Publications HQ must have quite a library now of poetry in translation. I'm
curious about print runs and sales and to wonder how many copies have been
used at any level of formal education, in informal workshops and recommended
in a friendly way from reader to reader. And, and even less traceable, how
many books have been bought from
acquaintence with reviews.
The broader question has to do with the influence on British - or on the
wider English-speaking world - of translated poetry on the wider culture.
There has been a change of editorship, of format and policy, at 'Modern
Poetry in Translation', and I wonder, too, what of that longstanding journal
has filtered through to new writing in English.
No less of a question is the influence of English language poetry on
non-English cultures across the world. Often when reviewing Arc and other
collections, the biographies of poets have led me to wonder at the cross-fertilisation
evident when so many poets around the world seem more than competent in
English as a second language, in a way few English-speaking poets are in any
other. Will professional translators into English become redundant?
Both of the new Arc anthologies beg these questions as relatively new
arrivals into English. Both are dual language books, the Catalan looking
familiar to the eye relative to the Armenian, which looks to me more like a
mathematical code. There seems in the setting up an allocation, six poets in
each, but each in the Catalan allowed more pages. From the Catalan one woman,
from the Armenian three. Each has an editor (who writes the introduction) and
a separate translator, but for the Armenian only the former is named on the
By the test of flipping through the pages, both show poems worked in a
conseratively open form, that's to say they moght be said to talk in lines and
sections that are not strict in line length or stanzas. Has the worldwide
network of poets moved into this talking form in a way that our inherited
strict forms were set apart from
the everyday as a separate music? The opening of a section of a poem titled
'1993' by Violet Grigorian
Sparkling wine saved for
a dark hour
come, let's drink you up
no matter what,
the hour can't get any
But who are the people
related neither to mother
nor to father
but who say they are
truly my sisters
and are like me in that
they have the same number of eyes?
Ghosts of a murky
come closer, sit down,
let's pay our respects to
the mowed grass.
(Lord, I wish we could
stand in rows
by your door like the
equal like grass shoots...
then you wouldn't choose
but let us all in).
It might be reasonable to think image, metaphor, linguistic alertness may
still separate poetry from everyday language laziness in talk.
As to translation, without my attempting to convey a meaning from the three
pages of the poem, this extract does demonstrate decisions made by the
translator. The repeated 'it's', for example, and 'fiddling about',
tantalising to imagine a conversation about those. Is that line beginning
'and are like me' rather prosey, awkward in a way I can only imagine the
My having supposed translators into English may cease to be required because
the poets will make their own is perhaps tested by that poem. Not the poet but the translator,
Armin Tamrazian, was 'born in Tehran of Armenian parents..., educated in
three languages (Armenian, Farsi and English),' has a BA in English and an MA
and PhD in linguistics from University College, London. And this opening of a
poem called 'To Mary' by Hasmik Simonian (b.1987) has a much stronger sense
of her having got to the energetic heart of it (lower case and punctuation as
there are feet stamping
on the asphalt like drums
jazz goes down the throat
of a trumpet like boiled honey
your scarf is thin, your
trousers worn out,
smoke me, you beg,
just as wetting the bed
smokes my body,
just as my parents smoke
my childhood and that which follows,
just as my loves abandon
my harshness and smoke my tongue,
smoke me, I beg you to
I'm not sure about 'and that which follows', weak perhaps in the original
or in the translation or both.
A stark paragraph in the introduction (by Razmik Davoyan) throws the whole
enterprise into relief. 'During the Soviet era,' he says, 'most of these
writers were banned authors.' To do justice to what is said here would
require two whole pages to be quoted in full. Those pages include the
statement. 'There was no "samizdat" in Armenia. This was either
because of the small size of the Republic and tight state conbtrol, or
perhaps because Armenian writers simply did not create such works.'
could, as I understand it, mean poetry of opposition or, more broadly, that
concerned itself with anything but the party line. There is in my head a line
I can't locate about the revolutionary nature of love. The whole of a section
in Hrachya Sarukhan (b.1947)'s 'Unfinished Autumnal Lines':
My room is full of light
But the light is suffused
with your memory,
And around me all is
And I, not knowing the
language of grey,
Don't understand myself
And, being unfamiliar
with the footsteps of grey,
I don't know where I'm
Yet love is...
It's a seven page poem in eight sections, complex, tragic, about love.
Imagine at this point I have left my screen, I have gone out of my house and
on to a local bus, and on the bus I find I am pleased, warmed even, enlivened
by being in some way in touch with these poets. It's a curious thing how a
book can enable this.
Now I am back at my computer, with the Catalan Poets open at the Introduction
by Pere Ballart. He says he wanted to choose six representative poets (all
born after 1960), he gives an account of modern Catalan history and quotes
the Catalan essayist, Joan Fuster, that 'in a literature such as Catalan,
whose history is a struggle for survival, and for 'material' survival, one
cannot avoid speaking with a deal of passion and, therefore, with much
implicit trust'. The book, Pere Ballart says, wants 'to make that passion its
own,....trust also depends on hope... that Catalan and its literature will
continue to survive for many years'.
Some lines from a poem by the one woman here, Gemma Gorga, in Catalan and in translation
should give the flavours: