shipwrecks / shelters: six contemporary Greek poets edited and translated by Vana Manasiadis (No. 1) (includes a Greek title) Seraph Press, 2016
osservazioni observations: poesie poems translated by Tim Smith with Marco Sonzogni with a foreword by Alessandro Fo (No. 2) Seraph Press, 2016
Two beautiful handbound chapbooks featuring poems in translation came out towards the end of last year to launch Serpah Press’s new translation series.
Translation is such a fascinating thing to do and to contemplate. I spent a sizeable chunk of my life studying Italian within a university setting; the freight between English and Italian was glorious, mammoth, exhilarating. I remember meeting someone from the Italian consul in my first year of study and having to answer why I had picked Italian. Somehow I managed to find the words to say: ‘Because I want to read Italo Calvino in the original.’ That seemed like a bold and impossible quest at that point in time, but I did get to read him in Italian, along with countless other authors from Dante to Dario Fo to Renaissance poets to a century of women writing fiction.
From my point of view translation offers a ledger of gain and loss. The new version can never capture the aural complexities of the original, but it can offer something that moves the original in astonishing ways (or not!). New windows or booths or swing bridges or lily pads might emerge for the reader to explore.
For decades it has been quite the thing to translate poetry without knowing the original language (check out Anna Jackson’s terrific I, Clodia, and Other Portraits, AUP, 2014). This is where a poet goes freewheeling through available translations to come up with a version that sparks and connects in eclectic ways.
I am picturing all kinds of routes back to the original and what has been upheld – little kernels, chords, motifs, rhymes, feelings, fleeting truths, tiny anecdotes, drifting ideas, sidedrifts.
However, the two Seraph-Press books are translated by those fluent in both languages. Hearing them read (well I read the Italian) side by side at an event in Auckland, I was once again struck by the distinctive musicality. The way our own language works, makes it hard to break out of your mother-music-tongue when it comes to poetry. There is no way English catches the lyrical lilt and lift and rhyme of the Italian. You always get a different melody. Shut your eyes and listen. I felt like I was hearing four musical suites and became captivated by the effect upon my ear.
Musicality aside, it seems there is a vital political imperative to deliver these translations in this trembling world. Vana talked about how important poems are to Greeks at the moment – how there is a flourishing climate of poetry and that it is important to get the poems into the world.
These are poems of disruption, fragmentation, dystopia, departure, maternal folds. I am moved by them. I can’t make head nor tail of the Greek but the poems catch in my throat. Politics infuse each line, you have to look it straight in the eye, and yet there are other rewards. Each poem takes me by surprise. There is light and there is hope.
This is a very lovely book, essential.
This from Lena Kallergi from the ‘Flame Version’ where the dragon that slumbers in the familiar hills might wake, ‘and when she wakes, she’s a searing threat/ to the facts’:
Who said that hope is a bird
humble and small-bodied,
that it nests in hearts and sings sweetly
without asking for food?
From Vassilis Amanatidis’s ‘Mother Country’:
[blindness – homelessness]
To avoid being startled by sight,
the mother has transformed herself into a blind.
Again the maternal imprint that moves; from Phoebe Giannisi’s ‘Chimera’ extract:
I watered you with pomegranate juice
I reared you – with milk, my godly fire
I plunged you inside it
shield your body when you are away from me.