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Ashur Etwebi, Five Scenes From a Failed Revolution – review

Five Scenes From a Failed Revolution by Ashur Etwebi, translated by James Byrne,

Arc Publications, £11.99 paperback, 106 pp.


You can find my review on The London Grip by clicking here.

Yorgos Theotokas, Leonis – novel and poem

I’ve recently reread Yorgos Theotokas’s Leonis for the first time in years. How odd it is as a novel, and at the same time, how compelling. Both the oddity and the power come from the book’s extreme compression, and from its being in some ways less like a novel than a long narrative poem in prose.

Sadly, it isn’t on the rather short list of modern Greek books that have gained currency in English, though I gather there is a translation. In brief outline, Leonis – the hero – starts as a little Greek boy in Istanbul or Constantinople – or … Continue Reading

A New Divan – review

A New Divan celebrates the two hundredth anniversary of Goethe’s great West-Eastern Divan in which the poet expresses both a personal sense of creative renewal and his love of Middle Eastern poetry, particularly that by the fourteenth century Persian poet Hafiz.

In A New Divan, twelve major poets from the ‘East’ and twelve from the ‘West’ were each commissioned to write on one of twelve themes in Goethe’s collection. Only Khaled Mattawa and Don Paterson wrote in English. Other poems appear in both English and their language of composition. The English versions are by poets, usually working from someone else’s literal … Continue Reading

My Voice: A Decade of Poems from the Poetry Translation Centre – review

Sarah Maguire (ed) My Voice: A Decade of Poems from the Poetry Translation Centre, 384 pp, £12 pb, Bloodaxe Books and the Poetry Translation Centre.

My response to My Voice is divided. Containing 111 poems translated from 23 different languages, bringing together the work of many gifted poets and poet translators, clearly laid out and generously spaced, showing each poem in its original language and script as well as in its English version, this is a book to treasure. The translations are nearly all collaborative efforts involving an Anglophone poet or poets and a linguist. Except in the case of a … Continue Reading

David Harsent, In Secret: Versions of Yannis Ritsos, 80 pp, £9.99 paperback, Enitharmon Press.

Ritsos is one of the great twentieth century poets and has been quite widely translated. Harsent doesn’t try to compete with the scholars of Modern Greek on the level of close translation. His outstanding achievement is to make the poems live and breathe in an English so natural and so finely honed that one seems to be reading poetry in the language of its original composition.

Many pieces reflect horrifying and depressing aspects of twentieth century Greek history and of Ritsos’s own experience, but their tone is never really gloomy.

This is partly a matter of style. They don’t press feelings on … Continue Reading

Musical glimpses – Hugo, Stevens, Baudelaire

I stumbled on this bit of Victor Hugo in a book on nineteenth century French poetry[1]:

Sara, belle d’indolence
……….Se balance
Dans un hamac, au-dessus
Du bassin d’une fontaine
……….Toute pleine
D’eau puisée à l’Ilyssus ;

Et la frêle escarpolette
……….Se reflète
Dans le transparent miroir
Avec la baigneuse blanche
……….Qui se penche,
Qui se penche pour se voir …

My first thought was simply how lovely this is; it makes you wish English could dance in rhyme as easily as French can. My second was how like a lot of Wallace Stevens it is – the Wallace Stevens of … Continue Reading

C. K. Stead, The Yellow Buoy: Poems 2007 – 2012

Arc Publications, £9.99 paperback, 154 pp; £ 12.99 hardback 154 pp

I enjoyed this book immensely.

It’s the work of a highly cultured novelist, poet and literary critic, so not surprisingly there are many poems about writers or about places and people on the international literary circuit, as well as translations or adaptations of pieces by Catullus, Montale and Jaccottet. At the same time, it’s immensely grounded.

A fundamental motive of Stead’s writing appears in the title of “Stay Alert”. In this, the poet’s companion is startled by an unexpected intensity of blue striking her peripheral vision, asks what it is, then laughs, … Continue Reading

On two translations of a few lines from Jaccottet

I’m very much enjoying The Yellow Buoy by the veteran New Zealand poet C. K. Stead. One little poem or section of a longer poem that leapt out at me was this from a translation of Jaccottet:

alive as running water
gone as quickly as
…….a quick glance
…….a cool kiss

That’s wonderfully alive with the movement of the reptile, of the water, of the poet’s mind. The lack of punctuation speeds everything up, makes you feel that the impression’s been caught and stabilised in all its transience and volatility. The idea of a cool kiss plays brilliantly against … Continue Reading

Yorgos Seferis, “Thrush” – 3 Yearning for Home

You can find a link to the text of “Thrush” here.

Seferis once wrote,

Any explanation of a poem is, I think, absurd. Everyone who has the slightest idea of how an artist works knows this. He may have lived long, he may have acquired much learning, he may have been trained as an acrobat. When, however, the time comes for him to create, the mariner’s compass that directs him is the sure instinct that knows, above all, how to bring to light or sink in the twilight of his consciousness the things (or, as I should prefer … Continue Reading

Yorgos Seferis, “Thrush” – 2

You can find Seferis’s “Thrush” in Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard’s translation here.

The first part of the second section is beautifully translated in a way that generally sticks very close to the literal meanings of the Greek but achieves a natural fluency and force in English that I find quite remarkable. How many writers could set a scene as vividly and economically, with such sensitive use of line endings to space and pace things out as that first paragraph does? And it’s not just a matter of setting the scene with maximum clarity; we already begin to feel … Continue Reading