A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Kory Shrum had invited me to participate in a blog tour to discuss writing process; here is my contribution to that tour! I highly recommend checking out Kory’s post, as well as the other authors she links to who are also posting this week.
What am I working on?
My biggest project currently is my PhD dissertation, which combines critical research with the creation of poetry. The research portion looks at Anglo-Saxon poetry both in its original form and in contemporary translation, focusing on specific questions of gender and translation theory. I’m examining social structure, gender construction, and the presentation of gender and violence in literature in the Anglo-Saxon period. I’m also taking a look at a range of contemporary Anglo-Saxon poetic translations and using them as a medium through which to discuss differing ideas of poetic translation. The poetry side of things reinterprets the Anglo-Saxon version of the story of Judith from one 349-line poem into a series of poems that attempt to blend aspects of Anglo-Saxon prosody, methods of oral storytelling, and contemporary poetic aesthetics. I have chosen to expand the original poem – the beginning of which has been lost, and the end of which differs significantly from the Latin versions – in order to intervene in the poem’s intriguing gaps and irregularities, teasing out new narratives and addressing questions about the poem’s problematic heroine while still conveying the specifically Anglo-Saxon story contained therein.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
While I am working on a linguistic translation of Judith in which I focus primarily on the reproductive, code-switching, ‘move this word from language to another as accurately as possible’ aspects of the translation process, the focus of the poetry is just that – poetry. I regard Judith primarily as a beautiful poem, and secondarily as a source of historical research and linguistic challenge. In this, I will admit to being heavily influenced by Seamus Heaney, as well as a host of other poets who have tackled Anglo-Saxon translations with this in mind. Where I feel my work differs most is in the manner of storytelling. Rather than retell the tale from one perspective, I use the strong narrative voice of the scop present in the Anglo-Saxon Judith as a framework upon which to hang multiples versions of the events that take place within the scope of the story. In the poems I’ve been working on most recently, the epic tale the storyteller shares of Judith’s beheading her enemy in his own bed differs in significant ways from the version of events shared in Judith’s voice.
Why do I write what I do?
At first, I was seeking to fill a gap. It’s the PhD process – identify your interests, search for gaps in or places to expand upon the existing research, and draft a proposal. I really wanted to play with the fuzzy lines between visual poetry and oral storytelling, and I was drawn specifically to the construction of Anglo-Saxon poetry, but I needed a text to work with. Judith’s story always struck me as an odd choice for translation into Anglo-Saxon; found in the same manuscript as Beowulf, it is a suitably heroic and bloody enough story, but the central character is a woman. Moreover, a violent woman. Even more than that, she’s a woman who works with other women – Judith’s handmaid is the only example of any kind of ‘female sidekick’ we get in the existing literature corpus. In short, she’s fascinating, and my efforts at telling her story have opened up a lot of paths for me, both research and otherwise, that I hadn’t thought to walk. What began as a need to ‘fill a gap’ has evolved into a desire to deconstruct and reinterpret a way of creating poetry.
How does your writing process work?
Here’s a thing I never thought I’d say – it’s best if I write in the morning. I am most vehemently not a morning person, but the sort of energy I have at night is not a sit-down-and-get-to-it energy. It’s more conducive to dashing about cleaning and organizing and playing with yarn, occasionally pausing to jot down a thought, an idea, or a word that I really needed for an alliterative pattern earlier, but just couldn’t find. For the sake of my work ethic, though, I’ve learned to be an earlier riser, so here’s the pattern I strive for on a writing day: 1.) Write for 2-3 or so hours in the morning, in some place that’s not my flat. I don’t have office space at home right now; if I tried to write there, I’d only end up washing the dishes or cleaning the toilet instead. 2.) Pause for lunch/tea/coffee/a walk/some combination of all of the above. 3.) Start editing the morning’s work. I hand-write the first drafts of poems in pen, so editing happens in a different colour of ink. 4.) Start a second draft of the morning’s work, or move on to something else (usually non thesis-related) if I’m feeling stuck. Lately, I like form poetry (I’ve been writing glosas and sonnets over the last week) for this reason – it gives me a framework to get started on a new poem quickly, so I’m constantly writing. I also have to be fairly flexible. I check my email once in the morning and once in the afternoon, generally, but sometimes an especially piled up inbox will steal half a day. I’m also working around various administrative and teaching duties. And there’s the matter of the never-ending “To Be Read” book pile. I plan for three days of writing a week, and try as best I can to fit my other responsibilities onto the other two week days. If I have two relatively finished poems by the end of the week, I consider it all to have gone extremely well.
Daniel Shelley-Smith is a PhD candidate at Aberystwyth University working in visual and conceptual poetry. His PhD project is an exploration of visually – and in some cases kinetically – expressing various concepts of physics through poetry, with his work being particularly interested in playing around with form, structure, linearity, and chronology. He also has an intense fascination with absences/gaps/holes/differences/traces and his star sign is Derrida with Barthes rising.
Check out his latest efforts here. Phil Clement is a writer, reviewer, blogger. He previously interned at the New Welsh Review, and studied English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University, Wales, and is currently deferring his PhD plans to live in a library. He is a marketing intern at Gladtone’s Library in Flintshire, UK. You can see his latest work here.
Jan Nerenberg is a published author, editor for American Athenaeum, and PhD candidate at Aberystwyth University. Her current young adult novel project blends fantasy with historical fiction, and weaves together the two continents, multiple timelines, and one dynamic heroine. Jan splits her time between Aberystwyth and Orgeon, where she lives with her husband, children, and grandchildren. Find her here.