponsorship of the nobility to earn his crust. He also seems to have received a broad education and was exposed to French chivalric and romantic poetry. His economic independence gave him the freedom to experiment: to combine his exotic influences with his cerdd dafod training in order to compose work that can still seem fresh to a modern ear. He wrestled a form more used to elegiac and epic expression into a form fit for romance, comedy and nature writing. Like a magpie, he took bits of the Welsh tradition, and bobs from continental romances, and gave us something new and beautiful.

In Absence is a sensual poem, where we don’t see the landscape he describes as much as smell it. You can nuzzle the words like a cat, and feel their warm breath on your cheeks. Joseph Clancy died this May at the age of 88, fifty years after these poems were originally published in Poetry Wales.

 

In Absence

 

One

 

Fifteen years between letters.

A marriage away from that

Stuttering adolescent

Who poured out page after page.

Poor boy, bursting with language.

What he never guessed, I know.

 

I lack his faith in language.

Those words were actions to him.

My fifteen years of knowing

Your dear body, mind and heart

Reduce my letters to dull

Impotent scrawls in absence.

 

Yet I write as much as he,

Using words he would blush at

To speak of the flesh we share,

The ache of this apartness.

I show, love, by these letters,

Thin ghosts of my hands, lips, voice,

That no more than they have I

True entity without you.

 

 

 

Two

 

Afternoon.  A Welsh Sunday.

Cold light on the ruined keep.

The waves assault the sea-wall.

The seagull circle and mew.

 

Some girls parade on the prom,

Few pretty, but the sea-wind

Flirts with their skirts and raises

My lust with their mesh-laced legs.

 

Pure hunger, this, no faces

Move through my mind, even yours

Whose absence starves my senses,

Nothing but nude, nameless flesh,

Valleys and mounts to pasture

And ride my bare need to rest.

 

Nightfall. The girls have all gone.

Tide-ebb. The soft sea mutters.

 

I turn to go. A seagull

Confronts me. His eye is cold.

I speak your name to warm me,

And make for my single bed.

 

Three

 

The brown gives way to green on

Pen Dinas and Tan-y-Bwlch,

And I walk the other way,

Through bridge street and Great Darkgate

And Terrace Road to the prom.

I’ve no heart for the quiet

Hillsides we walked together

Sunday two summers ago.

 

Better to walk by the sea,

The tide-ebb on the shingle

The mirror of my hiraeth.

Tra bo d?r y môr yn hallt . . .

 

Better still if the winter

Had not loosed its barren grip,

If brown hills, cold winds, and ice

Had remained the heart’s mirrors

Till home again i hold the

Spring and summer in my arms.

 

Four

 

If I seem, dear, too merely

Obsessed with the itch of flesh,

That hunger is a haven.

Tonight, as I sat at ease

In an armchair near the fire,

My eyes refuse to focus

On my book, or on the fire

Radio, wallpaper, table,

Or my hand when I held it up.

No, it was not your image

My dead eyes saw, but myself,

A nothing held in nothing

That felt nothing but terror

Of the nothing that it felt.

 

And I drove my mind to dwell

On memories of stroking

Your nipples, belly, and cleft

Until my body trembled

And I and your dear image

And the room were real again.

 

Five

 

Fourth month apart. Far fewer

Nights awake with nerves on edge,

Less and less often the flesh

Unfurls the flag of hunger,

And the heart, so long fevered,

Like a lost, exhausted, starved

Explorer in the Arctic,

Sinks to icy, torpid peace.

 

No memories of murmurs

After love can wake it now,

But the rough words, harsh silence,

The drum-beat of pulsing blood,

The wrath of love- who else can

Matter enough to rouse rage ?

These rubs and frets of marriage

Now hurt the heart into life.

 

Joseph P. Clancy

Frances Presley on How She Writes a Poem

‘See if the draft poem has thematic and technical substance or throw it away. Subject it to all the tests you can think of.’ 

In September’s instalment of ‘How to write a poem’ Frances Presley shares her lovely and instructive wisdom for approaching a poem:

1. Write a sequence of poems with a theme and a form, such as Neolithic stone settings and visual poetics. It means you don’t have to constantly think about how to write the next poem, but should be flexible enough to allow changes of direction.

2. Be in a landscape. Take with you a pre-determined poetic. See what happens when it is subject to land slips and torrential rain. Abandon conscious control and note what happens around you and inside you.

3. Try ‘blind writing’ which like ‘blind drawing’ focuses on the thing seen rather than the page and allows the lines, the words, to emerge. Use all your senses and remember that the referee with peripheral vision is no use if her brain is blind.

4. Be in a source text. Lift the language of other writers, both good and bad. Look in the archives of forgotten women, such as Exmoor historian Hazel Eardley-Wilmot, for their letters, unpublished manuscripts and diaries. Rewrite and redesign source texts to reveal their concealed meanings.

5. Collaborate with artists, musicians and, for a real challenge, other poets. Through collaboration you create something that is neither one nor the other but a third entity. The best collaboration is simultaneous, non-hierarchical and feminist, as well as an act of love.

6. See if the draft poem has thematic and technical substance or throw it away. Subject it to all the tests you can think of.

Frances seaweed

 

 

Frances Presley is a poet whose writing is widely published. Most of her work up until 2009 can be found in Paravane (Salt, 2004); Myne (Shearsman, 2006) and Lines of Sight (Shearsman, 2009). Since then she has produced An Alphabet for Alina with artist Peterjon Skelt (Five Seasons, 2012) and Halse for Hazel (Shearsman, 2014) which received an Arts Council award, with its companion volume, Sallow (Leafe, 2016). Her work is in the anthologies Infinite Difference (2010), Ground Aslant: radical landscape poetry (2011) and Out of Everywhere2 (2015). She has translated Salt on the eye: selected poems, by Hanne Bramness (Shearsman, 2007); Outside the Institution: selected poems by Lars Amund Vaage (Shearsman, 2010) and No film in the camera by Hanne Bramness (Shearsman, 2013). She lives in London but also writes in Somerset with the visual poet and performer Tilla Brading. You can also find Frances’ poems in Poetry Wales Spring 2016 Vol 51.3.

Sallow cover with textWeb

Sallow was published last year by Leafe Press. It continues a long sequence of poems about the languages of trees, Halse for Hazel (Shearsman, 2014), especially those used by women, including local dialect and botanic classification. Halse for Hazel began on the hills of Exmoor and Sallow explores low lying wetland areas, mapping political and environmental pressures. ‘Crack willow’ is a collaborative text with Harriet Tarlo from a walk near her home in Yorkshire. The poems are juxtaposed with images by the artist Irma Irsara.

Sallow, by Frances Presley with images by Irma Irsara, 24pp, published by Open House editions, an imprint of Leafe Press, www.leafepress.com. £4.50 (inc. postage), £6.50 RRP.

‘I found her work a highly pleasant revelation, at once thoroughly alert and judged yet delightfully manic and far-reaching in its wildness, risks and resultant freedoms’ David Morley, Poetry Review

 ‘Presley’s work sleights the relationship between landscape and language, each deploying (or deployed) as markers for the human eye.’ C. Waldrep, Kenyon Review

Sophie McKeand on How She Writes a Poem

‘As the years roll by I feel I am no longer waiting at a dried-up riverside, instead I’m slowly metamorphosing into the river, and that is as much as I can hope for.’

 

Since discovering the mental landscape existed over a decade ago I’ve realised how important it is to cultivate this space when creating. For years if I’d have been asked to look inward I’d have told you there was nothing, just blackness; a void. Now I realise I was looking with my eyes closed – I was never taught how to open them. I don’t think many of us are.

I’ve been thinking, talking and writing a lot about anarchy lately. As I become more deeply involved with the process of creating it teaches me that the very act of dreaming any artform is pure anarchy. Anarchy is the antithesis of ‘doing as you are told’, or being a well-behaved cog in the machine. To create is to be autonomous; to think for yourself; to better understand the self. To truly explore another’s art is to be fully aware of your own ideas and opinions.

A river of inspiration flows through my mental landscape. I have yet to discover her source but nevertheless she sends various objects downstream for me to shape into language. When I first began working in this way I would try to control her direction and speed, or I’d ignore the latest offering if it wasn’t something the ego wanted to write about and wait for the next, or the next-but-two thing to come along. Invariably this just caused a horrific log-jam and I’ve spent months in the past bereft and crying when downriver dried up.

Now I write things as they come and have faith that, even if they’re not meant for the world in the sequence in which they arrive, they’re meant for me in that order. I have endless files of work I’ve not used, or may never use, but it all has to be written so that the thing I do use can materialise, and I learn from every piece written. The subconscious knows this. I think I’m finally grasping what it is to ‘know not-knowing’, to quote Lao Tzu.

When I was younger my grandfather wanted me to write with the right hand and encouraged me away from being my natural left-handed self. He meant well, but it has just left me with terrible left-handed handwriting and a preference for typing work straight onto a MAC or, as I’m doing now, an iPad.

To a very organised writer I must appear horribly unstructured when working. I keep the iPad next to my bed (all social media apps have been removed and the phone remains downstairs), and when feeling balanced I’ll often wake naturally around 5am with the remnants of a dream or beginnings of a poem. Sometimes I don’t write for days, but when I do I have to get it all down quickly and, if I don’t have workshops to get to, will work like this until around 10am then get up and face the day. This is my favourite method of writing but I can write anywhere. I often stop in the middle of the street to write something on my iPhone and I’ve synced the apps so I don’t lose any work. When I’m working on a piece it’s constantly running in the background of my mind – like a film playing in another room. At home, sometimes I don’t start writing until 4/5pm and then I might keep going until 9/10pm. I write in intense bursts of around 5hrs at a time, and try (but often fail) not to let that be disrupted by workshops, emails, social media and life. An early run or evening bike ride are also good for generating ideas.

When I’m facilitating and dreaming workshops and community participatory projects I cannot write the same because then the creative energy, quite rightly, belongs to the community. The river changes course and I’ve handed over a number of ideas, titles, themes and poems to these projects that I might have liked to keep for myself, but that is not the nature of community work. You have to give them everything.

I say I look horribly unstructured but it has taken over a decade to get to the point where the inspiration flows freely, unblocked and untamed. Learning to let go control and allowing the wilderness to take over has been painstakingly difficult because that isn’t who I was. The problem with a new ecosystem taking root and flourishing is accepting that a number of years will be spent in the hinterland as a natural balance slowly evolves.

Am I fully there yet? No.

But as the years roll by I feel I am no longer waiting at a dried-up riverside, instead I’m slowly metamorphosing into the river, and that is as much as I can hope for.

Sophie McKeand is an award-winning poet, TEDx speaker, and the current Young People’s Laureate Wales. She was listed as one of 30 people ‘shaping the Welsh agenda’ over the next 30 years by the Institute for Welsh Affairs, and is a Literature Wales bursary recipient for 2017. Sophie has performed internationally, in Ireland and at the Kolkata Literature Festival, India. Her poetry collection Rebel Sun is published by Parthian Books. Sophie’s poetry can also be found in the Summer 2016 volume 52.1 of Poetry Wales.

www.sophiemckeand.com

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Blog: Rebel Sun by Sophie McKeand

Expectation poem by Sophie McKeand

 

 

Expectation (neu addo a bygwyth) is one of the political poems from Rebel Sun. The Russian propoganda-inspired artwork by Andy Garside giving the reader the heads-up that left-wing socialist/Marxist/anarchist politics will inform elements of the content. Over a decade ago, when first starting out writing, everything I created was political but after a while I became disillusioned with the entire process, discovered the work of Childe Roland, Rhys Trimble and Zoë Skoulding, as well as Anne Waldman and Jay Griffiths, and veered off into the relative obscurity of the left field (or forest).

The poems in Rebel Sun knit together all of the various elements of experimentation, politics and community I’ve been immersed in over recent years, with a strong focus on (re)connecting with the natural world. I am as much a part of the north Wales landscape as any oak or wave or starling and Rebel Sun is acknowledgement of that.

Explaining the exact nature of a poem feels too didactic, but this collection is absolutely about taking a stand politically. I see the after-effects of colonialism as a patriarchal dish still being force-fed to the land and her people in Wales. But after a long winter, maybe spring is coming.

The Cymraeg is taken from a weather report:

bydd hi’n ddiwrnod ansefydlog yfory gwasgedd isel

yn dod â gwyntoedd cryfion a glaw}}}

Roughly translated (I am still learning the language) this is:

tomorrow will be a day of unstable low pressure,

bringing strong winds and rain}}}

I am saying there is a storm brewing in Wales and have used Cymraeg to illustrate that, perhaps, this is where the uprising begins.

The sub-heading: neu addo a bygwth or promises and threats, is referencing the many ways the Welsh population have been marginalised by a political system presided over by a Westminster government who actively seem to work against the best interests of the majority of people in Wales. Those in power make lavish gifts of things we neither want, or need (larder rats), and manage our expectations by reinforcing the idea that Wales could not survive alone.

Rebel Sun also references political and academic figures such as Lewis Valentine and Leonard Goldstein who held strong left wing beliefs even when it cost them dearly. I have a deep admiration for anybody willing to do this in order to create a better world for everybody, not just themselves, and wanted to pay homage to the fact that their legacy lives on long after they have folded into earth.

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Rebel Sun is out now with Parthian Books: https://www.parthianbooks.com/collections/pre-order/products/rebel-sun

 

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Eric Ngalle Charles on how he writes poetry

‘I write then I revisit until I can relive the memory again exactly as I remember it.’

Eric Ngalle Charles is a Cameroonian born Wales based writer, poet and dramatist. He provides us with a vivid insight into his writing process and how memory inspires and informs his poetry.

‘I have little memory triggers. The other day I saw an insect with very tiny legs, it looked like it was doing press-ups on this huge tree, it took me back in time to when my mother first told me about the antics of the ‘’Molikilikili’’ (preying mantis) and the Ngo’le (millipede) as we sat around the fireside and the August rains pounded the thatch roof of our kitchen.

Two years after my daughter was born I wrote a poem ‘Playing with your white hair’ which was published in my first poetry anthology Between a Mountain and a Sea. As I plaited her hair, the memory carried me all the way to when I was 11 years old growing up in a place called Mundemba in Ndian Division, Cameroon. One of my chores was to search my brother in law’s head for white hair. He was like a father to me, ‘What greater love express from father to son than playing with your white hair’ is a line from the poem. I write then I revisit until I can relive the memory again exactly as I remember it.

I am fascinated by blindness as a metaphor. Ben Okri writes in his book, Famished Road, ‘We are all born blind, some chose to see, some chose to remain blind.’ James Baldwin takes it even further by asking ‘Can blindness be desired? What have those eyes seen to desire to see no more?’ In these post-truth times I guess as a poet we have the duty to ask, ponder this issue of blindness, do we allow the chaotic state of the world to continue? Shall we speak or shall we all retire into a hill in Abertawe. These are the kind of questions my mind asks, these are the things that trigger different memories.

Each poem is as unique as its author. When I was travelling from Swansea to LLandudno, the view, the mountains, the sea inspired Hiraeth, it reminded me so much of home that I wrote the poem ‘Between a Mountain and a Sea’ as a tribute to Wales and at the same time planning my homecoming.

Last but not least, I am fascinated by languages, if I hear people quarrelling, lovers holding hands and speaking, ‘my spirit craves, my mind wonders’ – I want to be under a tree and just drift.’

Eric’s poetry can be found in Poetry Wales volume 52.2 , Winter 2016 issue.

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Emily Blewitt’s ‘How I Write a Poem’

With April comes spring and so does an exciting poetry collection by a fresh new voice. Emily Blewitt shares her thoughts on how to write a poem with us.

‘The poem has to have time to settle before I edit. I have to trust that whatever cul-de-sacs or corners I’ve written myself into, I’ll be able to escape.’

I can write anywhere, more or less, but I must have space: head-space; space on the page. I like to write in notebooks, first. The notebook must be good, but not too good to spoil.

The initial idea niggles, humming in the background. Sometimes, a single line appears first. I take it for a walk, test its stamina. There are lines that haunt. There are texts I read that enable writing because their rhythm is infectious. I see something, or remember something, in a different way because of them. I notice the world and its potential. I witness – look at this, this. This here is true; this is important. It usually happens when I’m supposed to be doing something else.

I handwrite first and then move to the laptop to write through the initial draft. And it is through – there is no way but through. My ideas shift and transform; the trick is not to be disappointed. If I’m lucky, there’ll be a tipping point – a point at which the words take on a momentum of their own, quickly and surprisingly. The words become a poem, and this poem often has very little to do with the original intention of writing a poem. The stabilisers come off; we’re free-wheeling down the hill; it feels like flight. The poem sings. It almost – but not quite – writes itself. Perhaps it gives the impression of writing itself, but I have to run to catch up with it. I do catch up with it.

The poem has to have time to settle before I edit. I have to trust that whatever cul-de-sacs or corners I’ve written myself into, I’ll be able to escape. This calls for faith – though not the religious sort. I have to stop tinkering for a little while, to trust that the poem will find its shape. That I’ll find the balancing point again. It becomes intuitive, to know when to press the thing and when to leave it.

Emily Blewitt was born in Carmarthen, Wales. She studied at Oxford and York, and has a PhD from Cardiff University, where she specialised in poetic representations of pregnancy in nineteenth-century and contemporary women’s writing.  She has published poetry in The Rialto, Ambit, Poetry Wales, The Interpreter’s House, Furies, Hinterland, Brittle Star, and Cheval, and was Highly Commended for best individual poem in the 2016 Forward Prizes. Her debut poetry collection, This Is Not A Rescue, is published by Seren Books. Emily’s poetry featured in spring 2016 issue of Poetry Wales, 51.3.

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