Thursday the 24th of August saw the Slovakian-born poet Eleni Cay attending an evening event at Blackwells in Manchester, alongside two other poets; Michael Conley and Rebecca Hurst. The poets read from their debut collections and engaged in discussion. Parthian intern Julia Bradley attended the event, and interviewed Eleni.
A video of some of the poems performed is available here:
Julia: In your ‘non-poetry’ life you’re a researcher, investigating the effect of technology on children’s learning. How has this research affected your poetry, particularly in A Butterfly’s Trembling in the Digital Age which takes technology as a major theme?
Eleni: Art and science reveal the reality about life and the truth about the world. In my academic research I approach technology systematically. I look for patterns, commonalities and objective assessments of their impact. In my poetic work, I address technology with my heart. I let my feelings bear upon my words, and bring in intelligence from life rather than didactic books.
J: A lot of your poems in Butterfly’s Trembling seem to be quite disillusioned with this ‘digital age’ in which we now live, particularly when you write about the use of technology in relationships. Do you think that technology used in this context is purely negative?
E: Definitely not! As Alain Badiou wrote, ‘We shouldn’t underestimate the power love possesses to slice diagonally through the most powerful oppositions and radical separations’. This includes technology and the fact that it can both impoverish and enrich love.
J: You’ve created many film poems of your work, which have been shared widely on social media – do you feel any tension or conflict about this, when some of your poems in the translated collection highlight the uneasy alliance between intimacy and technology?
E: As I write on my website, I see multimedia poetry as a way of challenging discriminatory poetic forms. I believe there are many ways into poetry and multimedia can open and validate these multiple paths. To me, poetry can be expressed in a spoken, written, physical or visual mode. Although these different modes of expression have all distinct qualities, I don’t think there should be a hierarchy to them.
I’m particularly interested in spaces that augment content and form into novel poetic genres. This is where dancepoems come in. I have recently created a “Living Book” about dancepoetry. This is part of my ongoing efforts to enrich contemporary poetry with new art forms and diverse voices. The book is freely available online: https://dancepoems.wordpress.com/ . So far, I have received some very positive feedback from poets and dancers across the world.
J: Last week novelist Howard Jacobson caused controversy over his comments that the rise of smartphones and twitter could ‘make children illiterate in 20 years’ – how would you respond to this?
E: That’s an interesting comment and I’m curious to know what made Mr Jacobson say that. My definition of literacy is expansive. We have traditional literacies such as reading and writing and new literacies such as multimedia production and design. My projection for the next 20 years is that both kinds of literacies will evolve and enrich our understanding of what it means to be literate. These changes will affect both children and adults.
J: What advice would you give to (particularly young) people about navigating today’s ‘Digital Age’?
E: I don’t think I’m in a position to give advice- we are all participants, designers and evaluators of one big experiment and need to work together to ensure it doesn’t fall apart or leave anyone excluded. The signs that I look for when navigating this “Digital Wild West” are beauty and knowledge. I firmly believe that both hold tremendous potential for recognising that life is full of colours, shades and hues, not black-and-white pathways.
You can watch a video of another interview that Eleni has done here:
Eleni’s first translated poetry collection is A Butterfly’s Trembling in the Digital Age . It was translated from the original Slovak into English by John Minahane.
The book speaks to the poet’s own (young) generation about how technology affords new ways of expressing love, while nostalgically evoking times before Facebook and selfies. However, nature-versus-technology is not the primary theme here. In fact, most poems focus on how human beings are entangled with technology, and on how they jointly influence all aspects of being in the 21st century.
The butterfly, a symbol of change and fragility, sounds a note of caution about using technology to reinvent love and quintessentially human values. To find the ways in which love can survive in a high tech world, one might need to look again at nature and its laws. The poet tries to catch those subtle harmonies that are often missed when ‘human’ and ‘technological’ are counterposed too exclusively, as Either/Or.
There are 55 poems in the collection, written in a variety of metrical and stanzaic forms, but mostly in common metre, analogous to sung music. The poems are accessible on a first read, with layers that invite a re-reading and re-thinking of what it means to be loved in the digital age.
Eleni Cay is a Slovakian-born poet living in Manchester, UK. Her poems have been published in two pamphlets – Colours of the Swan and Autumn Dedications – and featured in MK Calling 2013 & 2015. Eleni’s poems were included in anthologies such as Mother’s Milk, poetry magazines such as Envoi and Atticus Review and on Button Poetry. A full collection of translated poems was published by Parthian Books in July 2017 and a pamphlet is due in autumn 2017 by Eyewear Press (The Lorgnette Pamphlet Series).
John Minahane was born near Baltimore in the south of Ireland in 1950. In 1996 he moved to Slovakia. His first major undertaking as a translator from Slovak was a selection of the poems and literary essays of Ladislav Novomeský (Slovak Spring, 2004). Later published works include selections from the lyrics of Milan Rúfus, To Bear the Burden and Sing (2008); Six Slovak Poets 2010; Ján Buzássy’s Eighteen Poems (2012); and the classic novel Three Chestnut Horses by Margita Figuli (2014). Recent poetry collections which he has translated include Jozef Leikert’s The Cobweb of Being (2015), Štefan Kuzma’s whisper (2016), and the anti-war poems written at the outbreak of World War 1 by Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav, Bloody Sonnets (2016).