MPT: Welcome to the Modern Poetry In Translation podcast. In this episode we hear from Erin Moure on the recent online translation workshop with the poet Chus Pato on the poem Sonora (a work in progress). Of the nearly 30 translations we received Erin has chosen her favourite to featured in this podcast and we are pleased to welcome Lydia Mekonnen reading in English as well as the poet Chus Pato reading the original Galician. Thank to everyone who sent in their version of this poem and listened on for Erin’s notes on the workshop and find out what she was looking for in the English translation.
Erín Moure: Hi it’s Erín Moure here and just want first of all to thank everybody who submitted translations and tried translations of Chus Pato’s poem on the MPT poetry workshop online. It was really great reading everybody’s entries, and what a great variety and what great minds at work in the poem and in translation. What a pleasure to be part of this project.
My job today is to come back with one poem, to choose one poem and I think it was a pretty close tie, but I did choose one, and I also have a third poem that strayed further but it’s a beautiful version. And Turkish poet and translator Alev Ersan in Istanbul read the Turkish version for me because one of the submissions was in Turkish, and she shared her comments and we had a written conversation. So, after reading all the poems and reading chooses in between and checking for resonances, I came up with six markers that I would look for to distinguish the eleven poems, in the end, that I liked best. One the phrase “the laws of discourse” had to be there or “the rules of discourse” but for sure “discourse” had to be there, as it’s a Foucauldian reference – Michel Foucault. And the second one was that “magnetic” had to modify “blue” in reference to the Kingfisher (because I’ve seen a Kingfisher!)
Thirdly, the line about thinking had to be clear as well as it’s too is a philosophical reference hearkening to Descartes, but also earlier in my quick and dirty version of the poem in English, it was “that’s why we think” but it could be “that’s the reason why we think”, or something like that, but we need that idea of why we think in there.
The fourth thing I looked for was the phrase “our life is an image.” That had to be there directly the equation between life and image and image is a critical word here in the Pato poem, so it can’t be another word.
And fifth those voids they had to spin in Adam’s mouth, and six, the open ending on the poem “we can” had to be present.
And Alev added a seventh one as well, she’s pointed out “the landing bird” actually has to “part the waters”.
So, with all of those in mind I looked at my eleven favourite poems and I’ve selected as my favourite one poem number five “Resonant (a Wave in Progress)” by Lydia Mekonnen. She changed the form from one long poem into separated tercets but her poem best holds those six or seven necessities and also to me it resonates with the rhythm of the Pato work instead of with the translator’s own rhythms which is fine, but we want to try and create an experience or a soundscape that’s similar to the original.
I also liked, curiously, that Lydia chose to translate the Spanish of Vallejo inside the poem in Galician. That’s a valid choice, to translate it, as the Spanish would be clear to a Galician reader because Galician speaks Spanish but Spanish is not as clear to the average English reader, perhaps in the southern US it would be but not to everyone else. So that was thank you Lydia for your version which you everybody can hear as poem number five. Poem twenty-two was a very close second though Sonora Three, a version by Ann McCauley. There were a couple of spots where the register jarred for me but overall, it’s a wonderful translation. Ann chose to leave the Viejo in Spanish, which is fine though.
And I would like to mention a third poem one that strayed pretty much above all from Pato’s rhythms and missed one or two of my key points was translation number six, “A Pyramid for my Mother” by Martyn Crucefix. I can definitely tell that Martyn is a poet. It slightly altered, his poem, but it’s still a gorgeous version and it’s a wonderful poem in English.
And the Turkish version Alev Ersan pipes up and looks at my skinny version for clues, and I share because her thoughts are useful for all translators even me.
She said “the poem is both narrative, but also seems to want to function in clusters that spill to and fro in terms of grammatical syntax. I feel the strategy that the Turkish translator used was to focus on each line and deliver that, which at times either makes for abrupt and very literal meaning, and this can happen in the middle of an image delivered over three lines, and/or entirely new organization of meaning”.
In other words, I guess Alev is saying that the clusters were lost a bit, or unwieldy when translated, as a single line at a time.
So identifying how the poem functions in terms of its form in terms of the clusters is important and perhaps that brings us back to the choices of Lydia to use tercets to translate the poem and again thank you for everyone who sent in translations and in particular to the person who sent in the Turkish version and thanks to everybody. I enjoyed all the versions and Chus did. She doesn’t speak English but she’s happy with my report that’s for sure. Thank you very much.
MPT: And now you can hear the poem read in the original Galician by poet Chus Pato, followed by Lydia Mekonnen’s English translation.
No mes de outubro comprobei
a vibración insuperable das ás dun colibrí
Na raia entre novembro e decembro
cruzóuseme nos ollos o azul magnético do Martiño peixeiro
o antergo alción dos gregos
e aínda tiven a fortuna de sentir
como partía as augas do regato a maior das velocidades
Onte observei unha curuxa alzando o voo
desde unha das árbores próximas
se cadra unha avidueira
voaba como un tule de maxestade e algo tímida
a sensación foi estar en presenza de Afrodita
Ao alisar unha saba para pasarlle o ferro
souben que toda a nosa vida
desde o berce á cova transcorre envolta en lenzos
cando o alento é o derradeiro e se expande no éter
as teas voan ao seu redor
acompáñano na súa marcha e absolución
por esta razón podemos pensar
Vallejo escribiu un poema no que fala das pirámides 3 3 3
nel non hai comparecencia de aves
es el tiempo este anuncio de gran zapatería
de la muerte hacia la muerte
ao pasar a páxina
el tiempo tiene hun miedo ciempiés a los relojes
O ceo que nos cubre
cando estamos na presenza dunha deusa
e asistimos ao alzarse da curuxa é callado de estrelas
contemplámolo con retardo
Tres, a serpe apréndenos a mudar de pel
Tres, a serpe apréndenos
que morder unha mazá é comprender as leis do discurso
Tres, Adán coñecía os signos
na súa boca xiraban baleiros como xira en bucle o tempo
A nosa vida é unha imaxe
o voo branco e lixeiro, as tebras mestas
medimos a potencia da noite
por esta causa podemos
Lydia Mekonnen: ‘Resonant’ (a wave-in-progress)
In the month of October I felt
the unrivalled vibration of a hummingbird’s wings
on the November-December border
we met, my eyes and the magnetic blue of the kingfisher
salt’s offspring, ancestor of the Greeks
and I was even lucky enough to witness
how it parted the creek water, skimming at the swiftest of speeds
yesterday I watched a barn owl rise and fly
out of one of the nearest trees
it may have been a birch
it flew with the splendour of tule, and a little shyness
it felt like being in Aphrodite’s presence
while I was spreading a bedsheet to put under the iron
I realised that all our life
from the cradle to the grave rolls on wrapped in linens
when our breath, the last, blows out into the ether
our pieces of cloth billow around it
they follow as it departs and dissolves
because of this we can think
Vallejo wrote a poem where he speaks of pyramids 3 3 3
no appearance of birds here
time is this announcement of the great shoemaker’s
from death towards death
and when we turn the page
time has a centipede fear of scuttling watch-hands
the sky-mantle that veils us
when we are in the presence of a goddess
and we watch as the barn owl flies up to find it’s thick with stars
we take their delayed [light] in
three, the serpent shows us how to shed our skins
three, the serpent shows us
that to bite into an apple is to see into the laws of discourse
three, Adam knew the signs
in his mouth they kept spinning, chasms empty as time, spins in a loop
our life is an image
flight clear and light, darkness heavy with mire
we measure out the night’s power
because of this we can