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Modern Poetry in Translation (Series 3 No.2) Diaspora

Modern Poetry in Translation (Series 3 No.2) Diaspora

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Cover by Lucy Wilkinson. Editorial by David and Helen Constantine.


  • Carmen Bugan, an essay and two poems
    Yannis Ritsos, fifteen Tristichs, translated by David Harsent.
    David Harsent, three poems from Legion .
    Goran Simic, an essay and four prose poems.
    Forough Farrokhzad, four poems, translated by Gholam Reza Sami Gorgan Roodi. Marzanna Bogumila Kielar, six poems, translated by Elzbieta Wjcik-Leese.
    Lyubomir Nikolov, six poems, introduced by Clive Wilmer, translated by Miroslav Nikolov.
    Adel Guemar, four poems, introduced and translated by Tom Cheesman and John Goodby, with a note on Hafan Books
    Sandor Mrai, Funeral Oration, translated by George Gmri and Clive Wilmer
    Versions of Ovid's Tristia, by Paul Batchelor.
    Olivia McCannon, three poems.
    Yvonne Green, three poems.
    Ziba Karbassi, three poems, translated by Stephen Watts
    Volker Braun, nine poems, translated by David Constantine.
    Wulf Kirsten, ten poems, translated by Stefan Tobler.
    Knut Odegaard, Taking out the Hives, translated by Kenneth Steven.
    Eugenio Montale, three uncollected poems, translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre.


    Bernard Adams on George Szirtes's Agnes Nemes Nagy
    Paschalis Nicolaou of David Connolly's Yannis Kondos
    Will Stone of Antony Hasler's Georg Heym
    Josephine Balmer: Further Books Received.

    Extract from the Editorial to Diaspora

    Much, though not all, in this issue has to do with what we think of as the hallmark of our age: exile, the search for asylum, the speaking of native languages abroad. But poems by Brecht - leaving Germany for Scandinavia, the Soviet Union and America in 1933 - and by Ovid - leaving Rome for the Black Sea in AD - should site our topic in a long tradition.

    The abundance and variety of material we received for Diaspora was astonishing, heartening and alarming in equal measure. What are you to feel when an Iraqi poet sends you his latest volume - in English - from New Zealand? It seemed we put out a receiver and signals came in urgently from round the globe. We took all we could of the best and most characteristic writing, so assembling a very mixed company, from Sarajevo via Toronto, from Sofia via Baltimore, from Algiers via Swansea.

    Tom Cheesman contributes a note on Hafan Books. They publish, in Swansea, work by asylum seekers from Somalia, Cameroon, Chile, Sudan. They might be set alongside the Mother Tongues issue of MPT as testimony of the packed plethora of voices in the British Isles today. We had no wish to exhaust the topic, which is literally inexhaustible, only to establish it as a fact and a constant presence. This magazine will always be listening for and will try to be a staging post for the world's diaspora. The original application of the word 'diaspora', in the Septuagint, was to the threatened dispersal of the Jewish people: that they should be 'a diaspora in all kingdoms of the earth'.

    In the New Testament, the dispersal, still grievous, has a hopeful colouring too, in that those going abroad will be the carriers of a new faith. The word itself, in its roots, means 'a sowing abroad'. The two senses - exile and seeding - will be obvious in much of the work collected here. Translation itself is an act of beneficent diaspora. It seeds the countries of the world with words from elsewhere. Poetry, even in its native country, is a more or less foreign language, a language of elsewhere. Translation sends it down the tradewinds, lands it anywhere and everywhere, as vital contraband. The translation and dispersal of poetry throughout the world sustains an old ideal of internationalism. It makes for a global solidarity against all the ideologies and globalisations that reduce humanity.

    Poetry is an act of truthful speech, and as such, by nature and context, is intrinsically an act of opposition to the ruling packs of lies. It is subversive because essentially intractable and irreducible. Poetry can't be ordered into place. If it tried to obey, it would lose its soul. It would continue an existence like that of the living dead, whose souls go below at the very moment of betrayal, leaving their bodies to shift on earth a while longer. The Republic of Letters is, in Louis MacNeice's phrase, 'incorrigibly plural'. In its plurality it faces and opposes all fundamentalisms. And it is a republic: it concerns itself with the res publica, with what we have in common and need for our common good. Translators extend the writ of the Republic of Humane Letters.

    From Why I do not write in my native language by Carmen Bugan

    People ask me so often why I do not write in Romanian that I think about it long and hard. First, I do not want to write in the language in which my family suffered interrogations, prison visits, threats of all kinds. I certainly do not want to remember all the times when we wrote to each other and burned our words: we were surveyed twenty-four hours a day for the last five years that I lived in my country and everything we said was recorded by microphones set up around the house. I hated subtexts, lies, the fear of words.

    Now I belong to those people who write in a learned language. And I belong to those who strive to define their responsibilities as people who were born in one country and live quite willingly in another. This might seem to many the kind of thing one 'grows out' of. But the reason why one writes in one's native language, from exile, is that the native language has beauty and truth in it. Poets write in their native language to remember the warmth of their home, the customs of their villages and towns, their happy youth. They want to recreate a sense of home, a warm cocoon around the icy experience of exile.

    But my exile is my cocoon. I like it here in English more than I like remembering kids calling me 'daughter of criminal'; in my native language: that never sounded safe or good or home. When I stopped looking behind my back to see if anyone was following me to harm me, I stopped looking at writing poetry in my native language. I think the poems themselves make my choice seem less harsh or less impertinent. In my situation it is not that bad to be on the side of forgetting.

    From Ziba Karbassi Death by Stoning, translated by Stephen Watts

    Last night wolves were howling
    I heard their voices last night
    they brought me your torn clothes
    the blue shirt your auntie made you
    I wish her dear hand had been
    your blue shirt is red with blood
    and I cannot make out its print
    or pattern

    they said their skirts were filled with stones
    their hands were full of stones, their skirts
    everywhere stones were being rained down
    the world was become a world
    of stone

    I wish
    I wish
    I wish
    your mother were dead
    I wish I were
    your sister's skirts
    are full with blood
    your brother is burning
    the cradle of wood, can't you
    smell the smoke ?
    look, I am not
    scared any more
    the wolf of my fear is hunted
    by the tiger
    of my venom
    and I've become a fire monster
    if I open my mouth
    the whole earth will