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Catullus: Shibari Carmina
Categories: 21st Century, Ancient Greek and Roman, Art, British, Erotic, First Collections, Humour, Translation, Women
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Paperback (112 pages)
(Pub. Mar 2021)
eBook (EPUB) Needs ADE!
(Pub. Mar 2021)
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A Telegraph Best New Poetry Books for Christmas 2021
Carcanet publishes several Catulluses: C.H. Sisson's, Len Krisak's, Simon Smith's. But Isobel Williams's Catullus: Shibari Carmina is different in kind from the earlier versions. 'Translating Catullus has been, for me, like cage fighting with two opponents,' the translator writes: 'not just A Top Poet, but the schoolgirl I was, trained to show the examiner that she knew what each word meant.' The struggle is intensified by the presence of a third element, something that made Catullus come alive, his 'tormented intelligence and romantic versatility'.
'It eventually happened at a fetish venue in South London, The Flying Dutchman – an echo of Catullus's doomed obsessive love? Someone at life class, knowing I like a drawing challenge, had told me about a Japanese rope bondage (shibari) club called Bound. I asked the management if I could draw there; on arrival I was treated like the Queen Mother. Best of all, the schoolgirl was too young to be let in.' The dynamics of shibari released Catullus from conventional constraints and delivered him to new rigours: 'I found context, metaphor and idiom for Catullus – whom one could glibly define as a bisexual switch from the late Roman Republic when such concepts were meaningless: a stern moralist who splits into an anxious bitchy dominant with the boys, a howling sub with his nemesis, the older glamorous married woman he calls Lesbia (here called Clodia, which might have been her real name).' The poet uses the terminology and forms of social media, a very contemporary idiom which is at once subjected to severe scholarship and tight syntactical discipline. All the crucial language knots are firmed up, the sense of the Latin emerges with Catullus's own laughter restored, along with the other registers of love and loss. Isobel Williams's drawings add immediacy to her versions which 'are not (for the most part) literal translations, but take an elliptical orbit around the Latin, brushing against it or defying its gravitational pull.'
'Explosive and impactful... a compelling and impressive project which translates for us not only the words of these ancient texts, but recontextualises them on the page, drawing out new layers of meaning and allowing us to experience them in new and novel ways.'
Chrissy Williams, The Poetry Review
'Williams has served up what is possibly one of the most exciting translation volumes of recent years....The book is alive and breathing.'
Jemma L King, New Welsh Review
'Williams has a terrific ear, both for poetic rhythm and for speech pattterns, and her formal decisions are well-suited to Catullus' manner... Williams is lyrical, funny, engaging, and insightful, and I recommend this book to anyone interested in poetry and in Catullus.'
Diane Arnson Svarlien, The Classical Outlook
'Williams has created a bracingly foul, but also a shrewd and funny Catullus'
Colin Burrow, London Review of Books
'Catullus is in the basement, but he's a bit tied up, literally - Isobel Williams' naughty translation puts the Roman poet in a bondage dungeon.'
Tristram Fane Saunders, The Telegraph Best New Poetry Books 2021
'Collage and college in one slim course, her little book teaches and teases... Her treatment of selected poems is literary charcuterie as neat as it is naughty. Criticism ceases to be inky assessment and becomes a rally, tease and treat... Shibari Carmina embellishes the literature by looping the poet in a crib spun from and around his own confections. If you fail to enjoy this sado-masochistic gem as much as I have, you can always flog it...'
Frederic Raphael, The Critic
'Vibrant new translation... Her art is simple, bold and evocative, and serves to draw out the frank sexuality of many of Catullus' poems.'
Grace Bartlett, Cherwell
'Williams's translation covers such a breadth of emotion, including the conflicting and binding pain of love- pathos that can elicit tears and hilarity blended with jarringly puerile vitriol. These emotions are shrouded in words that seem almost like momentarily written notes, and so belie Williams's skill. Each word is perfectly placed and the poems are polished till their burnished edges have lost every hint of their maker's tools.'
Ed Bedford, The Indiependent
'It sheds new light on Catullus's struggles as he saw them. It is a striking attempt to present his poems in the moment and is enhanced by the innovative illustrations.'
Stuart Lyons, Classics For All
'Williams' translation is the best I've seen by a mile.'
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