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Balkan Poetry Today, 2017 edited by Tom Phillips (Red Hand Books)

Balkan Poetry Today, 2017 edited by Tom Phillips (Red Hand Books)

In his editorial comments at the opening of this first issue of a new magazine, Balkan Poetry Today, Tom Phillips stakes out his purpose with clarity and determination:

Balkan Poetry Today is not designed to be a comprehensive survey. Nor is it a ‘greatest hits’ package. Not every country in SE Europe, not every language spoken there is represented in this issue (although many are) and readers already familiar with those few poets from the region who have been translated into English may wonder at some of the more notable absences. This, though, is a magazine, not a representative anthology, and our policy has simply been to publish the best work which we have been sent or otherwise come across rather than to fulfil the more ambitious task of charting an entire region’s poetic output.”

This is the beginning of an adventure and it carries with it the momentum of a serious journey. That setting of keel to breakers reminds me a little of J.H. Prynne’s ‘Tips on Translating Poems (Into or Out of English)’ which he wrote in Cambridge a little over ten years ago. The last of the 24 tips pointed to the importance of recognising that no translation work is ever fully completed since there “can never be a best or a right solution”. He reminded his readers that the best kind of poetical translation of a poem is another poem, “without any didactic extras” so that the reader “will be rewarded by enjoyment of a good poem which gives a strong experience of its foreign original”. Prynne concluded that this was the aim of all poetical translation and that it allowed the efforts of the translator “to bring very real benefit in understanding between cultures”.
This last point is one which was highlighted by Ana Martinoska in her introduction to the 2011 Arc publication of an anthology of Six Macedonian Poets in which she commented that “there are no nations or literatures that are small, insignificant or culturally less important than others” and that every culture and genre “should be presented to a broader audience without hesitation or fear of marginalisation”. Prynne’s last comment in his tips was “Translation is noble work!” and Martinoska referred to the translation of poetry as being “one of the best forms of cultural representation, as mediation among languages and nations, cross-cultural and inter-cultural communication bringing the world closer together, both in time and space”.
With this last statement in mind it is refreshing and heartening to read Tom Phillips’s words:

“It is, of course, conventional for any publication with the term ‘Balkan’ in the title to attempt a definition of the region. BPT has adopted a rather loose one with blurry edges – and one which includes the various and not inconsiderable Balkan diasporas. We are, in fact, pretty much leaving it to the poets themselves to decide whether they identify themselves as Balkan or not and to define where the cultural, geographical and linguistic boundaries lie. In practice this means that in this issue you’ll find work by a Romanian poet who writes in Czech, a Bulgarian who lives in Slovakia and a Croatian who writes multilingual poems in Croatian, French and English. In future issues we hope to publish work in transnational languages like Roma and Vlach. We use the word ‘Balkan’ in the broadest possible sense and with no intention of suggesting that ‘Balkan poetry’ exists as a single, homogenous entity.”

This first issue of an exhilarating new journal is sheer delight and one of the first poems that drew my attention immediately was ‘Private lessons in May’ by Aksinia Mihaylova (translated by Roumiana Tiholova):

“I’m trying to teach you the Cyrillic alphabet of scents:
that the geranium on the balcony across the street
is more than a mere geranium,
that the linden tree in June
is more than a mere tree,
but we aren’t making progress fast enough.
Your thumb is following the candle shadow
that the wind is making tremble on the open page,
as if drafting mobile borders
between you and me,
as if to protect you,
as if you are that boy,
who once lost his watercolours
on his way home from school,
and who’s still painting
the lost sky of his childhood and the hills
in the same colour.”

In 1923 William Carlos Williams had been convinced that “so much depends / upon // a red wheel / barrow // glazed with rain / water // beside the white /
chickens”. Wallace Stevens was to refer to those words as a “mobile-like arrangement” and Hugh Kenner suggested that they dangled in equidependency, “attracting the attention, isolating it, so that the sentence in which they are arrayed comes to seem like a suspension system.” The delicate movement in Mihaylova’s poem traces the act of translation itself, the spaces between one mind and another in a world of “mobile borders”.

Balkan Poetry Today is available in a limited edition print version via the Red Hand Books website: http://www.redhandbooks.co.uk/ and an e-book version will be available soon.

In a world of narrowing confines this new journal is refreshing: it opens doors on each page.

Ian Brinton 30th July 2017

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XENIA by Eugenio Montale Translated Mario Petrucci (Arc Publications)

XENIA by Eugenio Montale Translated Mario Petrucci (Arc Publications)

Montale’s sequence of twenty-eight poems written in response to the death of his wife in 1963 has, naturally enough, been compared to the Poems of 1912-13 written by Hardy after the death of Emma. Regarding those earlier responses to profound loss Mario Petrucci suggests that the Italian poet thought that the section from Satires of Circumstance was “one of the summits of modern poetry”. The comparison is interesting and F.R. Leavis referred to it in some detail in his recognition of the “direct simplicity of personal feeling” relating the two poets. In his introduction to G. Singh’s translation of Montale’s New Poems Leavis went on to question this simplicity in terms of the impersonality of art:

“Now I think that great art is necessarily impersonal, and that the true creative impersonality is what we have in the poignancy, the profound movingness, of Xenia…For a major poet such as Montale is, poetry is one’s profoundest response to experience. The theme of Xenia is as central, important and moving as any human theme can be, and the reticence it requires of the poet is not a refusal to recognise the full nature of what, intimately for him as a sufferer, it in reality portends; but the contrary.”

Leavis discusses the central idea of how can an “actual pondered sense of irrevocable loss” be defined and communicated and the derivation of that word irrevocable pushes us forward to think of how a voice of a “Woman much missed” can “call to me”. Leavis is not alone of course in recognising the appropriateness of a connection between Hardy’s poems, subtitled as Veteris vestigia flammae, and Montale’s elegiac words for his little Mosca. But he is perhaps unusual in his awareness of what Donald Davie also noted about Hardy’s Victorian diction and the quality of those elegies to the memory of Emma that took the poet beyond the world of the technician, “the laureate of engineering”:

“…a direct simplicity of personal feeling certainly relates the two poets…Montale is immensely more subtle, more supple and more diverse than Hardy. The fact is apparent at once in the texture (hardly a felicitous metaphor – but what better is there?) and the nervous life of their verse. Hardy had to fight an unending battle against Victorian ‘poetic diction’, and the evidence of it is there in the handful of his major victories…Montale, on the other hand, is, as poetic ‘practitioner’ (to use Eliot’s favoured term), clearly a master of living – that is, today’s spoken – Italian.”

Hardy’s yearning to create a bridge between the Now and the Then, to give voice to the irrevocable, leads Leavis to “recognise that she [Emma] exists only as posited by the poet’s nostalgic intensity”: she is the woman with whom he was in love forty years ago. “But Mosca in Xenia is the highly individual woman apart from whom daily life was inconceivable until the catastrophe of her loss, and is almost inconceivable now”. Almost…and yet Montale’s achievement is to make her “so compellingly actual” in the “evoked day-to-day ordinariness”.
I possess no great facility with the Italian language and my reading of translations of Montale’s work is dependent upon my sense of trust in the way in which they present themselves. Let it be clear: I think that these new poems by Mario Petrucci are remarkable in the way that they capture a profound response to experience. The translator’s introduction makes it clear to us that he knows very well indeed what is involved in this subtle and complex work:

“The familiarities of a shared life are allowed to brim but never to spill over, as they might under less dextrous or more assertive hands, into sentimentality. Those details, things as things in themselves, contain the emotion.”

William Carlos Williams would have course have recognised the centrality of this awareness of the ordinary out of which our lives are composed and Petrucci highlights for us how “Around household bric-a-brac and household oddments – a telephone bill, old books, his (as he elsewhere puts it) totem of a rusty shoehorn – Montale constructs a humble reliquary of loss”. As a translator Mario Petrucci presents a firm method of approach:

“I should add that I skirted, initially, the Matterhorn of Montale commentaries, not wishing to commence Xenia in the boa grip of academic conclusions or with that pressing sense of an author’s sanctified objectives. This might seem cavalier, even heretical, with someone as elusive and allusive as Montale can be; but it paid the language, as well as the poet, a different sort of respect. It allowed a fresh and unencumbered approach, one that (for all its dangers) facilitated a certain freedom to express and reinterpret the spirit of the verse. I was able to come to textual insights in my own way rather than second-hand.”

I find this focus upon the translator as reader and literary critic admirable and the living quality of the result is there for all to see.

“At the Saint James, Paris, I’ll request
a single room. (No love lost there
for the uncoupled client). So, too,
in the mock Byzantium of your
Venetian hotel; then quick on the scent
of those friends of yours in their
switchboard hutch; only to start
again, my clockwork charge all spent,
with that longing to have you back if
only in some gesture, or knack.”

The power of Hardy’s Poems of 1912-13 is held in the architectural magnificence of a structure such as the opening stanza of ‘The Going’:

“Why did you give no hint that night
That quickly after the morrow’s dawn,
And calmly, as if indifferent quite,
You would close your term here…”

And the musical yearning, the echo, is caught then with the rhyming “Where I could not follow / With wing of swallow” before the last line draws out as the vibrant ‘g’ sounds merge into open air:

“To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!”

Petrucci’s Montale attempts a more matter-of-fact record of loss:

“No glasses, nor antennae,
poor insect – such wings
you possessed only in fantasy –
a bible broken and much less
believable, this night-blackness,
a flash, a clap and then
no – not even the squall. Perhaps
you never left so soon without
speaking? Though it’s laughable
to consider you still had lips.”

For anything equivalent to Mario Petrucci’s Xenia we must turn perhaps to Simon Marsh’s STANZE (c.f. my review from 7/3/16) to read

“you promised me Dante after supper
the circumstances no longer exist
only changes in air scent
intensely captured light
page-bound radiance of individual days
when we last scooped vacant autumn oysters
from low tide silt at Minnis Bay”

And, as if to bring some wheel round full circle, I am delighted to announce Riccardo Duranti’s translations of Marsh’s poems into Italian, a versioni italiane, published by his own Coazinzola Press which has also just produced a beautifully presented version of John Berger’s Collected Poems available from http://www.coazinzolapress.it

As this moment of the year’s turning let us raise a glass not only to the fine poets, whose sensitivity to what they read and experience makes their publications so worthwhile, but also to their publishers such as Arc (www.arcpublications.co.uk) and Coazinzola.

Ian Brinton 30th December 2016

Unknown Translations by Tom Phillips (www.scalino.eu)

Unknown Translations by Tom Phillips (www.scalino.eu)

I recall reading a poem by Tom Phillips titled ‘Wearing Thin’. It was published in a fine collection, Recreation Ground, put out in 2012 by Peter Robinson’s Two Rivers Poets and it opened with movement:

‘Going home, with decisions unmade
and threats of further paperwork,
you’re jostling for position
at a crossing point, taking
the lights’ delay as a reluctance,
the pavement for a starting grid.
As if the whole town could do its best
to hold you back.’

A similar restless journeying also leads the reader through this hauntingly beautiful new mindscape which Tom Phillips has translated from the Bulgarian originals written by Tom Phillips! When J.H. Prynne gave his speech in 2008 at the First Conference of English-Poetry Studies in China on the topic of the difficulties of translation he quoted John Keats’s comment ‘I think Poetry should surprise by a fine excess’ before going on to add

‘I think that the excess he had in mind was to run past the normal bounds and limits, in making new combinations of words and thoughts that draw the reader into new kinds of pleasurable excitement. In a more technical way we can acknowledge that unfamiliarity plays an important part in pattern-recognition, and we can ask how this feature gains its effect. If two words are placed together that are not normally associated as from the same field of reference or meaning, a kind of semantic spark or jump may be created that is intensely localised within the continuity of the text process: it may be a kind of “hot spot” that burns very bright but which the reader can quite quickly assimilate within the larger patterns of composition.’

This placing of words together, prompting a brightness, is there within the pages of this new publication by Tom Phillips and his introductory note draws us into a world where language seems washed clean:

‘I started writing the poems in this book in Bulgarian because I wanted to practise a language that I have been studying since my first visit to Sofia in 2013. While I was learning vocabulary, noun by noun, verb by verb, adjective by adjective, I would find myself repeating seemingly unconnected series of words – “room”, “confused”, “hungry”, “flowers”, “silently” – and these sometimes came to suggest situations and images or at least to forge unexpected connections in my mind.’

Phillips continues by reminding us that it is very easy ‘to become trapped in your own voice, to repeat the things which have worked in the past, and pushing at the boundaries of your comfort zone – by, for example, attempting to write in a language whose traditions and riches you’re only just beginning to appreciate – is one way of finding an escape route’. To an extent he lets ‘language take the lead…’.
Unknown Translations, new journeys, are threaded with present participles: ‘children playing / by a war memorial’, ‘walking along the pavement, / past the market’, ‘in the park, the dogs are walking / like old men’. At the same time Phillips is fully aware of those trammels which recur and that ‘Purity / is only an instant of being’ (Olson). We carry our pasts like mollusc shells closely attached to us and ‘approach / a possible fate / under magnificent architecture / which the lightest breeze / can destroy’ (‘Old Directions’). That earlier poem from Recreation Ground concluded

‘As red turns to green,
you’ve almost reached the other side
before you’re pulled up short
by a misread fashion headline:
‘You Are What You Were’.’

The opening poem in this new collection offers ‘Sunlight in March’:

‘It’s clear to me that
in an unknown town,
I met another life
suddenly, unexpectedly,
like sunlight in March.’

Newness of both language and geography reveals a map of an unknown town and ‘then took me home’.

This is a refreshingly original little volume of poems and I recommend you to get hold of a copy before the poet melts back into Bulgaria.

2nd October 2016

Long Poem Magazine Issue 15, ed. Lucy Hamilton & Linda Black Sure Hope 1, ed. Joseph Persad

Long Poem Magazine Issue 15,  ed. Lucy Hamilton & Linda Black  Sure Hope 1,  ed. Joseph Persad

In The Pavilion Hotel, 37 Leinster Gardens, London W2, Ken Edwards gave an interview on 15th February 1995 in which he talked about the world of poetry and the world of poetry magazines. Reality Studios had a ten-year lifespan and Edwards made it clear that he was interested in questioning the ‘basis of belief and acceptance of what writing is’.

‘So that is what I was trying to do in the magazine’.

Ken Edwards also made it clear that he did not want the magazine ‘to have a dogmatic line on anything, because I do not feel I have one…The thing is when you edit a magazine, people do come to you with preconceived notions of what you are doing, like if you publish soandso’s poetry, therefore you support this line and therefore soandso must be an enemy. Unfortunately, poetry is riddled with this kind of factionalising.’ One year later Iain Sinclair’s anthology Conductors of Chaos appeared and his introduction emphasised those points in vivid language as he suggested that poets ‘are a quarrelsome bunch; dealing with them is like dipping an arm into a sack of vipers’. In terms of the publication of an anthology (and the same could be said of a magazine) they demand ‘Who else is involved’.

This month two magazines have appeared and in their different ways they are exemplary in showing how the best can be achieved. Long Poem Magazine has been running for a few years now and it is produced with care and style. The editors, both poets in their own rights, were able to announce in the opening pages of this recently published issue that LPM has been awarded ‘an Arts Council grant to fund issues 15 and 16’. They also presented a clear sense of their own purposes as editors:

‘Since LPM’s inception, we have striven to publish an equal proportion of women to men, and to foster a sense of literary community and engagement across languages, cultures and countries—publishing translations from nine languages to date, with a tenth in the pipeline.’ The range of poetry is eclectic as work by the Russian of Anatoly Movshevich (translated by Peter Daniels) brushes shoulders with that of Philippe Jaccottet (translated by Ian Brinton) and the ‘Extracts from Uruk’s Anthem’ by Adnan al-Sayegh, translated by Jenny Lewis, are simply outstanding. I am reminded here of the published letter of Jeremy Prynne to Andrew George concerning the latter’s Penguin translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh in which he congratulated the translator on his ability to present ‘with great clarity and force… a poem of tremendous nobility and passion, evidently linked by many threads to the social structures of governance and adventure among men who still felt themselves close to the world of an elaborate pantheon of gods and supernatural agencies, but also displaying deep powers of psychological insight and human character and interaction’. To listen to Adnan al-Sayegh reading from his contribution to LPM at the launch was to be stilled for a moment, to be caught in a web of interwoven histories.
Submissions can be sent via http://www.longpoemmagazine.org.uk

Sure Hope 1 is a delight to read and its editorial note looks forward in the very best sense. As its title suggests it is here to stay for a while.

Sure Hope is a magazine of the arts, fairly convinced that writing, radically considered, remains an optimized framework for investigating the continued possibilities of hope, invisibility, equality, expansion, space, history, love…..It is hoped readers will enjoy what is presented, observing that these contents look out to broad horizons of conversation, life, and argument…’.

The range of contributors is impressive as Ian Patterson and Anthony Barnett rub shoulders with Justin Katko and Sophie Seita; Lisa Jeschke & Lucy Beynon appear along with Ian Heames and Luke Roberts. From the migrant camps of Calais we can read Harry Soolia as he chalks up the ‘intelligent and deliberate manipulations of opinions / tintin’s tears dripping from the feed’. This new magazine is worth supporting and submissions can be sent to troposphereeditions@gmail.com

Ian Brinton 23rd May 2016

Spaces for Sappho by Kat Peddie (Oystercatcher Press)

Spaces for Sappho by Kat Peddie (Oystercatcher Press)

Post-Poundian-Ppppsappoppo

The fourth chapter of Hugh Kenner’s masterful The Pound Era is titled ‘The Muse in Tatters’ and it focuses on fragments of Sappho as presented through the mid-Victorian bluster of Swinburne, the Georgian tushery of Richard Aldington (via Prof. Edmonds) and the Poundian engraving of ‘Papyrus’:

‘Spring………
Too long……
Gongula……’

When Pound wrote to Iris Barry in the summer of 1916 he complained of the ‘soft mushy edges’ of British poetry (‘We’ve been flooded with sham Celticism’) and suggested that the whole art could be divided into:

a. concision, or style, or saying what you mean in the fewest and clearest words.
b. the actual necessity for creating or constructing something; of presenting an image, or enough images of concrete things arranged to stir the reader.

Kat Peddie’s poems leave spaces on the page and only the clearest of words are left as stone markers, memorials, echoing the words that Walter Pater (former pupil of King’s School, Canterbury) wrote about lyricism and loss:

‘Who, in some such perfect moment…has not felt the desire to perpetuate all that, just so, to suspend it in every particular circumstance, with the portrait of just that one spray of leaves lifted just so high against the sky, above the well, forever?’

In Peddie’s ‘105a [for Page duBois]’ this idea becomes ‘The poem is the absence of an apple / anakatoria’.

To place greater emphasis upon this fragmentary world of concision one might turn up Swinburne’s early poem ‘Anactoria’ with its epigraph of lines from Sappho. My copy of this poem covers ten pages and the opening lines sound hollow some twenty years after Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’:

‘My life is bitter with thy love; thine eyes
Blind me, thy tresses burn me, thy sharp sighs
Divide my flesh and spirit with soft sound,
And my blood strengthens, and my veins abound.
I pray thee sigh not, speak not, draw not breath;
Let life burn down, and dream it is not death.’

Lines from Kat Peddie’s fragment ‘6’ are worth considering here:

‘Consider Helen [whose beauty outshone all]
sailed from country
husband
parents
children to
follow hers

some men say
without a thought I think
of Anaktoria gone
her walk
her face outshines armour’

The echo of Eliot’s echo of Dante is there immediately with the dramatic command ‘Consider’. Eliot used the word to remind the reader of Phlebas ‘who was once handsome and tall as you’ while Odysseus, in Inferno XXVI, used the word ‘Considerate’ as a reminder to his ill-fated crew that they owed it to themselves and their heritage to pursue the paths across the ocean. Kat Peddie’s Spaces for Sappho are dedicated ‘for & from Anne Carson’ and the Canadian poet’s rendering of the Sappho fragment reads

‘For she who overcame everyone
in beauty (Helen)
left her fine husband

behind and went sailing to Troy.’

Peddie’s Helen ‘outshone’ all others rather than ‘overcame’ them and this is woven seamlessly into the reference to Anaktoria whose ‘face outshines armour’ as amor vincit omnia. The sense of loss in Peddie’s poem is held, for a moment, with that pause between ‘I think’ and the new line’s opening ‘of Anaktoria gone’. Swinburne wouldn’t have been able to resist a capital letter for that little word ‘of’. With a recall of the absent figure of Anaktoria what is remembered first is ‘her walk’ (after all that is what takes her away) and then her face, presumably turned away, which ‘outshines’ the clothing she wears, leaving a glimmering behind her for the reader to ‘Consider’.
At the beginning of this handsome new Oystercatcher Peddie gives a short lesson on pronunciation:

‘Today, in English, she [is] all soft sibilants and faded f’s, but in fact she is ‘Psappho’. In ancient Greek—and indeed in modern Greek—if you hear a native speaker say her name, she comes across spitting and popping hard p’s. Ppppsappoppo. We have eased off her name, made her docile and sliding, where she is really difficult, diffuse, many-syllabled, many-minded, vigorous and hard’.

Kat Peddie’s versions of Sappho are both hard-edged and personal; they are full of meetings, as are Eliot’s poems, and partings as both poet and reader ‘seem to our / selves in two / minds’.

Ian Brinton 6th January 2016

SNOW 3 Spring 2015, edited by Anthony Barnett & Ian Brinton

SNOW 3 Spring 2015, edited by Anthony Barnett & Ian Brinton

SNOW 3 is a cornucopia of international delights and quite unlike any other UK literary review. There are translations, musical scores, drawings, writing paintings, original poetry and prose, essays, extracts and stills from Rei Hayama’s film, The Focus, based upon a Nathaniel Hawthorne story, extracts from the correspondence between the Dutch writer, Cees Nooteboom, and Anthony Barnett, sketches by Harold Lehman, and a photographic essay on the artists and musicians at the Grand Terrace Cafe, Chicago, in early 1941.

The poetry translations include Simon Smith’s Catallus, Emilia Telese’s Erika Dagnino, and Barry Schwabsky’s Pierre Reverdy. Anthony Barnett translates the poetry and prose of Gunnar Ekelöf. Christina Chalmers and Concetta Scozzaro translate Andrea Zanzotto’s essay ‘Infancies, Poetries, Nursery’, Ian Brinton translates Philippe Jaccottet on Francis Ponge, Jørn H. Sværen translates his own prose from the Norwegian. Konrad Nowakowski writes on Busoni’s Letter to Verdi and Bridget Penney writes about the literary and artistic connections of Abney Park Cemetery, north London. The original poetry, less than usual, comes from Caroline Clark, Dorothy Lehane, Yamuph Piklé, Alexandra Sashe and John Seed.

This extraordinary mix is beautifully designed and presented by Allardyce, Barnett, Publishers. 14 Mount Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 1HL.

http://www.abar.net

David Caddy 3rd March 2015

Ingrid Jonker’s ‘Die Kind’ / ‘The Child’

Ingrid Jonker’s ‘Die Kind’ / ‘The Child’

Nelson Mandela began his inaugural Presidential address to Parliament on 24 May 1994, speaking about the poet, Ingrid Jonker (1933-1965), as someone who ‘gave us the right to assert with pride that we are South Africans, that we are Africans and that we are citizens of the world.’ He continued in his measured voice and manner that ‘In the midst of despair, she celebrated hope. Confronted with death, she asserted the beauty of life. In the dark days when all seemed hopeless in our country, when many refused to hear her resonant voice, she took her own life. To her and others like her, we owe a debt to life itself. To her and others like her, we owe a commitment to the poor, the oppressed, the wretched and the despised.’ This extraordinary recognition of an Afrikaner poet was followed by a recitation of her poem ‘The child who was shot dead by soldiers in Nyanga’, written in the aftermath of the massacre at the anti-pass demonstration in Sharpeville on 21 March 1960. Violence erupted throughout South Africa. When a black baby was shot dead in her mother’s arms by police in the black township of Nyanga, Cape Town, Jonker was outraged and went to the Philippi police station to see the body. Mandela’s reading, which differs from the 1968 Jack Cope and William Plomer and 2007 André Brink and Antjie Krog translations, manages to get to the poem’s core without embellishment. I have to say that I prefer his version. It is starker and to the point. I suspect that he memorised the poem and deeply felt its impact throughout his legal struggles and subsequent imprisonment.

The child is not dead…
the child lifts his fists against his mother
who
shouts Africa!…

The child is not dead
Not at Langa nor at Nyanga
nor at Orlando nor at
Sharpeville
nor at the police post at Philippi
where he lies with a bullet
through his brain…

The André Brink and Antijie Krog version in Black Butterflies: Selected Poems (Human & Rousseau) is quite different, far more flowery and wordy. The lack of firmness in their version is in stark contrast to Mandela’s more direct and blunt account. Jonker’s audio recordings of this and other poems display a cadenced and musical voice, which Mandela’s English recitation captures more closely in simpler language. It is in the final stanzas that Mandela’s radically different translation hits home hardest. Whereas Brink & Krog translate the original:

Die kind is die skaduwee van die soldate
op wag met gewere sarasene en knuppels
die kind is teenwoordig by alle vergaderings en wetgewings
die kind loer deur die vensters van huise en in die harte van moeders
die kind wat net wou speel in die son by Nyanga is orals

‘The child is the shadow of the soldiers / On guard with guns Saracens and batons / the child is present at all meeting and legislations / the child peeps through the windows of houses and into the / hearts of mothers / the child who just wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga is / everywhere’

Mandela said

the child is present at all assemblies and law-giving
the child peers
through the windows of houses
and into the hearts of mothers
this child
who only wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga
is everywhere

I am happy with Mandela’s omission of a whole line. His version, much closer to Cope and Plomer, cuts to the core and uses the word ‘assemblies’ in terms of both protest and parliamentary gatherings. The poem ends powerfully with the child not needing a pass to be a South African, and it is this that aligned her with the banned Africa National Congress and Pan-Africanist Congress.

The full address is at http://www.sahistory.org.za/article/state-nation-address-president-south-africa-nelson-mandela

Ingrid Jonker, a central figure in the Sestigers group of bohemian poets and writers, petitioned the National Party government in 1963 protesting against its increasing censorship defying her father who was the chief censor. When her volume of poetry, Rook en Oker (Smoke and Ochre) was published in October 1963, Jonker offered to visit her father and bring him a signed copy. He told her to post it, adding that he had no wish to be seen with her in public. Her poem, ‘The child was shot dead by soldiers in Nyanga’, had an immediate galvanising impact. She was indefatigable in her opposition to censorship, the pass laws of apartheid, and decision not to change a word of her poem. She never compromised her thinking.

David Caddy 14th December 2014

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