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This report is taken from PN Review 193, Volume 36 Number 5, May - June 2010.

Archive Corner 15: Pearl Stella Halkyard

Versions and visions of the poem called ‘Pearl’

One afternoon, in the ‘height / and heart of summer’ 2006, an email appears in the Editorial Director’s ‘in-box’ at Carcanet Press from the poet Jane Draycott. This messenger from another place, ‘between a sunlit garden and the mysterious landscape of the world to come’, announces that the poet is in the process of putting together a new collection of her poems which she would like to offer to Carcanet/Oxford to publish. Almost as an aside she adds: ‘Also, I’m thinking seriously about having a go at a contemporary poetic version of the “Pearl” poem and I’d particularly appreciate your advice on this as I remember you’ve been looking closely at the poem yourself.’

Minutes later, Michael Schmidt’s reply flies back, ‘Of COURSE we want to see your new collection!’ “Pearl”,’ he tells her, ‘is the most wonderful poem. If you could find a prosaic solution that worked, you would have a little miracle on your hands …’

And so, transposed in print, an extract of Draycott’s translation of ‘Pearl’ was first published in April 2008, as part of her collection of poems entitled Over. This slender, crisp-white, elegant volume offers us a prefiguring of the poem that will be published in its entirety in the autumn of 2011.

As Draycott notes in a commentary on her translation, ‘Pearl’ is a ‘vivid expression of grief’ and spiritual crisis. This intricately woven poem reveals ...

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