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Modern Poetry in Translation (Series 3 No.8) Getting it Across

Modern Poetry in Translation (Series 3 No.8) Getting it Across

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Getting it Across has to do with translation in a very fundamental sense: getting yourself across. It features translations, original poems, essays and anecdotes that treat the many ways in which people communicate with one another.

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


• Bernardo Atxaga, two poems, translated by Margaret Jull Costa
• Gabriela Mistral, ‘The Foreigner’, translated by Arthur McHugh
Niyati Keni, Poetry in Four Dimensions
• Helen and David Constantine, A Language without Words
• Alyss Dye, ‘Word Blindness’
• Moniza Alvi, ‘Writing at the Centre’
• Saradha Soobrayen, One Foot in England and one Foot in Mauritius
Oliver Reynolds, ‘Slip’
• Pascale Petit, ‘I was born in the Larzac’
• Annemarie Austin, ‘Dysphasias’
Gregory Warren Wilson, three poems
• Pedro Serrano, four poems from ‘Still Life’, translated by Anna Crowe
• Stephanie Norgate, two haiku versions of Lucretius
Robin Fulton, four poems
• Martha Kapos, two poems
• Carole Satyamurti, three poems
• Harry Martinson, five poems, translated by Robin Fulton

• Jenny Joseph, An essay and five poems, after paintings by Jaume Prohens
• Martti Hynynen, five poems, translated by Mike Horwood
• Lucy Hamilton, extracts from a sonnet version of Lalla Maghnia
• Tsvetanka Elenkova, six poems, translated by Jonathan Dunne
• Tugrul Tanyol, four poems, translated by Ruth Christie
Jane Draycott, a translation of the first two sections of Pearl

• Naomi Jaffa, The Aldeburgh Poetry Festival
Poetry from Aldeburgh
• Taha Muhammad Ali, three poems, translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi and Gabriel Levin

• Michael Hamburger, four poems
• Robert Walser, twelve poems, translated by Michael Hamburger
• Two Memorial Notes on Michael Hamburger
• By Anthony Rudolf
• By Iain Galbraith

• Charlie Louth on Don Paterson, Martyn Crucefix and Rilke
• Belinda Cooke on The Translator as Writer (edited Susan Bassnett and Peter Bush)
• Jo Balmer, Shorter Reviews

Niyati Keni
Poetry in Four dimensions


In the UK, the first records of deaf people using manual signs to communicate date back to the sixteenth century. However, as signers were often geographically scattered, it wasn’t until the nineteenth century, when residential missions for the deaf brought them together in significant numbers, that a national Sign Language began to emerge. In 1880, an international conference of teachers of deaf children met in Milan and voted to ban the teaching of Sign throughout most of Europe as they believed it to be detrimental to the acquisition of spoken and written language in deaf children. The ‘oral’ method of teaching all children, deaf and hearing, remained the standard for almost a century until the late 1970s when it was finally acknowledged that this method was failing large numbers of deaf children who were leaving school with low levels of literacy.
In the latter half of the twentieth century extensive linguistic analysis was conducted on Sign Language (largely with American Sign Language), heralding a change in perception of Sign from a simple gestural code to a rich and expressive language. This, coupled with the general movement for ‘disability’ rights, has led to a shift in consciousness within both deaf and hearing society which has had two important results. Firstly, in the UK, British Sign Language (BSL) was finally recognised as an official national language in March 2003. Secondly, there has been an explosive evolution in Sign arts since the 1960s – notably in areas that have traditionally been considered ‘text based’, such as theatre and poetry.

In order to understand the impact of Sign on such media, it is necessary to examine the characteristics of the language more closely.
Sign languages are unique, in that they are visuo-spatial rather than verbal/auditory. In the UK, Sign is often thought of as simple, pictorial language that is a transliteration of spoken English. In fact Sign is an evolved language not a devised one, with its own very different syntax and grammar. It shows regional variation in the same way that spoken languages do and is rich in visual metaphor, (e.g. ‘ravenously hungry’ is signed as little fish swimming in the belly).
BSL has a much smaller lexicon than spoken English but achieves greater expressivity by modifying individual signs. Though the basis of a given sign is the handshape, the meaning can be altered by the speed, style, location, direction and repetition of the movement as well as by non-manual aspects such as eye gaze, facial expression, mouth shape etc. This mimetic quality of Sign is easily demonstrated. For example, the same verb can be performed lazily, angrily, jauntily, so that a person can amble, stalk or strut where the basic sign is ‘walk’. Nouns can be similarly modified – ‘tree’ is formed by one forearm standing upright, resting on top of and perpendicular to the other forearm, where the fingers are the tree branches. When the upright forearm sways or the fingers wriggle, the tree is depicted in stormy weather.

Oliver Reynolds


In writing the word Fräulein
instead of putting the umlaut
above the a
he had put it above the u

The more she looked
at that double-stroke
above the open letter
the more Freudian it grew

Gregory Warren Wilson
Three Poems

The Opacity of Strangeness

As soon as the April hailstorm ended
my new Somali neighbour
crunched to the middle of his lawn
gathered up a handful of granules
and took them back indoors
. . . to pierce with a hot needle
and thread on fuse wire like seed pearls.

We only ever meet in passing,
choosing limes in the corner shop,
picking over the star anise, deferential
as students at an evening class
practising idioms, turns of phrase
. . . hailstones in the ice-cube tray,
matching pairs like moonstone earrings.

Today, clipping the privet hedge,
I felt his gaze on the nape on my neck,
that subtle sense the hairline has
. . . how would topiary translate?
but the moment I turned he dissolved
like sugar into milk, like shadow into dusk.
Whenever he smiles something escapes me.

Robin Fulton
Four poems

Wood Anemones

Days lengthen, spaces between trees
are wide, long before being filled in.
As if to tremble is to live
windflower petals tremble, half in

half out of last year's grass tangles.
You'd think they'd arrived from far off
before place has been made for them.

They are small voices, are so small
they know they have nothing to say,
are wise enough not to say it.

Each is too white to make much mark
on the spreading landscape, too cool
to give way as far as pastel.

That's the one place in the landscape
where rhetoric is quite absent,
where the landscape if it had things
to say could find ways of saying them.

Words like trout

in glassy pool, abruptly
not-there as I stare at their backs.
I don't own words but I lose them.
Words don't own me but they lose me.

‘Arbitrary’ is a migrant,
erratic, follows no seasons,
most of the time hides somewhere else.
‘Nutmeg’ is wary and jealous.
If ‘Muskat’ comes near me, ‘nutmeg’
gets lost in the air for ages.

They have their habits, belong
(wouldn't they say?) to the Fifth Day,
will inherit the earth when we
step off, not one word in our mouths.