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Poetry in the cradle of culture

It is hard to think about literature without culture and culture without literature. In fact, culture has a strong influence on many literary works. Where a writer lives, what languages they are exposed to, and how they interact with various cultures inevitably shape their work. This is all the more true if the writer happens to experience and consciously absorb a melange of cultures.

Wales-based Nia Davies is perhaps one of those poets whose works reflect such transcultural efforts. In a conversation with Soulveda, Davies talks about her inspiration, her experimental style of writing, and how cultural interactions bring out the poet in her.

You are an English poet with Welsh roots. Could you tell us how exposure to the two languages has influenced your writing?

My mother is Welsh and my father English, but I am not bilingual. Welsh was a complicating, yet beautiful presence in my world, when I was growing up in Sheffield, England. It was within earshot of Welsh that I started playing with English. I can’t yet speak or read well in Welsh, but I am constantly trying, grasping after something that is both a loss and a gift. As a poet writing in English, I don’t have the same challenges as those who write in Welsh, which has a much smaller number of readers and critics than other languages.

“I am enlivened by cultures, languages and experiences that are new to me. I always seem to move towards them.”

You have published three books on poetry with varied themes. Where do you derive your inspiration from?

Actually, the fourth publication England is out. It is a poem I wrote around the time of Britain’s European Union referendum (Brexit). So, the themes and inspirations for my poems vary from day to day, in the flux of whatever language and life are doing to me and the world. But in the publications I have had out so far, I have drawn from the delight, shock and intrigue I have felt about fairytales, folktales, translation, political urgency and the failure of communication. I am now very interested in performance, visual work and action as poetry.

Generally, a collection of poems has an underlying theme. Your collection, All Fours, has six units with different themes. Why is that?

I am incapable of taking things head on. I have to go around the back with experimental processes or some searing unplanned emotional urgency. All fours is the first full-length collection of poetry I wrote over several years. So, the themes shift, but in the end it is probably all the same poem.

Your poetry seems to be influenced by various cultures and dialects. This is evident in your collection  ÇekoslovakyalılaŠŸtıramadıklarımızdanmısınız or Long Words. Could you tell us more about this influence?   

I was fascinated by this famous Turkish tongue-twister, which demonstrates the way the language works through suffixes. It means ‘Aren’t you one of those whom we couldn’t make to be originating from Czechoslovakia?’ I discovered more such words which, once unravelled into their English translation, make small bizarre sentences, poems in themselves. I extended these poems into discursive texts that explore the failure of communication and the idea of the ‘fossil inside’–an unconscious presence within us which may disrupt communication with other people. The ‘fossil inside’ came from the Esperanto word which means ‘about to become the leader of a contemptible palaeontology conservatory’, which seemed delicious not to write about.

Interversions is part of a residency project by Poetry Connections: Literature Across Frontiers, and Wales Arts International. It is a collaboration with Kannada poet Mamta Sagar from Bengaluru.

How has this multicultural influence enriched you as a poet?

I am enlivened by cultures, languages and experiences that are new to me. I always seem to move towards them. Over the years, engagement with other cultures through friendships, conversations, travels, and reading has changed the course of my life and opened it up way beyond anything I could have imagined. Currently, I am enjoying learning about and appreciating motion pictures in India–a place where films are abundant. In fact, I just wrote a poem after watching the Kannada film Aake.

Interversions is a transcultural poetry collaboration. Could you tell us more about it?

Interversions is part of a residency project by Poetry Connections: Literature Across Frontiers, and Wales Arts International. It is a collaboration with Kannada poet Mamta Sagar from Bengaluru. We are exploring each other’s poetry, languages and cultures by making new performances, translations and presentations. Our work is a rolling collaboration, featuring poets, translators, musicians and performers with events and workshops in UK and India. One particular thing we are exploring is how to use performance, audio, visual, sculpture and social action as part of a dynamic experimental translation of a poem.

What do you intend to convey through your poetry?

I don’t intend to convey any coherent ‘message’ in my poems. I just instinctively use language, along with other mediums, and try to process and transit through a chaotic and energising world.

  • Nia Davies is a poet, editor and collaborator based in Wales. Her pamphlet, 'Then Spree'; her collections of poems 'Çekoslovakyalılaştıramadıklarımızdanmısınız or Long Words', and 'England' were followed by'All Fours'. Davies is also the editor of the international magazine Poetry Wales.


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