So, as I mentioned in the previous post, my next book will be a new translation of Ovid’s Heroides, which Bloodaxe will publish in 2013. The title translates as Heroines, and it’s a series of poems in the voices of women from Greek and Roman myth, including Phaedra, Medea, Penelope and Ariadne, addressed to the men they love. It’s a really radical text – in its literary transvestism; the way it often presents the same story from very different, subjective perspectives; the fact there’s a claim for it being both the first book of dramatic monologues and the first of epistolary fiction. For a long time it was Ovid’s most influential work, loved by Chaucer, Dante, Marlowe, Shakespeare and Donne, and translated by Dryden and Pope. Yet somehow, readers these days read the love poems and Metamorphoses and pass it by. Why? Perhaps a combination of sexist criticism in the last century, which side-lined it as a minor work because of all its ‘carping women’, and a series of scholarly but rather dry translations which fail to make the heroines’ voices come to life.
Anyway, I’ve been working on a new translation in free verse, and absolutely falling in love with the sequence. It’s alternately sexy, witty, sinister, horrifying, campily bitchy, guts-out heartbreaking and pretty much everything else you love about Ovid. I’m very much hoping I can contribute in a small way to people rediscovering it…
While we’re on the subject of strong female voices, I’d also like to point out that four of the translations I’ve made of the Somalian poet Caasha Luul Mohamad Yusuf are now up on the Poetry Translation Centre website. A pamphlet will be launched in March and we’ll soon be announcing a mini-tour around International Womens’ Day.
And whilst researching Somalian poetry, I’ve come across the new poet Warsan Shire. Her poems in the Salt Book of Younger Poets go into very brave territory, and it’s been a while since I’ve been so knocked out by a blog: some very raw, powerful posts touching on how it feels to be a young muslim woman right now. Writing of the drought she evokes the Somalian phrase: ‘dhiiga kuma dhaqaqo?’ – ‘does your blood not move?’ Recommended.