Unbound presents poets and writers engaging with and / or exploring multilinguality. Meet the English-born poet Zoë Skoulding.

Zoë Skoulding was born in Bradford, United Kingdom in 1967. Having previously lived in East Anglia, India and Belgium, Skoulding now lives in north Wales. Skoulding’s first collection of poems Tide Table was published in 1998 (followed by The Mirror Trade, 2004; Dark Wires, 2007; From Here, 2008; Remains of a Future City, 2008; The Museum of Disappearing Sounds, 2013). 

Skoulding is a true master at her craft. She possesses a strong writing voice capable of transgressing the boundaries and the borders of both meaning and form whilst also exploring the multivocal and multilingual expressions in her poetry. Stylistically, she combines lyrical imagery with a (post)modernist approach and worldview, something that allows her never to fall into the ‘nostalgia’ trap.  Skoulding is particularly good at studying the relationship between poetry and city space. This relationship is the main theme of the masterful collection ‘Remains of a Future City”. In one of the poems, ‘The Old Walls’, Skoulding writes: 

The wall is who we are and they are not and
            farther in the boundaries collapse in a rush of
            security as cells multiply and break through stone
translucent grit cracks the skin open to the elements
            we go down through layers and this is history
            a low door at the foot of the walls opens into starry
arches articulate as loin bones the slender joints
            lithe as a voice disappearing from behind the
            words behind the walls where water moves  
against deep tones of trees that cloud the air
            behind the smell of wet earth the voice leaves
            the shape of itself and the footprints of walkers
trace the shell of the city its dead words
            we crawled out of our words tender like snails
            and the new city grows from the loins of the old
as lichen spreads in acid maps invading and
            retreating the city runs along fingers runs along
            roads and wires and into fields and the sightlines
run back to the city in wires and the walls
            keep nothing out and the nothing beyond as a cloud
            of eyes moves through the streets and falls like rain

Then, in her 2013 ‘haunted’ collection ‘The Museum of Disappearing Sounds’, Skoulding turns to the theme of disappearance. She intertwines disappearing words and sounds ‘shaken loose from border controls’ giving rise to a poetics of the trace. Traces of other languages, other voices, other cultures appear as can be seen in the extract below from ‘Variants of a Polish fragment’:

this is glass this is szkla or szklo depending on where
it catches its light and I can’t see anything through it
only hear the rasp of broken bottles
swept across a beach where I’m walking
towards you with bare feet in this variant
salt air wears the edges smooth

words are sharp against the town’s low roar
but blur your ears and traffic turns tidal every step
leaves a white wave of salt on my shoes
in wody wielkie in vast waters I could
drown in the undertow of any language
in this variant it would make no difference

It can be said that intertextuality lies at the centre of Skoulding’s writing. Besides her postmodern exploration of modern sonic environments one can find a series of references to the French literary cannon including Rimbaud, Valéry and Baudelaire. So is the Proustian theme of memory and forgetting the central subject of the poem in prose in three parts ‘In Search for Lost Time’. The poem testifies to the poet’s quest for time lost, as can be seen in the third part: 

He would suddenly become aware that he could not remember even time-lapse cameras recording glaciers. A reasonable attempt will be made to replace time lost but there is no magic form. Ask your doctor to complete a press release pertaining to cloud estimates after earthquakes. How can one hold joy and grief in the mind at the same time? Blame advertising slowdown, or the growing literature on the economics of migraine. Little is known why subjective time loss occurs after a novel experience but mice allowed to sleep after being trained help you shed flab in a jiffy. Between accident and absence the world had changed into something recognisable.

This is simply great poetry worth reading and re-reading again. 

Photo: ‘Stranger in the night’, ©Mina Ray 2017

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