Underflow was a performance by Scottish writer Clare Archibald, translator and writer Delaina Haslam, and Danish artist and writer Line Toftsø. Underflow is a tri lingual text & audio-visual exploration of the linguistic spaces left by the loss of babies. It looks at the tongue that cannot be universally translated.
The trio met on Twitter and conducted much of their work via direct messaging on Twitter. They had never met in person until the event on July 20th 2017, with the exception of Line, who was not in the UK. Find them on Twitter here: Clare @archieislander Delaina @delainahaslam Line @linetofts
I don’t know if this woman – it’s a different one each time – knows of my circumstances. They’ve come every few days; they phone me when they discover I’m not in. But I’m not a new mother at home with my baby. I’ve been out visiting funeral directors and cemeteries.
‘Do you feel you’ve had enough opportunities to talk to about what happened?’
‘No, not really … Our friends … they were amazing, um, over the period … But now, I don’t think they know if we want to talk about it.’
‘They perhaps don’t want to upset you.’
‘You seem, if you don’t mind me saying, more upset this week. I wondered if that might happen. It’s perfectly natural, and normal, really … Last week, well … I was quite surprised to see you arrive on a bike, to be honest.’
‘So there’ve been two miscarriages, is that right?’
‘And an extremely premature birth …’
‘Ok, so how many children do you have now?’
‘None. He died.’
‘Oh that’s awful!’
[I thought you said you’d looked at my history.]
The woman from Transport for London is sitting across from me. I’ve given her a cup of tea. I should be working but I’m answering survey questions about how I get around the city.
‘Do you have any children?’
‘No.’ [He died.]
[Ask me more. I want you to ask me more.]
‘So just you and your partner live here?’
I long to tell strangers my story. But no more questions come.
Line Toftsø Nyholm
Explanation of collaboration
I asked Delaina to respond to my initial piece and then sent both pieces to Line. Initially I had asked Line to respond visually but she asked if I wanted text as well which I hadn’t thought about, this was then left up to her & she added some text which I think enhances the whole piece & process. In terms of my piece I’d been looking to write a section of my book about being on holiday in Spain immediately before the planned birth of a baby that I knew would die. Although I spoke Spanish it was very rusty & I thought a lot about not having the words to explain easily in any language. Being able to do the piece in a kind of free dialogue with other people whose outcomes were unknown was really liberating & interesting. Writing the piece I had to translate ideas linguistically which was an interesting process & was really insightful in terms of thinking about acts of translation & linguistic spaces. Initially Delaina was unsure how she could respond to it, I suggested a list but the process was really open to us all individually & she went with what worked. I’ve since expanded the piece to include other unspoken elements (not in original due to timing restraints). We gave each other feedback on pieces but essentially decisions were left with the individuals.
We collaborated solely by Twitter DM and email (none of us know each other or have spoken outside of online interaction). There were no real challenges and it was a pretty straightforward, very positive process.
I have no previous experience in this area other than I write a lot in response to visual prompts (taken generally by me but also via projects such as Visual Verse & Spontaneity Art)
‘Ask me about my baby’ translates ‘Traduccion de mi mente’ into an alternative experience of baby loss. In the first part of ourcollaboration, Clare’s audio text searches for language to express a wish not to be asked questions. My response comprises four vignettes depicting the absence of a baby and how this absence influences dialogue with strangers. The experience of a presence and a wish not to be asked questions is translated into the experience of an absence and the desire to be asked questions.
Ourcollaborationisperhapsremarkable in that I have never met Clare or Line. Clare and I were put in touch by a mutual friend who knew we were both writing about baby loss, and who also told us about the Poettrio call for submissions. The inspiration for ourcollaboration came relatively easily. Clare was inspired by her experience of needing to learn Spanish to deal with a traumatic situation. For me, this quickly translated into my most difficult experience: finding the language to express something no longer visible. Clare suggested a list of questions that often get asked and their imagined, desired answers alongside the real answers: ‘Do you have children?’; ‘Yes, one but he died’; ‘No.’ But I was cautious not to appear to blame anyone for any questions that I may have been. Instead, I chose snippets of scenes which suggest the pain and loss. I’m used to writing longer prose texts, and Clare was instrumental in helping me cut this down to the bare minimum for the impact of suggestion.
I am a translator and a writer, and this collaboration combined these two functions. I most often translate sociological texts from French. Creating ‘Underflow’ was closer to my experience of writing experimental memoir and poetry than it was to my experience as a translator.
Clare Archibald is a Scottish writer interested in the interplay of forms and the potential of collaboration. She has previously been chosen to read at Storyshop at Edinburgh International Book Festival, was longlisted in the 2016 Lifted Brow/RMIT international prize for experimental nonfiction and is currently completing her work of experimental narrative nonfiction The Absolution of Shyness.
Delaina Haslam is a translator and writer. She translates from French and Spanish to English in the field of sociology. Before going into translation she worked as a journalist and editor for publications in Madrid and London including le cool. She’s writing her first novel about the experience of a mother’s grief after the death of her baby in 2014.
Line Toftsø (born1969) Danish artist and writer. Published ‘Jeg bevæger kun øjnene’ (poetry) in 2015. First solo exhibition in 1992 in Copenhagen. Lives & works in Copenhagen, Denmark.