It contains my versions of Catullus (60 of his 113 poems) illustrated with my drawings of Japanese rope bondage (shibari).
Ten of these poems are in New Poetries VIII (also Carcanet Press), a Poetry Book Society Spring 2021 Special Commendation.
'VII, the poem about counting kisses, I'd always assumed was untranslatable (i.e. that the emotion and erotic charge were impossible to bring across); Williams' translation is the best I've seen by a mile.' - John Clegg
'I'm reading these cold, without the Catullus knowledge, but I enjoyed them enormously, and I think they are marvellous creations. They fizz and crackle. Robust and kinetic and nimble. I enjoyed them very much, and am energised - you have the ear, not just the technique - and that's always a joy to receive…I loved them, and they are just my kind of literary smut.' - Sam Brenton
'I love how well you capture that masculine voice - so cocky and strutty and in-your-face and shockingly rude and shameless - and how young you make the poet sound.' - John Walsh
I am giving an online talk (free or a donation to the Royal Over-Seas League) about the book at 2pm on Tuesday 16 March. This is open to anyone, not just ROSL members.
Online talk to Sloane Club members: 7pm, 18 March.
New Poetries VIII: John Clegg writes about Isobel Williams
Meet Isobel Williams/New Poetries VIII
Isobel Williams reads Catullus Poem 56 in English
I blog about drawing shibari here.
From the cover text:
'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.'