Books & Links
New & Forthcoming Works:
The Paths of Survival (Shearsman, April 2017) explores the fragility of the written word; the ways in which it is destroyed and the ways in which, by each fresh miracle, it endures against all the odds. Haunted by the few surviving fragments of Aeschylus’s lost tragedy, Myrmidons, which notoriously depicted the doomed love of the Greek hero Achilles for his fellow warrior Patroclus, the volume moves backwards in time across two and a half millennia; from a tiny scrap of papyrus in a present-day Oxford library to the dying Aeschylus revising his masterpiece in fifth-century BC Sicily. Poignant and, in our own times of cultural conflict, pertinent, The Paths of Survival unravels the intricate serendipity of ‘what time corrodes and what it spares’.
‘Balmer is one of the most consistently fascinating and inventive (as well as ‘traditional’) of contemporary poets’
Glyn Pursglove, Acumen
You can read a full review by Liam Guilar of The Paths of Survival here
Letting Go: Thirty Mourning sonnets and two poems (Agenda Editions, July 2017) traces the devastating impact of a mother’s sudden death. Employing both original poetry and classical versioning, Letting Go draws on a variety of sources and inspirations, from Virgil’s Georgics to Google’s Street View. Heart-breaking but healing, these poems re-enact the crushing pain – and final acceptance – of a bereavement which ‘feels like too little love. Or too much’.
‘A body of work in which the boundaries between translation, imitation and originality are blurred to fertile effect. Letting Go…is an intensively personal experience; yet in an equally obvious sense its is a universal experience…the effect is consistently beautiful and moving.’
Glyn Pursglove, Acumen
You can read an interview with Josephine Balmer on Letting Go (with Fiona Cox & Elena Theodorakopoulos) here
You can hear Josephine Balmer read the title poem here
Piecing Together the Fragments: Translating Classical Verse, Creating Contemporary Poetry is published by Oxford University Press (October, 2013). This presents new insights into the art of classical translation through an overview of my own work, from translating Sappho and other classical women poets, as well as Catullus and Ovid, to my poetry collections inspired by classical literature. The volume positions this study within the long tradition of translator prefaces and introductions, considering the close relationship between classical translation, creative versioning and original poetry in English; how the demands and strategies required to work on damaged and corrupted ancient texts can inspire new poetic forms and approaches. A unique study of the challenges and rewards of translating classical poetry, Piecing Together the Fragments explores radical new ways in which creativity and scholarship might overlap – and interact.
‘Provides a clear indication of how the classics can still be alive and relevant to modern readers and creative writers’ – Jennifer Ingleheart, Translation Studies
‘a wonderful introduction to the poet’s own poetry but the poet herself… a star in her own right’ – Marguerite Johnson, Bryn Mawr Classical Review
‘Ground-breaking…should appeal to a wide audience within the creative writing and academic fields’ – Journal of Classics Teaching
‘An important book… that combines learning, judgement and creativity’- Barbara H Wyman, The Classics Journal
‘A rich and thoughtful study… of use to anyone interested in time, words and people;- Aisha Farr, Oxford Poetry
You can find more details on Piecing Together the Fragments, as well as a sample chapter, on the OUP website here. Or order it on Amazon here. There is also a small article about it in the current OUP Classical Studies catalogue which you can find here. Brief extracts are also available on this website here and here.
The Word for Sorrow (Salt, 2009) presents versions of Ovid’s poignant, if often neglected, poems of exile alongside original poems exploring the history of an old, second-hand dictionary being used to translate them. A detective story in verse, it forges unexpected links between past and present, from Ovid’s Rome to the blood-soaked First World War trenches of Gallipoli, and on to the poet’s trail of discovery in the present day. Its poems give voice to the universal suffering of exile, war and grief, uncovering the common humanity that connects us all across countries and over centuries.
‘Brilliant and original…Balmer’s meditation on the possibilities of connection and difference across the centuries question individual need. Instead she offers the hope of genuine understanding and the peace of reconciliation’ – Margaret Reynolds, The Times
‘Balmer has created a genre of her own: a kind of historical docupoem, a collage of voices in which authenticity is as important as art’ – Kate Bingham, Poetry London
‘The Word for Sorrow crosses boundaries between poetry and translation…Balmer poignantly reflects T. S. Eliot’s explanations of the ‘mind of the poet’, the sensibility that connects disparities, locating and effecting meaningful wholes.’ – Paschalis Nikolaou Norwich Papers
The Word for Sorrow was awarded an Authors’ Foundation Award and a Wingate Foundation Fellowship
Read an interview with Josephine Balmer about The Word for Sorrow here
**STOP PRESS: As mentioned in The Times, the new paperback edition of The Word for Sorrow now published by Salt**
Chasing Catullus: Poems, Translations and Transgressions (Bloodaxe, 2004),ventures into the border territory between poetry and translation, original and text, past and present. It wittily reimagines and subverts ancient texts, overwriting the past like a palimpsest. At the same time, it presents a dark odyssey of the soul, descending in to the Underworld, as the collection’s moving central sequence follows the illness and subsequent tragic death of the poet’s young niece, finding new ways of saying the unsayable, giving new resonance to ancient and modern grief.
‘Wry, lyrical, invariably learned…a gripping read’ – Edith Hall, TLS
‘a moving meditation on bereavement’ – Independent
‘alchemy achieved in poetry’ – Paschalis Nikolaou, London Magazine
‘Balmer’s collection sweeps across the vast palimpsest tradition to overwrite it with a language of immediacy and urgency’ – Olivier Burckhardt, Quadrant
‘a moving and powerful sequence – it is also an exciting read’ Glyn Pursglove, Acumen
Chasing Catullus was awarded an Arts’ Council Bursary.
***STOP PRESS: Chasing Catullus has been reissued by Bloodaxe in a new edition (February 2016)***
Buy Chasing Catullus here
Catullus: Poems of Love and Hate (Bloodaxe, 2004) is an acclaimed translation of the Roman poet’s shorter poems. Sensual, salacious and scurrilous, it highlights both the intense lyricism and the scabrous wit of the originals, bringing Catullus’s vivid cast of characters back to life for new audiences: the refined Suffenus who writes poetry like a goat-milker or Egnatius who cleans his teeth in an alarming manner, and above all, Lesbia, the poet’s teasing, torturing lover. Both elegant and coruscating, here is the poetry of love, of friendship, and of enmity: poetry of passion.
‘superb’ –Christina Patterson, Independent
‘Catullus was never more alive than in these skilful, naturalist renditions’– Adam Newey, New Statesman
‘intelligent and sensitive translations’ – Margaret Reynolds, The Times
‘Josephine Balmer’s sassy modern translation…remains true to the original text and is also clever, sexy and contemporary too’ – Keith Richmond, Tribune
Buy Catullus: Poems of Love and Hate here.
Classical Women Poets (Bloodaxe, 1996) breathes new life into the works of neglected and overlooked woman poets from archaic Greece to the late Roman empire. Fully accessible to all readers, the volume includes biographical notes on each poet, as welll as an iluminating introduction examining the nature of women’s poetry in antiquity. A complete collection for anyone interested in women’s literature, the ancient world and, above all, poetry.
‘hurrah for the heroines of old!’ – Peter Stothard, The Times
‘Exemplary’ – Patricia Monaghan, Booklist
‘It offers surprising and rare insights in to the closed world of women in antiquity… recommended’ Independent on Sunday
Classical Women Poets was awarded an Authors’ Foundation Award.
It was long-listed for the Poetry Society European Poetry Award (now the Popescu).
Buy Classical Women Poets here.
Sappho: Poems and Fragments (Bloodaxe, 1992), in print for nearly 30 years, has become a modern poetry translation classic. This edition brings together all the extant fragments of Sappho. In addition, a comprehensive introduction discusses the historical background to Sappho’s poetry and its often problematic critical reception, as well as the difficulties – and delights – of translating such fragmentary verse.
‘the best translations I have read to date’ – Christopher Logue, Literary Review
‘one of the best poetry books of the year’ – Fleur Adcock, New Statesman
‘lovely translations’ – Ruth Padel, The Times
‘Poetry Books of the Year’, Vogue
Sappho: Poems and Fragments was short-listed for the inaugural US Lamba Poetry Prize.
Buy Sappho: Poems and Fragments here.
Listen to podcasts of an Open University interview with Josephine Balmer and read the full transcript here
See a video of Josephine Balmer performing her new versions of Palladas at UCL here.
Read an example of Josephine Balmer’s critical writing here
To return to latest posts and poems, please click here