Abi Palmer and her early warning system for questions of race, gender, class and body

Abi Palmer’s language in the book “Sanatorium” is authentic, drastic, poetic, rhythmic. She describes, circles, lets herself drift. Text results in text. Palmer is a queer young woman with chronic illnesses. In her case, however, queer may not only refer to sexual identity, but also mean something else in being different. Palmer and text are obviously at an angle, that is, at right angles to everything that is the norm, and do not result in a clear picture, but only one with at least seven faces.

There is little about the poet on the internet and on the back cover of “Sanatorium” – not even her date of birth. She’s young, for sure, and probably has an old soul. Maybe she’s also shy, maybe strict and in this mix probably a challenge with big glasses that look like the frames are from the junk. Palmer looks through them like a living early warning system when it comes to issues of race, gender, class and physicality.

Luxury abroad, poverty at home

In 2017, the London poet and artist received a grant to attend a rehabilitation program in Budapest’s thermal springs. The sanatorium is located on an island, Margaret Island – in the middle of the Danube and outside of a time called the present. After returning to her London routine, Palmer continued trying therapy in an inflatable blue bathtub. In her autobiographical interrogation, the poet Palmer meanders between the poles of luxury abroad and poverty at home, between light sleep and dark wakefulness, between autobiographical narration and her struggle for a dialogue with the mystic Teresa of Avila.

An important aspect of Abi Palmer’s work is the way she deals with the world and the way she works together. Discussions and encounters between performers, writing performers and the permeability between the various disciplines themselves, including modern dance, are important to her. Her lyrics “Sanatorium” were featured live in her inflatable bathtub during lockdown. It was also around this time that Palmer began the “Sanatorium Sessions,” a series of informal discussions and performances with multidisciplinary artists – all sitting in their bathtubs.

The translators Astrid Köhler and Henrike Schmidt made an important decision for this speaking writing, which always needs its stage, its counterpart, i.e. dialogue even when monologizing. For a book and an author like Abi Palmer, who explicitly gets involved in discussions, it is important how gender attributions are made, although these are less present in the English language. In consultation with the author, the translators have decided to always use the feminine plural form in open cases in the original language. They also avoided the “man” that is so common in German and instead opted for a “du”, which also stages the dialogic character of Palmer’s prose. We succeeded in this sensitive business.

Abi Palmer: Sanatorium. Autobiographical Questions. Translated by Astrid Koehler and Henrike Schmidt. INK Press, Zurich 2022. 222 pages, 21 euros

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