Joan Hambidge gesels met Tony Ullyatt oor sy nuwe bundel In the Unique Hours.
Isbn 978 0 620 99777 5
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Joan Hambidge (JH)
Tony geluk met hierdie mooi boekie. Klein en teer soos die digvorm, die senryū.
Ek praat in Afrikaans en jy antwoord in Engels.
Op die voorblad is daar ‘n foto van Gisela, jou eggenoot, die digter wat ons voortydig verlaat het. In my jongste bundel Sanctum (Protea, 2022) is hierdie elegie en huldeblyk opgeneem:
Die waarheid oor duiwe
Twee duiwe vasgekeer voor
’n toe venster: deux,
d’eux, Dieu …
vir hierdie twee duiwe
verskrik maak ek
die venster oop,
die digter wat die waarheid
oor duiwe verken
en my begeleier, kenner
van priester Lacan
op Chomsky se swartbord:
die dood drievoudig
En ‘n gedig ook ingegee deur jou 1994 studie oor die digkuns A Profusion of Choices wat saamgereis het met my na Colombië in 2018.
Nuestro Café Lleva el Sello de Juan Valdez
’n Servet val
A Profusion of Choices.
Memento van koffie
drink in Colombië
uit ’n handleiding
oor hoé mens
laat stippelwerk doen.
En heftige, onbeheerbare
emosies moet terugdwing
in ’n toepaslike vorm
en nooit die metaforiese kontrak
tussen leser en gedig
mag minag nie.
Om ’n handleiding te skryf
of lees lyk moeiteloos;
helaas selde iets
oor pyn wat stadig
soos koffie perkoleer
in ’n masjien sonder kragprop.
Jy het saam met Gisela uitsonderlike vertalings gelewer en is opgeneem in In a Burning Sea. Contemporary Afrikaans Poetry in Translation en in Afrikaans Poems with English Translations.
Hoe het hierdie proses tussen twee digters, twee tale en twee vertalers verloop?
Tony Ullyatt (TU)
In essence, we saw ourselves as members of a team, both contributing to producing a good translation. I would begin the process, aiming for no more than a very rough first draft, which would include all the words, phrases, or idioms in Afrikaans which I couldn’t sort out immediately. Then Gisela would join in, sorting out the untranslated bits and pieces, suggesting better words or phrases, and generally improving the whole piece until we had a workable draft. Then we would begin scrutinising the text together line by line and word by word, reading it to each other, until we were satisfied with the outcome.
I think having a mother-tongue speaker of each of the two languages involved added significantly to the eventual translation.
Jy het laat gedebuteer met An Unobtrusive Vice wat in 2018 by Dryad Press verskyn het.
Waarom het jy so lank gewag? Wou jy die verse laat ryp word of was daar nie publikasiegeleentheid in Engels hier te lande nie? Dryad Press het jou raakgesien en hierdie bundel is met die SALA-prys bekroon.
Given the political situation in the mid-1970s, when I was first published in journals, it was difficult to find a publisher who was interested in my sort of poetry at that time. Interestingly, though, a few of those early pieces were included eventually in that debut volume.
In the Unique Hours (Chinkoa Press) is ‘n vervolg op River Willows: Senryū From Lockdown (Dryad, 2020).
Wil jy kommentaar lewer op hierdie digvorm, die sogenaamde senryū?
a 3-line unrhymed Japanese poem structurally similar to haiku but treating human nature usually in an ironic or satiric vein.
Is hier ironie by jou? Of sien jy ironie as afstand soos Cleanth Brooks dit definieer?
In choosing the senryu as a form for these pieces, I focused on its essential purpose, which has been defined as “to evoke an intense emotional response in readers.” In passing, it’s particularly interesting to recall the well-known American poet, Billy Collins, who made the following observation in one of his many documentaries: “The whole point of writing a poem, is not to express your emotions, it’s to make a reader emotional.” And therein lies its usefulness for my essential purpose when I was putting In the Unique Hours together.
The death of my beloved, especially one as young as Gisela – she was only forty-three when she died – and as talented and precious as she was to me, was the most shattering emotional event of my life. Unfortunately, such deaths are susceptible to sentimentalisation, so I deployed the brevity and restraint of the senryū to create what I’ve called “verbal snapshots” while relying on readers to bring their own emotional responses to them.
Hoe verskil dit van die haikoe en die kwatryn?
The senryu has exactly the same structure as the haiku; that is, a 5-7-5 syllabic pattern in three lines.
It differs in content from the haiku, and has been called the non-nature haiku. As with the haiku, the Japanese senryu has a number of prescriptive requirements, but to suit my purposes, I opted to use only its structural prerequisites.
If the traditional quatrain consists of four lines with one of several established rhyme schemes, then there are some obvious differences from the senryū form as I use it. These would include rhyme, syllabification, and line length. And there would be obvious differences in content. While a series of quatrains may be deployed to construct a ballad, each senryū is self-contained.
Op die agterblad word die reis beskryf van Oos-Londen na Port Elizabeth tot in Theefontein in die Karoo. Hierdie viaggio / voyage / reis was om besluite te neem oor haar terminale siekte.
Wil jy iets hieroor verklap?
Gisela was initially diagnosed with breast cancer. This led to a lengthy once-every-three -weeks regime of rigorous chemotherapy to be followed by a mastectomy. While the operation was successful, the wound proved problematic, refusing to heal, and becoming septic.
A new weekly regime of chemo was prescribed, and a new battery of scans, biopsies, and blood tests was conducted. The outcome, a new diagnosis. Gisela had a particularly virulent and aggressive form of breast cancer which had a more than 80% mortality rate. In short, she was terminally ill.
Once Gisela had heard that her illness was no long treatable but terminal, she expressed her wish to go to Theefontein to see if Antoinette Pienaar and Oom Johannes Willemse might be able to help with their herbal remedies for the mastectomy wound. It was during the early days and rigid rules of Covid-19, when travellers needed a permit to cross provincial borders.
19 August 2020
two candles burning
in Theefontein yours and mine
yours flickering now (43)
Gisela Ullyatt het ‘n studie oor Mary Oliver geskryf. Hoe sien jy Oliver se digkuns?
Obviously, when Gisela wrote her PhD on Mary Oliver’s poetry, I became quite involved with reading Oliver’s poetry. It’s all too easy to criticise Oliver’s poetry, often because of its preoccupation with the natural world rather than the issues of contemporary urban life. But Oliver doesn’t overlook the rigorous, even brutal circumstances of nature. And there is unobtrusive wisdom scattered throughout her poetry.
I subscribe to the notion that there are poets whose work I will like in particular frames of mind. To like the work of Charles Olson or Seamus Heaney doesn’t limit what I read (and learn). After all, it was the Scottish poet, Douglas Dunn, who provided the title for In the Unique Hours.
Saam met ander digters en skrywers is daar codas. Blote eindes of deel van die komposisie soos in musiek? TU
As a concluding section of a sequence of poems, the coda should be integral and pertinent in one way or another to the work as a whole. It shouldn’t be some sort of frippery or ornamentation tagged on at the end. So its function in poetry may differ from its function in music.
In An Unobtrusive Vice, I used a quotation from Jung as a coda to a sequence of sonnets because it provided a neat summary of their themes in a different tone and style. In my next collection (forthcoming in 2023), the final poem bears the title, “Coda”. But whether in music or poetry, this strategy shouldn’t be overused.
In die gedig “Epilogue”, deur Gisela, word daar kommentaar gelewer op jul verbintenis: 43 / 1943
One morning in Theefontein, I popped in to see how Gisela was faring, and she asked me to listen. Then she recited the words contained in her “Epilogue”. I was astounded and asked where those numbers had come from. She said she’d just woken up with them in her head. So I jotted them down verbatim.
But although neither of us was particularly adept with numbers, they did have a certain fascination
In a vague way, When the numbers our respective birthdates were totalled, mine came to 27 and hers came to 36, both multiples of 9.
When I finally completed the manuscript of In the Unique Hours, and I got around to tallying the number of senryu in each section, I found that there were 36, 18, and 45 respectively, all multiples of 9, with a total of 99.
In my gesprekke met Gisela was ek deurgaans bewus van ‘n Boeddhistiese siening van die lewe en dood. Kommentaar.
Gisela and I were extraordinarily privileged to take refuge (be accepted as lay Buddhists) with the renown Buddhist nun, Tenzin Palma. We also worked at a Buddhist retreat for six months (where she heard Mary Oliver’s famous poem, “Wild Geese” for the first time), and studied together and completed year-long course in Buddhism at the Sacred Mountain Sangha. I mentioned a little earlier, her PhD presented a reading of Mary Oliver’s poetry from a Buddhist reader’s perspective, the basic idea of which arose from her having heard, and been deeply taken by, “Wild Geese”. We also meditated on as many evenings as we could.
Her understanding of post-mortem existence came from other sources as well. It was through a combination of these ideas that she accepted her illness and could approach her own mortality without any sense of fear.
Vir my is die dood drievoudig onverstaanbaar met toespeling op Lacan se simboliese, reële en verbeelde ordes, soos ek skryf in die gedig oor en vir Gisela.
In one of the poems in my forthcoming collection, I wrote “Death is the last uncharted land” which suggests that, apart from the physiological processes involved, there are many aspects of what purpose death serves in human existence we have yet to understand. Secondly, to quote from another piece in the same collection, “obdurate death catches us unaware.” This happens no matter how forewarned we might be. Gisela died thirteen months after her original diagnosis, but there was no way of predicting its exact moment. And while she was alive, even when comatose, she remained a presence. Her death removed her presence, and her absence became an emptiness, a void, demanding a new way of understanding what my life had become.
Hierdie bundel bevat aangrypende verse soos
now all the boxes
are cargoed with the fragments
of the life I’ve lost (75)
a squeezed toothpaste tube
I couldn’t throw out still tastes
of our last kiss here (65)
the garden Buddha
with his lap full of petals
death’s gentle pastels (57)
Dis ‘n boek van verlies en herinnering, maar terselfdertyd ook bewaring. Kommentaar.
It was Jung who wrote of the two mysteries that are life and death.
Die taal van siekte “dying’s mother tongue” (29). Illness as metaphor, soos Susan Sontag dit tipeer. ‘n Vreemde taal, tog ‘n taal wat ons almal helaas moet bemeester. Kommentaar.
In a poem called “Poppies”, Mary Oliver writes: “Of course / loss is the great lesson.” Which reminds me of what Oscar Wilde has to say: “Experience is the hardest kind of teacher. It gives you the test first and the lesson afterward.”
Having watched Gisela through her last hours, I have to say I took the test and discovered that there are many lessons to be learned from this harshest of experiences, not the least of which is the medical terminology of doctors and specialists.
In our western society, death is often seen as much like a wound; it’s a matter of time before the wound heals and the accompanying pain gradually goes away. In essence, it’s something to “recover from” so that your life (and theirs) can return to their everyday routines. The truth is that loss is not a wound that can be healed. Loss is an emptiness, an absence that can never be filled for the rest of your life. Instead, you must learn to manage it, to make the days ahead tolerable while you uncover ways to live another kind of life. There are several lessons to be learnt here, lessons we should be taught throughout our lives, so that we’re prepared and not bludgeoned suddenly when death happens.
Ek stel hierdie vrae aan jou, terwyl Koningin Elizabeth II (1926 – 2022) se begrafnis op TV uitgesaai word. Begrafnis as ritueel.
Watter ritueel het jy en jou familie gevolg? Of moet ons hierdie bundel as die ritueel lees?
At various stages during her illness, Gisela and I spoke numerous times about what ceremonials, rituals, and memorial services she wanted after she died. Throughout these discussions, she would tell me that she was not at all afraid of dying knowing that the cancer was spreading aggressively and rapidly but it was the vicious pain that was proving unbearable. She also made it clear that there were to be no religious or memorial services of any kind, not even a final viewing at the undertakers.
By the time we went to Theefontein, I’d finished writing River Willows. However, I decided as we headed to Theefontein, that I would try to write at least one senryu daily during our stay in Theefontein as a sort of record of a unique experience in that extraordinary environment.
I have to add that, during the thirteen days we spent at Theefontein, there was a significant decline in Gisela’s health. When we left on 1 August 2020, she was wracked with a vicious pain that persisted 24 hours a day so that even the journey back to Port Elizabeth proved excruciating.
I mention this because it was while we were still at Theefontein that we had what turned out to be our last discussion about what she wanted to happen after she died. She was so steadfast in her decision that nothing had changed since we’d had our first discussion almost a year previously. Her family was in full agreement with her wishes.
Initially, Gisela had intended to write an account of her cancer journey when she recovered, but that was never to be, sadly. However, I felt a particular urgency to find some way of telling this story. I went back to the senryu I’d written at Theefontein, and slowly, over the next two years, In the Unique Hours began to take shape.