Ant-Small And Amorous, Pansy Maurer-Alvarez, translated by
(49pp, 12 euros, corrupt press,)
Bones Will Grow: 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets,
edited and translated by James Byrne (266pp, Arc)
The Parley Tree: Poets from French-speaking Africa & the Arab World,
edited, translated and introduced by Patrick Williamson (215pp, Arc)
Six Vowels & Twenty-Three Consonants: An Anthology of Persian Poetry
from Rudaki to Langroodi,
edited and translated by Ali Alizadeh and John Kinsella (203pp, Arc)
Maurer-Alvarez's poems come in a simple booklet with no framing apart from a
brief biographical note. Perhaps someone somewhere is doing a PhD on how
poetry arises from both the person and the diversity or otherwise of their
background. We are becoming - or some of us, of them - more travelled. Pansy
Maurer-Alvarez (I quote) 'was born in Puerto Rico, grew up in Pennsylvania
and has lived in Europe since 1973. She did her literary studies at
universities in the US, Spain and Swittzerland. .... She lives in Paris,
mainly, and Zurich sometimes.'
It's a fair bet she speaks English. More and more translations seem to be
arising from other language poets with English as a second or third language,
brought into English by another translator.
She does play with related thoughts. A poem called 'All night the poems'
opens like this,
in its other
ropes of Rs
the dark Ls
spinning out infinitely in front of me.
Why is 'J'envisage' not translated as 'I envisage'?
The means varies a lot in lengths of lines - or one might say in employment
of voice - flow of voice would be better - from such short lines to, in a few
poems, prose. There is a deceptive casualness, as if in conversation or in
her own thoughts she was wandered into poem-making, and I like these poems,
they live. From 'Of say, Berlin':
the old mill at Vernon
take the war -
stories won't let these pictures
slip back into the water
neatly below your surface.
cold afternoon the mistletoe is so prominent.
The Arc books come as usual with extensive introductory material and
I confess it
hadn't been part of my world view to think of contemporary Burmese poets, but
here some of them are, living in Rangoon or elsewhere, one poet, for
instance, Ko Ko Thett, left Burma after being detained for a while after the
student uprising in 1996, and lives in Vienna.
I don't recall seeing a more (to my eyes) strangely written language; such
that translation seems a wondrous thing indeed, and some words (there is a
glossary) are transliterated, for reasons of meaning rather than orthography.
Another PhD study might take on the emergence of women as published poets -
or as poets at all - still recent in some countries. Such a study might be
applied to all three of these Arc books. So I shall choose extracts from
poems by women, and from Burma (b.1973) Eaindra, a few lines from a longish
poem called 'Lily', where the name occurs again and again, here from midway,
cloudberry lips, Lily serves...
[dots in original]
nonchalant smile pierces their stares, Lily serves...
words with her gabble, Lily serves...
Lily wants to
flow in their arteries, Lily serves...
know the extent to which culture, place, the moment, the quirks of personhood
are crucial in the making of poems? Or the question might be, what is to be
understood from books location-based? The Parley Tree has both location and diversity and I
despair of trying to convey what's here from Algeria, Cameroon, Chad, Congo
Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ivory Coast, Lebanon,
Mauritius, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia.
Choosing one statement from the introduction: 'Tradition, myth, and visceral
attachment to ancestral land are major strands in poetry from the continent.
.... Metaphyiscal themes underpin modern post-colonial poetry in both Arabic
and, probably to a greater extent, in French, acting as a way of federating
people by bringing to the fore all the ancient cultural values ... as if to
say, "we have a cultural worth strong enough to resist any
Quoting from one poem, or from however many, would not begin to show what the
book holds, but anyway this is by one of the three women,V enus Khoury-Gata
(Lebanon), from a poem called 'The Shades (extracts)',
of the town reaches us all broken up
together into a straight line requires
the skill of
overlapping the stones
stretched out until the upturned houses
and to come a little closer to hearing a voice, the 4th and 5th of these
lines in French,
chevauchant les pierres
chevauchant les voix
And now a stream of poets writing in Persian from
Rudaki (b.858) to Ahmad Zahedi Langroodi (b.1982). Six Vowels and
continues and adds to the tradition, as it seems now, of Persian language
poets into English. So Rumi is here and Hafez, and then Mimi Khalvati's name
jumps out from the list, with a ghazal after Hafez. At an event some years
ago she taught me and others this form, and I was very glad of it.
No Persian here, she writes in English.
Recently I was praising in this space a book of translations, in varieties of
close or more free ways, by John Kinsella, and here he is, knowing no
Persian, working with Ali Alizadeh, whose language it is, to make a book
extending this Persian-English tradition into Western culture. Kinsella's
introduction on the process is a pleasure, as is the whole book. Not many
women until the present time, I shall quote from the opening Mahasti
Shahrokhi's (b.1956, lives now in France) 'Beautiful wounds', a long way from
Come see my
See my torn
and so on, until it ends,
of this, I'm still young and alive
my smashed skull I'm still beautiful
© David Hart 2012