'A Handful of Blue Earth' Marilyn Hacker on her translation of the poems of Vénus Khoury-Ghata

Posted on May 26, 2017 by Heather Gallagher

Marilyn Hacker has translated several of the works of Vénus Khoury-Ghata. Here to celebrate her latest translation A Handful of Blue Earth, Marilyn discusses the translation process and what inspires her about Vénus Khoury-Ghata. Read on for a poem from A Handful of Blue Earth.

 

A Handful of Blue Earth

 

A Handful of Blue Earth is your translation of the poems written by Vénus Khoury-Ghata. When did you first read these poems and what initially drew you to them?

 This is the sixth book of Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s that I have translated since 2000. I had read collections of her poetry in French, and been intrigued by how much implied history there was – history in the macro-historical and in the tale-telling sense –informing them. I was asked, back in 2000,  by an editor to give a reader’s report on an anthology of French and Francophone women’s poetry scheduled for publication. There were a couple of poems of Vénus’ that were so full of howlers of mistranslation – which I signalled to the editor – that I was impelled to re-translate them. Some months later, I met Vénus through a mutual writer friend, and knowing her, knowing the person and the personality behind the work, was another impetus to engage with it.

 

Throughout the collection, there are a range of poetic forms and styles. Is there any particular form that you would say presents a particular challenge as a translator?

There are no actual metrical /rhymed/stanzaic ” fixed poetic forms”  -- either coming from the French (or Arabic) literary canon or invented by the poet – in this book, or in any of Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s poetry, though there is a difference between the short-lined verse of the “Lady of Syros” and the more surreal prose-poem-like paragraph-stanzas from the “Book of Petitions” , while the long “Mothers and the Mediterranean” poem partakes of both.   The rhythms and the breath of the short-lined poems are quite different from the marvellously meandering sentences of that border on prose. It’s not hard to keep them apart.

There are not as many formal  - in the sense of metrical/syllabic , etc. forms – virtuosos working currently in French poetry as there are in contemporary poetry in English  -- thinking of George Szirtes, Mimi Khalvati, Derek Mahon, Patience Agbabe , for example , though Jacques Roubaud is an exception. I once translated a series of (also surreal ) sequences in decasyllabic dixains  - ten-line stanzas of ten syllables each – by another poet, Marie Etienne, which was surprisingly easy, given how much iambic pentameter I had written myself – and even led me to write something using the same form.

 

Do you have a particular process when translating poetry? 

No…I often find myself reading a poem in French and “recreating” it in English, and that’s the impulse to translate it. If there’s a book of translations to complete, the process is less meandering than that.

 

This poetry collection deals with a variety of themes such as exile, warfare and female relationships. Is there any motif in particular that stands out to you as the defining theme of the collection?

Oddly, the only relationship between women I noticed in this collection was that of the daughter who “becomes” the pre-Cycladic statue to her mother. It’s a subject that has been primary in my own work, and an intense ,conflicted mother/ daughter relationship is central to another book of Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s that I translated , Nettles, published by Graywolf Press in the U.S. in 2008.  Exile and expatriation, though, are themes that run through all this poet’s work  - quoting from “The Book of Petitions”:

How can you weep in a language no longer your own

what can you call walls not imbued with your sweat  

In both the “Lady of Syros” and “The Book of Petitions,” death itself is seen as a kind of exile or expatriation  - which, paradoxically, makes it seem less final and inexorable: exiles sometimes return.  Whereas the state of war evoked in “The Mothers and the Mediterranean” seems almost more permanent than death – and I think it was the persistent murderous state of war now in Syria, in Iraq, that brought the civil war in Lebanon so urgently back to the poet’s imagination…as well as the city of Beirut, where she grew up, very specifically evoked in that sequence.

 

Would you say that reading and translating Vénus’ poems has influenced your own poetry? 

I’ve translated extensively from the work of about ten French or Francophone poets in the last going-on-twenty years, and there has been, intentionally or inadvertently, dialogue with several of them in my own work.  Here is a glosa, a Spanish form in which the poet takes 4 lines from a poem by another poet, and composes 4 ten line stanzas, each ending with one of those four lines in turn  -- this was written elaborating on four lines of the poem by Vénus Khoury-Ghata that is given in its entirety, following.

 

GLOSE

 The death of a sparrow has blackened the snow

But  nothing consoled her

Who is the night among all nights ? she asked the owl

But the owl doesn’t think, the owl knows

Vénus Khoury-Ghata : “Borderland”

 

Dumb heat, not snow, sheathes Paris in July

and sheathes suburban Washington.

Planes rip through the fabric of a frayed

afternoon torn open

by words no afterwards will clarify.

Knowing what happened, no one will know.

We had a friend ;  she had a young  son.

There was exile, its weight on a day.

There was the heart’s ice, its insistent glow.

The death of a sparrow has blackened the snow.

 

Trope upon silvered trope, of what might a mirror

remind her : copper, black silk , the eloquence

intelligence gives eyes ?  Reflected terror

that conscripted all intelligence.

I am a great way off and cannot come nearer.

I do not know what the night or the mirror told her

or the sense of the words she wrote when nothing made sense,

or if they made a sense that seemed clearer and clearer.

The child raised his arms to be lifted, to be held, to hold her,

but nothing consoled her.

 

Put the morning away in the murk of myth :

not the unthinkable, but Radha’s dance

breaking her bangles, imploring the dark god with

metered and musical lamentations,

repeated measures meant to distance death

suggest a redemptive spiral for the soul

(child, child bleeding to death, no second chance)

 in the containment of despair and wrath

within the peopled descent of the ritual.

 

(Who is the night of all nights she asked the owl.)

 

No dark god was there, and no god of light .

There are women and men, cruel or fallible.

No mild friend picked up the telephone at the right

moment ; some Someone was unavailable.

The morning which paled from an uneventful night

would have been ordinary, except that she chose.

Interrogate the hours, invent some oracle

flying overhead , read fate into its flight.

We think the snow was blackened by dead sparrows,

but the owl doesn’t think; the owl knows.

 Vénus Khoury-Ghata

 

From “Nettles

 it should have been beautiful and it was merely sad

gardens departed this life more slowly than men

we would eat our sorrow down to the last drop then

belch it in splinters in the face of the cold

the sun’s spirit kept the sun from warming us

a sun that eventually ran dry        from so much concentration

It was elsewhere

it was a very long time ago

tired of calling us the mother left the earth to enter the earth

seen from above she looked like a pebble

seen from below she looked like a flaking pine-cone

sometimes she wept    in sobs that made the foliage tremble

life, we cried out to her, is a straight line of noises

death an empty circle

outside there is winter

the death of a sparrow has blackened the snow

But     nothing consoled her

who is the night among all nights? she asked the owl

but the owl doesn’t think

the owl knows

 Translated by Marilyn Hacker

(from Names, W.W. Norton and Co., 2010)

 

Marilyn Hacker is the author of thirteen books of poems, including A Stranger’s Mirror (Norton, 2015), Names (Norton, 2010), Essays on Departure (Carcanet, 2006), an essay collection, Unauthorized Voices (Michigan, 2010), and fourteen collections of translations of French and Francophone poets including Emmanuel Moses, Marie Etienne, Vénus Khoury-Ghata, Habib Tengour and Rachida Madani. DiaspoRenga, a collaborative sequence written with the Palestinian-American poet Deema Shehabi, was published by Holland Park Press in 2014. She lives in Paris.

 

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'My Dark Horses' an interview with Jodie Hollander

Posted on April 28, 2017 by Heather Gallagher
To celebrate the release of her latest collection, Sophie Hewitt is in conversation with Jodie Hollander, delving into the influences and inspiration behind My Dark Horses. Read on for a poem from Jodie's collection, entitled 'A Box', and see where you can catch her UK readings this May.

My Dark Horses

 

Can you tell us how you came to choose My Dark Horses as the title for your collection?

Anyone familiar with my work knows that my poetry isn’t afraid to face darkness and dysfunction. When I wrote the poem, My Dark Horses, it instantly felt like I hit upon a theme central to the collection, so it wasn’t long after that I wanted to make it the title poem. I love the symbolism that the title portrays, and I feel that it prepares the reader for what’s to come.

 

Many of your poems have the subtitle of After Rimbaud. What is the significance of this?

During a wonderful residency in France, I started working on new book of poems that engage with and respond to Rimbaud’s collection, Illuminations. My translation of certain lines in Rimbaud’s work inspired a whole new series of ideas for me. At first, I thought this work would be part of a separate collection, but I found the ideas were grappling with similar themes as the poems in My Dark Horses. As I look at them now, I’m pleased with the different aesthetic that they bring to the book. I still hope to compile a collection made up exclusively of Rimbaud response poems.

 

Many of the poems contain references to classical music, whether it’s about classical instruments or specific pieces. How much of an influence has classical music had on your poetry? Do you think that music in important in writing poetry?

Music was everywhere during my childhood. My mother, father, sister and brother are all professional classical musicians, and a typical dinner conversation usually centered on the Bach Double Concerto, or the final movement of a Paganini piece. All three of us children were required to take classical music lessons. While my sister and brother quickly emerged as virtuoso talents, I found myself working twice as hard yet progressing at half their speed – so I convinced my parents to let me quit music lessons. This was a huge relief, but being the only non-musician in the family meant I was often left out of family discussions and music-centered events. I don’t think any of this was purposeful on the part of my family, they were all just infatuated with classical music, and I had other interests. Looking back on it now, I think this time was really when my poetic sensibility began to develop. I spent a lot of time alone, taking long walks or lying under the piano and observing the family practice sessions. These early observations stayed imprinted in my mind and later found their way into my poems.

To your second question, Duke Ellington said it best: “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” I think music is the single most important element in writing good poems. In my mind, poetry exists somewhere in between music and prose. Good poetry is pleasing to the ear, and therefore, the music is part of the meaning of the poem. This is also why I love reading metrical poetry, and why I’m working on mastering the craft myself. Without music, I feel that a poem is just prose organized in a different way.

 

Family appears to be the main theme running throughout the collection. What has drawn you to write about family in your poetry?

So much happened to me during my childhood, that I felt I had a story that needed to be told. That being said, I don’t think we necessarily get to choose our subject matter. If I did have a choice I’d probably write about climate change or some hot political topic. Instead, I write about what’s on offer – what comes to me. I’m hoping that my next book will be about something different, but for me, the muse must approve.

 

Your poems confront difficult issues such as grief and loss but have been described as containing a ‘tough humour’ (Brackenbury). Why did you decide to include this underlying humour in many of your poems?

As Shakespeare and many other great artists have taught us, life is a mixture of both tragedy and comedy. I think the best works of art in any medium find a way to embrace both of these conditions. In my own poems, I often see the irony or even hypocrisy in many of the situations I describe, and sometimes that can be expressed through a kind of humour. I wish more contemporary poetry used humour, as I feel it’s a wonderful quality in poetry; it offsets some of the darkness, and really deepens the experience of the poem.

  

Below is 'The Box' from Jodie Hollander's latest collection My Dark Horses

 

A Box

 

All those years

of trying to understand

which of this is her,

which of this is me?

Getting at the truth

was always so confusing

amidst her craziness;

how to separate?

And though the shrink said

Put her in a box

I never quite could

 

until that Saturday

when the doorbell rang:

and there stood a man

thin and bedraggled,

dripping in the rain.

He held a clipboard,

a small warped box,

containing my mother

or rather her remains.

Sign here, he said,

and handed me the box.

 

Funny how this came

surprisingly unbidden,

though I’ve often wondered

if in a weak moment

I didn’t wish for this.

But now that it’s here

what am I to do

except to hold it close,

feel its roughness

up against my cheek,

smell that terrible smell

of factory cardboard

now finally between us.

 

Jodie Hollander

Jodie Hollander was raised in a family of classical musicians. Her work has appeared in publications such as The Poetry Review, The Dark Horse, The Rialto, Verse Daily, The Warwick Review, The Manchester Review, Australia’s Best Poems, 2011, and Australia’s Best Poems of 2015. Her debut pamphlet, The Humane Society, was released with Tall-Lighthouse in 2012. She is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship in South Africa, and was awarded a MacDowell Colony fellowship in 2015.

 

You can find Jodie at the following events around the UK this May:

May 9: Pavilion Poetry Book Launch and reading with Nuar Alsadir and Marilyn Hacker
May 10: Reading and presentation at the Liverpool Athenaeum
May 11: Reading at York Central Library with Nuar Alasdir and Ruby Robinson
May 13: Reading at The Bookcase, Hebden Bridge Yorkshire
May 16: Reading at Albion Beatnik Bookstore, Oxford with Ben Parker and Harry Man
May 17: Lunchtime Reading at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford with Jane Spiro
May 18: Daunt Books, Cheapside, London with Sarah Westcott and Susan Wicks
May 21: Torriano Meeting House, London with Sarah Westcott and Sarah Corbett
May 23: CB1 Poetry, CB2 Cafe, Cambridge Reading with Sarah Howe
May 24: Pighog Poetry Reading, Nightingale Room, Brighton
May 25: Words and Ears, Swan Hotel, Bradford on Avon
May 26: Reading at Keats House, Hampstead, London
May 28: Reading at Octavo’s Books, Cardiff with Christina Thatcher

 

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In conversation with Nuar Alsadir on 'Fourth Person Singular'

Posted on April 21, 2017 by Heather Gallagher

To celebrate the release of Pavilion Poetry's three new collections for 2017, and in the run up to the official launch, we have a series of exciting interviews to share with you. This week, Natalie Bolderston is in conversation with poet, writer, and psychoanalyst Nuar Alsadir, on her brand new collection Fourth Person Singular

 Fourth Person Singular

 

1) Could you explain the title of your collection, Fourth Person Singular?

There was a period during which I was trying to figure out what kind of speaker to use in my poems. I was grappling with the recognition that even though I’d developed an aversion to confessional poetry, the poems I found moving, which served as my measure of a poem’s value, were invariably lyric, written in the first person and addressed—as is all speech—to a second person, whether circumscribed or implied. I spent the bulk of my waking hours trying to work out this problem until one night, during sleep, my dream voice said, “The fourth person singular exists in the fourth dimension.” I woke up and immediately began attempting to decode that fragment by researching the fourth dimension (I have a background in neuroscience, so the task was not as daunting as it may have otherwise been). Amazingly, through the lens of four-dimensional space-time, it is possible to grasp the meaning of the fourth person singular. There’s a lyric essay in my book that explains what I came up with.

 

2) In that essay, you discuss physics, with particular focus on four-dimensional space-time. What are the challenges of this?

I suppose the biggest challenge would be that the ideas might seem too difficult, alien, causing the reader to disconnect. But that’s always a concern with science and math, which are often shrouded with so many associations of impenetrability that it can be difficult to step back and allow the beauty to come through—as one might be more able or willing to do with a complex piece of music. 

 

3) Can you tell us a bit about how your background as a psychoanalyst feeds into your writing?

I am endlessly fascinated by the mind, how it draws associations, redacts, displaces, represses, moves. The most useful sessions occur when the analysand does not have an agenda or subject and allows themselves to simply free-associate. In doing so, the mind will invariably come upon something significant that the analyst will ideally recognize, point out, so that it can be explored. That free association is similar to improvisation in dance. The improvisation is necessary to figure out how the body is organized and moves, but eventually certain gestures will stand out, demand interrogation, and become the basis of the choreography of a piece. The choreography may appear improvised because of where it originated, but is, in fact, carefully crafted.  I hope my writing similarly retains that free associative, improvisational impulse even as the choreography of the book is consciously set.

 

4) Throughout the book, you make use of a range of poetic forms and intertextual references. As a writer, do you have any particular influences – literary or otherwise?

The poetic forms reflect the shape of the gestures or thoughts propelled by that free associative, improvisational impulse I just mentioned. As for influences, I’m really more of a thinker than a reader. When I read, I like reading poetry, aphorisms, philosophy, theory—texts that I can read very little of and then think about, off-page, for hours. As I turn over phrases, images or ideas in my mind, I invariably alter them. In the book, I’ve used the altered forms—representing my Franz Kafka, or my André Breton—and have then provided the correct version in the notes. All of the texts I reference in my book are important to me, but I’d have to say the greatest influence on my writing is quotidian experience. I’m probably as inspired by what happens on the subway as I am by what happens within texts. There’s a great line in Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, “I’ve been around the world several times and now only banality still interests me… I’ve tracked it with the relentlessness of a bounty hunter.” Virginia Woolf has that relentlessness, as does Larry David, Tracey Emin. I can think of many contemporary poets whom I’d consider bounty hunters in that same way.

 

5) In one of your lyric essays, you reveal the process behind creating your 'night fragments': waking up at 3:15 a.m. each night, and writing down whatever was at the top of your mind. Do you have any other processes or rituals that help you to write?

Marianne Moore once wrote, “We must have the courage of our peculiarities.” That precept guides my process. I’m open to letting my peculiarities reveal themselves, and to exploring whatever sense of shame that revelation might evoke. In psychoanalysis, there’s no subject matter or material that is higher or lower than any other. I approach poetry in a similar way. 

 

6) The collection features striking illustrations, photographs and references to visual artists, such as Louise Bourgeois and Marlene Dumas. How do you think poetry relates to or complements visual art?

I’ve always wished my poems could be experienced as art installations, so that the reader could enter and experience them without the linear unfolding created by reading across and down the page. I’ve tried to disrupt that linear unfolding somewhat with simultaneous texts, but the dimensional limitations of the page are unavoidable. The mind doesn’t have thoughts, see images, hear, smell, perceive in tidy succession—that cacophonous chaos, which visual arts often capture so vividly, is exciting to me.

 

Click here to read an excerpt from Fourth Person Singular featured in Granta 

 

Nuar Alsadir Photo by Grace Yu (c)

Nuar Alsadir is a poet, writer and psychoanalyst. Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Granta, The New York Times Magazine, Slate, Grand Street, the Kenyon Review, tender, Poetry London and Poetry Review; and a collection of her poems, More Shadow Than Bird, was published by Salt in 2012. She is on the faculty at New York University, and works as a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst in private practice in New York. Her latest collection Fourth Person Singular can be found here

 

     

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    Pavilion Poetry Open for Submissions

    Posted on December 27, 2016 by Heather Gallagher

     

    Pavilion Poetry is open for submissions

     

    We are delighted to announce submissions to our award-winning Pavilion Poetry series are being accepted during January 2017 for first full length collections only. If you are interested in working with our series editor, Professor Deryn Rees-Jones (Professor of Poetry at University of Liverpool and Next Generation Poet 2005) and being published alongside Mona Arshi (Forward Prize winner for Best First Collection 2015) and Ruby Robinson (shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize 2016), then please send a covering letter, your writing CV (detailing where you have previously published and any awards/prizes won), a collection of your poetry and a stamped self-addressed envelope to:

     

    Alison Welsby, Editorial Director

    Pavilion Poetry submissions

    Liverpool University Press

    4 Cambridge Street

    Liverpool L69 7ZU

    UK

     

    Only postal submissions will be accepted and they must be received at the above address between 1st – 31st January 2017. Due to the number of submissions expected, we are unable to offer feedback, however we will try and notify you of our decision by the end of March.

     

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    Pavilion Poetry and the 2016 Forward Prizes

    Posted on August 23, 2016 by Heather Gallagher
    Pavilion Poetry and LUP would like to congratulate Ruby Robinson and Sarah Westcott on their achievements in the 2016 Forward Prizes for Poetry! 

     

    Ruby Robinson on the nomination of Every Little Sound for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection.

     

    Sarah Westcott for her poem Inklings (from Slant Light) which has been Highly Commended by the judges for this year’s Forward Prizes for Poetry. It will be published this autumn in The Forward Book of Poetry 2017.

     

    Ruby Robinson

     

    Drawing from neuroscience on the idea of 'internal gain', an internal volume control which helps us amplify and focus on quiet sounds in times of threat, danger or intense concentration, Ruby Robinson's brilliant debut introduces a poet whose work is governed by a scrupulous attention to the detail of the contemporary world. Moving and original, her poems invite us to listen carefully and use ideas of hearing and listening to explore the legacies of trauma. The book celebrates the separateness and connectedness of human experience in relationships and our capacity to harm and love.

    Ruby Robinson was born in Manchester in 1985 and lives in Sheffield. She studied English Literature at the University of East Anglia and has an MA from Sheffield Hallam University where she also won the Ictus Prize for poetry. Her poems have appeared in The Poetry Review, Poetry (Chicago) and elsewhere.

     Sarah Westcott


    In her first full-length collection, Sarah Westcott immerses the human self in the natural world, giving voice to a remarkable range of flora and fauna so often silenced or unheard. Here, the voiceless speaks, laments and sings - from the fresh voice of a spring wood to a colony of bats or a grove of ancient sequioa trees. Unafraid of using scientific language and teamed with a clear eye, Westcott’s poems are drawn directly from the natural world, questioning ideas of the porosity of boundaries between the human and non-human and teeming with detail. A series of lyrical charms inspired by Anglo-Saxon texts draw on the specificity of the botanical and its spoken heritage, suggesting a relevance that resonates today. Westcott’s poems are alive to the beautiful in the commonplace and offer up a precise honouring of the wild, while retaining a deeply-felt sense of connection with a planet in peril.

    Sarah Westcott’s debut pamphlet Inklings was the Poetry Book Society’s Pamphlet Choice for Winter 2013. Her poems have been published in journals including Poetry Review, Magma and Poetry Wales and in anthologies including Best British Poetry 2014 (Salt). Sarah grew up in north Devon, on the edge of Exmoor, and has a keen interest in the natural world. She holds a science degree and an MA in poetry from Royal Holloway, University of London. Sarah lives on the London/Kent borders with her family and, after a spell teaching English abroad, works as a news journalist.

     

    Take a look at the other nominees for the 2016 Forward Prizes on the official website.

     

    To stay updated with all of our Pavilion Poets follow us on twitter @PavilionPoetry

    Ruby Robinson @RubyxRobinson

    Sarah Westcott @sarahwestcott1

     

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