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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:

Viper
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

Yorgos Seferis, “Thrush” – 1

Everyone says how difficult “Thrush” is and my God it’s true when you try to tie it all together rationally and bundle it up in a paraphrase. And yet for my money only Seferis himself can create more vivid images or strike at your emotions with more devastating power than he does at some points in this poem, even in translation.

Anyway, a poetry lover who doesn’t know Seferis can give herself a treat by going to “Thrush” at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/181853 and just reading it a few times.

I don’t want to be intrusive with my commentary but will throw in a few … Continue Reading

Italo Calvino, The poetry of Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno

My favourite single work by Calvino is the short story “L’avventura di una bagnante”. This is a mature work of immense subtlety and sophistication, full of irony and humour but also of sweetness and humanity.

I’m also particularly fond of his uneven but brilliant early novel, Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno. That this is a far sadder, bleaker, harsher work is not surprisingly, given its setting in the dying months of the German occupation of Italy when Italian partisans were fighting the Germans and the Italian fascists in the Ligurian mountains – as the young Calvino himself did. However, it too … Continue Reading

Cesare Pavese, Lavorare Stanca

I’ve just read Pavese’s Lavorare Stanca (1936) in the Carcanet parallel text volume Disaffections: Complete Poems 1930 – 1950, translated by Geoffrey Brock.

Reading this first collection straight through left me with slightly mixed feelings, both enthralled and in one way dissatisfied. Some of the strengths of Pavese’s writing and vision are obvious and formidable even on casual acquaintance. His compassion for the labouring poor and the dispossessed, for prostitutes and bullied wives, for the lonely, the violent and the broken by age makes his portrayal of individual characters deeply moving. The cumulative effect is far-reaching. The characters Pavese describes become … Continue Reading