Siriol Troup, Beneath the Rime
Siriol Troup's second collection Beneath the Rime is published by Shearsman. I like it a lot – the poems are strange, alive and interested in history.
Siriol Troup comes from a Welsh family but was born in Hong Kong and spent most of her childhood and teenage years abroad, in Africa, Germany, Holland and Iran. She read Modern Languages (French and German) at St Hugh's College, Oxford and later returned there to teach 19th and 20th century French Literature.
Her pamphlet, Moss, won the Poetry Monthly Open Booklet competition in 2002 and her first full-length collection, Drowning up the Blue End, was published by Bluechrome in 2004. She teaches and lectures on poetry and is currently poet in residence for the Twickenham River Centre Project.
Siriol was kind enough to answer some questions I put to her about the work:
Why Beneath the Rime?
I’m hopeless with titles. Most of mine are really boring – ‘Floe’, ‘Detachment’, ‘Fall’ … My working title for the book was actually The Proper Viewing Distance, taken from one of the Infanta poems in the final section, but Tony Frazer at Shearsman, quite rightly, wasn’t keen. I finally settled on Beneath the Rime because I liked the idea of scratching beneath the surface of the poems and their rhymes, which seemed to fit well with the snow, frost and ice which feature in a number of the poems.
Could you explain, or comment on, your fascination with animals?
I find animals fascinating not because I like them particularly, but because I find them quite frightening. Though I often write about dogs, for instance, I’m actually terrified of them: their physical presence, their barking, their unpredictable behaviour. I suppose writing about them is a way of confronting my fears on a safe white page rather than in the park!
The first and second sections of the book are quite distinct, although there are continuities between them too. Can you say something about the poems' groupings, and about how you arrived at them?
You’re right – there are overlaps between the first and second sections, probably because, from the start, I was trying to write about how different ‘viewing distances’ can change our understanding of what we’re looking at, whether it’s a photo of Auden, snowfall in April, or a work of art. In the first section I tried to group poems which, even though they might be about animals, gave some insight into the human position; in the second, I was more interested in the small adjustments that can suddenly alter perspective – which seemed a good lead-in to the Infanta poems at the end of the book.
The third section of the book is a sequence about Velázquez painting the Infanta Maria Teresa. Do you identify more with the Infanta or with Velázquez?
Definitely more with the Infanta, whose destiny seemed to me to have been shaped, at least to some extent, by Velázquez’s paintbrush. He was a bit like a 17th century spin doctor tailoring the Infanta’s heavy Habsburg features to appeal to the court and, more importantly, to potential suitors. The fact that, as Chamberlain of the Royal Palace, he was also directly responsible for planning her wedding to Louis XIV, made the power-play between artist and sitter even more intriguing. While I was doing the background research, I couldn’t help feeling the extreme vulnerability of the Infanta’s situation as an adolescent suddenly thrown onto the marriage market, and later, when Velázquez died immediately after her wedding, having to cope with Louis’s infidelities, the death in childhood of five of her six children, and the French who hated her.
Can you comment on the experience of writing a second collection? Did you find it more difficult than writing the first? Easier? Did you start with a conception of the whole book or did it take shape through the accumulation of individual poems?
I certainly found it harder putting together the second book than the first. I was much more self-conscious this time! Partly it’s an accumulation of individual poems, several of which had already been published in poetry journals, but once I’d written the Infanta poems, it was easier to see where I was heading and how the rest of the book could take shape.
And finally, what next? What are you working on now?
I’ve been translating from German for a while – Goethe at the moment – though I’m wary of becoming too involved with translation because it’s so fascinating and addictive I might never get back to my own work!