Tag Archives: translated poetry

Sunday Poem – Goran Čolakhodžić


Evening all.  I’m writing this at my desk which I still haven’t polished and waxed, although all the tins and cloths are lined up along the windowsill.   Outside the one lonely tree which survived our kill-everything-in-the-overgrown-garden-and-start-again blitz when we moved in is bare branched and black against the sky – either we killed it by mistake or it hasn’t realised it’s spring yet.  It’s been a bit of a miserable day here with rain in the morning but it has slowly brightened up.  The husband and I went for a run this afternoon – I’m back down to running 7 kilometres after trying to increase it to 9 this week and failing miserably.  Well, not failing, I ran 9k but my tendon started to complain, so I’m reducing again and will have to build up even more slowly than I’d planned.

The 7 kilometres that we did do though was very hilly and about finished me off but we dodged the rain, and even the wind wasn’t so bad.  It is my own fault about my leg – I was only supposed to do 8k but I went out with the Walney Wind Cheetahs and did a bit longer than I was supposed to.  But I have learnt my lesson now – there is a reason why you are only supposed to increase the distance you run by 10% each week.

Apart from nearly injuring myself again, I’ve been frantically working to get the last of my planning done for the residential course I’m running which starts tomorrow!  I’m really excited about having the whole week to think and talk about poetry.  I’m excited about going in the swimming pool and about going running in a different place.  I’m excited to hear what people produce during the course – I know there are some fantastic writers who are signed up for the week.

This week I also made the decision that I’ll be going down to two days of teaching music from September which will give me more time to write and work as a freelance poet.   I do feel guilty about this – it has not been an easy decision.  I worry that I’m only working two days a week – how lazy is that?  I’m not of course because I’ll be picking up (hopefully) some writing work, as I’ve been doing for the last couple of years.  I’ve managed to make up the difference in my income so far with work as a poet, which is great.  I think the reason I feel guilty is that it doesn’t really feel like work – I enjoy it so much that I still can’t believe I’m getting paid for it.  I also worry that I’m letting the pupils down – I’ll have to stop working in some of my schools which I’ve been teaching in for 11 years and that is a hard thing to do. But each time I’ve reduced my teaching hours, good things have happened – not just for my writing, but also for my music teaching, which seems to become more energised when I’m not having to spend quite so much energy on it.

The other thing that has happened this week which has touched me deeply has been the realisation, over and over again about the amazing friends I have made through poetry.  I asked people this week what they thought about doing a PHD, did anyone have any advice – I was inundated with offers of help.  Two people sent me their proposals that they had put together to do a PHD.  One person who works in a university and supervises PHDs sent me detailed emails about the practicalities and more examples of proposals.

This is just one example though – I could list dozens and dozens of things that people have done for me as favours, to help me out, to promote my work.  Kate Johnson who works at Manchester Metropolitan University has been helping me out with an application this week.  Whilst she is on holiday in Hong Kong! I’ve only met her once, when I went over to do a talk for her to some post graduate students about employability after university a couple of weeks ago.  So here’s to poetry friends, who I’ve found to be one of the best kinds of friends you can get.

Talking about friends brings me nicely onto this week’s Sunday Poet, Goran Čolakhodžić who I met over in Croatia last weekend.  He is currently completing an MA in English and Romanian at the University of Zagreb.  I honestly went home very ashamed of my grasp of only one language – it was a humbling experience being around these poets who could speak two, three, four languages.  Goran translates contemporary poetry and prose from and into Romanian but his English is also excellent, as you will see when you read his poem, which he translated himself.  He sent me 20 or so poems by email while we were in Croatia and I opened them out of curiosity more than anything one morning before we all went off and about for the day and I was absolutely blown away by the standard of the poems.  I’m not even sure if he just translated them that weekend so I could read some or if he’d been working on the translations for a while.  Goran was at the festival because he had won one of the biggest prizes in Croatia for young poets – I guess it is the equivalent of our Eric Gregory Awards.  The prize was for the best unpublished volume of poetry written by an author under 30 and the collection with the working title In the End, the Garden will be published by the end of the year.

I can’t read Croatian so I can’t comment on their faithfulness to the originial, but as poems in English, they have a strangeness all of their own.  Hare is a good example of this.  At first glance it seems to be what it says on the tin, a poem about a hunt, but there is such detachment in this poem.  It reminds me a little of the famous Keith Douglas poem How to Kill with its description of one man killing another ‘The wires touch his face’.  In The Hunt the hares are ‘furry bags’ which fall ‘promptly down’.  The use of the word ‘promptly’ which is such a strange word to use in connection with something dying, as if they need to be in time for death again gives the poem a strange otherwordly feeling.  I also love the beginning of the poem, the hunting of the hares ‘abundantly and inaudibly’ – again, such an unusual way of describing this.  There is a great line break after the word ‘remained’ in line 5 and then the wonderful ‘clenched wounds’ which is juxtaposed with the description of their death as ‘ridiculous’.  Then there is this mysterious ending which at first I thought of as beautiful – that death did not win, it did not take over life.  But I think what the poem is really saying is not that death does not win, but that there will always be something else to die, there will always be more life, which is quite dark, but is actually an emotional truth. And what a way to say it – ‘they produced it constantly’.  Finally – we get to that beautiful last line – with its falling cadence.

I’m really glad I got the chance to read Goran’s work and feature one of his poems on here – but it makes me think how much poetry we are missing out on from other languages. I’m hoping to feature a few more poets that I met at the festival on here over the next few weeks and months – and do let me know what you think about the poem.  I think this is only the second time that Goran’s poetry has been published so I’m sure he would love to read what you think as well.

The Hunt – Goran Čolakhodžić

I hunted hares
abundantly and inaudibly:
the crosshair killed, there were no shots,
furry bags fell promptly down
on the parched grass in the dusk.  They remained
stiff, eyes open, with not a drop of blood
on their clenched wounds: in fact ridiculous,
innocuous in their death which had not
taken over life, and so was see-through.
I did not run out of bullets,
and neither did they of death: they produced it constantly
in ditches and on mounds.
Autumn is falling, it’ll be that.

Lov – Goran Čolakhodžić

Lovio sam zečeve
obilno i nečujno:
nišan je ubijao, nije bilo pucnja,
krznene su vreće padale bez odgode
na suhu travu sumraka. Ostajali su
kruti, otvorenih očiju, bez kapi krvi
na stegnutim ranama, zapravo smiješni,
neopasni u toj smrti koja nije
preotela život, pa je bila prozirna.
Meni nije nestajalo metaka,
a ni njima smrti: stalno su je producirali

po humcima i jarcima.

Spušta se jesen, bit će da je to.

Sunday Poem – Billy Letford


Evening everybody.  I am writing this at the other side of a pretty full on weekend – even for my standards, it was a little hectic.  My mum and dad arrived on Friday from Leicester and I immediately dragged them off to Lancaster Spotlight (http://www.spotlightlancaster.co.uk/) as I was a guest reader.  To my delight, Sarah Fiske, one of the lovely organisers of Spotlight greeted my dad with ‘Oh, are you the scaffolder?’  His face was a picture!  Fame at last!

If you haven’t been to Spotlight before – it is really worth a visit.  Although it’s a long night, it is a really friendly event, lots of open mic spots and you get a mixture of poetry, comedy, music.  I was really happy to be reading with Ron Scowcroft.  I heard Ron read recently at an open mic but it was great to hear a longer set from him.

On Friday I was reading at Lancaster Spotlight along with various other readers, including Ron Scowcroft.  It was really nice to hear Ron do a longer set of poems – I think it’s been a while since I’ve heard him anywhere else apart from at the open mic.

Anyway, due to my uncontrollable urge to talk afterwards and gossip, we didn’t get home to after 1am.

Then on Saturday I went to a workshop at the Wordsworth Trust.  Ever since going to Poetry Parnassus last year I’ve been reading a lot of translated poetry – so when Andrew Forster told me that Sasha Dugdale was coming to Grasmere to run a workshop on Translating Poetry I knew I had to sign up!

And it was amazing!!  At first I wasn’t sure – we were ‘translating’ bird song from recordings but once we started I started to think about how we use consonants to define the rhythm of the bird song i.e ‘tikki tikki tikki’ but actually, birds don’t use consonants – I think their ‘song’ is made of vowels, and when humans use vowels, they come right from the body.  The use of consonants brings the sound up to the mouth, or more specifically, the tongue – but we do use vowels when we are in pain or when we are scared – think of if you hit your thumb with a nail – if you are Billy Letford you ‘roar like a lion’ – I would probably shriek but I think both would be made mainly of vowels…anyway…

After the bird song, Sasha read a poem in Russian and we had to write down a translation of the poem from the sound and from seeing the transliteration of the poem on the page – which was interesting – especially when Sasha gave us the literal translation.

Then we got another Russian poem, this one was by Boris Pasternak but this time we had a literal translation to work from.  I really enjoyed this – I don’t think I really understood before that there is no ‘right’ answer when you are translating – and it was so interesting seeing how the other people dealt with the tricky bits in the poem.

So then I hot-footed it home, this time without stopping to gossip, as I’d left my poor mum and dad at home to amuse themselves all day.  When I got back we drove up the west coast to meet my sister and her hubby for dinner.
And today I’ve been recording a CD with my junior band.  The band was brilliant – they played pretty solidly from 9.30-3.00.  They were shattered by the end of it – if you play a brass instrument you’ll know, or maybe you can imagine this is like running a marathon!  I can report I also had a very tired right arm from all that conducting –

We got ten tracks done so soon we will have our first album to flog to unsuspecting parents.  I might even put a paypal button on here for it, just in case there are any poets reading this who have always wanted a CD of a brass band playing Abba and other pop hits!

So marathon weekend is over and although it’s been good, I can’t say that I’m not relieved to have got through it!

Today’s poem is by the lovely William Letford – last Tuesday I went up to Grasmere to see him read along with Fred D’Aguiar.  It was a great reading and he kindly said I could use one of his poems from his first collection ‘Bevel’, published by Carcanet ( http://www.carcanet.co.uk).

William Letford has worked as a roofer, on and off, since he was fifteen .  He received a New Writer’s Award from the Scottish Book Trust and an Edwin Morgan Travel Bursary which allowed him to spend three months in the mountains of northern Italy helping to restore a medieval village.  He has an M.Litt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow.

You can buy ‘Bevel’ from http://www.carcanet.co.uk

William came to read for us at Poem and A Pint a couple of weeks ago – and he was brilliant – but it was great to hear some new poems at Grasmere as well – I’m already looking forward to his next book!

If you haven’t seen him read, you need to.  It is a masterclass in how to present a reading – he does everything by heart, always looking directly at the audience and it helps that the poetry is really good as well!   As you will see from this poem which I have appropriated from his book!

So here is the Sunday Poem – I hope you enjoy it.

Be Prepared – William Letford

wear three T-shirts and one hooded top
layers are important
they can always come off
remember your oilskins
it’s always raining somewhere
wear a scarf
cold air moves down from the neck
wear gloves
they’re useless when wet
but handy if you hit the wrong nail
pay attention to the moment
the way water drips
the way a spider scuttles
have a healthy fear of heights
when working from a ladder
know which way to fall
railings and slabs are unforgiving
flower beds and fuchsia bushes are better
practise your scream
if you strike your thumb with the hammer
don’t squeal
roar like a lion
when the pain subsides and you look around
you’ll know exactly what I mean
acknowledge the moon
it was part of the earth once
its loneliness can make you feel beautiful
lift properly
you’ll need your back to make your money