A work of poetry, social criticism and autobiography, Lieke Marsman’s The Following Scan Will Last Five Minutes is an honest and dryly comic account of a period in the author’s life that elides pretension in search of autonomy and self-knowledge. Beautifully translated by the poet Sophie Collins, the book also includes a translator’s note in the form of a letter to her author and friend. The Following Scan Will Last Five Minutes is one of three new collections published by Pavilion Poetry in 2019, and to mark the occasion we have the below interview with Lieke and Sophie, as well as a new poem from their collection.
In your book The Opposite of a Person you look in many ways at how the individual relates to the complexity of the modern world. Would you say that The Following Scan examines this at a deeper level in light of your recent experiences?
LM: I don’t know if The Following Scan examines the complexity of the modern world at a deeper level than The Opposite of a Person. I’d say it’s a different level. Writing The Opposite of a Person allowed me to express myself politically as a writer and that was something I’d been wanting to do for a long time. Climate change is obviously a very global issue and cancer on the other hand is a very private personal experience, so it’s different. But I still wanted this book to be political as well and not just personal because I feel that if I hadn’t also written about the world around me the cancer would have smothered me. Being ill can make you feel very isolated, so for me it was important to still engage in social debate.
In what ways did writing help you to process your recent experience with illness? Were there times where you found such introspective analysis challenging?
LM: Strangely enough, writing The Following Scan wasn’t challenging at all and it definitely helped me. What really surprised me was that as soon as I got my diagnosis I started to write poetry, literally on the same day and I hadn’t been writing poems for a very very long time. At times I’d even wondered would I ever write poetry again. And then when this terrible news came it was as if an old friend came by to help me process things and it felt really good. I remember I was in the hospital typing poems with one hand. And to be inspired in such a moment of personal crisis, I found that very comforting.
Looking at your interest in climate change, what role do you think literature can play in bringing about social awareness for these issues on a wider level?
LM: Oh I think literature can play a very important role. Maybe not in bringing about social awareness in the sense that I imagine my readers feel already very aware, like I don’t think there are a lot of climate change deniers amongst them, but reading about issues like climate change is going to help you deepen your understanding. For instance, for me it shifted my thinking from “I should take responsibility for this as an individual” to “we should stop blaming individual behaviour and start changing the system”, and literature can challenge the system so there’s an important role.
SC: So like Lieke, I think that most people coming to her work and to other similar work will already be aware of these issues, but that reading about them has the effect of deepening such awareness to a degree where the reader then feels implicated in the issue, in the question, rather than just like a spectator.
In what ways does the translation process offer different challenges to that of producing your work individually?
SC: So I think both translation and producing ‘my own poetry’ are both very challenging. There are a lot of the same pressures. Obviously with both you’re often wondering when you’re working perhaps in the later editing stages about how those texts will be received once they’re published, but where in my own writing work my responsibility is primarily to myself, in translation I have a responsibility both to myself and more so to Lieke, or to the other source text author that I’m working with. Both translation and writing require the same creative energy though and so in that sense they’re not so different at all. Translation isn’t a kind of dogsbody job that you can do when you don’t feel like writing your ‘own work’. Even though in translation you’re working from an existing text, from a source text, the writing of the translation is as involved as any form of creative writing.
The Following Scan offers a highly intimate account of an immensely challenging period of Lieke’s life and for this reason functions as a personal reflection of individual experience. Knowing Lieke so closely, was it a challenge to remain objective, or did the object of your role in the collection aim to go beyond the typical objectivity often associated with conventional translations?
SC: It was a challenge at times, again not necessarily in terms of the translation process because I felt that I knew Lieke’s voice by this time and I knew instinctively how to translate her work, but difficult more for the reasons that I go into in my extended translator’s commentary. In saying them out loud again now I realise that it does sound so egotistical to say, but in addition to feeling extremely worried about Lieke who’s someone with whom I had developed a friendship by this time, I began to experience some health anxiety on my end and I think this was because I was effectively writing out Lieke’s words in English, in the first person and present tense. And when you’re writing this way about the diagnosis and treatment of a life-threatening disease, well I think your brain simply isn’t impervious to something like that. Effectively each day you are repeating a mantra which is that “I have cancer” and you’re talking about the way it’s effecting you and inevitably that seeps in.
Find out more about Lieke and Sophie’s new collection The Following Scan Will Last Five Minutes on the Liverpool University Press website.
Follow @PavilionPoetry on twitter for updates on the 2019 collections, and announcements of readings and events.