A mode of
The Night Fountain, Selected Early poems, Salvatore Quasimodo
Translated by Marco
Sonzogni & Gerald Dawe (86pp, Arc)
The Sum Total of Violations, Regina Derieva
Translated by Daniel
Weissbort (161pp, Arc)
The Flights of Zarza, Fernando Kofman
Translated by Ian Taylor
(94pp, Arc VISIBLE POETS 22)
The the Edge of Night, Anise Koltz
Translated by Anne-Marie
Glasheen (152pp, Arc VISIBLE POETS 24)
Prague With Fingers Of Rain, Vitezslav Nezval
Translated by Ewald Osers
(64pp, £8.95, Bloodaxe)
puzzles me why some of the Arc translated poets are 'visible', and what that
implies about the others. The series editor, Jean Boase-Beier, has a note in
the visibles, to say that the 'prevailing view of translated poetry,
especially in England,... maintains that it should read as though it had
originally been written in English. The books in the 'Visible Poets' series
aim to challenge that view.' To challenge it by carrying over what is alive
and worth the name of poetry in the original.
What then of the Arc non-visibles? Have their translators slipped through
this net, is Arc not so pleased with them?
It's not a big issue, only a curious one. And whatever the reasoning, the
whole list is an impressive and welcome achievement.
Yet again, a set of books leaves me thinking it's impossible to convey or
evaluate them, and yet it is apparent that poetry has come into my room, and
I'm thinking, without judgement, I can wonder again what poetry is. Here are
extracts, which I like to think are representative. If so, they represent a
mode of mind, an imaginative reach.
From the Czech Nezval (died 1958) comes a collection published in 1936.
Labelled Surrealist, there is a lot of simile and a lot of plain strange
statements. This of Prague, unpunctuated:
her as a great ship whose mast is the Castle
the enchanted cities of my visions
the great ship of the Golden Corsair
the dream of delicious architects
and after several more 'Like',
bracelet dangling before mirrors
The Sicilian Quasimodo, from these early poems (from between 1915 and the
wasn't enough for your desert;
it wasn't, as
you said when you were falling asleep,
the sandal of a hermit.
The Italian seems to say 'of an ascetic' (d'asceta). I am not taking issue with it
(I am not competent), only seeing what decisions have to be made in the
These extracts - more plausibly these whole books - make me wonder again
about the continuum of language from street or domestic talk to - but to
what? - along which poetry is made.
Here is a whole section of a long poem from Anise Koltze, Luxemborg poet,
writing here in French (having begun making poems in German) - poems here
from the early 2000s, in her 60s, and without punctuation:
My memory is
all over the
the gods slit
I slit theirs
I became a
What happens when such lines are collected into our brains? If she came to tea she wouldn't (I
suppose) talk like this; but yet her voice is here, a person has 'said' this.
questions are sometimes asked within the poem itself. Here, from Kofman,
And the bell in the
rung by a crippled
how exactly does it
bring back to me
that stream where a
gang of savages
stole a young girl's
And is the poet the poem's voice or is there a fiction, is all poetry
selective, shaped as a kind of fiction? In Kofman's case (published 1992),
there's a character Zarza with a shifting gender.
As I was reading Regina Derieva I found myself thinking, 'This is a blog'.
Can it be that the
brain, too, is all tectonic folds?
Most certainly it
Like Sinai in chaos
mind buried within
I can't see that her dates are given anywhere here. I have found them on the
web (her own site): born in the Ukraine in 1949 and still very much alive and
writing. The book's introduction describes her as 'a Christian poet .... a
worthy heir' to the metaphysicals. The above extract continues:
philosopher, it is still thinking,
utterly alone. It
questions to itself,
like joints in the knee.
Or, like a relay,
it must unify
the sequence of
remember His Name
in the dark.
Do we return to a poem (or a poet's works) for its thought (if we met the
poet, would we be interested in their thought?); or for the tunes, for an
attitude, for kinship, for cultural solidarity,... ?
all books worth having, and it's too complicated to begin to wonder with any
subtlety why. You might yourself be a translator, you might be a poet, a
teacher, a voracious reader, an historian, you may be curious, you may have a
birthright or instinctive sense of connection with one of these poets.
I have been looking again at David Gascoyne's bringing into English from
Jouve, Pret and so on, his having been there in Paris in Surrealist circles.
There are culturally significant moments. Michael Hamburger, David Constantine
and others have brought German poets into English: Celan, Hlderlin and so
on. So I am beginning to speak personally as well as, I imagine, for many
others. It was a significant moment for me, most of my life ago, when (the
kind of thing I suppose young poets are inclined to do) I sent a few poems
for advice to Robert Nye, who replied kindly and recommended I read Zbigniev
Herbert (one of the Penguin European Poets), possible only in translation.
One of the translators here, Daniel Weissbort, did an extraordinary thing,
with Ted Hughes, in founding Modern Poertry in Translation, continuing now in
interesting new ways by David and Helen Constantine.
After two World Wars and the Cold War, we have the United Nations, the
European Union, and whatever else has happened (not least many more people
travelling), what might be said now about internationalist poetry? Or is it
more of a secret, those poets we discover for ourselves privately?
I am not keeping up with what is being published in Britain; my sense of it
is that these and previous translations I've noted on this site are
different: sensibility, image, voice, wit and so on are unlike what is
published here: they bring a slant to us.
It is too big a generalisation, especially when Britishness in poets is
itself not uniform. Still, reading these books, I do, as in a dream, hear
David Hart 2009