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.
Friday, August 26 at 10:30 AM – 11:30 AM Vic Books 1 Kelburn Parade
Come and celebrate National Poetry Day 2016 with Seraph Press Poets & Friends, hosted by Vic Books.
Seraph Press has invited some of their authors, mainly from out-of-town, to join with some of their friends from Victoria University to share their poetry at Vic Books on National Poetry Day 2016.
Sit back with your morning tea from the Vic Books café and spend an hour listening to nine fabulous poets. Featuring Seraph Press poets Paula Green, Helen Lehndorf, Johanna Aitchison, Vana Manasiadis and Anahera Gildea, with friends Amy Leigh Wickes (PhD student), Liang Yujing (PhD student), Marco Sonzogni (programme director of the Italian Programme) and Anne Kennedy (2016 Writer in Residence).
There are gauzy bandages of mist all down the East Cast as far as Bluff
Having to face our own despairs, we moved out onto the promontory
The ship was an illusion, a golden ship and a galleon,so high in the water
He may not be such a beautiful man when he is older, when the bones take over
I’m so glad we went to meet you, little darling, walking towards us through the tussock
Bernadette Hall has published numerous poetry collections with Victoria University Press – books that resonate so beautifully for both ear and heart. Her poems are like intricate lacework. Just gorgeous.
With her latest project, Bernadette was drawn to work with two younger women on a chapbook that drew inspiration from her local mountain, from the stories that have bedded down in the area and in her mind. Helen Rickerby from Seraph Press published the book and poet Rachel O’Neill did the illustrations. Three women walking round a mountain, as Bernadette says.
The poem is like a long poem (around 14 pages) made of drifting pieces, like little dandelion kisses that hit the page and hook you. Settler stories, as Bernadette says. There is the Tangler drifting in at out; an Irish figure, both loner and trickster, who acted as a buyer-seller go-between at the fairs. The poems are the fidgety intermediary between light and dark; the glint of the present and the shadows of history.
‘and she repeats it/ like the blade of light/ that repeats itself’
Reading this is like entering the metaphorical woods, where you get whiffs of story and elsewhere and skimming voices. Mountain as woods. Standing alongside a mountain, walking around that mountain, can be a portal to voice. This is a collection of voice; think of the way you stand somewhere old and it is like you can hear the past.
And in that mysterious pull of voice, you get the hit of physical detail, earthy and grounding.
‘A day of patchy rain – another chink in things’
‘What joy in the new experimental poets – up early throwing stones into the lake’
‘There are gauzy bandages of mist all down the East Coast as far as Bluff’
‘the wounds in the marshland fill slowly with fresh water’
Reading this is magical. The woods are knotty. The mountain is. You can take so many paths, both illuminated and dark.
Helen Rickerby has produced a beautiful hand-bound book with thick paper and an elegant design. The book is a labour of love; picture a sewing circle with stories shared. The limited, hand-numbered edition has virtually sold out but a second print run is in the pipeline.
Rachel O’Neill has produced the most exquisite sequence of drawings that carry their own narrative. Little cross-hatched beauties. Enigmatic. Labour intensive. The hooded-lamp figure connects us to the poems where the little glows are like a unifying thread. The lantern head pulses with meaning. The figure is defined and dependent upon both light and dark in order to exist, in order to comprehend. Again there is the subtle and beautiful link to the poems where the light references rebound. It is as though certain things, whether recalled or invented, are caught in the beam of poet.
This is a very special book.
Bernadette co-founded Hagley Writers’ Institute In Christchurch. She lives at Amberley Beach in the Hurinui in North Canterbury. Bernadette was awarded The Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry in 2015.
Rachel’s debut collection was One Human in Height (Hue & Cry Press). She is a filmmaker, writer and artist.
Seraph Press page
Anahera Gildea, Seraph Press, 2016
Designed and produced by Helen Rickerby of Seraph Press, this is the most exquisite chapbook imaginable. Add the gorgeous paper stock to the extra heavenly endpapers, the hand stitching and an internal design that is elegant and minimalist and you have a rare poetry treat. It is a work of beauty and all poets will be dreaming of their very own chap book. I for one!
Sometimes it is enough
to sit and look out.
Other times you have to walk
across bone, stone and shell.
Anahera Gildea’s poem is written in response to ‘Walk (Series C)‘ by Colin McCahon and is as much for James K Baxter as it is a response to the painting. It is an example of poetry as gift/taonga. Each line carefully stitched like the stitching in the kahu-kuri she makes for Baxter. This poet knows you don’t need many lines on the page to entice a reader to linger. You are walking alongside McCahon’s painting, you are walking along the wild and dark threat and wonder at Muriwai Beach, you are walking the Stations of the Cross and you are walking the poem. It is, for me, a very moving sequence.