Translations

This entry is part 31 of 34 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Visitation, the long poem that begins Jacques Brault’s first collection, Mémoire (short extract with translation in this earlier post), is a complex evocation of cultural oppression and the poet’s sense of exile from self. It’s full of words and images that cannot but also evoke today’s physical exiles, the millions of refugees, and these suggested a much simpler and shorter erasure poem. French, with its changing word-endings, gives less scope for erasure than English, but the process was still an interesting way of engaging with language and emotions.

black-and-white photo of an Antony Gormley figure from his sculpture installation Another Place

Remember

Remember your nakedness, their exile
the man struggling to live

I find myself again at the appointed place
and thirsty for these words

I left my country with little pride
Exile is hard, my fear follows me

Silence is no longer possible – listen
some evening to what I shall say

Come closer and touch my voiceless misery
my faceless body, my silent hope

Poetry has no importance, but it speaks
Sweet violence rises up

My despair arrives with broken neck
no name, no past and harbouring no hatred

Some grey morning a comrade I cannot name
and a beloved country tremble

I shall live weighed down and bent over
my words still resounding from land to land

A shadow will trace the outline
of your pale face when I find it again.


(words and phrases culled from Jacques Brault’s nearly 900-word-long poem, Visitation)

Souvenez-vous / de / votre nudité / de leur exil /
de celui qui a mal de vivre /

Je me retrouve / au / rendez-vous /
J’ai soif / de / ces paroles /

J’ai quitté / le pays / peu fier /
L’exil est dur / ma peur / me suit /

Je ne sais plus / me taire /
Ecoute / ce que / je / dirai / un soir /

Approche et / touche / ma misère / sans voix /
mon corps / sans visage / ma silencieuse espérance /

La poésie / est / sans importance / mais elle / parle /
La violence / douce / se relève /

Ma détresse / arrive / le cou brisé /
sans nom / sans passé / et sans haine /

Un matin gris / une /compagne / innommable /
et / un pays aimé tremblent /

Je vivrai / lourd et penché /
Mes mots / vibrent encore / entre terre et terre /

Une ombre / tracera /
ta figure blanche / retrouvée.

Image: Another Place — photo by Jean Morris, 2007

This entry is part 30 of 34 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

It was raining in London – serious rain with fast-flowing gutters and burst water mains – and I’d stopped serially internet-dating “Other-American” poets in order to hang out for a while with Jacques Brault. Both of these are from his first collection, Mémoire (1965).

abstract black-and-white photo of water by Jean Morris

Nameless

Here on the streets the water wails its old lament
Seagulls crash-land

I do not know your name know nothing any more
All these human shapes barely floating now in the gutters
Fingernails marred by eyelids
Smiles in the hollow of a groin
Jumbled faces in old windows

So many dead unadorned unlabelled
Melting in the sweet water
April casts its light and shadow on their graves

Water mingles our little hopes
Mutely agile not a bubble or an eddy
A volley of laughter rains down on the streets
Oh watery folly

The water’s soft lament against the tide of time
This murmuring of pale lips this wrinkling of old skin
All those who leave here are undone

And you scattered to the four winds
You whom I seek among these long tresses swept towards the sewers

But water runs its own business in its own way
A fine embroiderer of death’s complex designs
Water sews and re-sews a lovely length of fabric
As it flows


Anonyme

L’eau dans la rue se plaint d’une vieille plainte
Où se cassent des mouettes d’eau

Je ne sais ton nom je ne sais plus
Tant de formes humaines à peine coulent encore dans les caniveaux
Doigts à l’ongle embué de paupières
Sourires au creux de l’aine
Visages disjoints de vieilles fenêtres

Tant de morts sans collier ni bannière
Fondent en la douceur de l’eau
Avril sur les tombes met une ombre de lumière

L’eau raccorde les petits espoirs
Agile et muette et sans bulles ni remous
Une volée de rires qui s’abattent dans la rue
O folie de l’eau

La plainte de l’eau tout bas à contre-courant de l’heure
C’est un murmure de lèvres blanches un froissis de vieilles peaux
Tous ceux-là que s’en vont se défont

Et toi éparse çà et là
Toi que je cherche parmi les cheveux qui s’allongent vers l’égout

Mais l’eau mène bien son ouvroir et sa façon
Brodeuse fine des morts aux dessins compliqués
L’eau coud et recoud fait une belle étoffe longue
Et coule

abstract black-and-white photo of water by Jean Morris

Like All Those Others

You are the one invented by my gaze
like the shape of an ink blot on paper
and I am unafraid to speak my love
for you the way you are just as I fashion you
as my hands find themselves again upon your body
and the greedy expectancy of every day
the annunciation of a world scarcely beginning
the gestures of morning on a street corner
that snatch at a vagabond’s one instant of light
and this folly of feeling like your newest unborn child
I love you like all those others yesterday tomorrow
still learning this old refrain learning it always
I love you in the future wind in the rubble of fear
love you in the little life of hair curlers
love you in these paltry ecstasies these meagre glories
love you alone and abandoned by myself


Comme tant d’autres

Ton être que j’invente du regard
comme une tache d’encre sur le papier
je n’ai pas peur de nommer mon amour
tu es comme je t’aime telle que je te fais
avec mes mains retrouvées sur ton corps
et l’espérance goulue de chaque jour
l’annonciation d’un monde qui commence à peine
le geste du matin au coin de la rue
qui reprend à la rôdeuse un instant de lumière
et cette folie d’être en toi un nouvel enfant à naître
je t’aime comme tant d’autres hier demain
cette vieille rengaine je l’apprends encore je l’apprends toujours
je t’aime dans le vent du futur dans la pierraille de la peur
je t’aime dans la petite existence en bigoudis
je t’aime dans les pauvres extases dans les chiches gloires
je t’aime seul et déserté de moi-même

(translation of Rebecca T. Añonuevo’s “Sa Diin”)

For what is a chair
if no one shall sit?
For what is the pencil
if no one writes?
For what purpose is a book
that no one will open?
For what is a song
no voices will make soar?
For what is a tug of war
when no one is left to pull the rope?

For what is to own land
if one is driven away?

For what is the grain
if no one is filled?
For what are the fields
if they are watered with blood?
For what is the fine woven cloth
when the wearer has been destroyed?
For what purpose is the Maker
when all the nurtured are gone?
What use is the poem
to those sprawled on the ground?

Diin

Para saan ang silya
kung walang mauupo?
Para saan ang lapis
kung walang magsusulat?
Para saan ang aklat
kung walang magbubuklat?
Para saan ang awit
kung walang iilanglang na tinig?
Para saan ang banlak
kung wala nang hihila sa lubid?

Para saan ang sariling lupa
kung mauuwing bakwit?

Para saan ang bigas
kung walang mabubusog?
Para saan ang bukid
kung dugo ang pandilig?
Para saan ang tabih
kung wakwak na ang magsusuot?
Para saan si Magbabaya
kung naubos na ang inaruga?
Para saan ang tula
para sa nakabulagta?

11 Setyembre 2015
#StopLumadKillings

Rebecca T. Añonuevo is a poet, educator, translator, and the author of six collections of poetry in Filipino, all of which have won prizes from the prestigious Don Carlos Palanca Awards for Literature; as well as National Book Award citations and nominations. She is the Philippine recipient of the 2013 S.E.A. Write Awards from the Royalty in Bangkok, Thailand. Rebecca and Luisa have previously collaborated on poetry translations (Filipino-English, English-Filipino).

(translated from poet Rebecca T. Añonuevo’s “NALIPATÁN,” 7 September 2015)

What humanity forgot,
the sea remembered.
It cradled the young,
delivered them to dreams.
Sky beneath the water,
playmates of prismed fish.
Coral that rippled
as if with laughter.
Dimpled calves in the gaps
that may have tickled the soles of their feet.
All creatures large and small,
living in each other’s midst
released from fear and war.
The waves have rescued the innocent
that they might no longer wake
to the cold stones, the earth’s
indifferent kiss at the edge
of the shore.

*

NALIPATÁN
Rebecca T. Añonuevo

Ang nalipatán ng tao,
Naalala ng dagat.
Idinuyan ang musmos,
Ihinatid sa panaginip.
Langit sa ilalim ng tubig,
Mga kalarong isda, sarikulay,
Mga korales na umiindak
At naghahalakhakan,
Mga binti ng pugitang
Nangingiliti ng talampakan.
Malalaki’t maliliit na nilalang,
Na nabubuhay sa isa’t isa,
Malaya sa pangamba at digmaan.
Iniligtas ng alon ang walang muwang,
Nang hindi na magising
Sa malamig at mabato, malayong-loob
Na paghalik ng lupa sa dalampasigan.

7 Setyembre 2015

This entry is part 29 of 34 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Jacques BraultBelow is a short translation of an extract from Visitation, a long poem in French by the Quebecois poet, essayist, novelist and translator Jacques Brault. The trajectory of his work has a particular resonance for a translator and for readers in translation. Born (1933) and raised in Montreal in both financial poverty and what he experienced as linguistic poverty and disenfranchisement, he militantly embraced the cause of a separatist, francophone Quebec, but the output of his long writing life also reflects a journey first into the riches of his own language and thence into a broader, cosmopolitan consciousness, which has involved him in translation and transnational/translingual collaborations. A recurring image in his poetry is that of the street corner, the intersection of writing and other art forms, of life and language, language and language, self and others.*

I’ve been reading Jacques Brault’s work while trying to formulate a few thoughts about the pleasure of translating some poetry for the Poetry from the Other Americas project. And about my surprise, because I’d only rarely written poetry myself and had stoutly maintained that only poets should translate it. Even greater surprise that it led to writing a few poems of my own: the patient exercise of translating a poem mobilises the relevant muscles, I suppose. Like many, I’m often too speedy and compulsive a reader to fully appreciate poetry, fret against slowing down enough, going deep enough. Translation is an exceptionally close kind of reading. It makes you slow down a lot, read and re-read a poem over a considerable time. This concentrated, fierce encounter with words is rewarding, and I’d encourage fellow sceptics to have a go. If you don’t think of yourself as someone who writes poetry, but do know more than one language, translation might prove to be a way in. It might even lead you to the puzzling, scary but alluring place Jacques Brault describes here:

 

          But I don’t know don’t know any more if I should speak or keep silent let the waters flow or plunge myself into them forget myself in the moment of turning down this street or inhabit myself down to the bone down to the cry

          Tell me do you know you who listen to me watch me do you know what it is that I don’t say won’t ever say so there it is between us like a night falling and hiding us in darkness

          In a low voice lower your voice I beg you come closer let your breath touch my ear it makes a sound I had forgotten the human voice

          Or je ne sais pas je ne sais plus s’il faut parler ou me taire laisser les eaux couler ou me rouler en elles m’oublier dans l’instant qui tourne le coin de la rue ou m’habiter jusqu’à l’os jusqu’au cri

          Dis le sais-tu toi qui m’écoutes et me regardes le sais-tu ce que c’est que je ne dis pas que je ne dirai jamais et c’est là entre nous comme un soir qui tombe et nous oscurcit

          À voix basse baisse la voix je t’en prie approche et que ton souffle me touche à l’oreille cela fait un bruit que j’avais oublié la parole humaine

 

* I found out about Jacques Brault from Sherry Simon’s absorbing book, Translating Montreal.

This entry is part 28 of 34 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Michel Garneau

Emily’s fans are everywhere (and thank you, US blogger friends, for making me one). See Dave’s recent translation of Alejandra Pizarnik’s “Poema para Emily Dickinson”. The prolific Quebecois poet, dramatist, performer and broadcaster Michel Garneau (b. 1939) published this long poem in 1977 and followed it in 1981 with his play Émilie ne sera plus jamais cueillie par l’anémone, wherein Emily’s life is transposed to a setting in Quebec, as were – controversially – his French translations of Shakespeare.

Michel Garneau has often focused on and written in the voices of women. Is it too much to deduce that woman also stands here for Quebec, that Emily is Quebec? Anyway, from this very active, public, male, francophone writer, a poem both bold and delicate that I think holds its own in the context of recent attempts to reassess and de-romanticise the work and life of Emily Dickinson.


Cousin to the squirrels

would we all have made fun
of this little woman drunk on dew
old maid with jam on her mind
hiding literature in her apron?

by the end of her journeying within
she used to stay at the top of the stairs
when
     visitors
     arrived
while
     they would be left
          in the brown shadows
               of the hallway
and
     she
          would
               address them
                    from on high

                    for a few moments
emily
     the lowliest
     of all those present

vibrating
like the string of a kite

and did she ever love a man of flesh and blood
stirring hidden and mysterious
beneath the clothes that were fashionable then?

discreet biographers have suggested
that she died
she died still
died still a virgin

or perhaps she loved a woman
and reading between the lines you might
believe she just touched her hair

she held debates with her very personal god
there among the flowers she called by name
while believing in no names
but those exhaled by the flowers themselves

on rosy-brown butcher paper
and on used envelopes
she made a little note of every nuance
of how everything was part
of an infinite possibility

it took her breath away
when the setting sun
lit up the squirrel’s tail

she breathed as if labouring uphill
with her two narrow little lungs

she listened
to her heart’s gift
to the rhythm
of too great a benefaction:
               her very lifeblood

there in her village
she devoured the whole cosmos
made the best jams
while never telling a soul
that she knew the sacredness of everything
even of evil living as she did
in the dizzy ecstasy
of life’s bounty
that she had no fear
of sorrow
that she never was alone
being both herself
and her own confidante

thistles by Jean Morris

observing the passage of the bee
with his cartload of honey
there in those famous fields
starry with clover
she allowed the heedless thistles
to tear her pretty yellow dress

and if from time to time
she mouthed
a plea for help
at other times
she would weed out despair
with her own fine manners

you see
if you spoke too loudly
in her presence
she would retreat to her room
excusing herself with a small smile

and did she love her own body?
can one really love the whole universe?

the clouds pregnant with chilly peace
took refuge in the grass

the song of the nighthawk echoed around
then lost itself in the surface of the leaves

the bobolink sang just for her
and often she would thank him
for staying close
often she wrote his name
I hear her saying it softly
over and over
as she swept up the tiniest trace
of the bobolink’s pale dust
     bobolink bobolink

emily had little learning
emily isn’t in the know
emily had no opinions
only revelations

clearly though she knew she saw
she heard with such exquisite pleasure
truly tasted and was luminously
touched by everything she felt

she knew only
streams and ponds
the very thought of a raging flood
ravaged her heart

naïve was emily
naïve as the devil
and supremely skeptical

with more sweetness than wisdom
she passed the afternoons
her heart stirred
by the wildest of hopes
like the first railway engine

beneath eyelids
as wilful as
the rampant clover
she always had plans
for tomorrow
subtle as the night

I turn my own sunseeking heart
towards the clarity of her questions
her eternal september
and I hear the little scholar of the garden
murmuring among our own lilacs
in that mossy musical way she had
that wonderment is not exactly knowledge
but work is easy
when the soul is at play

emily
smallest
in the house

I learn from her learn from her sweetness
to read the hillsides one syllable at a time

delicate and free in my own house
delicate and free in this
rainbow-hued drama of ours

when death prowled among the trees
she offered him a cup of tea
knowing full well
that death did not drink tea

and on that sombre evening
when death finally
overcame her
with what good grace
she must have offered him her life


Cousine des écureuils

chacun de nous s’en serait moqué
de la petite ivrogne de rosée
vieille fille aux yeux de confitures
cachant la littérature dans son tablier

à la fin de son périple dans l’enracinement
elle restait en haut de l’escalier
quand on
          la
          visitait
     ils
          demeuraient
               dans l’ombre brune
                    du vestibule

et
     elle
          leur
               parlait
                    d’en haut

                    quelques instants
emily
     la plus humble
     de toutes présentes

vibrait
comme une corde de cerf volant

elle a aimé des vrais hommes en chair
bougeant mystérieusement cachés
dedans des habits à la mode de ce temps

il est suggéré dans des livres polis
qu’elle jusqu’à la mort
était jusqu’à la mort
vierge jusqu’à la mort

elle a aimé une femme peut-être
et en lisant bien il est possible
de croire qu’elle a touché ses cheveux

elle se querellait avec son dieu très personnel
parmi les fleurs dont elle murmurait les noms
sans jamais croire que rien était nommé
autrement que dans le seul sens de la fleur du souffle

sur le papier rose-brun du boucher
et sur les vieilles enveloppes
elle notait légèrement les toutes nuances
de toute son appartenance
à l’immensité possible

elle perdait le souffle
en voyant le geste du soleil
enflammant la queue de l’écureuil

elle respirait comme une colline
avec deux petits poumons étroits

elle écoutait
le don du coeur qu’elle avait
à même le rythme
du trop immense cadeau :
               le sang vivant

elle a mangé le cosmos
dans un village
et faisait les meilleures confitures
sans jamais dire à personne
qu’elle savait que tout est sacré
même le mal par ce qu’elle vivait
dans la jubilation vertigineuse
du respire-cadeau
et qu’elle ne connaissait pas
la peur d’être triste
et qu’elle n’était jamais seule
puisqu’elle était emily
et la confidante d’emily

en regardant passer l’abeille
dans sa carriole de miel
elle laissait dans la galaxie
du champs de trèfles célèbres
les craquias innocents grafigner
sa belle robe jaune

si elle murmurait parfois
une journée
au secours
une autre journée
elle sarclait le désespoir
proprement avec ses belles manières

voyez-vous
si on parlait fort
en sa présence
elle montait à sa chambre
en s’excusant d’un petit sourire

je ne sais pas si elle aimait son corps
est-ce qu’on aime vraiment l’univers

les nuages infestés de paix frileuse
se retiraient dans l’herbe

le chant de l’engoulevent piquait l’écho
et s’allait perdre dans les pores des feuilles

le bobolink chantait pour elle
elle le remerciait souvent
de chanter près d’elle
en écrivant son nom souvent
et j’entends facilement
répéter doucement
en balayant un presque rien
de poussière blonde de bobolink
     bobolink bobolink

emily n’était pas très connaissante
emily n’est pas au courant
emily n’avait pas d’opinions
rien que des illuminations

c’est clair qu’elle savait qu’elle voyait
qu’elle entendait délicieusement
qu’elle goûtait vraiment qu’elle touchait
lumineusement qu’elle sentait

elle ne connaissait
que ruisseaux et étangs
et le mot maelström
lui serrait le coeur

elle était naïve emily
naïve comme le diable
et parfaitement sceptique

plus douce que sage
elle traversait des après-midi
avec une émeute dans le coeur
et un espoir farouche
comme les premières locomotives

sous les paupières
volontaires comme
la santé des trèfles
elle avait toujours des projets
pour demain
subtils come la nuit

moi je tourne mon cœur tournesol
vers la clarté de ses questions
et de son septembre éternel
j’entends la petite bachelière du jardin
murmurer dans nos lilas
avec une musicienne parlure de mousse
que s’émerveiller n’est pas précisément connaître
mais que c’est facile de travailler
quand l’âme joue

emily
la plus petite
dans la maison

doux d’elle j’apprends d’elle
à lire les syllabes des collines

délicatement libre dans ma maison
délicatement libre dans le drame
couleur de l’arc dans le ciel

quant la mort rôdait autour des arbres
elle lui offrait le thé
et elle savait très bien
que la mort n’aime pas le thé

et au soir sérieux
quand la vraie mort
l’a envahie
elle a dû gentiment
lui offrir sa vie

This entry is part 27 of 34 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Juana de IbarbourouSuccessful from early in her writing career, ceremonially baptised “Juana de América,” and once popular way beyond her own country and continent, the face of Juana de Ibarbourou (1892-1979) is on thousand-peso notes in her native Uruguay, but she seems no longer to be as well known internationally or as much published in translation as one might expect. Read more (if still frustratingly little) about her on Wikipedia.

Surfing through online poetry sites, skittering through countries and centuries, pulling out a few – not necessarily the most representative – poems that grab me and having a bash at translating them, is an ahistorical and superficial approach, perhaps. But it’s a bit like being an inexperienced prospector panning for gold – and finding it. The second of these poems, Bajo la Lluvia, is set to join my all-time favourites.


What I Am for You

           A doe
eating fragrant grass out of your hand.

           A dog
that follows everywhere in your footsteps.

           A star
twice as bright and sparkly just for you.

           A spring
rippling snake-like at your feet.

           A flower
whose honey and whose scent are yours alone.

For you I’m all of these,
I gave you my soul in all its guises.
The doe, the dog, the heavenly body and the flower,
the living water flowing at your feet.
           My soul is all
           for you, my
           Love.

Lo que soy para tí

           Cierva
que come en tus manos la olorosa hierba.

            Can
que sigue tus pasos doquiera que van.

            Estrella
para ti doblada de sol y centella.

            Fuente
que a tus pies ondula como una serpiente.

            Flor
que para ti solo da mieles y olor.

Todo eso yo soy para tí,
mi alma en todas sus formas te dí.
Cierva y can, astro y flor,
agua viva que glisa a tus pies,
            Mi alma es
            para tí,
            Amor.


Being Rained On

How the rain is sliding down my back!
How it’s soaking into my skirt
and planting its icy cold on my cheeks!
It’s raining, raining, raining.

And I’m off, I’m on my way,
with a lightness in my soul and a smile on my face,
with no emotions, no dreams,
just full of the pleasure of not thinking.

Here’s a bird taking a bath
in a muddy puddle. Surprised by my presence,
it pauses… looks me in the eye… feels like we’re friends…
We’re both in love with sky and fields and wheat!

Then the startled face
of a passing labourer with his hoe on his shoulder
and the rain is drenching me in all the scents
of October hedges.

And, soaked to the skin as I am,
a kind of wonderful, stupendous crown of crystal drops,
of flowers stripped of their petals,
pours over me from the astonished plants I brush against.

And I feel, in this mindless,
sleepless state, the pleasure,
the infinite, sweet, strange delight
of a moment’s oblivion.

It’s raining, raining, raining,
and in my soul and in my flesh, this icy cold.

Bajo la lluvia

¡Cómo resbala el agua por mi espalda!
¡Cómo moja mi falda,
y pone en mis mejillas su frescura de nieve!
Llueve, llueve, llueve.

Y voy, senda adelante,
con el alma ligera y la cara radiante,
sin sentir, sin soñar,
llena de la voluptuosidad de no pensar.

Un pájaro se baña
en una charca turbia. Mi presencia le extraña,
se detiene… me mira… nos sentimos amigos…
¡Los dos amamos muchos cielos, campos y trigos!

Después es el asombro
de un labriego que pasa con su azada al hombro
y la lluvia me cubre de todas las fragancias
de los setos de octubre.

Y es, sobre mi cuerpo por el agua empapado
como un maravilloso y estupendo tocado
de gotas cristalinas, de flores deshojadas
que vuelcan a mi paso las plantas asombradas.

Y siento, en la vacuidad
del cerebro sin sueño, la voluptuosidad
del placer infinito, dulce y desconocido,
de un minuto de olvido.

Llueve, llueve, llueve,
y tengo en alma y carne, como un frescor de nieve.


The Fig Tree

Because she’s rough and ugly,
her branches uniformly grey,
the fig tree moves me to pity.

At my country place are a hundred lovelies,
bushy plum trees,
upright lemons,
shiny-leaved orange trees.

Every springtime,
clothed in blossom,
they crowd around the fig tree.

Poor thing, how sad she looks,
with her twisted, truncated branches
that never sport tight little buds…

That’s why
each time I’m near her
I murmur, summoning
my sweetest, blithest tones:
“the fig tree is the loveliest
of all the orchard’s trees.”

And if she hears me,
if she understands my words,
what a deep sweetness will make its nest
in her sensitive tree-soul!

Perhaps, in a trance of pleasure,
while the wind fans her topmost branches,
she’ll tell the night:

Today I was called beautiful!

La Higuera

Porque es áspera y fea,
porque todas sus ramas son grises,
yo le tengo piedad a la higuera.

En mi quinta hay cien árboles bellos,
ciruelos redondos,
limoneros rectos
y naranjos de brotes lustrosos.

En las primaveras,
todos ellos se cubren de flores
en torno a la higuera.

Y la pobre parece tan triste
con sus gajos torcidos que nunca
de apretados capullos se visten…

Por eso,
cada vez que yo paso a su lado,
digo, procurando
hacer dulce y alegre mi acento:
«Es la higuera el más bello
de los árboles todos del huerto».

Si ella escucha,
si comprende el idioma en que hablo,
¡qué dulzura tan honda hará nido
en su alma sensible de árbol!

Y tal vez, a la noche,
cuando el viento abanique su copa,
embriagada de gozo le cuente:

¡Hoy a mí me dijeron hermosa!

This entry is part 26 of 34 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Alejandra PizarnikI’ve long admired the writing of Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-1972), but her mastery of the short poem has become an especially important inspiration for me in the past two and a half years since I began my Pepys Diary erasure project, as I’ve struggled to make whole-seeming poems with very few words. During this same period, a new Pizarnik translator has appeared on the scene, Yvette Siegert. Her translations of El infierno musical (A Musical Hell, New Directions, 2013) and Árbol de Diana (Diana’s Tree, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2014) are so perfect, I almost didn’t bother attempting any of my own translations from those collections. But finally I couldn’t resist, telling myself it would be a worthwhile exercise to deliberately make my versions as different from hers as I could, since of course there’s never such a thing as a definitive translation. Nevertheless, I still think hers are better in every instance. (Check out her essay “Forgetting Language: Translating Diana’s Tree.”) As for my other translations below, they too should be left in the dust in two months’ time, when Siegert’s translation of all of Pizarnik’s middle and late poems, Extracting the Stone of Madness: Poems 1962 – 1972, is due out.

Somewhat shockingly, this will be, as the publisher (New Directions) notes, “The first full-length collection in English by one of Latin America’s most significant twentieth-century poets.” For those who have some Spanish, there’s a generous selection of Pizarnik poems at a website devoted to poètes maudits: Escritores Malditos. (Pizarnik certainly deserves inclusion in such a gathering, especially since Rimbaud and Lautréamont were among her biggest influences.) Finally, for anyone with even a passing interest in Latin American literature or the relationship between writing and mental illness, let alone the background and tumultuous life of a great poet, I highly recommend the award-winning documentary Alejandra, by Argentine filmmakers Ernesto Ardito and Virna Molina. It tells Pizarnik’s story through interviews with her sister, her biographer, and various friends and lovers as well as through excerpts from her diary, letters and poems. It’s a highly poetic documentary in the way it was written and shot, and is simply an outstanding film in every way (except for the English translation in the subtitles, which is slightly dodgy in places).

 

from Tree of Diana (Árbol de Diana)

(5)

for one minute of fleeting life
the only one in which eyes are open
for one minute of seeing
small flowers dance in the brain
like words in a mute person’s mouth

por un minuto de vida breve
única de ojos abiertos
por un minuto de ver
en el cerebro flores pequeñas
danzando como palabras en la boca de un mudo

(16)

you’ve built your house
you’ve put feathers on your birds
you’ve struck the wind
with your own bones

alone you’ve finished
what no one began

has construido tu casa
has emplumado tus pájaros
has golpeado al viento
con tus propios huesos

has terminado sola
lo que nadie comenzó

(23)

a glimpse from the gutter
can become a complete worldview

rebellion consists of gazing at a rose
until your eyes are reduced to dust

una mirada desde la alcantarilla
puede ser una visión del mundo

la rebelión consiste en mirar una rosa
hasta pulverizarse los ojos

(29)

for André Pieyre de Mandiargues

We live with one hand on the throat here. Those who used to invent the rains and spin words from the torment of absence already realized that nothing is possible. That’s why their prayers had the sound of hands in love with fog.

Aquí vivimos con una mano en la garganta. Que nada es posible ya lo sabían los que inventaban lluvias y tejían palabras con el tormento de la ausencia. Por eso en sus plegarias había un sonido de manos enamoradas de la niebla.

a André Pieyre de Mandiargues

(1962)


Poem

for Emily Dickinson

On the other side of the night
her name is waiting for her,
her surreptitious urge to live—
on the other side of the night!

Something cries in the air;
sounds are sketching out the dawn.
She ponders eternity.

Poema

para Emily Dickinson

Del otro lado de la noche
la espera su nombre,
su subrepticio anhelo de vivir,
¡del otro lado de la noche!

Algo llora en el aire,
los sonidos diseñan el alba.
Ella piensa en la eternidad.

(1965)


Clock

Miniscule lady
tenant in the heart of a bird
she goes out at dawn to pronounce a single syllable
NO

Reloj

Dama pequeñísima
moradora en el corazón de un pájaro
sale al alba a pronunciar una sílaba
NO

(1965)


Like Water Over a Stone

whoever goes back to pursue a former pursuit
night closes over her like water over a stone
like air over a bird
like two bodies closing to make love

Como agua sobre una piedra

a quien retorna en busca de su antiguo buscar
la noche se le cierra como agua sobre una piedra
como aire sobre un pájaro
como se cierran dos cuerpos al amarse

(1968)


Vertigos, or Meditation on Something that Ends

The lilac sheds its leaves.
It falls away from itself
and conceals its old shadow.
I should die from things like this.

Vértigos o contemplación de algo que termina

Esta lila se deshoja.
Desde sí misma cae
y oculta su antigua sombra.
He de morir de cosas así.

(1968)


The Musical Inferno

They beat with suns

Nothing connects to anything else here

And with so much dead animal in the graveyard of my memory’s pointed bones

And with so many nuns like crows flocking in to peck between my legs

I’m broken by the weight of these shards

Tainted dialogue

A desperate dice-throw of verbiage

Liberated in herself

Sinking like a ship into herself

El infierno musical

Golpean con soles

Nada se acopla con nada aquí

Y de tanto animal muerto en el cementerio de huesos filosos de mi memoria

Y de tantas monjas como cuervos que se precipitan a hurgar entre mis piernas

La cantidad de fragmentos me desgarra

Impuro diálogo

Un proyectarse desesperado de la materia verbal

Liberada a sí misma

Naufragando en sí misma

(1971)

This entry is part 25 of 34 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Anne BrunelleA really neat piece by Anne Brunelle. Quite tricky in places with the tension between the literal & the dreamlike nature of memory, so I’d welcome suggestions for improvement.

Anne Brunelle is a poet & novelist, born in Montreal in 1956. Published in many journals & with two collections out.


Reunions

blood-gold reflections of the kir
in the milky half-light
of a storm in apostrophes
gouts of mustard
on our forks of broken sticks

the swarm of babbled memories
buzzing through the dialogue
barely concealing the startled joy
of our vigilant bodies

an arabesque of pointillist brush-strokes
between the watercress beds
and the saffron of your eye

flash
an old man busy on the pavement
pushing flakes with slow strokes of his broom
restrained

the candle snickers
our bubble reforms
your lips against my palm
sew the stitches of our reunion
whispering a picture clear and open
out of the incarnation
of a still unconsummated desire.

:::

Retrouvailles

reflets d’or sanglant du kir
dans la demi-nuit laiteuse
d’une tempête en apostrophe
éclats de moutarde
sous nos fourchettes à bâtons rompus

la nuée de souvenirs babillards
effleure le dialogue
dissimule à peine l’euphorie étonnée
de nos corps à l’écoute

arabesque de frôlements pointillistes
entre le lit de cresson
et le safran de ton oeil

flash
un vieil homme s’affaire sur le trottoir
dissémine à lents coups de balais
flocons et modestie

la chandelle ricane
notre bulle se reforme
tes lèvres sur ma paume
ourlent la saveur de nos retrouvailles
murmurent un portrait ouvert
sur l’incarnation
d’un désir toujours vierge

TROIS, volume 14, numéro 1, p. 136 (1999).

This entry is part 24 of 34 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Yves PréfontaineQuite a challenge, this one. It’s always a delicate balance that has to be maintained between ‘translation’ and ‘version’ so I shall be interested in any feedback from other Francophones.

I found a brief biog of Yves Préfontaine at the Electronic Poetry Centre (which, incidentally, opened for business way back in the mid ‘90s when there was virtually no poetry presence on the internet at all).

Born in 1937 in Montréal, poet Yves Préfontaine is an anthropologist by training. He published his first poems at the age of fifteen and released his first collection at twenty. At eighteen, he began his career as radio script writer at Radio-Canada, with some incursions into television. He organized, amongst other things, a series of fourteen shows with Oscar Peterson, the great jazz pianist – who was also originally from Montréal. In 1959, he co-founded the journals Situations and Le Québec libre; later he joined the editorial board of Liberté, of which he was the editor-in-chief from 1961 to 1962. […] His poems have been translated into English, Spanish, Hungarian, Italian, Romanian, and Croatian.

Read the rest.


Population void

I live in a region where the cold has beaten down the grass, where grey gloom lies heavy over the ghostly trees.

I live in silence amongst a dormant population, shivering under the frost of their words. I live amongst a people who have lost all words both fragile and forceful.

I live inside an all-embracing cry –
Speechless stone –
Sudden clifftops –
Naked blade in my chest in winter.

A snowdrift of exhaustion gently stifles this land in which I live.

And I prevail within the fog.
And I persist in speaking out.
And from my pain no echo returns.

A people’s language is their bread.
A small substance amongst the rotting wheat.

I live amongst an uprooted people.
And the spreading fields of their joy wither beneath this endless tundra
This great disowned abundance.
I live inside a cry powerless now to pierce, to strike, to knock through
these barriers of spittle and masks.
I live amongst a phantom people cast out like an ugly daughter.
And my footsteps mark a circle in this desert. A tirade of furious white faces surrounds me.

The land that I inhabit is a marble tableau under ice.
And this land empty of the men of light whispers in my blood
like a lover.
But I fight against this absence between my teeth, a poverty of words
that scintillate and then are lost.

:::

Peuple inhabité

J’habite un espace où le froid triomphe de l’herbe, où la grisaille règne
en lourdeur sur des fantômes d’arbres.

J’habite en silence un peuple qui sommeille, frileux sous le givre de ses mots. J’habite un peuple dont se tarit la parole frêle et brusque.

J’habite un cri tout alentour de moi –
Pierre sans verbe –
Falaise abrupte –
Lame nue dans ma poitrine l’hiver.

Une neige de fatigue étrangle avec douceur le pays que j’habite.

Et je persiste en des fumées.
Et je m’acharne à parler.
Et la blessure n’a point d’écho.

Le pain d’un peuple est sa parole.
Mais point de clarté dans le blé qui pourrit.

J’habite un peuple qui ne s’habite plus.
Et les champs entiers de la joie se flétrissent sous tant de sécheresse
Et tant de gerbes reniées.
J’habite un cri qui n’en peut plus de heurter, de cogner, d’abattre
Ces parois de crachats et de masques.
J’habite le spectre d’un peuple renié comme fille sans faste.
Et mes pas font un cercle en ce désert. Une pluie de visages blancs
Me cerne de fureur.

Le pays que j’habite est un marbre sous la glace.
Et ce pays sans hommes de lumière glisse dans mes veines comme
Femme que j’aime.
Or je sévis contre l’absence avec entre les dents, une pauvreté de mots
Qui brillent et se perdent.