In September-October, 2017, Coldnoon celebrated six years of publishing, and travelling with you. To mark our anniversary, we got together with writers, intellectuals and stalwarts of the art of thinking (and travelling). Here is an interview with Nia Davies.

 

We believe making travel arrangements, we subconsciously tend to eliminate those possibilities which we deem unfit to perceived etiquettes, or norms or occasions. Our understanding of travel is based on premises that define what travelling is not. Is writing for you a similar activity, where you are conscious of what writing is not? If so, what according to you is not writing?

The train I’m traveling on couldn’t be moving any slower. It’s in the special stretched  dimension of rail replacement, delay and awkward connection when time stretches out. In this transiting I think I know what travel is not – it’s not continuity, routine or repose. These things I need badly right now; a comfort and rest I crave and yet tire of quickly, the kind of nothing-happens state we all need to process all the excitements of traveling.

Likewise, writing needs not-writing; it is not an exercise, it is not rest, understanding or listening. It is not suffering. This is of course debatable, but for the sake of argument let’s say writing is creation. Sometimes it’s also destruction. It’s an active state either way.

This leads me into question number three. A writer-artist certainly needs travel, metaphorical or real, newness, shock and challenge, an edge of discomfort. I am certainly uncomfortable right now. Yesterday I was in the woods and I have been badly bitten by red ants on my shoulders and arms and, somehow, my stomach. This is one kind of discomfort from traveling/writing. I could’ve stayed at home, but I was having such an interesting time in the woods I didn’t think it a problem to sit down in the ant nest and then forget to take antihistamine.

I think this is a question about rhythms. A rhythm of creation can be played out over the course of a day, making sure one dances around the room at least once an hour for example. Or the course of a life; remembering to leave one’s town at least once every year another example. An awareness of these patterns and how you may need to fix or disrupt them, how the pattern plays you and you can play the pattern is probably essential to writing but it is not easy to cultivate. Either way, I’d always say it’s worth coming face to face with the other frequently, the red ants for example. To get bitten badly so that next time you write a red ant…

 

If not writing, what else would you like to be known for?

What would I like to be known for? I’m afraid I don’t have a signature dish like a tiramisu that everyone at my party will remember into the next decade. In the alternative world of this interview, which is the world of writing and invention, I’d be able to make a really superb tiramisu with an imaginative garnish. Redcurrants come to mind. But I travel too much to make puddings. For survival purposes I can make a good meal. I’ve watched a lot of Masterchef The Professionals. That’s something I don’t really want to be known for. I mean, I could’ve at least been watching some high quality drama. But instead I was watching someone make food I will probably never cook or eat.

So this is a difficult question. If you deny ever thinking about your public image you come across as a martyr to selflessness, earnest or plain dishonest. If you let people know you have an awareness of your image you appear a hollow mercenary obsessed with personal brand. All I can say is that I enjoy occasionally finding something out about myself through the opinions of others, surprising things such as I might actually be able to make people laugh (thank you to recent reviewers of my collection All Fours). So there you go: I’d love to be known for making at least one or two people laugh, helping them forget the miserable wars of the planet for a few minutes.

 

In 1794, the French author, Xavier de Maistre, wrote the renowned book, Voyage Around my Room, during a month and a half of solitary confinement, in consequence of a duel. Besides being a satire on the contemporary literary culture of voyages and adventures of colonial sailors to prospective new worlds, the book proved to be a demonstration of how an individual is almost always travelling, but perhaps does not recognize the value of their domestic travels, mobility or even touristic acquisitions. How do you see or understand travelling? Do you think it is a necessary activity for a writer?

This leads me into question number three. A writer-artist certainly needs travel, metaphorical or real, newness, shock and challenge, an edge of discomfort. I am certainly uncomfortable right now. Yesterday I was in the woods and I have been badly bitten by red ants on my shoulders and arms and, somehow, my stomach. This is one kind of discomfort from traveling/writing. I could’ve stayed at home, but I was having such an interesting time in the woods I didn’t think it a problem to sit down in the ants nest and then forget to take an antihistamine.

I think this is a question about rhythms. A rhythm of creation can be played out over the course of a day, making sure one dances around the room at least once an hour for example. Or the course of a life; remembering to leave one’s town at least once every year another example. An awareness of these patterns and how you may need to fix or disrupt them, how the pattern plays you and you can play the pattern is probably essential to writing but it is not easy to cultivate. Either way, I’d always say it’s worth coming face to face with the other frequently, the red ants for example. To get bitten badly so that next time you write a red ant…

 

Your favorite or most striking lines by another author; or if you will, any composed by yourself?

Another author’s lines:

Bearings.
Oaths.
Mixed Pulses etched
Finningly, brilliant corners decapitate. Beast’s
coat Loading
battlegivens: wound
Livery
laid into river, nails of
similarly blood-fine hatching.
this is called/.

fish (Maggie O’Sullivan, from ‘Naming’, In the House of the Shaman)

 

Do respond to the following words:

“If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me.” — W. H. Auden

Recently someone said something beautiful to me, that TOUCH is the first language. I thought then about how we translate this language in relationships through the course of our lives.

We can understand affection in the sense as a generalised loving, or as is more the case today, as a loving TOUCH. Auden may be using it in its first sense of love, not necessarily tactile, not necessarily consummated on the skin.

I find now that there can be
.     affection without love, love without affection
or rather, I should put it,
.     intimacy without eroticism and eroticism without intimacy

All are not necessarily states to suffer. All are forms of loving. Integral to happiness even.

But if touch is the first language we learn, then it helps to be multilingual.

Affection is a culture. It is part familial, part every relationship we’ve ever had, but also partly cultural. I wonder whether I come from an affection-lite culture. It’s certainly a verbal culture: talk, anecdote, poetry, song, books, language, things not pertaining to the body so directly. For example no one in my family remembers my grandparents ever dancing.

But one word that comes out of this culture is cwtch. A cwtch is a snug-embrace, a half hug, a bit smoochy. It is a word from Welsh embraced by those who do not speak much Welsh (there is no English equivalent). It is, as a result, the name of several cafes and is inscribed on much gift-shop tat intended for the cosiest corner of one’s ‘home’. So it can also be used pejoratively; a cloying cosiness, a tacky comfort.

In saying goodbye once, my English father gave my Welsh grandfather what the latter termed a ‘half-cwtch’.  ‘I’ve come to expect it from him by now,’ my grandfather said, expressing affection for his son-in-law’s awkward male-to-male TOUCH. My grandfather felt the half-cwtch should not go unjoked about. It should be verbalised.

Intercultural affection is hazardous. A predominantly verbal islander could end up falling in love with an affectionate mainlander then discover the mainlander’s affection is ten a penny. Or, equally, the islander could hurt the mainlander because they miss so many opportunities to TOUCH they came across cold, loveless, when they were very much in love. In this case I sympathise with Auden.

As Auden suggests, spillage happens.  There can be lopsided affection. Perhaps unrequited lovings are not really love but fascinations above the surface of the beloved’s deepsea. Perhaps they are love of the idea of love, fantasies that suspend the lover in their own time and do not encounter the most challenging aspects of the beloved’s deepsea, their flaws, their ugly fish.

But unequal loving occurs all the time. Auden’s overspilling love could be many things. A fantasy on the beloved’s surface? Or jouissance, in Lacan’s terms. It could be artistic fascination, the search for a muse. Perhaps it is really a defence against some other source of pain, a pain in the lover’s own deepsea.

Or it could be the desire that makes the world run, because as Lacan also noted, our loving may be lopsided because we are always already in search for the lost thing, the first language. This is the desire which makes many things happen. And I sympathise with Auden again, because it is this abundance of loving that would make the world move. I too would rather desire intensely than not at all. It might help me write.

 

What do you think of Coldnoon?

I think Coldnoon is a beautiful exercise in something that is currently very urgent – the need to consider, read and write movement, borders and horizons. Some have the privilege of being travellers, others are forced into the position of refugee. We are moving all so rapidly we are entangling our cultures, we are coming up against misunderstandings, we are loving and we are fighting. So to open up a dialogue on the poetics of travel and travel writing feels pertinent, important but also pleasurable.

 

Nia Polly Watts Davies

Nia Polly Watts Davies

Nia Davies was born in Sheffield and studied English at the University of Sussex. She has been editor of Poetry Wales since 2014 and has worked on several international and collaborative projects such as Literature Across Frontiers, Wales International Poetry Festival and Wales Literature Exchange. Her poems and essays have been published and translated widely and she has appeared in several international festivals. A frequent collaborator with other poets and artists, she co-curated Gelynion, a Welsh Enemies project on collaboration in contemporary poetry in Wales in 2015. Her pamphlets, Then Spree (Salt, 2012), Çekoslovakyalılaştıramadıklarımızdanmısınız or Long Words (Boiled String, 2016) and England (Crater, 2017), were followed by her first book-length collection, All fours (Bloodaxe Books, 2017). She is currently undertaking practice-based research at the University of Salford.

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