Switch: The Complete Catullus (Carcanet Classics): the Roman poet of love and hate, domination and submission set in a context of Japanese rope bondage (shibari). Click on blue words for links.
'…razor-edged…translation in the most vibrant sense…a welcome riposte to all the doomy codes that seem these days to police every action.' The illustrations are 'accomplished, graceful and always suggestive' - Richard Lofthouse, Quad, August 2023
'...to get a sense of what it would have been like for a Roman to first read Catullus's work, buy a copy of this' - Ed Bedford, The Indiependent
Exhibition: Catullus Bound
Shibari drawings and Catullus-themed books, Institute of Classical Studies, Senate House, London WC1E 7HU, until mid-December 2023Videos
Film of the book: readings and performances
Very short interview about drawing shibari
My long-term blog about drawing shibari is here
'...energetic...a bracingly foul, but also a shrewd and funny Catullus...excellent drawings' - Colin Burrow, London Review of Books
Featured in The Daily Telegraph's The best new poetry books to buy for Christmas 2021
'...possibly one of the most exciting translation volumes of recent years...Cousining up the source material with an allegorical sheen of London sex-dungeon fetish is just a masterstroke.' - Jemma L. King, New Welsh Review
'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
Poem of the Week in the Daily Telegraph 11 March 2023
'...lyrical, funny, engaging, and insightful, and I recommend this book to anyone interested in poetry and in Catullus.' - Diane Arnson Svarlien, The Classical Outlook (American Classical League)
'compelling and impressive' - Chrissy Williams, The Poetry Review
'Williams interprets ideas and feelings that Catullus’s own audience must have had, far better than almost any other existing translation.' - Ed Bedford, Indiependent
'...there is a poetic urgency in her renderings that can make the heart stop.' - Stuart Lyons, Classics for All
'I approach translation with respect, humility, sharp tools and a bucket.' - Q&A with Dr Henry Stead, Practitioners' Voices in Classical Reception Studies (PVCRS), Open University, Issue 13 (2022)
'...the perfect gift for a literate lover, secured with a deftly-knotted silk ribbon. Best read aloud, schoolgirl garb optional.' - Belinda Bamber, Country and Town House, March 2021
'Williams' translation alone is fascinating...The solemnity with which she has rendered Catullus 101 is particularly touching...Her art is simple, bold and evocative, and serves to draw out the frank sexuality of many of Catullus' poems.' - Grace Bartlett, Cherwell
'...spellbinding readings...' - Paul Magrath, ICLR
'I'm reading these cold, without the Catullus knowledge, but...I think they are marvellous creations. They fizz and crackle...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 can't take responsibility for ancient Rome: 'Bondage aside, Williams's Catullus inhabits a world of almost unrelenting nastiness - of "sex-club lubricant", dick pics and collapsed veins.' - Daisy Dunn, TLS
Ten of these poems are in New Poetries VIII (Carcanet Press), a Poetry Book Society Spring 2021 Special Commendation.
Film of the book: readings and performances
Isobel Williams reads Catullus Poem 56 in English
La Quarta Corda's reading of Catullus 36
New Poetries VIII: John Clegg writes about Isobel Williams
Meet Isobel Williams/New Poetries VIII
A post about drawing
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.'