Josephine Balmer is a poet, classical translator, research scholar and literary critic. She studied Classics and Ancient History at University College, London, and completed a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. She is presently a member of the Classics and Poetry Now Research Group (CAPN), chaired by Lorna Hardwick, and based at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.
Her published works include the acclaimed translation Sappho: Poems and Fragments (1984, 1986 & 1992), with a new revised and enlarged edition appearing in August 2018. She has also published the companion volume, Classical Women Poets (1996). Both of these titles are available from Bloodaxe Books. In 2004 Bloodaxe simultaneously published her translations of the erotic Roman poet, Catullus: Poems of Love and Hate, and a first poetry collection, Chasing Catullus: Poems, Translations and Transgressions, which juxtaposed original poems with versions of classical literature (reissued in 2015). Her second poetry collection, The Word for Sorrow, interspersed versions of Ovid’s exile poems with the story of the old second-hand dictionary being used to translate them (Salt, 2009, reissued 2013). In 2013 she published Piecing Together the Fragments: Translating Classical Verse, Creating Contemporary Poetry, a full-length monograph on creative classical translation for Oxford University Press’s ‘Classical Presences’ series. In April 2017, her collection, The Paths of Survival, tracing the often fragile survival of the written word from antiquity to the present day, was published by Shearsman and subsequently shortlisted for the 2017 London Hellenic Prize. This was followed in July 2017 by Letting Go, a sequence of 30 mourning sonnets, many based on classical texts, which articulates grief and eventual reconciliation after her mother’s sudden death (Agenda Editions). Her new poetry collection, Ghost Passage, based on non-literary texts from Roman Britain, in particular a cache of writing tablets recently excavated in the City of London, will be published by Shearsman in February 2022.
Her work has been widely anthologised and poems, translations and interviews have also been broadcast on on BBC Radio’s The Verb, Poetry Please, Pick of the Week, Foreign Books and Women’s Hour, and BBC TV’s The Greeks, Helen of Troy and Oxyrhynchus, amongst others. She has given readings, seminars and workshops at many literary festivals and events including Ledbury Poetry Festival, Poetry International and Poetry Parnassus. Her literary reviews and articles have appeared in The Observer, The Independent on Sunday, The Times Literary Supplement, New Statesman and The Times, amongst others. She was Reviews Editor of Modern Poetry in Translation from 2004 to 2009 and is an advisor to the poetry journal Agenda. She has contributed chapters to several academic studies and journals, as well as given papers and keynote speeches at many international conferences.
She has sat on the PEN Writers in Translation Committee, the Society of Authors’ Management Committee and the British Centre for Literary Translation Advisory Panel. Chair of the Society of Authors’ Translators’ Association from 2002-20005, she has also been a judge for The Guardian/ Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation. Her work has been awarded a Wingate Foundation Scholarship, a South East Arts’ Writers Bursary, two Authors’ Foundation Awards, an inaugural US Lambda Literary Award and an Arts’ Council Write Out Loud Award.
She lives in East Sussex with her husband, the journalist and academic Paul Dunn and rescue Cavalier King Charles spaniel Roxy.
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