AHRC-funded | Poetry translation in poet-advisor-poet trios: collaborative, cross-language and creative processes
Poet Linda France and artist Matilda Bevan have been collaborating on translations of the National Trust site Allen Banks in Northumberland, arising out of Linda’s current PhD research on facets of Victorian women’s visibility in relation to the Northumbrian landscape.
Watch Linda and Matilda present their work:
Allen Banks : Linda France & Matilda Bevan
We have no centre. We are the centre
from which all earth radiates mirrors tucked
in our crevices the forgottenness of things.
We break open near, far crow bone
ash carapace of the soul. There
is nowhere to go. How should we ask
permission to enter our own home?
Made from mud lichen, dust
a woman’s touch housewifely we wipe
away begin again. From before
history happened our hands reach out.
Here we are a constant recurrence
strata mauve, ochre given to endure.
Explanation of process
Working collaboratively is an important part of Linda’s practice as a poet so when she started visiting Allen Banks as part of her PhD research, it seemed natural to invite a visual artist to the site and encourage the possibility of a response. Also particularly appropriate as one of the themes of her sequence-in-progress is multiplicity and solidarity, similarity and difference.
Matilda made a painting in gouache and graphite, working from her own photograph taken at Allen Banks, keen to capture a sense of the ‘rock face’, a symbolic portrait of Susan Davidson, the shadowy Victorian widow who designed many of Allen Banks’ landscape features – summerhouses, paths, steps, bridges, a tarn sheltered by trees. Matilda emailed a photograph of her image to Linda, who initially worked from a print of it to create a preparatory draft of a poem – more about the process than the image itself. On visiting Matilda’s studio and seeing the original, this became something else entirely, speaking more directly to the image, although informed by the earlier version. One constant was the way the form leant into the natural structure of the rock face and borrowed its sense of line and brokenness.
Sometime afterwards Linda and Matilda decided to continue the translation process by flipping it around and seeing what would happen if Matilda made a visual response to a section of text from Linda’s unfolding poem sequence. She chose a few lines from a longer piece and drew a self-portrait in graphite, overlaying it with rough strokes of white acrylic, giving a weathering and distancing effect.
The circle was completed – what wanted to be a face at the beginning found its rightful form in the mirror. A metaphor for the process of translation perhaps, involving reflection and symmetry, the fulcrum of clear seeing. The exchange was fluid and organic, rooted in a shared appreciation of a particular place. It also led somewhere new, following unexpected tracks of enquiry, altered perspectives.
Linda and Matilda have collaborated previously on a text and image ‘apple renga’ for Transition Tynedale/Northern Poetry Library (2015). The renga poem on the page was readable under a line drawing of a laden apple-bough, all framed by a boundary of apple names and contributor names. The Allen Banks work is part of an ongoing conversation.