The subversion of the lyric mode (part two)

An interview with Sophie Collins

You're working on a dissertation on poetry and translation at Queen’s — do I have that right? What are you writing about at the moment?

That's right. The theory side of things is separated into three studies on experimental strategies within the three different kinds of translation, as outlined by Jakobson—interlingual (the most familiar = translations between languages), intralingual (translations of texts into other versions of themselves within the same language) and intersemiotic (translations between media).

I've just finished the section on intersemiotic translation, which focused on ekphrasis — so, translations from the visual to the verbal. In poetry, for most readers, “ekphrasis” tends to conjure ideas of elegies to canonical paintings (and their creators), comprising life lessons and/or expanded narratives. I want to undermine this perception by critiquing the shockingly dated ideas within the literature on ekphrasis and foregrounding overlooked examples, especially those by women working from unconventional source materials. By evaluating ekphrases in direct relation to their sources, rather than popular/dominant interpretations of the latter, I'm hoping to qualify my view of ekphrasis as a form of translation.

Can you tell me a little about the poetic communities in Belfast? This series is focused on exploring various sites and scenes.

Honestly, I feel severely underqualified doing so — I've lived in Belfast for a limited amount of time, having moved to Ireland specifically for the PhD, so anything I offer in this regard comes with the caveat that I realise it is highly subjective. That said, my experience of poetics in Belfast hasn't been particularly diverse, and I've sometimes received the impression that certain (senior, male) figures are beyond criticism. Just as in the rest of the UK, the Northern Irish tradition is firmly rooted in the lyric, and there are, without doubt, plenty of poets doing interesting work within this mode. The community is lively and extremely welcoming, but I haven't encountered the resistance I perceive elsewhere. The other main strand here seems to be performance poetry, which exists in parallel.

Since "lyric" is such an overdetermined word, would you be willing to explain what you mean when you use it, or what associations the word carries for you?

At its worst, lyric poetry is, for me, nostalgia porn + aesthetic safety — anecdotes in verse that privilege semantic consistency, culminating in emotional and rhythmic resolve.

At their most vital, variations on the lyric "remain true to politics of inclusion, appreciating the thinkership of conceptual [or language] poetry" — the "goal is to create openings rather than closures." I think of poets like Lisa Robertson, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Peter Gizzi.