Smoke – A Translation

In November 2019 I was lucky enough to spend a month in China courtesy of the Nanjing Literature Centre. I met so many wonderful people and visited some amazing places but one of the highlights was just hanging out with Munir Hachemi my fellow writer in residence. By great good luck we had similar tastes in food and literature so we spent many happy hours exploring the back streets of Nanjing and talking shop. I am back in Ireland and Munir is living in Granada but we have kept in touch and begun translating each other’s work. Here is his translation of my poem “Smoke”.

Smoke, de Matthew Geden (y traducción)

  Munir  Poemas, Traducciones

Os dejo un poema de Matthew Geden traducido por mí. La traducción es bastante libre.

Humo

Mira las vidas consumirse hasta la colilla,

los niños de la esquina se transforman

bañados por la luz de la mañana en un

sonajero muerto sobre el banco de un parque y una fina

niebla ahoga el cielo, reduce todo

a un monótono reposo interrumpido

por el brillo recurrente de unos labios. En la ciudad

las vidas que él quizá vivió una vez

parecen cuentos de hadas leídos por un padre

ausente; palabras reconfortantes en cuyo arrullo

sucumbe al sueño, flota por el universo

inalcanzable. Su verdadera rutina

transcurre en la cola del paro,

la humillación de un formulario que

no lo toca, que se retira de golpe

de su mano insegura. Al salir

fija en el suelo una mirada

firme como si siguiera un rastro

de migas de pan que lo llevara a casa.

Y así se desliza el día, pasa de largo, el hastío

lame sus horas, el reloj, fiel, suena

a lo lejos, cuenta monótono hasta cero.

Abierto a la benigna indiferencia del mundo

rebusca su bolsa de hierba, se lía

un porro que enrolla y prensa

con dedos tiernos y minuciosos. La noche cae

sobre las baldosas, él lo enciende

y se tumba a pensar en los planes

del día siguiente, en la nada que vendrá,

en las insignificantes nubes y volutas del humo.


Smoke

He watches lives burn to a nub-end,

the kids on the corner metamorphosise

in the early morning light to a death

rattle on a park bench as a fine

mist suffocates the sky, reduces everything

to a monochrome stillness interrupted

by the occasional blaze of lips. The city

lives he thought he might have lived

seem like fairy tales read by an absent

parent; soothing words in which he

succumbs to sleep, floats in an unreachable

universe. In real time his routine

consists of a queue for the dole,

the humiliation of a hand-out that

doesn’t touch him, withdraws at once

from his outstretched grasp. On the way

out he fixes the floor with a steady

stare as though following a trail

of breadcrumbs that will take him home.

And so the day slides past him, boredom

dogs his hours, the faithful clock ticks

away monotonously counting down to zero.

Open to the benign indifference of the world

he unpockets a bag of weed, rolls

a large joint packed and tamped down

with tender care. As night falls

through the floorboards he lights up

and lies back to think of the next

day’s plans, the nothing that will follow,

the meaningless curls and clouds of smoke.

Spanish novelist and poet Munir Hachemi

On All Frequencies

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In September last year I managed to get to a small exhibition at the Boole Library in University College, Cork. The library, in partnership with the Départment des Manuscrits, Bibliothèque nationale de France, facilitated the exhibition of the work of Claude Pélieu, the only French member of the largely American Beat Generation. Pélieu was a poet and collage artist whose work often owed much to the cut-up techniques espoused by William Burroughs and others.

Pélieu (1934-2002) spent much of his early life in Paris but was conscripted into the French army during the Algerian war in the late 1950s. This experience affected him badly and stayed with him for the rest of his life. He managed to get himself discharged by drinking stagnant water and making himself seriously ill. He met Mary Beach, an artist and translator in her own right, and together they moved to San Francisco. In the ensuing years they travelled extensively, also living in England, before Pélieu died on 24th December 2002 in New York.

Claude Pélieu: On All Frequencies gave a glimpse into a lively and creative mind. His early poetry was lyrical and hugely influenced by Jacques Prévert but by 1962 he had already been experimenting with the use of fragments and collages. This fine show was a welcome insight into a marginalised figure and James Horton, the curator, has done a fine job in highlighting the work of a highly individual writer.

 

INSTANTANEOUS

by Claude Pélieu

 

I plunged a star in the wine

I plunged a seagull in the sun

I plunged a flower in the wind

I plunged my hands in your eyes

You plunged hands in your eyes

You plunged your eyes in the mines

and we have been happy as butter

flies in a bouquet of flowers illuminated

and nude

 

Translated by Matthew Geden

Flights

flights

I met Eileen Battersby, literary critic and novelist, last week at the Cork World Book Fest. She had just moderated a session with two writers at the Triskel. Diana Darke, a Syrian expert and owner of a house in Damascus, spoke about her relationship with that devastated country and her new book, “The Merchant of Syria”. The other reader was Slovenian writer Dusan Sarotar who read from his fascinating novel “Panorama” which is partly set in Galway. Afterwards I spoke to Battersby and she particularly recommended the novel “Flights” by Olga Tokarczuk which has recently been longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. She has recently reviewed it for the LA Review of Books:

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/complex-harmonies-on-olga-tokarczuks-flights/

battersby

Pictured above: Eileen Battersby

The Flamenco Thief

Back in 2014 Craig Sutton aka The Flamenco Thief emailed me to ask if he could play a gig in our house. I had often spoken of having a “Music in the Kitchen” night, as often opened in the Ireland of not so long ago. So, I jumped at the chance. Craig had met our son at a house gig in Leiden, Holland, and Tom passed on our details for his Irish tour. It turned out to be a great night, Craig played in our sitting room and the house was jointed. Empty bottles of wine everywhere the next day!

Earlier this year Craig emailed to say he would be in Ireland again this April and could I organise a Kinsale gig. We decided against another house gig as our new neighbours have young children but Simon at Prim’s Bookshop on Main Street was keen. We fixed the gig for a Sunday afternoon as Craig had another performance booked for Killarney at 7. I emailed friends and posted on Facebook and we managed to drum up a nice, appreciative crowd.

I sat at the front so I could watch closely, he is a phenomenal player. There are strong flamenco elements, but very much with his own twist. He uses pedals to record and re-play loops and then plays over and with these. There was a lovely piece inspired by his trip to Brazil and specifically the Rio carnival. Craig has travelled all over Europe and beyond, playing in bars, shops and houses. He is living the life of the itinerant musician but all the time learning from the places he visits and honing his skills. Check out the links below for a flavour of his work:

Craig Sutton, the Flamenco Thief, plays Spanish acoustic guitar with a loop pedal to blend modern rhythms with time-honored Flamenco techniques.
Western, Eastern and African rhythms has allowed him to connect and build long lasting friendships with people all over the world.He has entertained crowds in Turkish parks, German kitchens, Serbian living rooms, Dutch hospitals, French chapels and so many more wonderfully unique locations.

Live Performance Footage: http://theflamencothief.com/videos/


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CUpKfL5nnk

                                       Bio: http://theflamencothief.com/press-info/


“The music is a blend of upbeat, danceable Gypsy-swing guitar blended with Rumba and Balkan-beats using Flamenco techniques.”
 

Flamenco ThiefRecent performance highlights: Glastonbury (Back Stage West Holts Bar) | Farmfestival | Bath International Music Festival | Boomtown | Lestailleurs Festival (BE) | Zorofest (DE)

Visiting Dervla Murphy

 

 

Two years ago I hosted a reading in Bandon with the travel writers Jasper Winn and Dervla Murphy. I say reading, but in fact it was more of an aimiable conversation between the two of them. I chatted to Dervla, a writer I’ve long admired, both before and after the event and she invited me to call on her if I were ever in Lismore. It is not somewhere I’ve ever visited before so I made a plan to go out of my way sometime to see it and Dervla too.

I finally got the chance in February 2018 and after a brief email exchange arranged my visit. The directions seemed intriguingly mysterious, involving a narrow alleyway and barking dogs. I instantly liked the look of Lismore, the main street retains some of the traditional shop fronts that have disappeared from many other towns and villages in Ireland. I spotted a passageway and a gate that was propped open with enough room for me to squeeze through. The grassy alleyway was overlaid with old carpet, a protection against the mud, but it had the odd feeling of being indoors whilst outdoors. I went through another gate all the while listening carefully for barking dogs. Soon, from within what looked like an old barn I heard them and knocked furtively on the door.

Dervla gave me a warm welcome and I let my eyes adjust to the darkness of the cottage. It appeared to be just one room divided into a sitting area and a working space. Pretty much everything else was books. Dervla sat in the solitary chair and I perched on a stone shelf next to the fire. We cracked open some cans of lager and chatted away for a wonderful two hours.

There’s little room for small talk with Dervla and we were soon putting the world to rights. Her travels have covered an astonishing period of change throughout the world and she feels that her generation is one of the last to experience a particular type of travel. Her favourite thing was to travel where there are no roads but this is becoming more difficult as everywhere is being connected. We laughed at the fact that globalisation is largely seen as so positive when in fact for many communities it has been a mixed blessing at best. Her own travels have come to an end, her last trip was to Jordan, which she says has become a fake state, and she is having trouble finishing her book about this journey as her osteoarthritis in her neck prevents her typing.

After the lager we opened up some Knockmealdown Stout which I had brought along. She’d never had it before even though you can virtually see the Knockmealdown Mountains from her doorstep. The time went too quickly. I remember she spoke fondly of both Afghanistan and Ethiopia but feels they have changed for the worse over the years. When she first visited Afghanistan in 1969 poverty was almost unheard of, but now it is a very real problem.

When I need to go to the bathroom she tells me to just go outside and water the garden. Perhaps there is no bathroom here. The cottage, she thinks, is the last surviving piece of seventeenth century Lismore. Outside I can see a wild garden curving off towards the church and a row of old farm implements lean against the wall as though waiting for their owners return. We say a warm farewell and shake hands as she ushers me to the gate. Do call again, she says. I hope I do.IMG_2619

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Menno Wigman

The Dutch poet Menno Wigman died in Amsterdam at the beginning of February. I have been very impressed with the few translated poems of his that I’ve seen and so am sorry that he’s died at the age of only 51. He was the editor of a literary magazine called Zoetermeer and he translated poems by Rilke, Baudelaire and others as well as publishing his own work in several books.

Here is a poem taken from the Poetry International website:

DIT IS MIJN DAG
Vanochtend werd ik wakker in een droom
van iemand die een huid van vlees bewoont.

Ik kon niet vluchten, ik was geen Tsjwang Tse
die had gedroomd dat hij een vlinder was

en zich bij ochtendlicht afvroeg of hij,
Tsjwang Tse, gedroomd had een vlinder te zijn

of dat de vlinder droomde als Tsjwang Tse
te ontwaken, nee, ik was een mens,

een taai skelet met tweeëndertig tanden,
twee handen en een tragisch intellect

dat met een angst voor klokken was behept.
Maar langzaam, bijna heilig, stond ik op,

gaf mijn gezicht een hand en ritste mijn
gedachten dicht. Dit is mijn dag, wist ik.

Hier lonkt een spiegel naar verwonderd licht.
Daar breekt een vlinder uit. En dat ben ik.

THIS IS MY DAY
This morning I woke up inside a dream
of someone living in a skin of flesh.

And I had no escape, I was no Chwang Tse
who’d dreamt he was a butterfly

and asked himself when dawn came whether he,
Chwang Tse, had dreamt he was a butterfly

or that the butterfly dreamt of waking
as Chwang Tse, no, I was human,

a sturdy skeleton with thirty-two teeth,
two hands and a tragic intellect

cursed with a fear of clocks.
Slowly, though, reverently almost, I

gave my face a hand and zipped my
thoughts up tight. This is my day, I knew.

Here a mirror peers at astonished light.
There a butterfly breaks out. And that is me.

Translation by John Irons
There are more poems of Wigman’s there including this one which also has an audio recording: http://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poem/item/4440/auto/0/NIGHT-REST
His work is also featured in the excellent Enchanting Verses Literary Review:

 

Murmuration

I was fortunate recently to see a murmuration of starlings in the fields outside Timoleague in West Cork. This extraordinary display has been going on over the last couple of months at dusk every evening. It has become so regular and popular that it draws quite a crowd and Peter Wolstenholme, local resident and a member of Birdwatch Ireland, collects donations as the cars pull in. It is, however, a completely magical experience and the display draws ever closer until it is just above you and you can almost feel the wings on your face:

 

from “Murmuration”

 

Night is falling fast but the wings

have it, starlings burst from branches

twist and climb, all movement is here

in the curves and swerves, the air

brushing upturned faces as they rise and

fall, disappearing like a goodnight kiss.IMG_2456

Belladonna

I have heard great things about the Croatian writer Dasa Drndic. She has published several novels including Trieste which was translated into English by Ellen Elias-Bursac. Her most recent publication is Belladonna, a novel about a writer and psychologist looking back over the wreckage of his life. It is translated by Celia Hawkesworth and received a ringing endorsement in the following review by the wonderful critic Eileen Battersby in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

 

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-triumph-of-memory-on-dasa-drndics-belladonna/#

belladonna

Nicanor Parra

Sad to hear of the passing of the great Chilean poet Nicanor Parra. I have read a few of his poems in translation and always enjoyed their freshness. He called himself an anti-poet and tended to use the language of the everyday. There is an interesting obituary piece here in the Paris Review:

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2018/01/29/nicanor-parra-alpha-male-poet/

I like the quotation at the end from “Roller Coaster” a Parra poem translated by Miller Williams:

For half a century

Poetry was the paradise

Of the solemn fool.

Until I came along

And built my rollercoaster.

 

Go up, if you feel like it.

It’s not my fault if you come down

Bleeding from your nose and mouth.

 

He lived modestly, much of his life spent in a humble cottage, and he kept his politics to himself preferring a “kind of exile from all society” as the literary critic Frank MacShane put it. The great Chilean novelist Roberto Bolano was hugely influenced by his writing and said, “Parra’s antipoetic manifesto is the purest kind of poetry”. Bolano went to visit him in 1998 at Parra’s home on the coast of Chile at Las Cruces. He died on January 23rd 2018 at the age of 103.