Thursday, 23 October 2014

High-Tensile Poetry

Something near to miraculous occurred yesterday. I came away from the poetry reading I attended last night, with fresh ideas. The poetry, written by poets from Nicaragua (Joaquin Pasos, Blanca Castellon, Ernesto Cardenal and Gioconda Belli) inspired me to look again at such well-trodden themes as time, death, freedom, community, political duress and love; as well as 'the poem as subject', that for once doesn't regress into the contrived or pretentious. I'm as keen as mustard now to get these ideas down on paper.

Or maybe not. As one poem I heard suggested, I could allow these future poems to simply remain my bright, peripheral friend for just one day, before watching them fly free and (apart from the description of their brief existence as unspoken / unwritten / untranslated poems) letting them go, unrecorded. Such is the value of freedom to a poet who lives where true freedom is precious and largely unattainable.

As I listened to a language I cannot translate, I gained some idea of how to listen to the bared poetic voice. The music of the poetry being read in Spanish, offered freedom from trying to work it all out, leaving the words to flow over (under? in? through?) my brain. After hearing the translation, I then waited to hear how a phrase or line sounded in the original language. When I was rewarded by recognising the line or word, it was satisfying and surprising all at the same time.

When introducing the two guest readers for the night, M.C. Jacob Edmond, described translation - any translation - as a betrayal. I can see the truth in that, but as Jacob also pointed out, there has to be a flip-side. The other side of the coin is how much of a gift that a translation is. Especially when handled correctly.

There is possibly a Spanish word that means 'wider insights that take you away from your own reflected environment'. English can sometimes be an inadequate language. However, when another language is translated into English with as much insight as the translated poetry I heard last night, it is clear that any clumsiness or restriction can be over-ridden.

The word spellbound came to mind during this Octagon Collective's reading at Circadian Cafe. Listening to the gifted translator, Roger Hickin of Cold Hub Press and Rogelio Guedea , a major Mexican writer and poet residing in Dunedin, as they read from the works of famous Nicaraguan poets, was a real treat.

Jacob introduced both men as taonga (in the Maori language; Te Reo; that means precious treasures). A fitting description with Rogelio being a famous Mexican poet. (So much so that when Jacob was in Mexico and people found out he was from New Zealand, they would inevitably ask him if he knew Rogelio Guedea!) And Roger is certainly a well-established and renowned New Zealand poet, publisher, artist, translator etc. who has for many years worked at the cutting edge of publishing and the art of translation.

The poetry I heard last night, having been wrought under sufferance to a restrictive, freedom-taking political system that someone like me can only imagine, left me with an impression of the metal (mettle) of language hammered thin in order for the raw essence to be revealed. This was poetry taken to the wire.

Jenny Powell was invited to join the other two readers, and read three of the translated poems of Gioconda Belli. Jenny read beautifully; her readings are always very clear and intelligent and last night was no exception. Her delivery honoured the voice of the poet perfectly, giving it full justice.

The poetry I listened to could have been (given the political circumstances in which the poetry is written) mired in anger, bitterness or hatred, but it was not. Instead, I found it delicate, yet strong, unadorned, even sad, and all the more moving and powerful because of those things.

This poetry from Nicaragua that we were treated to last night, reminds me of a high-tensile spider web that silently, beautifully shimmers as the morning mist catches it; that quivers in a gale, yet holds its strength to remain unbroken.


A said...

I always wondered if the flavor of a sentence can get lost in translation. Or sometimes even lost through time...

Kay Cooke said...

A - Good point. It is all a betrayal of the original, I guess. :)

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