Category Archives: poetry translations

Translator Nicky Harman speaks to Han Dong

Han Dong – London, April 2009

Han Dong – London, April 2009

 
  
Han Dong (韩东) was born in 1961 in Nanjing. His parents were banished to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, taking him with them. When the Cultural Revolution ended, he studied philosophy at Shandong University, subsequently lectured in Xi’an and Nanjing, and finally relinquished teaching in 1993 to make his living as a writer. In the 1980s, Han Dong became an important avant-garde poet, and edited the influential poetry magazine Tamen (Them). He is also known as an essayist, short story writer, blogger and novelist.
 
He has made several literary tours in the West, visiting Rotterdam, Paris, Brussels, London, Manchester and Edinburgh, and has been writer-in-residence in Gutenberg, Germany and Saint-Nazaire, France. A collection of his poetry in English can be found in A Phone Call from Dalian (Zephyr Press, 2012). A number of poems from this collection, and others, have appeared in translation in poetry magazines and online, for instance as Carol Rumens’ Poem of the Week in The Guardian.
 
 
 

 
 
 
Nicky Harman
lives in the United Kingdom. She translates from Chinese, focusing on fiction, poetry and sometimes literary non-fiction, by authors such as Han Dong, Chen Xiwo, Xinran, Hong Ying, Zhang Ling and Yan Geling. She is a regular contributor to the literary magazines Chutzpah, and Words Without Borders, and also organises translation-focused events, mentors new translators and was one of the judges for the Harvill Secker Young Translators Prize 2012. She contributes to the website for translators from Chinese, Paper Republic, and was Translator-in-Residence, London, at the Free Word Centre in 2011. Her home page is here.
       
 
 

A Phone Call from Dalian

 
     
      
Han Dong was a leading light of China’s avant-garde in the 1980s and continues to be an influential poet today. But, 30 years on, the poetry scene in China has changed, and so has he. I was curious about how he sees his work now and eager to delve a bit deeper into his persona as a poet. I interviewed him for Peony Moon.

In 1966, when the Cultural Revolution began, Han Dong’s family was sent to a remote area of the countryside. Here he grew up, developing an affection for the countryside and its people which still comes through in some of his poems. His parents suffered: his mother was arrested on suspicion of involvement in a counter-revolutionary plot, and his author father struggled to “serve the people”, within a system so seamlessly repressive that Han Dong describes it in Banished: A Novel as “a dog that winds up biting its own tail”. Then came the 1980s and, alongside political and economic reforms, a great explosion of new literature. Han Dong became known as an enthusiastic debunker of everything from ideology and heroics to the elaborate imagery of other avant-garde poets.  An early poem, ‘Of the Wild Goose Pagoda’, which mocks a famous patriotic landmark and ends with a characteristic sting in the tail, became iconic.

Han Dong has been called a ‘colloquial’ (口语), poet, of the ‘ordinary folk’ (民间). But as Maghiel van Crevel says in his Foreword to A Phone Call from Dalian: “the language of this so-called Colloquial Poetry is not the same thing as that spoken in ordinary human traffic … the power of Han Dong’s poetry lies not just in the rejection of formal or bookish language of one kind or another. Positively defined, his usage comes across as measured, focused and controlled. This lends his poetry a quiet confidence and insistence”. And van Crevel goes on: “Several features combine to make Han’s a distinct and influential voice: quotidian themes, purposefully superficial description, colloquial language, literary meta-consciousness and last but not least, his individuality and sophistication in handling these things”.
 
 
 
          The Chicken-seller
 
 
          He’s got the knack for killing chickens quick, so
          He became a chicken-seller, that way
          He doesn’t need to kill people. Even though he acts
          Calm and gentle, and never beats his wife
          Taking off his wife’s clothes is like plucking a chicken
          Similar skills always overlap, just as
          Cruelty and kindness are two sides of the same coin
          He plucks, and she leisurely takes the money
          And I feel that therein lies a kind of evil sweetness
 
 
 
Time to give the floor to Han Dong himself. Many of the leading lights of the 1980s and 90s poetry scene have stopped writing altogether. So I began by asking –

Nicky Harman: You’ve been writing poetry for 30 odd years. Why do you go on writing it?

Han Dong: I’ll carry on as long as I’m able – for the reason that poetry, unlike other things in life, is of no practical use. And its very uselessness makes it just a bit important. Of course (I also do it because) I think I do it well and the poetry I write is distinctive. I’ve said in the past that poetry is my homeland. I have a hankering to ‘go home’, and in fact I often do. I hope one day to be able to settle down there and just write poetry, nothing else. That’s the kind of life I’d love to lead.

NH: How do you feel you’ve changed as a poet over the years?

HD: In my early poetry I put a lot of stress on form and language but my poetry has evolved in that respect. I focus now on the content, the ‘what’ rather than the ‘how’, partly because I have learnt through experience what form and language to use, partly because I no longer feel form is so important to me. Now my main aim is to create work that is stubbornly, distinctly, my own. Ultimately, poetry is the meeting of language and a particular life lived. There’s a kind of mutual love, a kind of merging. I want my poetry to be reclusive and private, but I’m also groping towards connecting at a deep level with other people.
 
 
 
          Green tree, red fruit
 
 
          The green tree was there before I was
          Then I walked past it
          Then ahead of the tree, there were more green trees
          Between the forked branches was the sun

          I looked right at the sun. Just then
          It was like a red fruit
          And so the whole garden became an orchard

          A flurry of footsteps came
          A buzzing of voices debated life
          People’s shadows circled, gathered like gnats
          The evening star, a great cool teardrop

          I am still there
          The red fruit gone
          The green trees dulled
 
 
 
NH:
You famously said that, “poetry does not go beyond language” (“诗到语言为止“). Do you still believe that? If not, what do you think are the most important principles of poetry?

HD: When I said that, it was to counter the prevailing view (in China) that “the written word must express a moral view”, and to emphasize the importance of language in poetry. But ultimately this was just another creed and, to that extent, one-sided. I understand poetry in a more rounded way now, not just as in opposition to something else. Poetry is an absolute, or at least an indication of an absolute. Analysing poetry is of limited use. Poetry doesn’t exist in the abstract, only in specific poems, in the writings of a particular poet, and we shouldn’t try to over-explain it. I dream of being able to write poems which need little or no explaining, and can be understood intuitively. Readers don’t need training but poets do, and that training ought to include how to stir people’s hearts.

Han Dong has written many poems about women, from the erotic to the love-lorn. I can’t help noticing there are fewer now, at least of the latter. Could this be because he is a middle-aged, happily-married man? I rather cheekily asked him if he still wrote love poems.

HD: Of course … Ultimately, a good love poem is about more than just love. … I’m continually concerned with human feelings, especially the love between men and women, and that’s a source of inspiration I wouldn’t willingly give up. You’re in love, you break up, you have no one to love or you’re abandoned – and you write about all of those things as they happen. There’s something else: the thing we call ‘love’ is only one way of expressing love between humans. I’ve said in the past that my ‘spiritual home’ is with people who have left or died, with friends, even with pets. That’s where love is, for me. Yes, I will go on writing love poems in the broad sense.

Hmm, I’m not sure I really managed to nail him on that one.

NH: Going back to the years when you first made a name for yourself as a poet, you had a reputation for getting into heated debates about poetry. Are you still so combative? If so, what topics get you fired up?

HD: I’ve always enjoyed a good argument, but I’ve also regarded that as a failing. In fact, I really hate that side of myself. Intense, aggressive debate only ends in defeat or victory, so it leaves me feeling empty. I almost always win the argument, which makes it more difficult for me to curb that tendency. The reality is that where poetry is concerned, the only meaningful things are serious thought and careful listening to others. Discussion should be based on an exchange of ideas, where everyone gets a chance to say what they think and makes an effort to understand the opposing side.
 
 
 
          Wood work
 
 
          The wood workers lie at work in the sawdust
          Their workshop has no door, no windows and no walls.
          Just a shack with blonde rush matting on three sides.
          Just sunlight, sawdust, wood and
          The shaped hafts of every kind of farm tool
          No door, no windows, benches or doorsill
          No lathe. This wood work has done away with wood work
          Sawdust has covered up the mud floor
 
 
 
NH:
What do you feel about the translation of your poetry? I once asked you which of two possible titles I should use: Wood worker, the person who does it, or Wood work, the process. (The Chinese could mean either.) You said you didn’t mind, I could choose whichever I liked. Would you be as laissez-faire about translation if you were fluent in English?

HD: Translations are authentic creations in their own right; the original is only the spiritual source and the basis for the translation. Especially with poetry, when you translate from one language into another, you create something other. For a poem to work in another language, it needs to be completely transformed. Its magic, its inspiration, depends on the translator. Poets aim to ‘translate’ life and give it a meaningful existence in language; translators have the same aim. So, first-rate poetry can become second-rate in translation and vice versa, depending on the translator’s ability and sensitivity. I’m there to respond to the translator and I’m happy to discuss anything which is relevant to the original work, but this is just a way of stimulating the process and doesn’t mean I want to control it. If your poems don’t stand up to translation into another language, then why should the translator continue to be loyal to the original? If those poems can shine in another language, then why worry if they have departed from the original?

Ultimately my aim as a poet is to create good things, not things that are good for my reputation. And all good things can stimulate and ‘give birth’ to further good things. Even in the original language, a poem only becomes complete when it is read, when it arouses feelings, and when the poem combines with those feelings. To have vitality, a poem needs to transform, stimulate, adapt, combine and give birth to something new.

And there we left our discussion. But let the poems speak from themselves. And, yes, there really is one about his dog:
 
 
 
          Overcoming loneliness
 
 
          My small dog was shut in the flat
          The neighbours opposite kept one
          Shut in their flat too
          The two dogs yapped through the barrier of two doors
          They could hear each other, and sometimes met on the landing
          They were boy dog and girl dog but didn’t mate
          We all know dogs like to lay-about in packs, but these two were no pals
          You could say hostility was
          Stronger than friendship
          More help in overcoming loneliness
          The end came when their dog died, but my dog
          Kept up the yapping
          An imaginary enemy may well be better than a real one
          At overcoming loneliness.
 
 
 
 
Han Dong’s poems ‘can stand their ground in any contemporary world literary canon’, World Literature Today.
 
 
All the poems except ‘Overcoming loneliness appear’ in A Phone Call from Dalian  (Zephyr Press, 2012).

Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim

EPSON MFP image 
 

  
 
Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim
Translators: Ian Haight and T’ae-yŏng Hŏ
White Pine Press, 2012
Korean Voices Series
ISBN: 978-1-935210-43-6
 

  
 
 
Co-translator Ian Haight introduces Magnolia and Lotus
 
   
 
Chin’gak Kuksa Hyesim (1178 – 1234) was the second Patriarch of the Korean Buddhist Chogye Order and the first Zen Master dedicated to poetry in Korea. The book’s title, Magnolia and Lotus, is taken from a poem within the book:
 
 
 
          Magnolia, the Lotus of Trees
 

          Observing leaves: at first, I doubt they are persimmon—
          looking at the blossoms, I doubt they are lotus.
          How fortunate there are no fixed forms—
          this tree has no comparison.
 
 
 
I like this poem for a number of reasons and, at the translator’s ever-present risk of presumption, believe it captures the voice of Hyesim. There resides so much Buddhism in these four simple lines: the non-judgmental doubting of what is observed, and how shifting perspective reveals different possibilities in assumptions; the idea of the blossoms themselves – both lotus flowers and magnolias as representations of wisdom, beauty, truth, and enlightenment; the appreciative acceptance of not knowing what a flower is because its fixed form cannot be determined, and how this understanding could be applied to everything comprehended by the mind; finally, a penetrating recognition: that there is nothing to compare with the singularity of what is observed – everything under the sun has uniqueness. A train of thought that is simultaneously paradoxical and circular couched in deceptive simplicity – yes, this poem feels very Buddhist. The poems in this collection present a world observed with reverence and admiration by a monk who lived more than 700 years ago. It feels natural to identify the collection as a unified voice of Hyesim.
 
 
Why title the book Magnolia and Lotus? The answer lies in the poem ‘Magnolia, the Lotus of Trees’. Consider a poem as an image of perspective; or the idea that language, a poem, a translation is a shifting continuum, both having and lacking permanence. And yet, somewhere among these possibilities is a node that remains distinctive, if even for a moment – something we can give a title to, calling it a poem or perhaps even a book. Under this Buddhist way of thinking, naming the book after the poem feels appropriate.
 
 
The poems in this book are built around an imagined life of Hyesim and his purpose for writing poems. What did Hyesim experience in meditation? How did his wisdom grow with progressive enlightenment? What did he place importance on in life; as a monk; as an early founder of Korea’s largest Buddhist sect, the Chogye Order? If he eventually relinquished this position, what did he then do? What were his thoughts in his final years? Each of the translated poems, attentive to the nuances of Hyesim’s Buddhist and Confucian background as well as the landscape of Korea, posits the point of view of Hyesim, his voice, and his time. My hope is that this collection – utilising metaphor, rhythmic language and imagery – invites a reader into relaxed companionship with Hyesim and his life. 
 
 
 
 
Ian Haight 
 
 
 
Ian Haight was a co-organizer and translator for the UN’s global poetry readings held annually in Pusan, Korea, from 2002 – 4. He has been awarded five translation grants from the Daesan Foundation, Korea Literature Translation Institute and Baroboin Buddhist Foundation for the translation, editing, promotion, and publication of Korean literature. Ian is the editor of Garden Chysanthemums and First Mountain Snow: Zen Questions and Answers from Korea (2010), and along with T’ae-yŏng Hŏ, the translator of Borderland Roads: Selected Poems of Kyun Hŏ (2009) both from White Pine Press. Ian’s translations, essays, poems, and interviews have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Writer’s Chronicle, Quarterly West and Hyundae Buddhist News, among many other publications. For more information, please visit Ian’s website.
 
 
 
 
T’ae-yong Ho 
 
 
 
T’ae-yŏng Hŏ has been awarded translation grants from the Daesan Foundation and Korea Literature Translation Institute. With Ian Haight, he is the co-translator of Borderland Roads: Selected Poems of Hŏ Kyun and Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim. Working from the original classical Chinese, T’ae-yŏng’s translations of Korean poetry have appeared in Runes, New Orleans Review and the Atlanta Review.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
“Korea’s first Zen Master-poet wrote simple yet elegant poetry of the world he inhabited, both physically and spiritually, and of daily insights—a pause along the way for a deep clear breath, a moon-viewing moment, a seasonal note or a farewell poem to a departing monk. His poems speak softly and clearly, like hearing a temple bell that was struck a thousand years ago.”
 
– Sam Hamill
 
 
 
“Hyesim’s poems: transformative as walking high granite mountains by moonlight, with fragrant herbs underfoot and a thermos of clear tea in the backpack. Their bedrock is thusness, their images’ beauty is pellucid and new, their view without limit. The shelf of essential Zen poets for American readers grows larger with this immediately indispensable collection.”
 
– Jane Hirshfield
 
 
 
“Reading poems from another language, culture, and century, I often feel like a foreigner excluded from the original’s subtleties. Not so in Hyesim’s miraculous time-traveling poems, which might have been written yesterday or tomorrow, and anywhere. There’s not a single opaque word in the book. The poems are Buddhist, yes, and Zen (Sŏn) in particular, but they’re written for anyone interested in human consciousness: what it is, how it perceives the world, how it can be transformed, and what pure perceptual clarity and joy result from the realization of its ultimate transparency. Through eight hundred years Hyesim’s voice delivers the gift of his wisdom, modesty, humor, and profound understanding of the human mind. These are important poems.”
 
– Chase Twichell
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Leaving Home to Enter the Priesthood 
 
 
I have longed for the School of the Void,
to learn with my mind of ashes to sit in Sŏn.
 
Fame is fragile as a clay rice-cake steamer—
even after success, the effort for fame has been in vain.
 
Riches and honors, sought uselessly—
the poor also have this affliction.
 
I have left my village home
and sleep calmly under pines.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Plantain
 
 
A plantain is an unlit
green candle of beeswax
 
the spread leaves, a vernal coat’s sleeves
desiring to dance.
 
I see this image in my intoxicated eyes
though the plantain itself
 
is better
than my comparisons.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Curves of Incense
 
 
Threads of incense drift upwards
unending in my silent room—
a smoky portent, like cracks on a tortoise shell—
nine perfumed plumes twist.
 
An old mirror hides light with darkness—
embers flare within sullen ash.
The many folds of my silk curtain part—
what is most precious faces the wind.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Saying Goodbye to a Monk
 
 
One who leaves home to be a monk must be completely free—
how many times have you entered the gates of enlightenment?
Walking alone, wandering outside the world of humans—
a refined heart looks from afar upon the world.
 
The body, lively, like a single cloud—
the mind, quiet: a mistless moon.
With the simplicity of a bowl and set of old clothes—
a bird ascending 10,000 mountains.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Replying to Mr Kal’s Poem
 
 
Spring silkworms spin threads, strangely tying themselves—
flies content themselves with their vinegar-pot world.
If you want to escape your bonds and reside outside common
                                                                                   living,
turn your head as soon as possible. Practice Sŏn.
 
Together, with you, I am bound—
once freed, why should a crane linger to fly?
The lustrous moon reminds me of your promise—
on which day in the mountains will we practice Sŏn.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Again, a Poem Given at Departure
 
 
The somber sky portends rain—
the miserable mountain bears a weary face.
Fortunately, friends of the same practice release clasped hands
                                                                                   easily—
but with such heartfelt friendships, it is difficult not to shed tears.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
October 1231, I Pass by Growth of Humanity Temple
Borrowing a Poem Written on a Wall
 
 
A stand of bamboo unifies a garden—
a salutary breeze drifts below a fence.
In the season of golden leaves, I regret the day’s brevity—
this night of silence—I want it to last.
 
Sun showers surround the Abbot’s quarters—
humid air entices the land.
Five days I’ve stayed, resting my staff and shoes—
such a delight when the world’s grace endures.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Water Clock
 
 
A breeze of winter—
the months of this year draw to an end.
Every leaf in a forest eventually falls, yellowing a mountain—
only pine and bamboo retain an inborn breath of emerald.
 
How many years will a human live?
Time is fleet as lightning.
Details of self ought to be examined—
then the empty dream will not endure.
 
 
 
 
from Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim
(White Pine Press, 2012).
 
Order Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim.
 
Visit the White Pine Press website.
 
Visit Ian Haight’s website.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 

Aurélia Lassaque’s Solstice and Other Poems

Aurelia Lassaque 
 
 
Aurélia Lassaque is an Occitan and French poet. She is keenly interested in the relationship between poetry and music and has collaborated with musicians for numerous music and poetry shows. She has also collaborated creatively with various painters and visual artists for exhibitions in France, Italy and the United States. Her poems have been translated into English, Italian, Asturian, Basque, Portuguese, Catalan, Spanish, Turkish and Finnish for numerous journals and anthologies. She regularly takes part in international poetry festivals. In 2010 she was artistic director of the Festival of European and Mediterranean Minority Literatures (held in Italy). She is also a book reviewer for regional television and has dedicated her doctorate to Occitan baroque drama. Her Occitan collection, Solstice and Other Poems (Francis Boutle Publishers, 2012), is translated into English by James Thomas.
 
 
 
Solstice and Other Poems 
 
 
Solstice and Other Poems is the first major parallel Occitan–English publication of prize-winning Occitan and French poet Aurélia Lassaque.

In Solstice, the Call of Janus (Solstici, lo Bram de Janus), her most recent work, a woman (Bella, in the English version) arrives alone amongst a rural community on the eve of the summer solstice. As annual rituals are performed, she encounters the sensual forces of a universe that questions the fixed nature of temporal and earthly borders. Dawn of Wolves (L’Alba dels Lops) brings together nineteen other poems, highly-polished fragments of a powerfully-imagined world of surreal encounters and unresolved emotions. This volume confirms Aurélia Lassaque as one of the leading contemporary voices in Occitan literature.”
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Pantais
 
 
Fai freg dins mon anma
Es romantic e desuet.
Ieu
Auriái presa la nau en Grècia.
A Santorin auriái limpat
Fins a la mar.
Auriái penjat mon lum
A la branca d’un olivièr.
E dins un ostal blanc
Auriái aimat de pescaires esperitals
E de monges desfrocats.
 
 
 
 
Fantasy
 
 
My soul is cold inside;
It’s quaint, romantic.
Me,
I would have boarded the boat in Greece.
At Santorini I’d have drifted
On the back of a mule
Right out to sea.
I would have hung up my light
On the branch of an olive tree.
Inside a whitewashed house
I’d have made love to divine fishermen
And defrocked monks.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Lo rei de seda saura
 
 
Engana l’aucelum e tuteja l’aura.
Quilhat dins l’èrba salvatja
A perdut sos uèlhs
Raubats a la vèsta d’un soldat.
Tres gojats son venguts
Qu’an escampat sas tripas pel sòl
Per i prene qualque dròlla mal pintrada.

Privat de son còs de seda saura,
L’espaurugal
Fa de sòmis descabestrats
Que desvarian los aucèls.
 
 
 
 
The king of golden silk
 
 
He ensnares birds and banters with the wind.
Pitched on wild grassland
He’s lost his eyes
Stolen from the coat of a soldier.
Three young lads came along
Scattered his guts on the ground
Where they laid a dishevelled girl.

Without his body of golden silk
The scarecrow
Dreams ungovernable dreams
That bewilder the birds.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
As pres lo camin del país de nuèch.
Lo desèrt i es de gèl
E las estèlas se languisson.
Obris tos braces e cava,
La posca serà ton pan,
T’abeuraràn nòstras lagremas.
Vai, vai e t’entornes pas.
S’ausisses udolar la pèira,
Es que s’i gravan las letras de ton nom
 
 
 
 
You’ve chosen the path for the land of night.
The desert is made of ice there
And the stars die of boredom.
Stretch out your arms and dig,
Dust will be your bread,
You’ll swallow our tears.
Go now, go, and don’t return.
If you hear the stones wailing,
The letters of your name are being engraved.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Lo sòmi d’Orfèu
 
 
Dins los infèrns que los òmes
Son pas mai que d’ombras,
Me farai ombra al dedins de ton còs.

Bastirai de ciutats de sabla
Qu’agotaràn lo flum que degun ne tòrna.

Dansarem sus de torres que nòstres uèlhs veiràn pas.

Serai ta lenga trencada que sap pas mentir.

E maudirem l’amor que nos a perduts.
 
 
 
 
The Dream of Orpheus
 
 
In the Underworld, where men
Are nothing more than shades,
I’ll shadow myself within your body.

I’ll fashion cities of sand
That bleed dry the river of no return.

We’ll dance upon towers that our eyes cannot see.

I’ll be your severed tongue that tells no lies.

And we’ll curse the love that lost us.
 
 
 
 
from Solstice and Other Poems (Francis Boutle Publishers, 2012).

Order Solstice and Other Poems.

Read about Aurélia’s UK tour at Literature Across Frontiers.
 
 
 
*

Part Three: Bones Will Crow, 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets

Bones Will Crow 
 
 
 
Bones Will Crow:
An Anthology of Fifteen Contemporary Burmese Poets
Bilingual Edition
Edited and translated by ko ko thett and James Byrne

with additional translations by Maung Tha Noe,
Vicky Bowman, Zeyar Lynn, Christopher Merrill,
Pandora & Khin Aung Aye

Introduced by Zeyar Lynn with a Foreword by Ruth Padel

Arc Publications, 2012
ISBN 9781906570897
 
 
 
“This is the first anthology of contemporary Burmese poets published in the West, and includes the work of Burmese poets who have been in exile and in prison. The poems include global references from a culture in which foreign books and the internet are regarded with suspicion and where censorship is an industry. The poets have been ingenious in their use of metaphor to escape surveillance and censorship, writing post-modern, avant-garde, performance and online poetries.

The anthology reveals the transition of traditional to modernist poetry, the development of Burmese poetry over the second half of the 20th century, as Burma has changed. Through their wildly divergent styles, these poems delight in the freedom to experiment with poetic tradition.”
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
the burden of being bama
ko ko thett
 
 
it’s living on
sawdust and shrimp paste
to save for diamonds

it’s being a lustrous luna
in a bamboo tube
thinking ‘how dainty i am!’

it’s being a haystack fire
flaring suddenly
fading out swiftly

it’s aching for the aunt
from the embrace of the mother

what’s your key
majority in minor-c or minority in major-d
cease-fire in flat-b or cease-identity in sharp-g
give me a falsetto
let’s improvise
no need for harmony

what would you choose
want, rage or ignorance
defeatism or maldevelopment
an increase in viral load or a decrease in internet speed
sexual preoccupation or self-denial
power cuts or power crazes
a bag of rice or an ounce of democracy
myopic blitheness, escapist wizardry and alchemy
syncretisation of incompatibilities
internalisation of irreconcilabilities
the four noble truths
the four oaths ………
………………………………
………………………………
the menu is endless
the die’s been cast

your karma is you
life short
suffering tall
plenty of water
no fish, no fish at all
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
The Day (Before That Day)
Eaindra
 
 
The day before that day
A huntress held her breath
The day that annihilated itself
The day that dressed my wounds …

That day
With the cold-bloodedness of
A public executioner
Needed nerve to reconstruct itself …

That day
Of amnesia without special effects
Needed a genuine gasp for air
To purify its lungs …

That day
Could have been the moon jumping out
From the grim underside of clouds
That day
Could have been a ticket
For a journey that never began …

On that day
He switched off the song he’d been singing along to
I shelved the book I’d been reading
The nameless café bored him
And my aimless yacht anchored

In fact …
I achieved nothing
It was a day of horrid loss …
Horrifying disintegration …

In fact …
Uncertain were the days
The bitter days disfigured by experiments
They will never be resold
For the price I paid

In fact …
In life …
I was in the habit of abhorring
Gratitude
Apologies
Regrets

On that day
He mocked me
With the worst of words
I took all his barbs
And laughed them off
Epically

On the day before that day
Is it today
Is it really today?

The day before that day
I poisoned the arrowhead
That would shoot me down.
 
 
Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
The Sniper
Pandora
 
 
When you see them on a flag march
Repress your swelling bugs
No mortar shells, no hand grenade explosion
This battle must go on quietly
With a calm mind, in cold blood
With sharp shooting, trained hands
Hone your skills when the sun shines
Camouflage like a chameleon
Be immovable as a sleeper
Don’t blink, don’t doze off
Don’t miss your chance
If necessary, play dead
Don’t flinch, even if they walk all over you
Blame fate if they shoot you point-blank
To double-check you are dead
Life may end up in anticipation, in lethe
There isn’t much of a choice to make
For example …
Five enemies are approaching
Five bullets are all you have.
 
 
Translated by ko ko thett
 
 
 
 
from Bones Will Crow (Arc Publications, 2012).

Order Bones Will Crow.
 
 
 
*

Part Two: Bones Will Crow, 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets

Bones Will Crow

 
 

Bones Will Crow:
An Anthology of Fifteen Contemporary Burmese Poets
Bilingual Edition
Edited and translated by ko ko thett and James Byrne

with additional translations by Maung Tha Noe,
Vicky Bowman,  
Zeyar Lynn, Christopher Merrill,
Pandora & Khin Aung Aye

Introduced by Zeyar Lynn with a Foreword by Ruth Padel

Arc Publications, 2012
ISBN 9781906570897
 
 
 
“This is the first anthology of contemporary Burmese poets published in the West, and includes the work of Burmese poets who have been in exile and in prison. The poems include global references from a culture in which foreign books and the internet are regarded with suspicion and where censorship is an industry. The poets have been ingenious in their use of metaphor to escape surveillance and censorship, writing post-modern, avant-garde, performance and online poetries.

The anthology reveals the transition of traditional to modernist poetry, the development of Burmese poetry over the second half of the 20th century, as Burma has changed. Through their wildly divergent styles, these poems delight in the freedom to experiment with poetic tradition.”
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Sling Bag
Zeyar Lynn
 
 
Wherever he goes, in his sling bag
He carries his severed leg. If he has to shake hands,
He takes his severed leg out from the bag,
And touches it on the other person’s hand
As he says ‘Nice to meet you’
He must have gone through a lot of suffering
With that severed leg in his bag,
Though he still has his two legs intact.
When he needs reassurance, he’ll insert his right hand,
Like a dead hand, into the bag slung on his right shoulder,
To feel the sinews and greasy slime of the severed leg.
That’s how he recharges himself.
That’s how his pride is uplifted; his self-confidence restored.
The severed leg serves as his pillow when he sleeps.
The severed leg is placed on the dining table when he eats.
(Is he married? Let’s say he is.)
When he makes love to his wife,
The severed leg welds their two bodies together.
(Only then does he feel the hit, he says.)
The severed leg is his life, his past, his present and
His future, he says. ‘It’s truth’, he says.
‘It’s honesty’, he says.
‘It’s just him’, (says someone else).
Someone who claims to be a childhood friend.
He too always carries a sling bag.
 
 
Translated by ko ko thett & Vicky Bowman
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
the heat bearer
Maung Thein Zaw
 
 
in a not-so-new morning
vivified
in sunshine

i have been infatuated with
that fragrant little ear
of my dream

what a gusty wind

on my heart
a homeless crow is cawing
all my longings are in staccato
i have descended
like a melody who has sobbed herself out of tune
‘not really very special’ she says

the screechy
dry branch
soothes me in magada
not having found any cure under the waterfall

i build a tower
the height of my heart
and look out on the genesis of the world

the person who discovered fire happened to be me
 
 
Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Rose, 1985
Moe Zaw
 
 
     1.

At a certain café in New York City
If you happen to leaf through this page
The poem is dedicated to you,
Bold Rose, swelling with petals.
 
 
     2.

I have often taken
a stroll
On your burgundy lips
The humid breeze
Between
Your tongue
Your teeth
How can I forget
The scent of grapes it carried.
 
 
     3.

As I combed your drenched hair
You laced up my jungle boots.
Shall we call it a predestined meeting
Between water drops of life?
Many wrongs have since occurred.
 
 
     4.

We didn’t love Hitler.
We loved Shakespeare.
We didn’t love Mussolini.
We loved Modigliani.
We didn’t love Stalin.
We loved Yushchenko.
 
 
     5.

Columbus!
Mr. Columbus!
I couldn’t have predicted her plight
How my Rose walked the American plank.
 
 
     6.

My fragrance of Shinmadaung thanaka,
Has just hurried
From Pazuntaung Yekyaw
To North America.
 
 
     7.

Will your itch be relieved
In the land of cowboys
Riding the world like a horse?
Will you be gazing
At the image
Of a sensitive boy
From a whisky glass?
What will you be doing
During the American holidays?
How will be greet
One another
Whenever we meet?
 
 
     8.

From beneath the tragacanth tree
My soul, like the feather of a paddy bird, is marching
Towards the native land of the Apaches
Towards the Wild West, wherever you are.
 
 
Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne
 
 
 
 
from Bones Will Crow (Arc Publications, 2012).

Order Bones Will Crow.
 
 
 
*

Part One: Bones Will Crow, 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets

 Bones Will Crow

 
 
 
Bones
Will Crow:
An Anthology of Fifteen Contemporary Burmese Poets

Bilingual Edition
Edited and translated by ko ko thett and James Byrne
 
with additional translations by Maung Tha Noe,
Vicky Bowman,
Zeyar Lynn, Christopher Merrill,
Pandora & Khin Aung Aye
 
Introduced by Zeyar Lynn with a Foreword by Ruth Padel
 
Arc Publications, 2012
ISBN 9781906570897
 
 
 
“This is the first anthology of contemporary Burmese poets published in the West, and includes the work of Burmese poets who have been in exile and in prison. The poems include global references from a culture in which foreign books and the internet are regarded with suspicion and where censorship is an industry. The poets have been ingenious in their use of metaphor to escape surveillance and censorship, writing post-modern, avant-garde, performance and online poetries.

The anthology reveals the transition of traditional to modernist poetry, the development of Burmese poetry over the second half of the 20th century, as Burma has changed. Through their wildly divergent styles, these poems delight in the freedom to experiment with poetic tradition.”
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
“This collection is important because these poems are a splendid counter to the current scholars’ obsession with ‘cultural authenticity’ of national literatures. What we have got here is not so much just Burmese poetry as simply poetry (in the cosmopolitan sense) that happens to have been composed by the Burmese in their language. It shows that Burma is part of the world and significantly part of World Literary Culture. The fact that we have both the Burmese language originals and the English translations (which are really lovely and wonderfully free of the usual attempt to ‘Burmanise-Buddhacise’ the English) makes the collection not only enjoyable to readers anywhere, but also of serious importance to scholarship on Burmese literature.”

– FKL Chit Hlaing
 
 
 
Bones Will Crow is an illuminating account of real Burma narrated by uncensored and often deviant Burmese, who dare to dream and challenge the norms. Burma Studies scholars and literature fans often lament the lack of authentic Burmese voices in print, accessible to the world outside Burma. Bones Will Crow not only fills this gap but also presents the readers with a counter-narrative of ‘exotic’ Burma often associated with golden pagodas and smiling faces. Daily struggles under crony capitalism, confronting commercialisation of female bodies, an exile’s homesickness, issues Burmese grapple with leap out of the pages of this anthology. This anthology is a long overdue, much-welcomed addition to everyone interested in Burma and Burmese poetry.”

– Tharapi Than
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
About the editors
 
  

ko ko thett is a Burmese poet who writes in English. He translates Western poetry into Burmese, and he is working on his first full poetry collection, the burden of being burmese.
 
 
 
James Byrne’s
second poetry collection, Blood/Sugar, was published by Arc Publications in 2009. He edits The Wolf, an international poetry magazine, which has published various Burmese poets like Zeyar Lynn, Saw Wai and Zawgyi. In 2008, Byrne won the Treci Trg poetry festival prize in Serbia. His Selected Poems: The Vanishing House was published by Treci Trg (in a bilingual edition) in Belgrade. He is the co-editor of Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century, an anthology of poets under 35, published by Bloodaxe in 2009, and he recently edited The Wolf: A Decade (Poems 2002-2012).
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Desert Years
Tin Moe
 
 
Tears
a strand of grey hair
a decade gone

In those years
the honey wasn’t sweet
mushrooms wouldn’t sprout
farmlands were parched

The mist hung low
the skies were gloomy
Clouds of dust on the cart tracks
Acacia and creepers
and thorn-spiral blossoms
But it never rained
and when it did rain, it never poured

At the village front monastery
no bells rang
no music for the ear
no novice monks
no voices reading aloud
Only the old servant with a shaved head
sprawled among the posts

And the earth
like fruit too shy to emerge
without fruit
in shame and sorrow
glances at me
When will the tears change
and the bells ring sweet?
 
 
Translated by Maung Tha Noe & Christopher Merrill
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
My Island
Ma Ei
 
 
Singhala for Prince Wizaya
Saint Helena for Napoleon
Tahiti for Gauguin
The Isles of Belles for Maung Shin
The Coco Islands for a baby turtle.

An island is a landmass surrounded by water.
But what do you call a place surrounded by dukkha?
Amalgams of body and soul,
Angst and anguish, suffering, doubt and delusion,
Circled by an illusory life,
I keep on trying … Yes, trying so hard to stand upright.

It was me! I was such a handful,
Such a flirt, such a red.
I’ve had no reward, just fingers pointing.
Dying ain’t much of a living!
The lady is a crank.

I’m out of shape,
A sculpture chiselled by two masters,
Here’s a chipped ear …
there’s a cock-eyed eye.
(Let them be chipped and cock-eyed).

Diluted in water
After slurping curses down
I turn a new page,
But life is un-renewed.
Sometimes I sing ‘I Seek Retention Loss’.

Look …
To purify the soul
Firstly, don’t deceive yourself.
Secondly, don’t deceive others.
In the long run, lies grow legs.

How I hate to spit it out,
Some men are too featherweight,
The copulate with their own craft.
 
 
Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
A Sun-ripened Song
Maung Chaw Nwe
 
 
Don’t chime in with
A definition of ‘the individual’
Just live within your own meaning
Just be sure
You’ve known defeat.

To punch a man
You need a strong lower jaw
When I land my fists on you
I maintain a good solid chin.

You are jawless
Yet your jabs keep raining on me
Mr. Truth
You are beyond the dhamma

What I hate most in this whole world is
That scumbag named Truth
Whose fat face is
Scarred with chicken pox.

In this life
You don’t need four, five, or six.
You only need two.
Just two, real love and
An authentic foe.

Maung San Aye, my friend,
Who has had to survive
By the smell of strangers
You need not install
Mercury lights in the town.
Towns are made of mercury.

There at Table No. 1 is
The man who lays down the law
Unerringly over his life.
Firmly seated there,
Isn’t Aung Cheimt, my pal,
A booming city?

Like Pompeii
Inundated with lava
The poet Phaw Way
Had once been a thriving city.

Who has lost
The whole earth?
Only they
Will get it back.

Maradona channelled
‘The Hand of God’
To score.
 
 
Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne
 
 
 
 
from Bones Will Crow (Arc Publications, 2012).

Order Bones Will Crow.
 
 
 
 
*

Bejan Matur’s How Abraham Abandoned Me

 
 
  
Bejan Matur
was born of an Alevi Kurdish family on 14 September 1968 in the ancient Hittite city of Maraş in southeast Turkey. Her first school was in her own village; later she attended the long-established Lycée in the region’s most important cultural centre Gaziantep. These years were spent living with her sisters far from their parents. She studied Law at Ankara University, but has never practised. In her university years, she was published in several literary periodicals. Reviewers found her poetry “dark and mystic”. The shamanist poetry with its pagan perceptions, belonging to the past rather than the present, of her birthplace and the nature and life of her village, attracted much attention.
 
Her first book, Rüzgar Dolu Konaklar, published in 1996, unrelated to the contemporary mainstream of Turkish poets and poetry, won several literary prizes. Her second book, Tanrý Görmesin Harflerimi (1999) was warmly greeted. Two further books appeared at the same time in 2002, Ayýn Büyüttüðü Oðullar and Onun Çölünde, continuing the distinctive language and world of imagery special to herself and her poetry. In 2004, a selection of her poems was published by Arc Publications in England under the title In The Temple of a Patient God; the same book was published in German and French by PHI in Luxembourg in 2006 as Winddurchu-wehte Herren-hauser. How Abraham Abandoned Me (Arc Publications, April 2012) is a PBS Spring Recommended Translation.
 
Bejan is the founder of Diyabakir Culture and Art Foundation, which was established in 2008. Currently, she devotes all her time to writing poetry, and occasionally contributes to an internet journal and newspapers. She believes there is no frontier between poetry and life and travels the world like a long-term desert nomad. She stops by Istanbul, a city she sometimes lives in.
 
 
 
About the translators
 
 
Ruth Christie was born and educated in Scotland, and after graduating from the University of St. Andrews taught English for two years in Turkey, later studying Turkish language and literature at London University. For several years she taught English literature to American undergraduates resident in London. With Saliha Paker she translated a Turkish novel by Latife Tekin (Marion Boyars, 1993) and, in collaboration with Richard McKane, a selection of the poems of Oktay Rifat (Rockingham Press, 1993), and a major collection of Nâzim Hikmet’s poetry, again with Richard McKane, was published by Anvil Press in 2002. In 2004, In the Temple of a Patient God, her translations from the Turkish of Bejan Matur, was published by Arc in its ‘Visible Poets’ series.
 
Recent translations include a major collection Poems of Oktay Rifat with Richard McKane (Anvil Press, 2007), which was shortlisted for the 2011 Popescu poetry prize. In 2008, in collaboration with Selçuk Berilgen, a translation of Selçuk Altun’s novel Songs My Mother Never Taught Me was published by Telegram.
  
  
  
Selçuk Berilgen was born in Canada to Turkish parents. He was educated in Turkey and holds a BSc in Mechanical Engineering from Middle East Technical University, Ankara. Following graduation, he moved to Toronto, then to New York and, since 1994, has lived in London. He has worked extensively as a translator and interpreter for various organisations and, since 2003, as a group therapist for torture survivors. He holds an MA in Working with Groups from the Tavistock Institute, London.
 
His translations include Feyyaz Kayacan’s Shelter Stories (Rockingham, 2007) and Songs My Mother Never Taught Me by Selçuk Altun (Telegram, 2008), both with Ruth Christie; he has also collaborated with Christie on Bejan Matur’s book of poems and photographs Sea of Fate (Timas, 2010) and her poem ‘Infinity’s Watchman’ published in Reflections on Islamic Art (Qatar Museum, 2011).
 
 
 

 
 
 
PBS Spring Recommended Translation
 

 
“This collection covers the broad vision of mankind’s history with a story of an individual journey, in the course of which the poet explores the cosmic and the microcosm, the immensities of Time and Space, of becoming and Being. The poems came during a pilgrimage in south-eastern Anatolia. Matur has created a personalised iconography based on Islamic references and imagery, and she presenting complex ideas with a simplicity of expression that is perfectly mirrored in Ruth Christie’s translation.”
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Ve Melekler Sağ Omuza Konar
 
 
Ve melekler sað omuza konar
Ve ejderha sol omuza
Ve melekler iner
Ve acýdan baþka bir þey yoktur
Ve bir aðaç
Acý meyvesiyle büyür.
Ve bir ses
Ölümden konuþur
Ve melekler masumiyeti anlatmaz olur.
Ve karanlýk kanatlar açýldýðýnda
Artýk hatýrlanmaz.
Bir zeytin gölgesinde bekleyen adam
Kurumuþ kuyusundan zamanýn kelimeleri çeker.
Bir baþkasý gözlerine bakar kâinatýn.
Böylece uykusu süren ejderhanýn
Kanatlarý açýlýr
Ve þefkatten yoksun anne
Koruduðu kimdir
Bilinmez.
Ve melek aðlar
Ýþareti aðlamaktýr.
Sýrtýnda býçakla bir adam
Tanýdýktýr artýk.
Býçaðýn ilerleyiþi
Yöneliþi býçaðýn
Ve hedefi ölüm olan
Ýlerleyiþin ne olduðu sorulur.
Yüzünde meleðin bekleyiþ
Bir þey anlatmaktadýr.
Meyvenin büyümesi
Kelimelerin yalnýz bir aðaçta.
Melek anlatýr
Karanlýk ve ölümle çevrili olduðunu doðumun
Anlatýr melek.
Sonsuz acý içinde
Kanatlarýn anneyi hatýrlatmadýðýný
Ve yetmediðini þefkatin.
Ve varacaðý yerin
Bir ilk ad olduðunu
Seçilmenin ve de.
Ve melek ilk adý tekrardan baþka
Varlýk bilmez.
Gizlenen pencerelerden
Ve ýþýktan önce
Bilgisi kelimelerin sorulur ondan.
Tanrý mýydý sebep diyecekler
Tanrý mýydý gerçekten?
Kýlýçlarýn parladýðý günbatýmýnda
Bak deðiþiyor harfler
Deðiþiyor senden konuþurken.
Senden konuþurken bir meleðin kanadýnýn
Ýncelmesi ve örtmesi üstümü.
Ve gözlerdeki öfke
Yanýlgýsýdýr meleðin.
 
Sevgili varlýk
Sana varlýk derken
Bir kanat kopuyor.
O acý meyveden yükselen his
Kalbi bulandýran.
Bana meleklerin inerken yüzünü göster
Bana meleklerin kanatlanýp karanlýðý indirmediði
O geceyi anlat.
Ýpeklerin ve renklerin
Gökyüzüne ulaþtýðý o yolculuðu
Senin ellerinde büyüyen sözleri ve de.
Ve kaný…
Elbette kaný anlat.
 
 
Haziran 2006. Parma
 
 
 
And Angels Perch on His Right Shoulder
 
 
And angels perch on his right shoulder
the dragon on the left
and angels descend
and there’s nothing but suffering
and a tree
grows with its bitter fruit.
And a voice
speaks of death
and the angels go mute describing innocence.
When the dark wings open
there’s no more memory.
The man waiting in the shade of an olive tree
draws words from the dried-up well of time.
Another looks in the eyes of the cosmos.
So the dragon still asleep
opens his wings
and no one knows
whom the mother void of pity
protects.
The angel weeps
his sign is weeping.
A man stabbed in the back
is familiar now.
And we ask the meaning
of a knife whose target is death,
of the knife’s direction
of the knife’s penetration.
The waiting in the angel’s face
is an explanation.
The growth of the fruit
of words
only on that tree.
The angel tells
how birth is surrounded by darkness and death
How in endless pain
his wings fail to remind us of the mother
and how compassion is not enough.
How the place chosen
to reach
is the first name ever.
And except for repeating the first name
the angel
knows nothing of existence.
And before light
and secret windows
he is asked for the knowledge of words.
Was the source God? they will ask
Was it really God?
See how the letters change
at sunset when swords gleam
they change as they speak of you.
As they speak of you an angel’s wing grows thin
and covers me up.
And the angel fails to see
the anger in the eyes.
 
Dear Being
as I name you
a wing breaks off.
The emotion rising from that bitter fruit
clouds the heart.
Show me the face of angels descending
tell of the night
when angels took wing and failed to bring darkness,
and of the journey
when silks and colours
reached the sky
and of the words that grew in your hands.
Tell of the blood …
certainly tell of the blood.
 
 
June 2006, Parma
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Başlangicin Azizi
 
 
I.
 
 
Başlangıcın azizi orada çağırmış kelimeleri
Güzellik orada bakmış sulara.
Ve orada insandan daha yüce bir şey varsa taştır.
Kemiklerin duası suları geçmiş çoktan
‘cenneti kaybettik biz’ diyor yaşlı adam
Cenneti kaybettik biz
Ve sulardan hiçbir şey anlamadık
Hiçbir şey anlamadık sulardan.
 
 
II.
 
 
Ve hiçbir şey anlamadık sulardan
Dediğinde ihtiyar
Kelimelerin doğumunu kutladık.
Kanatlar çırpınırken
Ve bir kuyuda aksine dalmışken biri.
 
 
 
Saint of the Source
 
 
I.
 
 
There the saint of the source summoned words.
There beauty looked in the waters.
And there if anything is greater than man it is stone.
Long ago the prayer of the bones crossed the waters
and the old man says, ‘We’ve lost heaven’.
It is we who lost heaven
and understood nothing from the waters
nothing at all.
 
 
II.
 
 
When the old man said
we understood nothing from the waters
we blessed the birth of words.
As wings were fluttering
and someone was diving
into their own reflection in a well.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
İbrahim Gölü
 
 
I.
 
 
Azizin kelimelerini duyan şehir
Öyle bir karanlıkla halelenir ki,
Düşman kavimler şehre giremezler.
Şehir kördür.
Karanlık halka
Ve İbrahim gölü.
Ve ay tanrıçasının asası
Başka yönleri gösterir.
Böylece tepelerde
Şeytan için sunaklar ve
Kurban kanıyla dolan
İbrahim gölü
İbrahim gölü.
 
 
II.
 
 
İbrahim gölü
İbrahim gölü
Bir kadın
Ellerini göğsünde kavuşturduğunda
Ne istemektedir?
İstemekte midir bir şey?
Bir çivi yazısında işleyen insan değil zamandır.
Ben yürüdüm haccımı
Haccımı yürüdüm ben
Ayın ve güneşin ilk işaretler olduğu
Ve yılanların hakikatinden insanın
Yol aldığı bilgelik.
 
 
 
Abraham’s Lake
 
 
I.
 
 
The city that hears the saint’s words
is haloed in such darkness
no enemy tribes can enter.
The city is blind.
A ring of darkness
and Abraham’s lake.
The moon goddess’s sceptre
shows other directions.
So on the hilltops
offerings to Satan and
filling with the blood of sacrifice
Abraham’s lake
Abraham’s lake.
 
 
II.
 
 
Abraham’s lake
Abraham’s lake
When a woman
folds her hands on her breast
what is she asking?
Is there something she wants?
It’s time, not man that writes in cuneiform.
My pilgrimage is over
I’ve made the journey
the knowledge came
that sun and moon were the first signs
and that humanity progressed
from the truth of snakes.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Senin Hakikatin
 
 
Senin hakikatin belirdi
Ve bir yüz halini aldý.
Çook önce bir avluda siyah harfler
Konuþmuþlardý
Bir kadýndan daha kývrak bedeniyle harfler
Söylemiþti.
Tutulmuþtum.
Þimdi harflerden öncesi var.
Dilsiz olan harflerin
Cebrail’in kanatlarýnda taþýndýðý
O gökyüzü
Baðýþlandý bize.

Hiçbir þeyin deðiþmediði
Yaradýlýþýn sürdüðü
Ve hayretin …
Yaratýlmýþ olmaktan hayret duyan ay ve güneþin
Taþlaþtýðý o yer
Göründü bize.
Bir canýn yanmasý gibi
Vazoda durmasý beyaz güllerin
Beyaz güllerin dün gece olanlarý bilmemesi
Ve acýnýn baðladýðý
Ve uzun bir yoldan sonra varýlan durak
Bir yüz olduðunda
Bakýþýn yarattýðý kalp deðildir artýk.
Ötesidir.
Kalbin bilgisidir bakýþýn yarattýðý.
Bizi var eden kimya
Ve nöronlarýn bildiðinden fazlasý.
Odur bakýþýn yarattýðý
Bir âþýðýn bakýþýnda esirgenen her þey
Orada birikir.
 
 
 
Your Truth
 
 
Your truth became visible
and took on a face.
Long ago black letters in a courtyard
talked together.
Letters spoke
with body
more supple than a woman.
I was enchanted.
Now is the time before letters.
That sky
where mute letters
were borne on Gabriel’s wings,
was granted to us.
 
That place
appeared to us
where nothing changed,
where creation and wonder
continued …
where the sun and moon that wonder
at their own creation
have turned to stone.
White roses in a vase
like a soul in pain
white roses not knowing what happened last night,
and when a long journey
bound by pain
comes to a halt
it becomes a face.
Now it’s not the heart that’s created by the look
it’s the beyond.
It’s knowledge of the heart the look creates.
More than the knowledge of neurons
it’s chemistry that makes us.
What the look creates
and everything spared in the lover’s look
accumulates there.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Karanliktir Yolu Açan
 
 
Eğil bir kuyuya
Eğil ve Cebrail’in kanatlarını
Kanatsızlığını duy.
Gör orada
Kelimeler nasıl var oluyor
Nasıl akıyor insan insana.
Belki de karanlıktır yolu açan.
Seninle benim armada
Bir bakıştır belki
Gittiğin yerlerde
Üzerinde Allah yazan bir yüzük
Aradığında
Aradığın Allah’tan önce aşktır
Aşktır aranan.
 
 
 
What Opens the Way is Darkness
 
 
Lean over a well
Lean over and feel Gabriel’s wings
and your lack of wings.
See there
how words exist
how a human being flows into another.
Perhaps what opens the way is darkness.
Between you and me
perhaps it’s just a look
where you go
in your search
for a ring inscribed with Allah.
Perhaps before Allah it’s love that you seek
your search is for love.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Güneşin Yurdu
 
 
Ayak izinde ceylanýn
Beliren su olsaydý
Denge olmazdý.
Görmedin mi
Ne alçalýr
Ne yükselir
Kalbinde tartýlmýþtýr onun.
Daha doðarken
Alnýndaki
Ve sol omzundaki ýþýktan
Konmuþtur adý.
Binlerce yýl
Hep vardý.
Ýki nehir arasýný gölgelere açtýðýna
Ve güneþin yurdunu uzakta kurduðuna gore
Yorulmuþ belli ki
Yorulmuþ.
Tüm hayvanlar ve insan olmayan bahçe
Yorulmuþ gölgelerden
Ve böylece Âdem belirdi
Ve Âdem’in beliriþi
Bir hayret eþliðinde.
Hayret bir yüz yapar
Ve alýr bizi Tanrý’nýn elinden
Bahçeden.
Ýlk vadi
Ve adsýz þehirler beklerken
Nelerin kurulacaðý
Ve yýkýlacaðý once
Bilinmez.
Sýrlar doðduklarý yerde
Daha da sýrlanýrken
Ýnsana açmazlar mucizeyi.
Ýnsana açýlacak olan
Baþka yerlerin
Baþka akýþýdýr.
Ahengi bozulmuþ
Alçalmýþ ve yükselmiþ.
 
 
 
Land of the Sun
  
  
If water appeared
in a gazelle’s footprint
there would be no balance.
Didn’t you see
in its heart it was judged
neither high
nor low?
Its name was given
at birth
from the light
on its forehead
and left shoulder.
So it always was
for thousands of years.
Exhausted
clearly exhausted
from opening the land between two rivers
to shadows,
the sun made its home far away.
All animals and the garden void of humans
were tired of shadows.
And Adam appeared
Adam comes
in wonder.
He makes a face of wonder
and takes us from the garden,
from God’s hand.
Nobody knows
the first valley
and nameless cities waiting,
which first to be built
which to be destroyed.
Secrets where they are born
don’t reveal the miracle to humans
remaining still more secret.
What will be open to humans
is a different flow
from other places.
Harmony lost
too high or too low.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Tüllerin Kardeşliği
 
 
Ayný doðumu yaþayan iki ruh
Ayný karýnda bir tülle ayrýlan.
Aradýðýmýz bu dünyada
Bir penceredir belki de
Bir tülün dünyadan koruduðu bir oda.
Fýsýltýlar bana ulaþtý
Parmaklarýn geçti parmaklarýma.
Bir gölgeden fazlasý aramýzda
Bir ruh
Tanýþmasý hiç bitmeyecek bir ruh.
Bak ellerime
Parmaklarým nasýl da hatýrlýyor
Sadece bakmakla var olmayan aþk
Tüllere sarýndýðýnda
Karýþtý nehirde akmakta olan zaman.
Biz ne zaman büyüdük
Perde ne zaman çekildi aramýzdan
Ve ne zaman anladýn rüzgarýn
Solumakta olduðumuz ortak ruh olduðunu.
O odada daha fazla kalma
Demiþtim.
Surlarýn ve taþlarýn beklediði bir kalptir
Nihayetinde.
Onda soluyacak
Ona akacak olan.
Senin adým atýþýnda açýlan duvarlar
Gökyüzünü deðil
Rüzgarý gösterdi.
Senin yürüdüðün gece
Yoksulluðun bir kayýp olmadýðýný söyledi
Ve daðýldý tüller.
Ve ben ayný karýnda büyüdüðüm
Gözleri gördüm
Kardeþliðin yüzyýlýný
Tüllerin görünür kýldýðý kardeþliðin
Parmaklarýn.
Daha fazlasýný isterdim.
Bizi büyütmeyen ev ve ülkeden
Çok daha fazlasýný beklerdim.
 
 
 
Kinship of Gauze
 
 
Twin souls living the same birth
parted by gauze in the same womb.
What we seek in this world
is a window and perhaps
a room protected from the world
by a curtain of gauze.
Whispers reached me.
Our hands clasped.
Between us more than a shadow
a soul
whose knowledge of the other never ends.
See my hands
how my fingers recall
love that was not, exists just by looking
and wrapped in gauze
time that flows in the river changed.
When did we grow?
When was the curtain between us withdrawn?
And when did you know that the wind
is a fellow soul when we breathe?
Don’t stay any longer in that room
I said.
In the end
what the walls and stones are waiting for
is a heart
which will breathe within
and flow.
Walls opening at your footstep
revealed not the sky
but the wind.
The night you walked in, said
that poverty meant no loss
and the veils dispersed.
In the same womb where I grew
I saw eyes
a century of kinship appeared
kinship made visible by clasped hands
and gauze.
I wanted far more.
I had hoped for much more
from the home and the country
that failed to nurture us.
 
 
 
*
  
 
  
Eski
 
 
Bu kutsallýk.
Taþlarý gördün.
Nasýl geçiyorlarsa birbirlerine
Öylece geçiyorum ben de.
Vücudum bir þekil alýyor
Ve anlamýyorum
Ne kadarý eski
Ne kadarý bu günden.
Bir kaplan gibi yürüdüðümü söylüyor o.
Halbuki içindeyim kaplanýn
Bakýþýnda
Çizgilerinde.
Ýnsanýn insandan kaçýþý su gibi olur
Baþka bir toprakta izi kalan.
Üç kapýdan söz eden
Bolluktan ve kötülükten
Hangisi gelir bilinmez once
Sezgisi de insanýn yetmez olur.
 
 
 
Old
 
 
This holiness
You’ve seen the stones.
The way they fit together
is my way too.
My body takes on a shape
and I don’t understand
how much is old
how much is today’s.
He says I walk like a tiger
but I’m in the tiger,
in his way of looking,
and in his stripes.
A person’s flight from another is like water
that leaves a trace on different earth.
Speaking of the three gates
nobody knows
which came first,
abundance or evil
and human intuition is never enough.
 
 
 
 
from How Abraham Abandoned Me (Arc Publications).
 
Order How Abraham Abandoned Me.
 
Order In the Temple of a Patient God.
 
Sarah Hymas talks to Ruth Christie about her approach to translation.
 
 
 
*

Pure Contradiction: Selected Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke


 
 
About the translator

 
 
Ian Crockatt lives with his ceramic artist wife Wenna on a small croft in the North East of Scotland, close to gannet-crowded sea cliffs and under the flight-path of seasonally migrating geese. After many years of employment as a social worker with children and families, he is working on a PhD thesis at Aberdeen University, focusing on the translation of Old Norse skaldic poetry.
 
He has published several collections of his own poetry including Flood Alert (Chapman Publications, 1996), Original Myths (Cruachan Publications, 1999), The Crucifixion Bird (Northwords Folios, 2002), Blizzards of the Inner Eye (Peterloo Press, 2003), The Lyrical Beast (Salix Publications, 2004) and Skald — Viking poems (Koo Press, Aberdeen, 2009, reprinted 2011). Original Myths, which includes etchings by the Scottish artist Paul Fleming, was short-listed for the Saltire Society’s Scottish Book of the Year Award in 2000. He has been a prize winner in a number of national literary competitions and was awarded Writer’s Bursaries by the Scottish Arts Council in 2004 and 2008.
 
He is currently preparing a collection of poems translated from the work of Rognvaldr Kali Kolsson, a 12th Earl of Orkney, as well as working on a new collection of his own verse.
 
 
 
*
  
  
  
“Rainer Maria Rilke was born into the German speaking elite of Prague in 1875, and died in Switzerland in 1926.  He was witness to the great political and cultural revolutions in Europe in the first quarter of the twentieth century, and in the case of the radical new art emerging in Paris before the First World War was involved in reviewing exhibitions and writing articles about the new artists, as well as developing his own increasingly individual and virtuoso verse. He was secretary to the sculptor Rodin for two years, met Picasso and Tolstoy and many other giants of the artistic and intellectual community of the time, while also developing an increasingly devoted readership for his own work. He lived a semi-nomadic but genteel life, moving round Europe from hotel to borrowed rooms, from affair to aristocratic benefactor, always prioritising the promptings of his art over the demands of commitment to the convention of bourgeois relationships. His awareness of his own calling as a poet, his immersing of himself in the role to the extent he did – as well as his controversial deliberations on love, sex, art and religious observation in both poetry and prose – resulted in a guru-like status and following in some quarters.
 
Today his reputation is equally as high. His Duino Elegies, completed in the same year as the Waste Land was published, are landmark expressions of the complexities of intellect and feeling a human life can experience. The Sonnets to Orpheus, written at the same time, read like exhalations after the great in-drawing of breath the Elegies demanded; delicate, thankful, ecstatic. The earlier two volumes of New Poems sound a new note in European poetry with their mix of sensual, observed scrutiny of Things, and their capturing of the inner essence of what is being observed. There are over four hundred poems written in French in the last years of his life, and hundreds more exploratory and far-reaching poems Rilke did not publish. Together with his volumes of letters, in which he himself said much of his creativity was expressed, and his extraordinary impressionistic novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Rilke’s poetry constitutes one of the greatest literary achievements of any century.”
   
 
 

 
 
Pure Contradiction (Arc Publications, 2012) is a bilingual selection, which has gathered poems from all periods of Rilke’s life. Instead of the usual format of arranging poems chronologically, the translator Ian Crockatt places poems of similar themes or modes of expression close to one another. Each poem is to a greater or lesser extent conscious of others, so illuminating the underlying themes which Rilke said he had arrived at very early in his life.
 
In his powerful new translation, skilfully shaped into current English, Ian Crockatt succeeds in catching Rilke’s blend of crafted sensuality and inward-focused spiritual searching, while his comprehensive introduction and notes to this selection are both informative and enlightening.
 
Rainer Maria Rilke was described by another great poet, Maria Tsvetaeva as ‘not a poet, but the embodiment of poetry’. His work spans the divide between Europe’s turn-of-the-century decadence and its post First World War revolutionary modernism, always struggling to develop, to seek and reach beyond itself.”
  
 
 
*
 
 
 
Le Ruban
 
 
L’aurai-je exprimé, avant de m’en aller,
ce cœur qui, tourmenté, consent á être?
Étonnement sans fin, qui fus mon maître,
jusqu’à la fin t’aurai-je imité?

Mais tous surpasse comme un jour d’eté
le tender jeste qui trop tard admire;
dans nos paroles écloses, qui respire
le pur parfum d’identité?

Et cette belle qui s’en va, comment
la ferait en passer par une image?
Son doux ruban flottant vit davantage
que cette ligne qui s’éprend.
 
 
 
The Ribbon
 

 
Will I have expressed it before I go,
my tormented heart which consents to live?
Increasingly astonishment masters me –
will I have proved its equal before I leave?
 
But all surpasses, like a summer’s day
your tender gesture compliments too late.
Is the pure perfume of identity
breathed in with the words we create?
 
And that departing beauty, how can
she be summed up by some metaphor?
Her frail ribbon floats with more élan
than this line does, which worships her.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 

Eingang

Wer du auch seist: am Abend tritt hinaus
aus deiner Stube, drin du alles weißt;
als letzes vor der Ferne liegt dein Haus:
wer du auch seist.
Mit deined Augen, welche müde kaum
von der verbrauchten Schwelle sich befrein,
hebst du ganz langsam einen schwarzen Baum
und stellst ihn vor den Himmel: schlank, allein.
Und hast die Welt gemacht. Und sie ist groß
und wie ein Wort, das noch im Schweigen reift.
Und wie dein Wille ihren Sinn begreift,
lassen sie deine Augen zärtlich los …
 
 
 
Entrance
 
 
Whoever you are; step out of your familiar
room into the evening. Your house
is the last before the endless.
Whoever you are.
With your tired eyes, scarcely able to
look beyond the time-worn threshold, you
raise a dark tree up, slowly,
and stand it against the sky; frail, solitary.
And you have made the world; it is tall,
and like a word it ripens in silence.
And as your will absorbs its significance
your eyes allow it, tenderly, to fall …
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Abschied

Wie hab ich das gefühlt was Abschied heißt.
Wie weiß ichs noch: ein dunkles unverwundes
grausames Etwas, das ein Schönverbundnes
noch einmal zeigt und hinhält und zerreißt.
 
Wie war ich ohne Wehr, dem zuzuschauen,
das, da es mich, mich rufend, gehen ließ,
zurückblieb, so als wärens alle Frauen
und dennoch klein und weiß und nichts als dies:

Ein Winken, schon nicht mehr auf mich bezogen,
ein leise Weiterwinkedes – scon kaum
erklärbar mehr: vielleicht ein Pflaumenbaum,
von dem ein Kuckuck hastig abgeflogen.
 
 
 
Parting
 
 
Never let the shape we make be that of parting –
it has the look and feel of implacable cruelty.
Who made the world this way? Why
offer the fruit up whole then pulp it? Nothing
 
describes the raw thing I became when she
clutched me closer in order to let me go –
so that she might remain, she cried, stay
in her pale woman-form to wave goodbye,
 
goodbye, though no longer, it seemed, to me,
so slight and inward was her waving.
Years on, in my heart, leaves fluttering
as if a cuckoo had just flown from the damson-tree.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 

Am Rande der Nacht
 
 
Meine Stube und diese Weite,
wach über nachtendem Land –
ist Eines. Ich bin eine Saite,
über rauschende breite
Resonanzen gespannt.
 
Die Dinge sind Geigenlieber,
von murrendem Dunkel voll;
drin träumt das Weinen der Weiber,
drin rührt sich im Schlafe der Groll
ganzer Geschlechter …
Ich soll
silbern erzittern: dann wird
Alles unter mir leben,
und was in den Dingen irrt,
wird nach dem Lichte streben,
das von meinem tanzenden Tone,
um welchen der Himmel wellt,
durch schmale, schmachtende Spalten
in die alten
Abgründe ohne
Ende fällt …
 
 
 
On the Verge of Night
 
 
My room, and space watching
over the land’s dark distances –
are one. I am a string
stretched taut across the far-reaching
thundering resonances.
 
Things are violin-bodies
full of reverberating darkness –
in it dream the cries
of women, in its sleep the bitterness
of whole generations is roused …
I’ll thrum, luminous
as silver. Then all
that is beneath me will come alive,
and whatever struggles
to find its way in Things will strive
towards the brightness
which from my dancing tone –
around which skies pulsate –
endlessly falls through fissures, thin
and disconsolate,
to the ancient abyss.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
An die Musik

Musik: Atem der Statuen. Vielleicht:
Stille der bilder. Du sprache wo sprachen
enden. Du zeit,
die senkrecht steht auf der Richtung vergehender Herzen.

Gefühle zu wem? O du der Gefühle
Wandlung in was?.. In hörbare landschaft.
Du Fremde: Musik. Du uns entwachsener
Herzraum. Innigstes unser,
das, uns übersteigend, hinausdrängt –
heiliger Abschied:
da uns das Innre umsteht
als geübteste Ferne, als andre
Seite der Luft:
rein,
riesig,
nicht mehr bewohnbar.
 
 
 
To Music
 
 
Music. Breath of statues. Perhaps;
stillness’s image. You language
beyond language. You Time
standing perpendicular to the trajectory of our hearts.
 
Feeling – for whom? O you who are feeling
transformed into … what? … Audible landscape!
You stranger; music. You who have outgrown
our heartspace. Our innermost selves
which, surpassing us, break out of us –
sacred departure.
When what is most deeply us
exists out there as our most experienced distance, as the other
side of the air;
pure,
vast,
uninhabitable.
 
 
 
 
from Pure Contradiction: Selected Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke
(Arc Publications, 2012).

Order Pure Contradiction: Selected Poems.

Read ‘Another Rilke?’ by Ian Crockatt here.

Read Ian Crockatt’s ‘On Translating’ here.
 
 
 
*

Benjamin Péret’s The Big Game

  
 
Benjamin Péret (1899 – 1959) was one of the founders of Surrealism with André Breton and Paul Eluard. He remained one of its most ardent supporters throughout his life. Le grand jeu (The Big Game), published in 1928, was Péret’s best-known work and is still in print in France eighty years later. This is its first full-length translation into English.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Marilyn Kallet is the author of fifteen books, including Packing Light: New and Selected Poems and has translated Paul Eluard’s Last Love Poems, both from Black Widow Press. She is director of the creative writing program at the University of Tennessee, where she holds a Lindsay Young Professorship. She also teaches poetry workshops for the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Auvillar, France.
 
In 2005, Kallet was inducted into the East Tennessee Literary Hall of Fame in poetry, and named Woman of Achievement in the Arts by the YWCA in 2000. She has performed her poetry in theaters and on campuses across the United States, as well as in Warsaw and Krakow, as a guest of the US Embassy’s “America Presents” program.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Mes Derniers Malheurs

          A Yves Tanguy.
 
 
 270  Les bouleaux sont usés par les miroirs
 441  Le jeune pape allume un cierge et se dévêt
 905  Combien sont morts sur des charniers plus doux
1097  Les yeux du plus fort
        emportés par le dernier orage
1371  Les vieux ont peut-être interdit aux jeunes
        de gagner le désert
1436  Premier souvenir des femmes enceintes
1525  Le pied sommeille dans un bocal d’airain
1668  Le coeur dépouillé jusqu’à l’aorte
        se déplace de l’est à l’ouest
1793  Une carte regarde et attend
        Les dés
1800  Vernir il s’agit bien d’autre chose
1845  Caresser le menton et laver les seins
1870  Il neige dans l’estomac du diable
1900  Les enfants des invalids
        ont fait tailler leur barbe
1914  Vous trouverez du pétrole qui ne sera pas pour vous
1922  On brûle le bottin place de l’Opéra
 
 
 
My Late Misfortunes
 
          
to Yves Tanguy
 
 
 270  The birches are worn out by mirrors
 441  The young pope lights a candle and disrobes
 905  How many corpses lie on the softest mass grave
1097  The eyes of the strongest
        carried off by the last storm
1371  The old may have forbidden the young
        to reach the desert
1436  First memory of pregnant women
1525  The foot dozes in a bronze jar
1668  The heart stripped to the aorta
        emigrates from east to west
1793  A map watches and waits for
        The dice
1800  Varnish surely it’s about something else
1845  Caressing the chin and washing the breasts
1870  It snows in the devil’s stomach
1900  Children of invalids
        had their beards trimmed
1914  You will find oil that’s not for you
1922  We burn the phone book Place de l’Opéra
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Portrait de Max Ernst
 
 
Tes pieds sont loin
je les ai vus la dernière fois
sur le dos d’un cheval-jument
qui était mou qui était mou
trop mou pour être honnête
trop honnête pour être vrai
 
Le cheval le plus vrai
n’est jeune qu’un moment
mai tois
toi je te retrouve
dans les rues du ciel
dans les pattes des homards
dans les inventions sauvages
 
 
 
Portrait of Max Ernst
 
 
Your feet are far away
I saw them the last time
on the back of a brood-mare
who was slow who was slow
too slow to be honest
too honest to be true
 
The truest horse
is young only a moment
but you
you I rediscover you
in heaven’s streets
in the lobster’s claws
in wild inventions
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Nuage
 
 
Tombe pain d’épices
les blessés sont loin
les plantes sont mortes
et les malades respirent à peine
 
 
 
Cloud
 
 
Let gingerbread fall
the wounded are distant
the plants are dead
and the sick hardly breathe
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Voyage de Découverte
 
 
Il était seul
dans le bas du seul-seul
Un seul à la seule
il seulait
Ça fait deux seuls
deux seuls dans un bas-seul
 
Un bas-seul ne dure pas longtemps
mais c’est assez quand on est seul
dans le bas du seul-seul
 
 
 
Voyage of Discovery
 
 
He was alone
in the depths of alone-alone
A loner to her loner
he was going it alone
That makes two loners
two loners in a low-alone
 
A low-aloner does not last long
but that’s enough when one is alone
in the depths of alone-alone
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Passerelle du Commandant
 
 
Il faut être chaste pour être bon
Il faut être vieux pour savoir faire
Il faut être riche pour tous les temps
Il faut être grand pour regarder
Il faut être juste pour installer
Il faut être bien pour supporter
Il faut être rond pour mesurer
Il faut être tendre pour concourir
Il faut être seul pour opérer
Il faut être deux pour être trios
 
 
 
The Commander’s Gangway
 
 
You must be chaste to be good
You must be old to know how
You must be rich for all times
You must be tall to look
You must be fair to settle in
You must be well to withstand
You must be round to measure
You must be tender to compete
You must be alone to operate
You must be two to be three
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Chaufferie Mélancolique

          A Théodore Fraenkel.
 
 
Je rêve à toutes les étoiles
et elles en font autant
Il n’y a pas de temps à perdre
tout cela va éclater
Nous sommes perdus
nous somme perclus
Soupirer ou regarder
pas du tout je ne rêve plus et je m’en vais
Nous ne sommes pas perdus
 
 
 
Melancholy Boiler Room
 
          To Théodore Fraenkel
 
 
I dream of all the stars
and they do the same
There’s no time to lose
everything’s going to blow
We’re lost
we’re crippled
To sigh or look
not at all I dream no more and I’m going away
We’re not lost
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Order The Big Game (Black Widow Press, 2011).
 
Visit Black Widow Press.
 
Visit Marilyn’s website.
 
Visit the Association des amis de Benjamin Péret.