Josephine Balmer's Chasing Catullus ventures into the border territory, the no-man's-land between poetry and translation, juxtaposing new poems with fresh versions of ancient texts, brazenly reimagining classical literature, wittily subverting epic works, overwriting the past like a palimpsest. But there is a more personal journey here too. As Balmer points out in her preface, classical translation can provide poets with new voices, allowing them 'to say the unsayable, to give shape to horrors we might otherwise be unable to outline'.
Chasing Catullus also presents a dark odyssey of the soul, descending in and out of the underworld as Balmer responds to the death of her young niece from cancer, exploring difficult times and dangerous emotions with compassion and humour. These are poems which blur the difference between ancient and modern, familiar and unfamiliar; poems which push back the boundaries, bringing two-thousand-year-old jokes to life, giving voice to contemporary loss and grief.
'Wry, angry, sometimes lyrical, invariably learned, occasionally opaque, this series of poems needs to be read several times to be fully appreciated. The quality which emanates everywhere is an unswerving commitment to finding language of emotional fidelity to experience, and aesthetic fidelity to memory. This manifest integrity of purpose, combined with no little technical skill and a sensual pleasure in the shape and sound of words, makes for a gripping read.' – Edith Hall, Times Literary Supplement
'There is a confessional charge and urgency in these poems. A language that is fluid and direct, resolutely set on establishing contact with the reader, counterbalances the sophistication of her overall design, while her meticulous phrasing helps her lines to land exactly where she wants them to be.' – Paschalis Nikolaou, London Magazine
Chasing Catullus was published by Bloodaxe simultaneously with Josephine Balmer's translation Catullus: Poems of Love and Hate.