Emma: Thank you Gregory for taking part in this interview! In your poetry collections, This Paper Boat and Under Glass (which are both excellent!), you make use of different threads and storylines. In This Paper Boat, you weave together your family history, pieces of Robin Hyde’s life, as well as pieces from your own life. While in Under Glass, you present two journeys alongside each other, one being an abstract journey, while the other is more physical. What was your process in writing these different threads—did you write them separately and then assemble them together, or was it more of an enmeshed process?
Gregory: Yes, having different threads/strands/layers/planes is very important to me. For TPB, the respective threads were distinct lines of inquiry. They were written separately. Each strand had a different emotional register, and a different kind of “permission”. Each was a different lens or prism to look through. As you mentioned, each also focused on different historical periods and individuals. In terms of the actual process, I had written each thread as though they were distinct series of poems. I recall writing about 20 (maybe??) little poems or “modules” or “cells” for each thread.
In UG, the two planes were not as easily distinguishable in terms of time/history or people. They were different attempts at writing/representing/embodying a psyche. Even the more “concrete” or “physical” journey is ultimately still an abstract plane littered with dead, empty, and unravelling symbols. The other, more “lyrical” strand toyed with a direct address. In that mode I was interested in the gentler, more intimate tones of letter-writing, plain speech, whispering.
I Interrupt This Broadcast: Voice and Silence in Contemporary Translations of Ancient Fragmentary Texts - Claudia Jardine
Fragmentary texts are fun for readers because of the amount of space they leave the reader to play in. The silent moments can be glimpses of a scene, flashes of light or a breeze creeping in. In the case of Sappho’s fragments, the texts that survive create an experience akin to eavesdropping, as if the phone line to the past is a bit dodgy and only every third word is heard, or as if Sappho is a moody mumbling youth and what remains is all that can be picked out of her drawl. As a translator, Sappho’s fragments are a fun challenge because not only are the remains of the action enticing, but the grammar of what survives has a glitter about it too. Greek is an inflected language; it has cases, numbers, and genders. What words do survive have ghosts of the ones that did not make it upon them, a haunted aspect to their appearance in the sentence. The act of translating is then a bit like trying to tell the demographics of a house party by looking at the shoes piled up at the door.
‘Things That Spooked The Ancient Romans’, first published in Starling 8, is a poem that involved translating ancient fragmented texts and putting those translations together. After reading ‘Things’ in public a few times, I realised that many listeners thought the content of the poem was made up. I created ‘Things’ in 2019 while sharing an office with several fellow postgraduate Classical Studies students at Te Herenga Waka. The poem’s sources are Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita (a historical text from between 27-9 BCE), Pliny’s Natural History (c. 77 CE) and the ‘other’ Livy’s Book of Prodigies (c. 4-5th centuries CE). Some omens were only partially recorded. Even in their Latin source text, chunks of the omen and how it was interpreted or what happened afterwards are missing. The syntactical formula of the recorded omens is fairly similar across the surviving texts.¹ To write the poem, I selected my favourite omens and translated them literally along with their interpretation or the event they were said to foreshadow.
Traditionally defined by the specific use of techniques such as rhyme & metre, poetry has since transcended any such textbook characterisations. The past century has seen an evolution of poetry form, in which the rules are not broken so much as done away with entirely. It is this loosening of structural dictations that has seen both hybridisation and invention of style, and ushered in a new era of poetic freedom, playfulness, & accessibility.
The poetry of historical times was distinct from other genres such as prose, with differing contexts & technical requirements. For example, the sonnets of Shakespeare were fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, the ballads used to convey epic tales had quatrains of a repeated abab rhyme scheme, and the Japanese haiku consisted of three lines of five, seven, & five syllables respectively. These traditions carried on through the Romantic era & well into the 20th century, with outliers like Walt Whitman paving the way for what was to come.
Whitman, one of America’s most influential poets, is widely considered the ‘father’ of free verse. He broke away from the limitations of traditional poetic form as far back as the 1800s, abandoning rhyme & metre for the sprawling, stream-of-consciousness flow of a more colloquial style. Free verse, harkening to the freedom & liberation Whitman preached in his life & work, is defined by a certain lack of definition, an openness that abandons structural consistency in favour of a more natural form of lyric & storytelling, in order to authentically reflect the rhythms of the human voice.