Categories
poetry

Freedom Day

Freedom Day!

Sweat at the club

against all the other

unvaccinated or semi-vaccinated youths,

but don’t go to France

unless you have ten days to spare afterwards,

because the Beta variant

that makes up three percent of cases

will get you

(including those islands

in the middle of the Indian Ocean

that we’d never even heard of

until last week).

Maybe we’d never even heard of them

because they’re not as troubled as Madagascar-

maybe they have roads

but no lemurs to film.

Maybe they’re not as rich as the Seychelles

or the Maldives

the island paradise(s)

oases

full of tiki huts

and smiling locals

grateful for your money

oh, so grateful-

as they pile the debris

of your single-use plastic

water bottles and sun cream

onto an island in the middle of the sea

to burn

out of sight, out of mind.

No, the Beta variant is dangerous,

oh, so dangerous,

we say

with no hint of irony

that we gifted the world Alpha

incubated Delta

then unleashed it on Europe

harbingers of doom

from our rocky little isle.

Maybe nobody looked at those figures-

Reunion Island is an insignificant speck, after all.

A speck that nobody checked.

Are we still supposed to believe

that any one of them knows

or has ever known

what they were doing?

Doesn’t it all feel like politics to you?

Point-scoring like Eurovision,

dick-swinging like Brexit

with a touch of European Championship machismo:

“You’re high-risk”

“You’re higher-risk”

“No, YOU’RE higher risk”

UK-vaccinated passengers avoid quarantine.

Yes, you heard that right, UK-vaccinated

even though it’s the same stuff.

Our airports would be overwhelmed, they say,

we wouldn’t be able to cope

we’re actively working on a solution

but we expect that Brits can

go off to Benidorm and Kos

and cook themselves

a fetching shade of lobster pink

while we turn our nose up at

EU QR codes

and airlines are gasping

absolutely gasping

for footfall.

Categories
poetry

Haiku for May Day

Heavy cloud cover

a cold that sits on the skin

waiting for summer.

Categories
poetry Translations

Finding Voice: Eimear MacBride’s ‘A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’

Another writing exercise to do with finding the voice in a text (and making it our own) came in two stages. The first was to copy out a section of the page with no punctuation at all. Then, we had to take ourselves away from the original text completely and read it to ourselves, looking for the natural breaks and patterns our mind would reorganise the text into. Then, we rewrote the text in free verse with our own punctuation and line breaks. I’ve added or taken away a few words and phrases in the process to streamline my poem.

The original, taken from the first page of MacBride’s highly experimental novel:

I wrote out the first two paragraphs completely without punctuation:

For you you’ll soon you’ll give her name in the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say mammy me yes you bounce the bed I’d say I’d say that’s what you did then lay you down they cut you round wait hour and day walking up corridors and stairs are you alright will you sit he says no I want she says I want to see my son smell from Dettol through her skin mops diamond floor tiles all as strong all the burn your eyes out if you had some her heart going pat going dum dum dum don’t mind me she’s going to your room see the Jesus what have they done Jesus bile for tidals burn shhhh all over mother she cries oh no oh no no no

And turned it into a free verse poem:

For you,

you’ll soon,

soon give her name in the stitches

and folds of her skin.

She’ll wear them,

and you’ll say:

“Mammy, me?”

and I’ll say:

“Yes, you.”

“Bounce the bed,” I’d say.

I’d say that’s what you did

when you laid down

and they cut you round.

I waited hour and day,

walking up corridors and stairs.

“Are you alright? Will you sit?,” he says.

“No, I want,” she says,

“I want to see my son.”

The smell from the Dettol leaking through her skin

mops diamond floor tiles,

as strong as the burning in your eyes.

If you had some-

her heart going

pat

going

dum dum dum.

“Don’t mind me.”

She’s going into your room

she sees the Jesus.

“What have they done?”

Jesus, bile

for the tidal’s burn

which creeps softly

like Dettol down the throat-

shhhhh.

“It’s all over, Mother,” she cries,

“Oh, no. Oh no no no…”

Categories
Prose Translations

‘River’: A Creative Translation Project

This is a start of a collaborative project working from Carol Ann Duffy’s poem, ‘River’. It’s a translation chain, which means that, as the first link in the chain, I have translated Duffy’s original poem into German, providing a back-translation in English and a commentary. The next person in the chain will work from either my German text or my English back translation, and so it goes on, until eventually, everyone on our course has made a contribution. How exciting!

Here’s my response:

Fluss

Bei der Biegung des Flusses

fängt die Sprache an, sich zu ändern,

ein unterschiedliches Geplätscher,

sogar ein unterschiedlicher Name für den gleichen Fluss.

Wasser überquert die Grenze,

übersetzt sich,

aber die Wörter stolpern und fallen noch zurück.

Und da, am Baum genagelt, gibt es Beweise.

Ein Wegweiser in neuer Sprache,

barsch am Baum.

Ein Vogel, nie vorher gesehen,

singt von einem Ast.

Eine frau auf dem Pfad bei dem Fluss wiederholt ein komisches Geräusch,

um den Vogelgesang nachzuahmen,

und seinen Namen danach nachzufragen.

Sie kniet sich hin für eine rote Blume,

pflückt sie,

später wird sie es vorsichtig zwischen den Seiten eines Buches pressen.

Was würde es dir bedeuten,

wenn du mit ihr dort sein könntest,

deine eigene Hände im Wasser baumelnd,

wo blaue und silberne Fische über Steinen hinwegflitzen,

Brocken, Kiesel, Schotter,

wie die Bedeutungen von Wörter,

einfach verschwinden.

Es fühlt sich so an als ob sie schon irgendwoander ist,

hochgradig,

einfach wegen Wörter;

sie singt laut ihren Unsinnsgeschnatter,

und lächelt und lächelt.

Wärst du wirklich dort,

was würdest du auf einer Postkarte schreiben?

Oder in den Sand kritzeln,

in der Nähe von wo der Fluss ins Meer fließt?


Back-Translation into English

By the bend of the river,

starts the language, to change itself,

a different babble,

even a different name for the same river. 

Water crosses the border,

translates itself,

but the words stumble and fall still back.

And there, nailed at the tree, there is evidence.

A  signpost in new language,

harsh on the tree.

A bird, never before seen,

sings from a branch.

A woman on the trail by the river repeats a strange sound,

to imitate the birdsong,

and to ask his name after.

She kneels down for a red flower,

picks it,

later she will press it carefully between the pages of a book.

What would it mean to you,

if you could be there with her,

your own hands dangling in the water,

where blue and silver fish flit away over stones,

boulders, pebbles, gravel,

like the meanings of words,

simply disappear.

It feels as though she is already somewhere else,

intensely.

Simply because of words;

she sings her nonsense-chatter loudly, 

and smiles and smiles.

If you were really there,

what would you write on a postcard? 

Or scratch into the sand,

close to where the river flows into the sea?


Original: Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘River’

At the turn of the river the language changes,
a different babble, even a different name
for the same river. Water crosses the border,
translates itself, but words stumble, fall back,
and there, nailed to a tree, is proof. A sign


in new language brash on a tree. A bird,
not seen before, singing on a branch. A woman
on the path by the river, repeating a strange sound
to clue the bird’s song and ask for its name, after.
She kneels for a red flower, picks it, later
will press it carefully between the pages of a book.

What would it mean to you if you could be
with her there, dangling your own hands in the water
where blue and silver fish dart away over stone,
stoon, stein, like the meanings of things, vanish?
She feels she is somewhere else, intensely, simply because
of words; sings loudly in nonsense, smiling, smiling.


If you were really there what would you write on a postcard,
or on the sand, near where the river runs into the sea?


Commentary: ‘Fluss’

In my translation of ‘River’ into German, I decided to focus more on playing with the format other than the words themselves. My initial rough draft was a lot of fun to produce because I ironed it out over a Zoom call with my German partner, looking for grammatical errors and any clumsy word choice or formulations. This was my first attempt at ever translating a poem into my second language, so I enjoyed the collaborative aspect of asking a native speaker’s advice.

I think the drafting process is a really important aspect of translation that, unfortunately, often becomes invisible by the publishing phase or the final version. We delete and type over our process, but I think the process should be celebrated just as much as the finished product. Here, I’ve used scans of my initial draft as a background to my translation to highlight the fact that all translation is a palimpsest. We work over and over our initial ideas. 

I have played with a few aspects of the words, but my main focus here was creating something visual. I printed out my final version and cut the lines into strips, arranging them in waves on the page. I then overlaid the poem with my own biro doodles and used watercolour brush pens to add a splash of colour.

When it comes to language, I have changed Duffy’s reference to ‘things’ in the third stanza to ‘words’, as I disliked the vagueness of ‘things’ and enjoyed the focus of this poem on translation and language. I’ve made up a word in German: ‘Unsinnsgeschnatter’ (nonsense-chatter) cannot be found in any dictionary, but German is intensely malleable and flexible, inviting the writer to neologism. The new word caused Jannis, my co-editor, to break out in a smile, and I don’t think this poem wants to be taken too seriously.

 In the final stanza, I’ve added the verb ‘kritzeln’ (scratch) to accentuate the image of writing into sand, and Duffy’s use of ‘clue’ as a verb in the second stanza has been replaced by ‘nachahmen’ (to imitate/mimic), as I thought this suited birdsong very well. ‘Clue’ (Hinweis) as a verb (hinweisen) would have taken on a whole different meaning in German, as it means something more like ‘to indicate’, or ‘to point something out’ instead of ‘to figure something out’, which is what I think Duffy intended here, although I cannot be sure. I also really enjoyed the beat the introduction of ‘nachahmen’ created across these two lines, with the threefold repetition of ‘nach’.

Categories
poetry

The Disappeared

What if,

there were an entire world for

all the little things we lose in life.

A parallel universe,

so to speak.

Imagine,

all the bobby pins, hairbands, lighters, odd socks, lipsticks and biros,

slipping through the looking glass

onto a mountain of rubble

in a distant corner of the Universe.

But look closer and see

all you’ve lost

existing in space and time.

A testament to the consumer age

languishing in the dust.

Think of that next time

you rummage in your sock drawer

desperately looking for the accomplice

you know has disappeared,

or searching through your bag:

you know there’s a hairband in there,

there always is,

or should be.

But you must sweat today,

the hair clinging to the nape of your neck.

After all,

life is too short to match socks

to find hairbands

or to finish a lipstick

or a lighter

or a pen.

Categories
poetry

Oh, Frozen Peas!

I’m having a lot of fun riffing of the tomato puree idea this week, delving into childhood memories to exult everyday food items.


Oh, frozen peas!

I think of you now,

crisp green gems languishing

in frigid depths.

Be careful now,

jiggle tentatively,

the stiff drawer creaks and sighs,

If my band has come loose,

or my twist not quite

twisted enough, then

lift cautiously,

or I may gush

my numbing life blood

over the kitchen floor

or in the drawer

forever more-

we’d rather forget.

The sharp, tinkling pour,

bullets hit the bottom

of the enamelled mug,

clink, clink, clink.

A jewelled sea floor

a pebbled layer

misting in the humid air

of the kitchen.

You hand mug and contents

to the eager child

lurking by the door,

conferring this treat.

She sits in front of the TV

enjoying her prize:

frozen peas.