This text has been updated & will appear in Chrystal Dawn Kedco Studios Philadelphia as an introductory.
From: Sara Russell
To: Robin Ouzman
Sent: Sunday, July 15, 2001 11:47 AM
Subject: For Poetry Life & Times: AUGUST 2001:
Revised March 2003.
12 interview questions
Hi Robin here are the questions
When and why did you first start writing poetry, Robin?
At the age of ten: I wrote a short story about finding a key at the bottom of a garden which subsequently opened a concealed door, very original, it
began...A key can be a an interesting thing sometimes.
Acting in school plays led me through an elocution teacher to enter poetry recital festivals & at the age of 12, I won outright the Bournmouth Festival for my age group 12 to 14, reciting The Moon is Up by Alfred Noise, this gave me a lot of confidence, as it was my first time & many of the entrants had considerable experience of festivals & came from better schools than me.
Also, I remember at twelve reciting Lonfellow’s Hiawatha and Tennyson's The Highwayman. In my parents house there lived an old retired actor, an alcoholic, who’s major claim to fame was Ben Gunn in Disney’s Treasure Island, with Robert Newton as Long John Silver. He took me over & over, Longellow was his favourite but there were others. I used to sit in his room on Thursday nights drinking tea & burning my legs before the gas fire until I got up to do another recitation. I think that developed in me a trained lyrical ear that I began to transmit to writing. One night returning home from the pub he got run over by car & was killed instantly. As I had often previously encountered him emerging from the landing toilet, on my way upstairs to my room at the top of the house. I suffered a trauma for a long time afterwards for fear of encountering his ghost emerging from the toilet, red face, shirt sleeves & rolled trousers at the waist clutched in his hands with his braces hanging down.
In my early twenties I got drawn to Sufi poetry, for example Rumi’s Madnawi, even then the question of translation began to interest me. Rumi (and others like him ) was a teacher with novices, who had to develop esoteric techniques to conceal their writings, which would perhaps be considered heretical in context to the orthodoxy of the new prevailing Islamic regime; again works would often be the combined product of novices in the same manner a painting of Michael Angelo was a product of his apprentices. The matter is of authorship & the name identified with it; how much is Chaucer, Shakespeare & the phenomena that perhaps these fictional & composite identities, were the axis that the literary world & history turned on.
I had earlier infatuations, such as Oscar Wilde, Ibson and so on. I remember at the age of fourteen substituting word for word Rupert Brook's Prelude, so I was quite ham.
Who are your favourite poets, both classic and modern?
It’s works more than favourite poets and those influences traced in the
poet. In some of my works I freely interpolate the lines of other poets.It
is perhaps more apt to talk of poets who don't generally impress me such as
Virgil, Chaucer and Milton or moderns such as Rupert Brook or Rudyard
Kipling or Hilaire Belloc. Borges and Graves interest me but are far from
exclusive, Sappho and Catullus and of course the Tao, Blake. Nowadays, I think Margret Atwood is great. A brilliant article has been written on her works on Orpheus & Euridyce, entitled Heart of Darkness, by my second ex wife under her pen name Amparo Arospide, it’s accessible to read at my den site.
As a translator, do you find that sometimes a poem can lose some of its musicality when translated from the original language?
I believe in process and thought transference, the matrix of process & the language of creation in which human consciousness features through human language in the order of things, not however in a closed universe in which we are it’s centre of consciousness, but in a multi dimensional universe. Poetry is multi dimensional & in this context I see it, in its creation, as translation, experience is reflective & therefore interpretation. But then I think that the origins of language began through the innovation of sympathetic magic & it seems to me an audacity that moderns come along & say, yes but they got it wrong. War was a much later occurrence than the phenomena of our stone age brain, which hasn’t changed so much, not innate in it! I am convinced that in antquity through pastoralism, local groups formed & dispersed & had there own barbaric tongues, which also formed & dispersed, but why didn’t they attack & destroy each other when they met, according to Sartre’s theory of scarcity they should & certainly later nomads did, it was because they had a common symbolic language & experience carried through on the sub consciouss level, quite apart from the signing in their barbaric tongues. Later this symbolic language degenerated into different tribal versions of heavens or paradises, remember Khubla Khan. So in response to your question finally, I guess its sometimes possible that the original version sometimes loses its musicality in translation.
I read a work, The Painted Fields by Robert Robertson, written in a brilliant style English, but it is replete with many old Scots words, which except for a few experts, the majority would find difficult to get the exact shade of nuance or even be able to look up, they are of course footnoted, however it would be absurd to translate them into a modern colloquial form. I suppose in an instance like that, if it were translated into another language the original words would have to be kept & elaborately footnoted.
Perhaps if a poem is more a musical poem than a word poem it may not tally as virtuoso in another language’s operetta, but there are exceptions, think of Danny Boy, first a French chivalry ballad then Italian Operetta and finally found its way to Ireland (or returned there).
Where I am coming from is that if a poem has intrinsically its own intricate beat, translation should transmit that, even though its emergence is another version.
Do you think that sometimes Spanish can sound more passionate than
English, and vice versa?
Well, my son's use of the imperative & demand is a constant source of dismay to his English relatives who come to me with almost tears in their eyes to implore me to tell him to say please. I on the other hand have been reprimanded for, when being logical in my own language, shouting, what is normal for one can be abnormal for the other. In Tao it is said: what is normal soon becomes abnormal, what is auspicious soon turns ominous, Indeed, truth sounds like its opposite.
I know of native English speaking poets, who will only write in Spanish, if that is a passion, that for them they regard Spanish as their more poetic medium, which is more passionate, them or the language !? Samuel Beckett wrote some of his best verse in French. To me, it is a matter of eloquence, languages have their character and characterture, sometimes impressive and sometimes not.
Which classic poetry form do you like best?
I should say Blake in preference to Milton. I think in antiquity people had a more poetically developed view of things in language, they had an oral tradition, which was passed on with secrecy, hence it’s magical powers & caution had to be exercised in the verbal practise of incantations, auguries, spells & so forth. Poetry emerged as an oral tradition, through sympathetic magic, perhaps performed with mime and dance, even drumbeat. I saw Alan Ginsburg at the Belles Artes in Madrid perform many of his readings in much the same way, if that’s beat. I am very much interested in revivalist movement in poetry, the unification of the young & the ancient, again are we ancient or are we young, was our primordial ancient ancestor, ancient or young, who took their ancestry from the stars. Perhaps time is an illusion &
for us mortals there is only age. Jorge Louis Borges says, we are too poor not to be immortal, what an incredible line, but he’d been hypnotised by the moon. So in response to your question, I’d say, I am not so fond of the Graeco/Latin tradition, though Etruscan Latin & Proto Celtic, were similar,
hence Celtic Latin scholarship flourished after the Romans & before the Saxons, but by the time of Milton, he was using Classical Latin English derived from sources such as Virgil. The difference between the Illiad of Homer & the Aenid of Virgil, is that the former is a satire, whilst the latter is a hypocrisy.
Are there any things which irritate you in the poetry you read on the internet?
A lot of it sounds too much like Sunday afternoons & the neighbourhood, with often God as a full stop, it leaves little to the imagination. Also, long
protracted chat quarrels, which just end as banal.
Do you think that the internet is useful for poets?
Yes, but in UK internet is more expensive at present than in USA, Canada, Australia etc. However, I foresee that it could be, if cultivated genuinely, it seems to me there are quite a few sincere artists around, who are trying to do so. Publishing companies used to be closed shops, now with the net & its media explosion access is much easier but the standard goes down, so I don’t think we should neglect hand literature.
You are a regular on the Yahoo group Describe Adonis. How did you first
hear about that group?
I am cautious about submitting or subscribing to lists but I am a member of several which can be seen . http://www.yahoogroups.com/robinhislop2002 I took interest in Describe Adonis because it insisted on only Sonnet, Quatrain or Villanelle, also, I thought I had encountered Richard Vallence on the web somewhere a year or so before, but it turned out not to be the case. Exactly how I found it though, I don’t remember, Manna I suppose. Anyway, I really appreciate the effort Richard puts into the list, it makes great reading & is satisfying to contribute to, as it is to contribute to your excellent ezine journal, which again I found through Describe Adonis.
9. Poetry L&T:
Which subjects do you write about the most?
I suppose I am complex & write what might be versioned as metaphysical poetry, but my inspiration is the Muse, La Musa. I was at work, until quite recently on projects, compiling and translating, in collaboration, an anthology of the Irish writer James Stephens, a contemporary with Joyce, Yeats etc., and translating into English Las Diosas Blancas, an anthology of contemporary female poetry published in 1985, two years after the so called transition to democracy after the death of Franco in 1976, but these are in abeyance at present. Poetry is more than imagination, but it must display imagination. I write as & when the music comes, one minute it is not there, the next minute it is, breathtaking. I know eventually, I am writing in intent the for the humanity of the human race & in dread of our loss of humanity, but ultimately it is always to pay homage to La Musa. Certainly, I believe that in this age, we must develop a much greater humanitarian outlook on our humanity, by which we should understand the term the human race & not just as a genus of the specie human being, motivated as it is these days by self interest.
I once saw an illustrated antique (Victorian) book of Dante's Inferno,
which I regretted not buying ever since. Is there any such book you would like to get hold of?
Quite a few, at present I am trying to hurry along my first ex wife, to send me a copy of Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wulf, which she has in first edition. But I am going to say Mowgli by Rudyard Kipling, the bedtime stories that my parents read to me, because I remember an old big book with very large print and in the pages beside great paintings and it was the tiger in one of those paintings, that I believe must have been the sort of picture that Blake saw. The book was passed down to my father & would be more than a hundred years old now.
Which classical poetic era would you like to visit, if you could travel
back in time?
I wouldn’t have minded being a novice under the tutelage of Rumi, but might have been better to have been a kind of Archilles novice on the Isle of Lesbos with Sappho!?
Finally, Robin, what advice would you give to a young aspiring poet who
wished to improve enough to be published?
Well, I don’t like judges,I don't mean discrimination, I don’t like saints & I don’t like prophets, we don’t need them in poetry & to bear in mind the writing of good poetry is more than a leisure, it’s a task. In the words of Dylan: Don’t follow the leaders, watch the parking meters.
Thank you for the interview, Robin.
July 2001 Poetry Life & Times:
Robin Ouzman Hislop