Monday, May 8, 2017

Interview _ Pam Thompson

Pam Thompson is a poet, performer, reviewer and university lecturer.

Her poetry has been published in a range of small press magazines and her publications are: Spin (Walden Press, 1998), Parting the Ghosts of Salt (Redbeck Press, 2000), Show Date and Time (smith|doorstop, 2006), The Japan Quiz (Redbeck Press, 2008), and Hologram (Sunk Island Publishing, 2009).

She is one of the organisers of WORD! at The Y Theatre in Leicester.

In this interview, Pam Thompson talks about poetry and Journeys in Translation.

How would you describe your writing?

Very varied. I supposed a lot of my poetry is disguised - or not so disguised - autobiography. I experiment formally a lot and I enjoy it when something unexpected arises from those experiments.

I agree with the poet C. D. Wright who said: "Poetry is a necessity of life, it is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so.”

Poetry is about connection too. I like the fact that writing poetry you immediately establish yourself within a wider community of poets. There is something very comforting about that.

Who or what has had the most influence on you as a writer?

There have been so many influences. I read a lot of poetry and I have written it since my early teens and was encouraged by certain teachers. Poets who particularly influenced me back then included Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, T. S. Eliot and Ted Hughes.

I began to enter competitions in my late twenties onwards and had some successes, and began to get published in magazines. I can't speak highly enough of certain Arvon courses and my tutors on them -Michael Longley, Carol Rumens, Simon Armitage, Glyn Maxwell, Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke. Since then I have been on many courses and have attended - and run - writing workshops.

Being involved in organising WORD! at The Y in Leicester has been an enormous influence too because it demonstrates the strong hold that poetry and its public expression have on people's lives. It reinforces the need for a safe space for people to read their work and a supportive community to receive it. That's why we are thrilled to be nominated for a Saboteur Award - if we won it would help us enormously to develop WORD! even more.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Greatly - I think it's inevitable that this will happen with any writer. They are often disguised though and filtered through other voices.

What has been your most significant achievement as a writer so far?

I was pretty thrilled to be a winner of the Poetry Business Poetry Competition in 2005 with my pamphlet Show Date and Time, judged by Simon Armitage. Also winning the Magma Poetry Competition Judges Prize, (judge - Jo Shapcott) in 2014/15 and, recently, 3rd prize in the Poets and Players competition, judged by Michael Symmons-Roberts, was pretty special. They are all poets whose work I really like.

I have recently passed my PhD in Creative Writing (poetry). That is probably the toughest thing I have ever done writing-wise.

Pam Thompson's poems have also been featured in anthologies that include Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) and Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016).

How did you get involved with Journeys in Translation?

My poem 'Dislocation' was included in the wonderful anthology Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge. Subsequently, it was one of the 13 poems offered for translation and, amazingly, has been translated into Italian, Spanish, German, Shona, Chinese, Finnish, Bengali, French, Turkish and British Sign Language, no less!

How did "Dislocation" come about?

It was part of that group project ... of poets responding to a humanitarian crisis and taking action to encourage artistic responses and to find a means of publicising these, and the cause, more widely.

Writing about a humanitarian crisis is necessary but the results will always be inadequate. I’m not undergoing the pain of ‘dislocation’ like the people in the poem. I can only try and empathise in a way that is as honest as possible without misappropriating other people’s trauma and being untruthful to it. I hope the poem has done that.

My poem is relatively short, stark, imagistic. It’s title suggests both 'displacement' and being 'out of joint'; people are being painfully wrenched from their homelands.

I wrote drafts of it within one day and over a week re-drafted it until it found its present form

The poem was selected for the anthology and is now reverberating by means of all these other translators and their languages..

The fact that the poem has been translated into so many languages suggests that its spare, imagistic form has lent itself to this process and so I would say it has been received favourably.


Pam Thompson's "Disclocation", Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) p. 120, translated into British Sign Language (BSL) by Elvire Roberts. 


What would you say is the value of initiatives like Journeys in Translation?

Most importantly, it consolidates and expands the Over Land, Over Sea collective project and publicises it further via cross- and inter-cultural conversations.

It emphasises the power of words to transmigrate across languages and cultural borders and the poems continue to reverberate in all the many forms they are taking via written and spoken word, performative gesture, in the environment and online. The initiative counters any wrongheaded opinion that “Poetry makes nothing happen.”

Editor's Note:

Journeys in Translation aims to facilitate cross- and inter-cultural conversations around the themes of home, belonging and refuge.

The project encourages people who are bilingual or multilingual to have a go at translating 13 of the 101 poems from Over Land: Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) from English into other languages and to share the translations, and reflections on the exercise on blogs, in letters and emails to family and friends, and on social media.

So far, the 13 poems that are being used as part of the project have been translated into languages that include Italian, German, Shona, Spanish, Bengali, British Sign Language, Farsi, Finnish, French, Turkish and Welsh. Currently, over 20 people from all over the world are working on the translations. More translations and more languages are on the way.

In Leicester, Journeys in Translation will culminate in an event that is going to be held on September 30 as part of Everybody's Reading 2017. During the event the original poems and translations will be read, discussed and displayed.

Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) was edited by Kathleen Bell, Emma Lee and Siobhan Logan and is being sold to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)Leicester City of Sanctuary and the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum.

Copies of the anthology are available from Five Leaves Bookshop (Nottingham).

More information on how Over Land, Over Sea came about is available here.

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