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Saturday, 27 August 2016

A Monolingrel's Forays into European Poetry #1: Paul Celan


So then! On Wednesday next week, Sidekick team up with the Stockholm Review of Literature for the above event, Alkemi, which centers around European poetry read in its original form alongside English translations. In the last few days before the event, I'm going to do a very short series of posts about key European poets of My Bookshelf, from the perspective of a reader with very little aptitude (despite ongoing attempts to rectify this) for foreign languages.

To start with, Paul Celan, born Paul Antschel, 1920 - 1970, a Romanian-born poet who wrote in German, forging progressively sparser, sharper, harder sliver-shards of poetry throughout his career.


My first encounter with Celan was in the third year of my undergraduate degree at UEA. I apologise for the mundanity of this. He appeared on a course of major German poets, alongside Rilke and Hölderlin, and I wrote a coursework essay on him, which I am sure I could no longer stand by, arguing that he was writing toward the 'end of language'. The marks I received suggested I was on the right track, but that has very little to do with why I keep returning to this poet.

The bluffer's guide to poetry will tell you that if someone brings up Celan, you bring up his suicide and the Holocaust. Both of Celan's parents died in labour camps, and he himself spent time in one before being liberated by the Russian advance. It's widely accepted that his poetry addresses and struggles with that experience, and his most famous poem, 'Todesfuge' (Death Fugue), is entirely unambiguous in taking on that subject matter. The bluffer's guide might suggest that you quote "through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech", Celan's assessment of how language itself (in particular, German) was brutalised by the Nazi regime. Beyond that, you may well be advised to say nothing at all - Celan is difficult, and more importantly, criticism of Celan is difficult. What I've read of it is deep-reaching, meticulous, hard to follow and impossible for me to summarise. It makes the poet himself seem dark, despondent and, er, difficult.

But still, none of this is why I keep coming back to him. This may seem intellectually irresponsible, even culturally insensitive, but I'm not that interested in engaging with the Holocaust, or with the Jewish experience, through Celan's writing. To the extent that particular poems can be traced back to distinct episodes in his life, this is a little more arresting, but I am generally not a fan of parsing the poem as biographical insight. For me, he is much more intriguing as a poet of jagged, crystal strangeness, particularly towards the end of his career, when he made heavy use of neologisms and portmanteau, shunting words together to gesture at new and frightening concepts. An important part of the effect comes from the hard edges (as I perceive it) of the German language, and it's always worth reading several translations of Celan to see the extent to which different translators have tried echo the sound of the original poem.

My favourite translations, by the way, are those by Ian Fairley, who has produced two books of Celan translations for Carcanet - Snowpart and Fathomsuns and Benighted. He keeps a lot of the portmanteau words. They're like little birds made of sawblades. The poems are often extremely short - seemingly easily to swallow, yet liable to get caught in the throat. Check out this little number from Snowpart:

ZUR NACHTORDNUNG Über-
gerittener, Über-
geschlitterter, Über-
gewitterter,

Un-
besungender, Un-
bezwungener, Un-
umwundener, vor
die Irrenzelte gepflanzter

seelenbärtiger, hagel-
äugiger, Weisskies-
stottererer.


TO THE ORDER OF NIGHT Over-
ridden, Over-
slidden, Over-
swithined,

Un-
sung, Un-
swung, Un-
witherwrung,
planted ahead the bedlam tents,

soulbearded, hailstone-
eyed, Whitepebble-
stutterer.

I could probably go into a thorough comparison of different translations at this point, but I'm not sure I'm up to the task right now, and this is meant to be a very short article. So I'll end here by saying that the German sound is so integral to the feel of Celan's poems that when I attempted my own versions, I went so far as to ignore the literal sense entirely and produce a homophonic translation, a form of poem decried by Don Paterson as avant-garde whimsy. The result frustrated a reviewer of my own book, though it's hard to imagine he would have found much more sense in a literal translation. Below is the original German, followed by Ian Fairley's translation, then Michael Hamburger's, and finally my homophonic version from School of Forgery.






Further reading:
http://www.celan-projekt.de/materialien-felstiner.html

Thursday, 21 July 2016

FINDERS KEEPERS emerges from the forest!


Finders Keepers by Harry Man and Sophie Gainsley is out now! A poetic field guide to Britain's vanishing wildlife, its poems and colour illustrations turn the spotlight on foxes, salmon, butterflies, bats and more.

The authors are also geocaching the poems in various locations around the country. Follow @keeperfinder on Twitter or visit finderskeepers.org to keep up to date with the latest information.


Friday, 1 April 2016

Vote for Sidekick Books in this year's Saboteur Awards!


The Saboteur Awards are now open for nominations! Since the vast majority of poetry prizes in the UK focus almost exclusively on single-author collections, the Saboteur Awards are Sidekick's only real chance to win garlands for our amazing poets, artists and contributors. The shortlist and subsequent winners are decided by popular vote, and it's therefore very important that readers and fans of our books take part in the voting process if we're to stand a chance. With that in mind, we humbly request your support!

The nominations round is open until 24th April, and involves filling out at least three categories on the form on this page.

Here are the categories we are eligible for:

1. Nominate the Most Innovative Publisher


We'd really like you to put us down for this! No other publisher that we're aware of is mixing together different media and experimenting so freely with the possible forms of the poetry anthology and pamphlet.

6. Nominate a Best Collaborative Work


We have two eligible titles for this category: Hell Creek Anthology by J.T. Welsch and Dom & Ink, which is an illustrated retelling of the Spoon River Anthology with dinosaurs from Montana. And Surveyors' Riddles by Alistair Noon and Giles Goodland, in which the two poets trade poems reactively and spontaneously, generating a sprawling mixture of alt-history, satire and prophetic puzzles.

12. Nominate a Best Anthology


We have two titles eligible for this category: Over The Line: An Introduction to Poetry Comics, edited by Chrissy Williams and Tom Humberstone, which is the UK's first anthology of poetry comics and which comes endorsed by both Alan Moore and Poetry London. And Birdbook: Farmland, Heathland, Mountain, Moorland, which is our third mega-collection of contemporary bird poems and illustrations, with poems by, among others, David Morley, who has just won the Ted Hughes Award, and Chris Beckett, who was nominated for the same award.

Feel free to fill out the other categories in whatever fashion suits you. Thanks in advance for your support and your time, everyone!

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Beasts! Beasts all over the Library!

Orcas and Dinos and Bears, oh my!

A parliament of strange beasties crept and swooped and skittered across Covent Garden last night, as Sidekick ran wild with Birds, Tiger and Terrible Lizards: A Literary Bestiary!

We all scrambled down to the fancy Library members club for a night of mask-making, quizzing, poetry and partying:

A feathered raccoon, a many-eyed bear and a very stripey long-eared bat. Dr Moreau would be proud.

The event was a celebration of three of our snarliest titles:


JT Welsch came down from York for a fantastic set, which brought to life the prehistoric stars of Hell Creek Anthology (not to mention his splendid tribute to his dog, who couldn't make it along).


The poets of Birdbook III: Farmland, Heathland, Mountain, Moorland treated us to their finest animal poetry.

Sarah Hesketh reads some merlin magic. 

Chris Jones describes the ring ouzel.

Alison Brackenbury speaks of the fieldfare and redwing

Christopher Reid on the carrion crow and corncrake.

Dzifa Benson talks little owl and wood pigeon.
Richard Osmond goes all golden eagle

Chris Beckett takes on the woodlark and red grouse.

And Jon and K sprinkled some movie magic in there too with a couple of extracts from Lives Beyond Us.
Photo courtesy of Ian McLachlan

Photo courtesy of Ian McLachlan

The rightful quiz victor was Peter Daniels, whose poem addressed the rook.



Thank you to Library for hosting us, Ana Sefer for inviting us, all of the readers, the poets and artists of Birdbook III and the masquerading, dino-drawing, quizzical, wonderful audience. You!

I'll leave you with the winner of the mask-making. Transforming a bear into an orca, indeed.




Friday, 26 February 2016

Over The Line featured in World Literature Today!

We're very excited to announce that World Literature Today magazine have featured our poetry comics anthology Over The Line in their Nota Benes section, calling it "an ambitious anthology"!





You can read more from World Literature Today at www.worldliteraturetoday.org/.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Birds, Tigers and Terrible Lizards


Our first big event of 2016, booked for 30th March, is Birds, Tigers & Terrible Lizards, a late London launch for two of our recent titles: J.T Welsch and Dom & Ink's Hell Creek Anthology and the many-poeted Birdbook: Farmland, Heathland, Mountain, Moorland. We'll also be having a little ten-month celebration of Lives Beyond Us, to round out the theme of the evening. There will be animal/dinosaur mask-making activities and a quiz, and readers on the night so far confirmed include:

J.T. Welsch
Christopher Reid
Alison Brackenbury
Sarah Hesketh
Richard Osmond
Peter Daniels
Jeremy Keighley
Dzifa Benson

The venue is LIBRARY in Covent Garden, which looks like this:


The Facebook page for the event is here, but if you don't use Facebook, please RSVP to us at events@sidekickbooks.com so that we know you're coming, as there will be a guest list system in operation and we don't want to leave anyone out in the cold.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Sidekick at the National Videogame Arcade and Five Leaves bookshop in Nottingham


Dr Fulminare's empire expands by increments! You can now buy Coin Opera 2: Fulminare's Revenge from Nottingham's National Videogame Arcade while you're dropping by for Minecraft parties, and a whole medicine bag full of Sidekick titles at independent counterculture bookshop Five Leaves, also in Nottingham. We can heartily recommend a visit to both - the poetry section in Five Leaves is bountiful, and I came away with the new Matthew Caley title under my arm.

Many thanks to NVA writer-in-residence Abigail Parry for the snap.