Interview with Sasha Dugdale

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We had the opportunity of asking Sasha Dugdale some questions in the run up to this years’ poetry festival. Read what she had to say below:

 Could you please give any detail about what you will be discussing at the Northern Poetry Symposium?

The Symposium is a brilliant opportunity to engage with practitioners in and outside the UK and there are lots of people speaking whose work I love and admire. As former editor of Modern Poetry in Translation and a translator myself I find these rare and almost mythical moments of ‘translation community’ inspiring. You leave feeling part of something, able to change the world in some small way. The panel I am chairing is discussing exactly that – how to change the world!

What do you think will be the impact upon translation poetry as we draw closer to Brexit and our ties with Europe become more and more tense? Is there a possibility that the political change will generate more demand for translation or do you think it will create a submission in the popularity of such work?

Poetry is having ‘a moment’ and translation is, too: there is lots in poetry which speaks to our sense of alienation from politics and our anger at the world’s injustices. Poetry readers often read poetry in answer to a need and the current environment fills us with the need for work which is angry and activist, as well as more spiritual and hope-giving. Poetry from other parts of the world tells us truths about the human spirit wherever it is. But the fight against cultural parochialism on a grand scale is about to begin, it feels inevitable.

Do you feel that poetry and the arts are important to a healthy and positive bond between the UK and Russian especially given the recent themes within the news?

Russians are lovers of culture and literature and the arts play a more central role in Russian life than they do here. Russians are being fed a diet of anti-Western propaganda.  So a sure way to foster lasting links with Russian people is through culture. It’s important to remember that the bad news coming from Russia is generated by a small number of elite crooks. There are many people in Russia who feel oppressed by their government. They, too, need the support of international dialogue and the pleasure of cultural collaboration to survive this period.

How do you think we can raise interest in translation poetry?

I would love to see more poetry in translation on the GCSE and A-level syllabus and elements of poetry translation in foreign language study at school. I’d like to discuss some imaginative ways to bring translated poetry to people, perhaps by integrating world poetry into NHS services. We are facing a breakdown in public services in the UK, so we’ll have to be focussed if we want to achieve anything. But I am also a realist. Even when poetry is big news it is still a niche interest. So world-changing talk is good, but we shouldn’t pin our hopes on a global conversion to translated poetry any time soon.

Which events are you looking forward to at this year’s poetry festival?

It is a real treat to hear writers who have travelled here to read like Jorie Graham, Tyehimba Jess, Evelyn Schlag, Nuar Alsadir and Ilya Kaminsky. Such riches are not often possible here. It is a breath-taking line-up altogether, with many of my favourite UK poets. I’m grateful to Sinéad and the Newcastle team for putting it together.

 Finally, can you please talk a bit about your Royal Literary Fund lecture: ‘Pushkin is our all!’

My plan is to talk about Pushkin’s central importance in Russia. There is nothing comparable, his psychological understanding, poetry and even phrasing saturate our consciousness. I’d like to think about why a writer has importance to a nation and its sense of self. I’m not an academic, so the talk will be purely based on my observations of Russia. I’m wondering if I can talk about my memories of white nights there, when the cuckoo sang at midnight, and the white horse in a meadow outside my window shimmered like a moon…