Wednesday, 30 January 2013
Tuesday, 29 January 2013
Sunday, 27 January 2013
Aye aye! It's Sunday, and it's also quite cold outside. Since we're all still enveloped in the white embrace of winter, here at Dr Fulminare we're bringing you a review that is all about the cold season: two books in one go, one is called Ice, the other is called Skate, both edited by Meredith Collins, and for this special occasion they are being reviewed of course by Jon Snow.
No, hold on a second. Jon Snow was a character from Game of Thrones, the illegitimate son of Eddard Stark. The one I'm probably thinking about is Jon Stone, who works with me at this site. But come to think of it there was another character in Game of Thrones called Mya Stone, who was the illegitimate daughter of Robert Baratheon. What the heck? Are these guys all from the same family?
Never mind. Read the review by clicking on this link while I go ask Kirsten Lannister who was who.
Have a great Sunday!
Wednesday, 23 January 2013
written by the Judge. This article continues a series we started last year in December - here are links to part one and part two. Originally I meant to write a fourth and final part as well, but that one proved to be a bit hairy. It might resurface in the future, more likely in a different form. And I have no idea who Martin Lyell is.
Sunday, 20 January 2013
ROCK ON LADIES AND GENTS!!!!! It's Sunday, and we're bringing you our lovely Sunday review as Judi Sutherland reviews I Am A Magenta Stick by Antony Rowland, whom you can see in the above pic in his winter outfit as he tries to fix his magenta stick (technical problems, I am told). He's a big fish, by the way - latest winner of the Manchester Poetry (assuming that prizes mean anything... see the post below this one).
Click on this link to read the review. If instead you'd rather read on the biology and control of the Mexican prickly poppy, click here.
Have a great Sunday!
Friday, 18 January 2013
And the money is simply the start. Should you be fortunate enough to win the UK's National Poetry Competition, the initial effect must feel not unlike being plucked from the poetry workhouse and given a shot at becoming a gentleman. Furthermore, when entering such competitions, which are necessarily pay-to-play, you are also reminded that in doing so you are supporting the organisers and UK poetry as a while, so even if you don't win, you can console yourself with the fact that you are supporting your artform. Everybody wins, right?
Not exactly. We can stake too much on the life-changing ‘lucky strike’, just as we can fall for the myth that Being Published will automatically mean everybody stops to notice our brilliance. The one-win-solves-all idea is very seductive, but the associated cycle of hope and disappointment can be very damaging to one's self-esteem and capacity for courage. Worse yet, focusing too much on the gold medal can cause us to make unwise, desperate moves that ultimately harm us.
I wasn't published as the result of winning a competition (that came about as a big surprise during the manuscript-mulling period), but partly because I co-ran Fuselit, which led to being invited to read when I moved to London, which led to discovering and supporting the work of others, which eventually led to my now-editor, who was the first person to give me a shot on stage, commissioning my book for Salt. Now that the book is a reality it's amazing but it's hardly been a question of "You've made it. Stop here and collect acclaim."
The alternative is to do as many excellent writers do, and throw ourselves into improving and experimenting. It’s a slower process, but it pays more satisfying and sustainable dividends. Such writers produce work with tremendous character, which influences others along the way. Many have never won a prize or placed in a major competition and nobody cares one iota.
Competitions can be a very positive thing. They do raise needed funds and provide opportunities, particularly for those writers who don’t have access to London’s bustling poetry scene. But for each contest, there are a tiny number of winners, and often only one of these winners receives a financial prize. And unless you garner a whole raft of accolades at once, that glow can fade surprisingly quickly (how many past NPC winners can you name without looking them up?).
Rather than simply reiterating the statistical unlikelihood of winning in the first place, perhaps we should simply remember that prizes guarantee nothing. There are plenty of paths to success outside the awards circuit, and any endeavour which celebrates more than one person, more than once a year, and which carries as a reward something more than a single deal or clot of money, surely offers the best odds for success.
Some martial arts schools treat the gaining of grades not as a mark of achievement but as a test. Once you have been given the belt or grade, it's up to you to work out how best to continue training and developing. Instead of thinking, “Awesome. Now I’m going to write another book”, it would be good to see more victors follow the example of one group of Foyle Young Poets and say, “Awesome. Now let’s start a magazine.”
Wednesday, 16 January 2013
Can Persian poems be understood with effortless ease, and are their pleasures immediately accessible? They can and are with due time, but one must familiarise oneself with the culture, and mature works should be picked as a starting point. Let us discuss the issue with respect to the work of Khojandi, a contemporary poet from Tajikistan.
When I first finished the draft for this article, I forwarded it to a knowledgeable expert to have his opinion. After reading the paper, he told me “your article is full of Persian metaphors and beautiful figures of Persian speech, but translating it into fluent English would be a difficult, complicated matter. An article needs transparent and tangible words.” Our discussion on this subject encouraged me to research several aspects concerning poetry translation. First of all, it became apparent to me that poetry translators should have a strong understanding of the view, the emotion, and the culture of their readers. In addition to this, they should of course adhere to the original concepts presented in the source text and indeed they should try to reproduce the poetic form. Poetry translation is therefore much more challenging than the translation of ordinary texts.
Farzaneh Khojandi is a poet from Tajikistan; her last name derives from the name of her birthplace, Khojand. She has published several poetry books and is nowadays considered the head of poets in Tajikistan, primarily owing to her lyric poems; it is through these poems that she came to be known as “the Forough of Tajikistan”.
“Forough of Tajikistan” may refer to two distinct meanings. Firstly, “Forough” is a Persian word meaning brilliance, brightness, light and shining. It therefore signifies that Farzaneh Khojandi is like a sun shining over the literature of Tajikistan. On the other hand “Forough” reminds me of a female intellectual and prominent Iranian poet, Forough Farrokhzad, sometimes called “the Forough” in Iran.
Will Farzaneh Khojandi of Tajikistan become another Forough Farrokhzad? Will her works find a wide readership? Before tackling these questions, let us provide a brief overview on the relationship between the Persian and English languages.
In the late eighteenth-century Sir William Jones (Youns Uksfardi) noticed the existence of a close relation between certain Indo-European languages. In fact, some other scholars before Jones had already noticed that a family of languages (namely German, English, Persian, and others) share the same root. But how did they develop into their differences? I believe the primary reason has to do with their cultural evolution, relative to their individual nations. A good example of this is the interaction of culture for people who live in Iran and Tajikistan. However, Farsi is a principal joint.
Furthermore, the nineteenth-century saw the beginning of serious inspections of language. Studies of researchers show that language is a social intuition continuously altering. Given this premise, it follows that translation is a correspondently dynamic process. I tend to think that translation must import culture by conveying its concepts, but on the other hand, it will also deform the source poetry. As a result, it will mean a loss of the poetry’s original aesthetic vision.
It seems to me we need more to know about the process of translation behind Khojandi’s poems. Have the translators conveyed the meaning of her poetry under her judgement?! And have they thought of her English readers? It is necessary to hear her opinion on the matter because Iran is a land of civilization and great poets. In a not-so-distant past, many neighbouring countries of Iran – such as Tajikistan – were provinces of modern Iran. Farsi was thus the common language between them. Poets such as Rudaki, Khayyam, Ferdowsi, Rumi, Hafez and Saadi, as well as contemporary poets such as Nima Yooshij, Ahmad Shamloo, Forough Farrokhzad, Sohrab Sepehri are Iranians who have written Farsi poetry.
Of course, Farsi poetry consists of a variety of figures of speech. These include: rhyme, metaphor, imagery symbolism, oxymoron, synaesthesia, personification, ambiguity, defamiliarisation and others. Through these, Persian poetry works like a painting or a film to allow readers to evince a lofty ideal from it. To be more precise, figures of Persian speech are the best aesthetic aspect of Persian poetry. And yet a correct translation of Persian poetry must be familiar with the culture and the background behind the use of certain words (in Farsi).
In the final analysis, although English is already an international language, we require an organization or an institution to include all of the world’s poets and translators in an effort to improve the process of translation. Moreover, it would be a good idea to produce an encyclopedia (by these very poets and translators) in order to simplify translation and decipher figures of speech with respect to the cultural diversity of their lands of origin. Therefore, there needs to be an endless communication with poets and translators of the world to start new studies and to better understand poetry from all countries, including the beauty of Persian poetry.
Maryam Fathollahi was born in 1982 in Tehran (capital of Iran). She has a BA and is currently studying French translation. She started writing poetry in 1997 and has won local competitions in Persian poetry in 2001 and 2005, in Tehran. Her first Persian poetry book was published in 2008, under the title The Beautiful Mares. She is also the author of a script that she completed in 2012. She is currently writing a novel and is editing her second Farsi collection, entitled The Expectation.
Sunday, 13 January 2013
It's my turn back at the reviewing board, and this Sunday I'm giving a twirl to Robert Stein's The Very End of Air. You can find the review here.
It was actually an interesting article to write. The collection itself was a mixed bag, but those aspects that I did not like were very much worth exploring, as I don't think they are exclusive to Stein at all (not even exclusive to poetry, in fact).
Have a great Sunday, or should I say, a great Sunday night!
Wednesday, 9 January 2013
Sunday, 6 January 2013
Wednesday, 2 January 2013
But there is another dualistic opposition in our culture that places science at one end and a specific discipline at the other. This is the slightly vaguer opposition of science and art. We find it encapsulated in the more general dichotomy that is manifest in our education system, that of the sciences versus the humanities. A student is normally expected to orient him/herself in the direction of one of these two, with a number of congruent modules in either of the fields. Furthermore the figure of a great artist, along with that of a great scientist, is presented to us from early childhood as pretty much the purest and noblest aspiration available in this world (not necessarily to the point that we are encouraged to become one, but at the least we are taught to admire them). More importantly, they are the only two models which subsist in a dichotomous relation. No similar bridges are raised between, say, the aspirational figure of a great athlete and that of a great businessman, or that of a great statesman and a great engineer (though these are themselves celebrated). The artist and the scientist seem intuitively related, as though linked by a thread which simultaneously aligns and opposes them to each other.
This commonality between art and religion as cultural ‘others’ to science also points to a commonality in their perceived social role. As disciplines, it is obvious that art and religion are two very different things. However, our culture has developed a way of talking about them – a unified set of clichés, myths and rhetorical figures – which are at heart identical for both. What exactly is the nature of this similarity, why does it persist, and what should be done about it?
Let us begin by exploring the first question. What are the common traits between artistic and religious discourse? What is the (linguistic) emblem that describes both of them? Or, more simply, what are we talking about, traditionally, when we say either ‘art’ or ‘religion’?
To begin with, we are talking about something that is specially recognized for its preciousness; the word we use for religion tends to be ‘holy’, whereas the word we normally use for art is ‘priceless’ (both terms have a similar function – they ban any discursive element with commercial connotations). Economic considerations do not come into it and are in fact considered vile. The real man or woman who follows or engages with this discipline is always expected to think nothing of money, but rather to be wholly dedicated to the object of his / her endeavour. This is understandable, because his / her discipline is not amenable to mathematical models and has no quantifiable dimensions; rather, it defines our society’s ethical standards and helps us find the best way to live our lives, either by teaching or simply by suggesting; it explores and sometimes explains the best path(s) towards happiness, on the strict condition that we be true to ourselves (when our ‘selves’ do not correspond or agree with the work of art or with the dominant religion, this leads to conflict and paradox – as usually explored in minority discourse). As such, it is culture’s primary source of opposition to inducted values such as consumerism or materialism, acting as a stalwart against greed and superficiality. It (supposedly) trains our sensitivity and kindness as well.
Naturally this object that we are talking about is transcendental. Perhaps more significantly, it is an end in itself. Though it benefits society as a whole in a number of ways (Dawkins has contended this bit with respect to religion), it can also be done for its own sake, and indeed is primarily approached for this reason. As a self-sufficient ‘end’, and thinking on a grander scale now, it justifies the whole of humanity. It redeems it, both individually, acting on its people one by one, and also historically. A civilisation may legitimise its course and passage over the face of the earth if it leaves us with a heritage of great art or if it greatly contributes to the spreading of the Word, which is the same thing. It can also attain the same recognition if it greatly advances science – but that’s the other end of the spectrum.
Since in both the cases of art and religion we are talking about what is essentially a discipline, it only rewards in degrees commensurate to the efforts that are put in. It is of little use if it is treated casually, or if it is only thought of in passing, once every now and then. People who handle it this way are regarded with paternal benevolence by those who take it seriously instead (but with frequent encouragements to ‘practice it’ more often, be it by coming to the prayer sessions or by reading the poems of Coleridge / Milton / Neruda...). A serious commitment to this discipline demands long hours of study, a deep acquaintance with the history and culture of your specific ‘school’, and a great deal of introspection. The implicit reward of all this is a certain happiness, of course, but also a special type of wisdom. This may loosely be referred to as ‘enlightenment’, according to its manner (and maybe suddenness) of acquisition. Emphatically, depending on the subject, we may even talk of salvation.
The general conception is this – that though the reward of the discipline is available to everyone, for it is not precluded by class, sex or race, in practice only a handful of people actually attain it. The hierarchy of success, here, is aristocratic: it is defined by a special gift known as ‘talent’ in art and as ‘piety’ in religion (the importance of piety has greatly declined since the times of the legendary saints, but so has proactive religious discourse in general – more on this later). Societies go to great lengths to celebrate individuals with this special gift, and very many of our legends are woven specifically around these people (the only discourse which compares to the spiritual one for mythopoeic power, in fact, is that of war). Therefore in this discipline we find prophets and martyrs, people who see ahead of their time and reveal to us the real nature of things, sending out messages which are then misunderstood or fearfully rejected, or people who die for their commitment to their private cause, thereby becoming instant icons, worshipped past all others, even to the point of eclipsing the real value of their work. After all, they demonstrate the transcendental value of the discipline that they upheld; for is it not worth dying for? Is it not larger than life? And is not one of the greatest tropes in this discourse precisely the separation between ‘art and life’, or between the concerns of ‘after-life and life’?
The myth of the saint, which has an extensive history from the Roman Christian era to well past the middle-ages, is re-elaborated in our present age as the myth of the artist, that precociously illuminated, infinitely sensitive, candid introvert, divorced from ordinary people by virtue of the very talents that elevate him / her above the world. This character is at the heart of such works as James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man or Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kroger. Baudelaire sums up the character in the famous ending to his poem The Albatross:
Keep reading in Part Two...