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This interview is taken from PN Review 240, Volume 44 Number 4, March - April 2018.

In conversation with Sasha Dugdale Jamie Osborn
[This conversation took place around the time that Sasha Dugdale was finishing her latest book, Joy, and was preparing to hand over as editor of Modern Poetry in Translation. It was conducted (via email) between northern Spain, Sussex, Brussels and a flight to Moscow.]


Joy starts with a dark stage and a woman speaking. She’s Catherine Blake, wife of William. As the poem develops, memory and care and creation are layered together, and I think there’s an anxiety here that reflects the multiple, uncertain-yet-definite voices of the poem. When Catherine clutches at her body through her clothes, I can’t help feeling that what she is doing anxiously touching at layers of recollection and trying to get a grip on the words searing through her. Maybe one way for the reader to get such a grip is to ask: who’s speaking here?


I was primarily interested in Blake, but found it impossible to write about him directly. His own work is filled with a sort of clarity that needs no explication or dramatic footnoting. However, during my reading and research I found myself increasingly wondering about Catherine, his wife and helpmate. Blake burnt extremely bright and I wondered what living in proximity to that brightness would do to a person. Catherine spent many hours every day working with him in the cottage industry of engraving. She learnt all the considerable skills of an engraver, she worked in difficult conditions, handling the acids, pigments and plates, living daily with the chemical stench of the industry and its ...


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