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The Wind Too Can Change Direction by Noshi Gillani

Featuring: Noshi Gillani, Nukhbah Langah, Lavinia Greenlaw

The literal versions for these poems were made by Nukhbah Langah. Before they arrived, I watched a film of Noshi Gillani reading her work and listened carefully to her cadences. I do not understand any Urdu so I was listening to pure sound. I kept returning to this film during the translation process in order to focus my attempts to capture her music in English. Her cadences helped me to understand how she structured her poems, and her performance gave me a sense of the complex character of her poetry's music.

The impression I got from the sound of her poems was that they were intense, and tense, arrangements of exploded feeling. I had in my head Emily Dickinson's dashes - how they hold the parts of her poems in mid-air, or the artist Cornelia Parker's suspended cutlery and blown-up shed. I also felt that Noshi's voice was emphatically lyrical, and that her music may be made up of fragments/phrases but that it was essentially unbroken. While the observations and images out of which her poems are made stand beside one another rather than follow on in narrative sequence, the music of the poem was forcefully cohesive.

I find her to be an extremely precise poet, especially precise about complexity! As I learnt how to unpack her images, I discovered how complex but exact they were. I felt that I was dealing with a sophisticated and technically ambitious poet who wanted to capture both extremis and constraint/restraint.

On first reading the literal versions, I found almost nothing I could confidently make sense of. I had to interrogate each image and observation until they revealed what they had in common or how they spoke to and of one another. This gave me the overall impetus and movement of the poem. These are not narrative poems so they could not be approached in a linear fashion. I started by asking many detailed questions about exact meaning, believing that interrogating the precision of a metaphor would lead me to its intended effect.

 

From 'Listening to Noshi Gillani' by Lavinia Greenlaw