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    [ID] => 20438
    [post_author] => 23
    [post_date] => 2019-10-10 13:09:50
    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-10 13:09:50
    [post_content] => “How cuneiforms cut by suffering show
their harsh unyielding texts impressed on cheeks.”

—Requiem, Akhmatova tr. Nancy Anderson

“How, O how could I stay silent, how, O how could I keep quiet?
My friend whom I love has turned to clay.”

—The Epic of Gilgamesh tr. Stephanie Dalley

i
she can describe this, but not write it down.
to write it down would be like making lace:

history with the gaps already woven in, unravelling
into a voice, a wail, a breath crystallising in the air.
it cannot be written—only whispered.

ii
in the city where every brick is stamped
with the name of a myth, women’s thinning bodies
are cuneiform pressed into the column
of the prison queue. their faces are written
in a language only the dead speak.

iii
in those years, people turned to clay. every story
was a scar, every word was an impact.

in those years she learned that memory is made of holes,
but forgetting is the surface of a frozen lake,

and if it thaws, you’ll drown.
that memory isn’t something you can write down:
it’s sometimes safest as a speechless sound.

iv
Anna Akhmatova could not read cuneiform
but she transcribed what was dictated to her
in a now-vanished manuscript; she saw

the word that causes death’s defeat,
and she could not read it,
but she knew it was there.
    [post_title] => dead language
    [post_excerpt] => 
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    [post_name] => dead-language
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    [post_modified] => 2020-08-25 10:18:50
    [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-08-25 10:18:50
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    [post_parent] => 0
    [guid] => http://poems.poetrysociety.org.uk/?post_type=poems&p=20438
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    [post_type] => poems
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        (
            [wpcf-published-in] => 
            [wpcf-date-published] => 2019
            [wpcf-summary-description] => This poem is the second-prize winner in the Timothy Corsellis Prize 2019 on Young Poets Network (YPN), judged by Fran Brearton, MRIA, Professor of Modern Poetry at Queen’s University Belfast, and a recognised authority on 20th century war poetry; Karen Leeder, FRSA, poet and professor of Modern German Literature at New College, Oxford; Susie Thornberry, Assistant Director of the Imperial War Museum in London; and Judith Palmer, Director of The Poetry Society. The Timothy Corsellis Prize is an annual poetry prize calling for poems in response to a selection of poets of the Second World War, including Keith Douglas, Sidney Keyes, Alun Lewis, John Jarmain, Henry Reed, Anna Akhmatova, Gertrud Kolmar, Günter Eich, Miklós Radnóti and Timothy Corsellis.

Ella Standage, the poet, said about writing this poem, "When I read Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem I became obsessed with the lines: 'I’ve learned how faced hollow down to bone, / How from beneath the eyelids terror peaks, / How cuneiforms cut by suffering show / their harsh unyielding texts impressed on cheeks.'

I was interested in the idea that people’s faces could contains the stories of their suffering, but that due to the nature of the text those stories were inaccessible. Akhmatova’s second husband, Vladimir Shileiko, was an Assyriologist, and Akhmatova transcribed his lost translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is itself only a fragmentary text. I thought that Akhmatova, with this background, would have been interested in “the word that causes death’s defeat”, as in a poem as focused on memory as Requiem is, the written word can extend a person’s memory even after their death. But while the written word can memorialise, it can also incriminate: Requiem wasn’t written down for decades because of its controversial content, but was whispered only to people Akhmatova trusted. Relatedly, Requiem (as far as I can tell) only has one mention of writing, and that is the unreadable cuneiform. There are other methods of memorialisation in Requiem—speechless noises, people described as statues, and Akhmatova imagining her own bronze statue—but they are all things that cannot speak. In my poem I wanted to explore the idea of memory, in the form of things that visibly have stories, but keep those stories secret."

Fran Brearton, one of the judges, said, "This is a subtle and perceptive response to Akhmatova’s ‘cunieform’ reference in Requiem and to the idea of where and how memory and suffering might be recorded. Its images capture well the tension between memory and forgetting, what is and isn’t recorded (history as ‘lace…the gaps already woven in’ for example; or ‘forgetting the surface of a frozen lake’. As a reflection on the politics of language and memory the poem is fascinating; and it stiches together with real insight the fabric of the city, the people, the written and unwritten poems."
            [wpcf-rights-information] => 
            [wpcf-poem-award] => 2nd prize, Timothy Corsellis Prize 2019
            [wpcf_pr_belongs] => 
        )

    [poet_data] => stdClass Object
        (
            [ID] => 17076
            [forename] => 
            [surname] => 
            [title] => Ella Standage
            [slug] => ella-standage
            [content] => Ella is a top 15 winner of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2017 and 2015, and a commended Foyle Young Poet in 2016. They are the first-prize winner of the Bletchley Park challenge on Young Poets Network, as well as the W. S. Graham challenge as part of Graham’s centenary celebrations. Ella is the second-prize winner of the Timothy Corsellis Prize 2019; of Ankita Saxena’s protest poetry challenge, remembering 100 years of the women’s vote in the UK; and of the Riddle Me This challenge. Ella is also a runner-up in the Namedropping challenge; commended in the Ways to be Wilder poetry challenge with People Need Nature and Jen Hadfield; commended in the I Am the Universe challenge; commended in the Wish List challenge; commended in the Ode to (Small) Joy challenge, and a winner in the Winter Poems challenge and in the 2016 August Challenge #2. They were a runner-up in the Artlyst Art to Poetry Award in 2020.
        )

)
stdClass Object
(
    [ID] => 17076
    [forename] => 
    [surname] => 
    [title] => Ella Standage
    [slug] => ella-standage
    [content] => Ella is a top 15 winner of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2017 and 2015, and a commended Foyle Young Poet in 2016. They are the first-prize winner of the Bletchley Park challenge on Young Poets Network, as well as the W. S. Graham challenge as part of Graham’s centenary celebrations. Ella is the second-prize winner of the Timothy Corsellis Prize 2019; of Ankita Saxena’s protest poetry challenge, remembering 100 years of the women’s vote in the UK; and of the Riddle Me This challenge. Ella is also a runner-up in the Namedropping challenge; commended in the Ways to be Wilder poetry challenge with People Need Nature and Jen Hadfield; commended in the I Am the Universe challenge; commended in the Wish List challenge; commended in the Ode to (Small) Joy challenge, and a winner in the Winter Poems challenge and in the 2016 August Challenge #2. They were a runner-up in the Artlyst Art to Poetry Award in 2020.
)

dead language

Ella Standage

“How cuneiforms cut by suffering show
their harsh unyielding texts impressed on cheeks.”

—Requiem, Akhmatova tr. Nancy Anderson

“How, O how could I stay silent, how, O how could I keep quiet?
My friend whom I love has turned to clay.”

—The Epic of Gilgamesh tr. Stephanie Dalley

i
she can describe this, but not write it down.
to write it down would be like making lace:

history with the gaps already woven in, unravelling
into a voice, a wail, a breath crystallising in the air.
it cannot be written—only whispered.

ii
in the city where every brick is stamped
with the name of a myth, women’s thinning bodies
are cuneiform pressed into the column
of the prison queue. their faces are written
in a language only the dead speak.

iii
in those years, people turned to clay. every story
was a scar, every word was an impact.

in those years she learned that memory is made of holes,
but forgetting is the surface of a frozen lake,

and if it thaws, you’ll drown.
that memory isn’t something you can write down:
it’s sometimes safest as a speechless sound.

iv
Anna Akhmatova could not read cuneiform
but she transcribed what was dictated to her
in a now-vanished manuscript; she saw

the word that causes death’s defeat,
and she could not read it,
but she knew it was there.