My Native Land,
translated by Paul Scott Derrick and Viorica Patea
(111pp, £9.95, Bloodaxe)
Carolyn Jess-Cooke (72pp, £9.99, Seren)
Blandiana's My Native Land is a significant addition to poetry translated into
English. The welcome introduction by the translators makes the case for her
as a vital upholder of the conscience of the Romanian nation, and no doubt
over many years (she was born in 1942) and, so far as one can tell from this
distance, it is a well justified point of view. Indeed properly celebratory.
The poems in this book seem to me more obviously an expression of what she
writes in her postcript essay here, 'Poetry between silence and sin',
meditative, personal, where she conveys an understanding that poetry is what
we know in silence, hardly amenable to words at all.
No one poem can properly represent the whole. To choose at random, there is a
sequence entitled 'Requiem', in twelve short sections, that begins,
'Who is that behind you?'
you asked me.
I didn't dare turn my
I only murmured, 'No
'But,' you said, 'I see
And I want to know who it
Without turning round
I whispered, 'It's
I quibble with the translation.
I suggest lines two and three would better be,
I dared not turn my head.
I murmured only,
And because I feel this, I wonder what else, given that any line or section
or whole poem here can turn in spirit on such a difference.
Let the reader decide. Here is a whole poem titled 'Parallels':
No hope of waking up,
We're closed in our own
Like a capsule,
Where each one dreams a
And never thinks it might
not be reality.
Sleeping soldiers, armed
to the teeth,
Stumble ahead with
helmets, mess kits, blankets, supplies,
Tools they use - without
waking up - to kill
Other soldiers submerged
in a parallel dream.
While, from their own
Of it all,
And poets dream that they
wake up and discover
That reality is somewhere
Might the first line better be 'No hope of waking'? And 'waking' rather than
'waking up' in the penultimate? And those weighty words 'hermetically' and
'cataleptic', are they true to the original? And I begin to question the
whole flow. But I have no Romanian, even if it was here for comparison. I do
say, this book matters and not least the postcript.
consequence of books such as the Bloodaxe, above, and of the Arc translations,
is that I pick up Boom! from Seren and expect at least an introduction, even a
postscript: which is to say background information, a statement from the
poet, some prose framing.
The Seren cover - is it the poet being propelled out of a chair sideways, her
hair flying? - could hardly contrast more starkly with the sober landscape
covering the Bloodaxe. The books' titles are commensurate. The poems that
stock Carolyn Jess-Cooke's 'Boom!' add up to a book of talk:
Let me tell you about the
To some the fourth child
is a curiosity,
akin to Indonesian
a diamond exoplanet.
This is the first stanza of the eleven of 'The Fourth Child', and does, I
think, convey the whole book, which, as the publisher's press release tells
me, 'charts the rollercoaster journey of motherhood from conception,
throughout pregnancy, birth and parenthood.' It's a couple of generations ago
now when I was the father of young children and, naturally, was never a
mother. I am not this book's immediately best reader.
But still, when telling a life or of a stage in a life, there is the
particular and there is the assumed generalised; I'm not sure which this is
(the opening of a poem named 'Clay'),
Our children are so soft,
we imprint them
like a heavy sole
steeping into mud
not breaking the ground
its elements, the way it
hold water, light the
curious nose of wind
and voice of earth.
But who is the 'we' here? Or one might ask how presumptuous can a metaphor
reasonably be? As one might say also about the opening of the opening poem,
from which the book is named,
There was this baby who
thought she was a hand grenade.
She appeared one day in
the centre of our marriage
Wait perhaps for the child's own first poem or book of poems, in fact the
children's, there are several, for the balancing view. But for now I suppose
such a book, affectionate and bouncy, does speak for a happy family. And
perhaps it's a book just right for a mothers' - or fathers' - reading group.
© David Hart 2014