Late last week I thought I had finished up my Women In Translation posts, with my review of “Why I Killed My Best Fried”, however in Friday night’s mail delivery three slight collections of poetry in translation arrived…just in time for the weekend.
The collections are published by Periscope a “new imprint from A Midsummer Night’s Press, devoted to poetry in translation into English.” As their website says:
“This name reflects how, just as a periscope lets us see around corners, translation allows us to see between languages,” explains publisher Lawrence Schimel, “even if there is not always a straight line of sight, as if often the case when translating poetry, where the translator must often recreate a metaphor or meaning in the target language.”
This collection seeks to focus especially on those voices which often find it much harder to be translated, especially into English. Schimel explains that for its initial titles, Periscope has focused on women poets who have published at least two books in their own languages but have not yet had a translation into English.
According to the Translation Database compiled by translation publisher Open Letter Books, over the past two years only around 26% of the translations published in the US were by women authors. (And needless to say, poetry represents only 15-17% of translated titles in this same two-year period.)”
The first three titles were released in November 2014, “One Is None” by Kätlin Kaldmaa (translated from the Estonian by Miriam McIlfatrick-Ksenofontov), “Anything Could Happen” by Jane Putrle Srdić (translated from the Slovenian by Barbara Jurša), and “Dissection” by Care Santos (translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel). I’m going to briefly review all three works, each book running to forty odd pages, they are quite easily read in a single sitting.
Kätlin Kaldmaa’s “One Is None” opens with the section “None”, a sunrise, a poem about her Bosnian lover and then a declaration of love:
From “declaration of love”
and i want to keep you amid all the world’s madness, and i
want you to accept me as i am, workaholic and always away,
and to be here when i get back, and to wait for me and call
me and ask if i’ll be home soon, and if i want something to
eat when i arrive, and i want the dullest life in the world, to
go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time,
and tell you every day “shush now”, when instead of
sleeping you talk and talk nonstop, and get up when you
can sleep no more and rustle around next door, and listen
to your dreams, and let you read mine, with no hope of
their coming true, and i want to feel how you brush my
neck with your hand when you pass the writing table, and
hear how you half laughingly curse your colleagues at the
other ends of the world, and i want you never to have to leave,
always and only to come, i want to argue with you about our
children’s names and nationalities.
The section “None” follows, which actually appears in the book as “
NONE”. We move to a hatred of falling on love, and endless list of lovers all over the planet, includes the relentless snow and timelessness in Iceland, and we have references to Estonia being the last on a list of “developed countries”.
This is a work that explores identity, what is it to be Estonian? Or Icelandic? Or Bosnian? German? Swiss? How can people from these war torn countries live in exile? Each one of the “lover” voices in the poems reveal a little about these countries and the formed views from their culture, Bosnian facing war through to the Swiss who hasn’t experienced anything like that and naively wants to change the world to a “Swiss” view.
The only common bond is love, with sex being an amusing outcome. Playful and engaging language made me read these poems with a smile of my face, an ephemeral questioning of identity, nationality and patriotism.
If you would like to read more about Kätlin Kaldmaa, (as per all of the poets in this collection) she is interviewed at the Huffington Post here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/julie-r-enszer/poetry-in-translation-a-conversation-with-katlin-kaldmaa_b_6097122.html?ir=AustraliaHer interview ending with the very poignant question and answer:
Enszer: Is there anything else that you would like the English-language audience to know about your work?
Kaldmaa: Read more literature in translation! I grew up on literature in translation and I still read more foreign literature than Estonian. There are less than a million of us, so there’s not enough writing power to fill the needs of this particular reader. That is one of the reasons why I love English language – thanks to this language I can read so many books I couldn’t otherwise. Read literature in translation. Read literature in translation. Thank you!
Jane Putrle Srdić’s “Anything Could Happen” also features relationships and opens with a poem that needed to be written to explore her relationship; the poem doesn’t end as she thought it would!
The apocalyptic “Air Cage” talks of birds falling from nests or has us dying whilst caged, humanity needs a better connection to nature, we need to prioritise and follow our desires as our time is coming to an end. There are poems dedicated to the creation of poetry, as Srdić explains in her interview at Huffingtton Post, poetry “is a sudden shift in understanding how things and events are interconnected. How thought works on different levels. The same action can be concrete and abstract; can happen in the human and the animal world.” This concept very much brought to the fore with a poem that mixes the embarrassment of littering with the boredom of sex in the work “I forgot my panties in that apartment with shelves of wooden veneer”.
From “Explorers Wonder”
Things used to be simple:
if you were slow, some beast would eat you.
The quick sometimes fell off the edge.
Today I’m safely surrounded by walls of books,
most unread. Each is a new world
that opens into even more unknown
ones and makes me feel discouraged.
We also have the exploration of language and the difficulty of conversing if you’re from two different regions. Jane Putrle Srdić’s interview can be read here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/julie-r-enszer/poetry-in-translation-a-c_1_b_6107194.html?ir=Australia
“Dissection” by Care Santos is probably the most accessible of the three works, with the prose style , quite readily recognisable. As a novelist she writes “in both Catalan and Spanish, and for both adults and young readers, Care Santos she is the author of over 40 books in different genres, including novels, short story collections, young adult and children’s books, etc. Her most recent adult novel Desig de xocolata, won the 34th Ramon Llull Prize.” Her works have appeared in French, German, Greek, Dutch, Italian, Norweigan, Portuegese, Romanian, Swedish, Polish and Hebrew and independent publisher Alma Books has released her novel “Desire For Chocolate” in June this year (translated by Julie Wark).
Her book opens with “Self Portrait” a poem where her soul is bared to the reader from the moment you open the work:
From “Self Portrait”
Of love, it’s better not to say anything:
there is nothing more useless on this earth
than what we can’t keep.
So that the only thing I have
is my tenacity to join, night and day,
one word to the other.
With them I shape sentences
which in turn form paragraphs
that in their turn are stories,
but it is something that many are able to do,
perhaps better than I do.
Or with greater success.
So here I am.
I am thirty six.
I’m not good for anything.
This is a work of a woman scorned, an unloved woman, and one who needs to forget. Although this is possibly the most “accessible” of the three works the final book in the collection is the opposite of the searching for love in the other two works and leaves quite vivid images of an emotionally scarred woman lingering long after you’ve read the final poem. Santos’ interview can be read here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/julie-r-enszer/poetry-in-translation-a-c_2_b_6107228.html?ir=Australia
A wonderful collection of translated poetry and A Midsummer Night’s Press is to be commended for bringing these works into English, as if there isn’t enough Women In Translation available in the prose sections of your bookshop, you can just imagine the very very limited amount available for poetry. You can purchase these books online at http://amidsummernightspress.com/WP/category/titles/periscope/for US$25 for all three book. A thank you to the publisher too for sending these postage free to Australia, most appreciated.