Posts Tagged ‘Tony Ullyatt’

Gisela Ullyatt. Facebook en Die Groot Poësiebrander. (Deel 6)

Friday, July 10th, 2015

 

Vier dae.

Vier mense per dag.

Vier gedigte.

Interkonneksie.

Indra se Net.

Dependent Origination.

Pay it forward.

Facebook.

Deur die loop van blogs 1 tot 5 het ek bostaande begrippe in verband gebring met facebook se Poësie-uitdaging. Uiteraard is facebook ’n sosiale medium wat op verskeie vlakke deur die gebruiker bestuur kan word. Soms is dit ongewens (politieke kommentare, byvoorbeeld, of haatspraak) en soms net bloot irriterend vir die siel (‘ego-dokumente’ wat swak spelling bevorder). Tóg is facebook ook ’n manifestasie van die groter prentjie: networking wat poësie, meestal geringgeskat deur die breë gemeenskap, soos ’n groot brander laat uitrol het. En dit rol steeds…

Die genesis van die Poësiebrander kan net sowat vyf ‘generasies’ teruggespoor word en dan lei dit na ’n cul-de-sac. Interessantheidshalwe noem ek die paar name wat hierdie ‘generasies’ uitmaak, soos opgespoor tydens die navorsing vir my blogs: Annette Snyckers (wat my genooi het), is deur Christine Muller Coates genomineer (wie betrokke is by vanjaar se McGregor Poësiefees). Christine is op haar beurt deur Máire Fisher betrek, wie deur Michelle Raymond genooi is. Waar my navorsing doodloop is aan die fb-deur van Ana Oliari van Montevideo, Uruguay. Haar fb-profiel is geslote. Dit sou egter interessant wees om te weet wie haar genooi het om deel te neem. Daar is ook heelwat name wat sedertdien saam met die Brander gerol en ongelooflike gedigte aangehaal het soos Karen Kuhn, Alwyn Roux, Evette Weyers, Susan Bloemhof, en Pieter Steyn, om maar ’n paar uit te lig. Talle ander mense het my op facebook gekontak as gevolg van die immer-uitbreidende Brander. Dit was heerlik om hulle gedigte ook te kon volg.

Hierdie uitdaging is ’n gepaste voorbeeld van hoe die self aandagtig bestudeer kan word deur middel van (1) digkuns en (2) facebook. W.H. Auden se “For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives/In the valley of its making where executives/Would never want to tamper” (deel ii van ’n lykdig, “In memory of W.B.Yeats”) is dus aanvegbaar: Poësie láát dinge gebeur en verbind mense deur die immer-uitbreidende Indra se Net. Die feit dat soveel gebruikers elke dag moeite gedoen het om oor ’n gedig te besin en dit te deel, is geweldig positief.  Aan die ander kant, is Auden tog “on the button”: die digkuns ís inderdaad leeg (wat wys op die leegheid of emptiness van alle fenomene of dharmas); dit bereik dus oënskynlik niks. Leegheid is egter nie nihilisties nie, maar verwys eerder na Buddha nature; die gestrooptheid van die ego-self. Vanuit ’n ander konteks kan dit ook as Christ Consciousness of The Beloved beskou word. Nog ’n treffende beeld wat leegheid aandui, maar op ’n paradoksale wyse iets ‘bereik’ is die singende kommetjie of singing bowl: om die kommetjie te laat resoneer, moet dit leeg wees, anders bring dit geen geluid voort nie. Dus moet daar aandagtigheid (leegheid) saam met aksie wees (deur die kommetjie met  ’n houthamerjie te tik) ten einde resonansie te bewerkstellig.

Dōgen Zenji (1200-1253), die stigter van die Sōtō Zen-tradisie, skryf sy Genjo-koan (1233) wat talle vertalings het (Hierdie een is deur Thomas Cleary vertaal). Aangehaal, die eerste paar reëls:

To study the Way is to study the self;

To study the self is to forget the self;

To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things;

To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barrier between

Self and others.

David Loy (davidloy.org), wat ’n briljante verband trek tussen Boeddhisme, Psigoterapie en Eksistensialisme (Lack and Transcendence: The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism) versterk Genjo-koan deur die volgende op te merk:

When self (subject) gives up its struggle to sustain its sense of separation from all that is other (object) it opens to an at-oneness, to unity consciousness. In Dogen Zenji’s words, from the Genjokoan: ‘When the self advances, the ten thousand things retreat; when the self retreats, the ten thousand things advance’.

Dus sal ’n mens kon aanvoer dat die digkuns wel tien duisend dinge (of veel meer) laat gebeur.

Gedagtig aan Loy se insig oor Genjo-koan, plaas ek my Dag 3 se Poësiebrander:

Dag drie van die poësie-uitdaging van Annette Snyckers. Jeanne Goosen se gedigte het ek werklik leer ken deur my vriendin wat ek op universiteit in die Franse klas in 1996 ontmoet het, Thea De Wit, tóé nog Oosthuizen. Sy het Goosen se bundel, ’n uil vlieg weg, vir my voorgelees wanneer ek by haar in ’n popklein studentewoonstelletjie agter in die tuin van my gewese naaldwerkjuffrou by Pres Brandskool, gekuier het. Dié granny flat was in Langenhovenpark, binne loopafstand van die Pick ’n Pay. Ons het dikwels van daardie sjokoladetjies met die stropies in die middel (aarbei,- peperment-, of koffiegeur) of peanut clusters daar laat afweeg en meer as die helfte verslind, te voet, op pad terug. Elke keer my oor ’n mik geskrik vir die landlord se Rottweiler (genaamd Vincent); hy met die skuimende bek. Ons sou rooiwyn of Nachtmusik in Thea se groen wynkelke drink en dan sou sy Tori Amos se under the pink speel of die komponis, Richard Einhorn, se Voices of Light, ’n oratorio oor Joan of Arc. En lees sou sy léés uit daardie voosgevatte Jeanne Goosen. Sy het ook haar eie gedigte voorgelees of uit haar dagboeke van dáárdie jaar, 1996. Tot ons albei se spyt het sy laasgenoemde later verbrand. Afhangend van hoeveel wyn afgegorrel is deur die loop van die aand, sou sy haar vriende in Johannesburg en die Vaaldriehoek bel (dit wás die tyd voor selfone) en sommer my gedigte ook vir hulle voorlees oor die foon of my dwing om hulle voor te lees…
So om en by 2003 rond het Anita de Kock, wat by die destydse Fascination Books in Mimosa Mall gewerk het, maar vir jare ’n joernalis was, vir my ’n kopie van ’n uil vlieg weg present gegee. Nooit sal ek dit vergeet nie. Sy het ons ook voorgestel aan die Griekse vroue-komponis, Eleni Karaindrou, se wonderlike klankbaan van Ulysses’ Gaze. Anita is na-obsessief oor opera en haar plekkie was opgestapel met die wonderlikste CD’s denkbaar (om van boeke nie eens te praat nie). Thea is toe terug na Villiers in 1997 en Anita het in Robertson gaan bly. Ek bly steeds in Bloem, met my Jeanne Goosen se uil wat wil-wil wegvlieg na vreemde bestemmings. Ek haal egter ’n gedig aan uit haar 1975-bundel, Orrelpunte”:

Sonneblom     

            

jy is stil soos ’n vrou wat borduur
as ek na jou roep draai jy jou gesig na die son
ek het jou lief en die dae duisel die afgronde binne
tussen twee berigte skryf ek jou neer jou sagte mond
en die grashalms van jou asemhaling
jy groei soos ‘n sonneblom groei
planmatig
jy omvat my met blare van son en speke
sodat ek my naam vergeet ek woon in ‘n voorportaal
‘n plek waar stillewes woon
jy is die verlatenheid van alle landskappe
en onklaar gedigte

“Hiermee nomineer ek vir Marlies Taljard, Heilna du Plooy, Dorothy Badenhorst, Fred Barnard en Myra Lochner om vir vier dae elke dag ’n gedig op fb te deel wat vir julle spesiaal of roerend is. En vier ander mense elke dag te nooi om dieselfde te doen. Die poësie is werd om te vier”. (Hierdie vriende se keuses is reeds uitgestippel in vorige blogs).

Marie Bredenkamp, afgetrede tik-dosent, reisiger, pêrel- en klipkenner en van Junie af ook die trotse eienaar van NP van Wyk Louw se koperkatel, skryf soos volg oor Dag 1 (Sy was juis op ’n road trip vir haar verjaarsdag na haar geboorte-kontrei en -dorp, Calvinia, en kon eers later haar poësiebrander uitrol): “Gisela! Dankie vir die uitnodiging – ek is ’n bietjie laat, maar die eerste een is my geliefkoosde tersine van Salvatore Quasimodo, soos natuurlik vertaal deur Wilhelm Knobel”:

Elkeen staan alleen op die hart van die aarde
deur ’n straal van die son deurboor
en skielik is dit aand.

Dag 2: “DAG TWEE van jou uitdaging – Uit die werk van Fernando Pessoa “Portuguese Sea” – daar is verskeie vertalings, maar die onderstaande roer my eweneens”:

Portuguese Sea

O salty sea, so much of where salt
Is Portugal’s tears! All the mothers
Who had to weep for us to cross you!
All the sons who prayed in vain!
All the brides-to-be who never
Married for you to be ours, O sea!

Was it worth doing? Everything’s worth doing
If the soul of the doer isn’t small.
Whoever would go beyond the Cape
Must go beyond sorrow.
God placed danger and the abyss in the sea,
But he also made it heaven’s mirror.

*(The ones who want to go beyond Boyador
have to go beyond pain.)

– Fernando Pessoa

Dag 3: “DAG DRIE van jou uitdaging ’n uittreksel uit die “The Great Lover” van Rupert Brooke – ’n vers wat my klasonderwyseres in standerd 5 in Port Elizabeth vir my laat voordra het. Ongetwyfeld die vers wat my deur die deure van die Engelse letterkunde laat tree het – en, vreemde genoeg, ’n vers wat nou nog ’n opgawe is van dié dinge wat ek met en uit my hart liefhet. Gaan lees gerus die hele een, as jy dit nie ken nie”:

The Great Lover

[….] These I have loved:
White plates and cups clean gleaming;
Ringed with blue lines, and
feathery faery dust;
Wet roofs, beneath the lamplight;
the strong crust of friendly bread; and many
tasting food;
Rainbows’ and the blue bitter
smoke of wood;
and radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers;
and flowers themselves, that
sway through sunny hours,
Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon;
Then the cool kindliness of sheets that soon
smooth away trouble
and the rough male kiss of blankets […]

** (Die onderstaande kom uit die aanloop na die verdere “These I have loved…”):

My night shall be remembered for a star
That outshone all the suns of all men’s days.
Shall I not crown them with immortal praise
whom I have loved,
who have given me, dared with me
High secrets, and in darkness knelt to see
The inenarrable godhead of delight?
Love is a flame; we have
beaconed the world’s night;
A city: and we have built it, these and I.
An emperor: we have taught the world to die […] – Rupert Brooke

Dag vier: “My vers vir DAG VIER. Ek bly nog altyd ’n groot bewonderaar van UYS KRIGE (en verlekker my nog altyd in die skrywes van Jan en Marge, wat gesê het “He came for tea [in Parys] – and stayed three months”. Ook oor die wonderlike storie van hoe hy eenkeer ’n geleentheid uit Pretoria saam met iemand anders geneem het Johannesburg toe, aan die tafel van ’n groep skrywersvriende beland het; elke keer as hy iets aangebied was, geprotesteer het “My goeie vriend in Killarney wag op my” – maar lustig laat inskep het, en saam gesmul het… Om ten laaste in die vroeë (en grys) ure van die oggend saam met die geleentheid uit te strompel – en nie wéét waar is die ‘goeie vriend van Killarney’ se woonplek nie… (Helaas: WEG saam met my kosbare kopie van die Bloemlesing, Oggendlied, om sy ‘terugkeer na die lewe’ te vier)”:

Plaashek

Bloedrooi die aalwyn langs
die slingerpad.
Dis of daar vonke uit
elk vuurpyl spat.
Maar niks, niks roer nie .. net
‘n luggie wat
skrams aan die ritselende
grassate vat.

Daarbo die blou, blou lug
daaronder die rivier
wat deur die boorde kronkel met
‘n groene swier.
Niks stoor die yle swewende
bergstilte hier

Ná al die jare maak ek weer
‘n plaashek oop.
Waar het my paaie
tog nie geloop
Om my hier by ‘n hek te bring
van al my waan gestroop,
maar met my denke helder
en in my hart die hoop?

Die hek staan in die skad’wee van
‘n kremetart.
Niks troebels, niks verward.
Ek lig die knip .. Ek maak
‘n hek oop in my hart.

– Uys Krige

 

Alhoewel die digter en vertaler Charl Cilliers, (sy vertalings van verskeie gedigte is opgeneem in in a burning sea (2014: Protea), waarvan Marlise Joubert die samesteller is) nie ‘formeel’ op die dig-uitdaging gereageer het nie, plaas hy byna daagliks gedigte op sy fb-status. Dus wend hy fb aan as ’n effektiewe instrument ter aandagtigheid omtrent en liefde vir die digkuns. Dit stel hom dus in staat om hierdie liefde vir die digkuns met vriende op ’n daaglikse basis te deel. Charl het onlangs ’n wonderlike essay oor die haikoe op fb geplaas (dalk kan ons hom oortuig om dit met Versindaba te deel?) en is hy self ’n gedugte beoefenaar van die haikoe. Ek haal ’n paar haikoes van Charl aan wat hy die afgelope paar dae op sy fb-status geplaas het:

grief as the car drove
away – farther, Father,
than I could have known

© Charl JF Cilliers

Silent water: small
black birds enmeshed in fragile
spider webs of mist.

© Charl JF Cilliers

Nine Wintry Outlooks

I

on the rocks tiny
white spume birds rise up in flight
and then melt away

II

waves break against rocks
spindrift snow thaws on those rough
crusty surfaces

III

crabs hide in silence
dig in against the dragging
of outgoing tides

IV

a single tree stands
bare in the wind on the dunes
the sun dies early

V

no footsteps are left
of lovers in the short-lived
laughter of sunlight

VI

pebbles move with sounds
of melting ice cubes clinking
in an empty glass

VII

before the moon comes
the sounds of small waves rush in
then quickly depart

VIII

a cormorant sits
a dark shadow on rocks where
snow flakes are falling

IX

the white frozen moon
on the sand now the warmest
colour of winter

© Charl JF Cilliers

My laaste dag van die Brander, Dag 4, eindig voorts:

“Laaste dag van die poësieuitdaging van Annette Snyckers. Die gedig wat ek gaan aanhaal is een van Tony, my man, s’n. Ek is altyd verstom hoe hy met die Engelse taal kan toor. Hierdie gedig gaan oor sy ouma Cameron, aan Skotse kant, wat Parkinsonisme ontwikkel het en wat vir lank aan demensie gely het. As klein seuntjie in Nottingham, voor Tony en sy ouers na Kalkutta verhuis het, het hulle soms by sy oupa Cameron, wat in die kop geskiet is tydens WO 1 en gevolglik doof was, gaan kuier. In daardie dae het dowe mense nie kon werk nie en is hy dus op ’n karige oorlogspensioen geplaas en as invalide gebrandmerk. Hy het maar sy vrou se latere demensie op sy eie stil, maar bedonderde (LW: ’n egte Highlander van Invergordon) manier hanteer (die piepklein en enigste toilet vrot berook vir ure). Ouma Cameron het Tony gevra om asb die stoof se deur van die bed af te haal en dit in die kombuis aan die stoof terug te gaan hang. Haar oë was koorsagtig en het deur hom gekyk na iets wat hy nie kon sien nie. Dan het die klein vierjarige Anthony (hy is so genoem as kind) maar saamgespeel en die sogenaamde deur ‘opgelig’ en ‘uitgevat’. En gaan ‘terugsit’. Hier is Tony se gedig”:

My grandmother’s oven door

My grandmother had an oven door
she kept on the tea-rose quilt of her bed;
she would point to it with hands
that fluttered like rare birds eager
to land and rest in some soft place

From time to time she would ask me
– then a child of only three or four –
to take the door back to the kitchen.
I couldn’t see it, of course; I lived well
beyond her delusional world,
but she would guide me to it
with her tremulous bird-hands.

Pretending to carry the oven door
to where it belonged, I thought she was
magic; she could see invisible things.

Now, I know otherwise: her terrible illness
was no illusion, just one of life’s tricks
that took her mind wandering gently
further and further away, into that place
where her hands could be still as sleeping birds
and the oven door hang on its hinges for good.

© Tony Ullyatt: 2015.

Van Tennyson Road 8, Woodthorpe, Nottingham, tot Bloemfontein. Oos-Londen. Kaapstad. Yzerfontein. Pringlebaai. Stellenbosch. Johannesburg. Pretoria. Groot Brak. Potchefstroom. Frankryk. Steeds rol die Groot Brander bestemmings en versreise uit.

’n Brander het springgety geword.

Ek laat lesers met die volgende twee aanhalings uit die Boeddhisme en Zen-Boeddhisme, die eerste wat Indra se Net en Interkonneksie op ’n knap wyse opsom:

The energy that sustains the net is not generated outside the net or in any one part of the net but is, again, mutually generated through the interbeing of the entire net. Not only is the net infinite, but in each jewel is reflected another infinite interbeing (Jones:16), en

“The basis of life is unity” (Alan Watts: 1995).

Die allerlaaste woord wat hiermee gepaard gaan, wat die samevloei van alles uitstippel in die poësie, laat ek oor aan TS Eliot in “Little Gidding”, uit die bundel Four Quartets (58):

V

What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from.

 

My innige dank aan Annette Snyckers en almal wat saam met hierdie Poësiebrander gerol het.

 

Bibliografie

Eliot, T.S. 1959. Four Quartets. Londen: Faber and Faber.

Jones, K. 2003. The New Social Face of Buddhism: A Call to Action. Somerville, MA: Wisdom.

Loy, D. 1996. Lack and Transcendence: The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books.

Watts, M. ed. 1995. Buddhism, the Religion of No-Religion: the Edited Transcripts of Alan Watts. Boston, MA: Tuttle.

Essay. Tony Ullyatt: Practising the art of failure

Monday, December 15th, 2014

 

 

TONY ULLYATT

 

PRACTISING THE ART OF FAILURE: SOME REFLECTIONS ON TRANSLATING

 

It may seem frivolous for translators to ask themselves why they translate, but it’s a question that cannot be ignored. This is especially so if, as Umberto Eco suggests, translation is the art of failure. Assuming there is any validity in what Eco says, then my wife and I belong to that quaint sub-species of practitioners willing to face the apparently inevitability of disillusionment, disappointment, and despair.

Even though Peter Newmark, a professor of translation studies, once observed that it’s hard to tell whether translators are fools or heroes, and despite all the apprehension, reservations, and downright folly that are assumed to accompany the notion of translation, many of us refuse to be daunted by the task or to heed commonsense. We continue with varying degrees of persistence because, at best, translation is as creative a process as writing poetry itself, and an honourable pursuit for poets. And we do this, knowing full well that, as Newmark explains, “translation of serious literature … is the most testing type of translation.”

Like other translators, we have what Seamus Heaney has called “the slightly predatory curiosity of a poet interested in the creative process of a poet.” Entertaining the prospect of translation compels one to study the creative processes of other poets with a particular intensity. This also fosters and hones one’s hermeneutic skills for translation is as much about reading and interpretation as it is about translation. Indeed, John Festiner observes, to separate “the functions of critic and translator … can make for artificial or partial views of poetry in another language.” In describing the processes involved in translating Neruda’s poem, Alturas de Macchu Picchu, he argues that the “two activities, interpretation and translation, began … to feel more like each other, then to animate each other.”

Newmark believes that the translator’s “main endeavour is to ‘translate’ the effect the poem made on himself.” A translator, whether fool or hero, confronts a poem with the question: Why do I want to translate this piece? It is a particularly relevant question for several reasons: first, you want to account for the effect the poem has on you as reader; secondly, through translation, you might want to come to some, albeit, incomplete understanding of your own creative methods; and thirdly, you might want to use translation as an unblocking mechanism, to free up your own stalled creative energies. The rigours of searching for apposite words, images, metaphors, diction – in fact, everything that goes into producing a translation – can provoke matters in the unconscious to seek their way into the conscious and demand attention from your creativity.

~

When I was a small boy in India, I heard and spoke Hindustani a good deal of the time. Some years later, living in the Sudan, Arabic was everywhere. And at university in Natal, I studied English and French, amongst other things, while hearing isiZulu in the streets. So for the greater part of my life, I’ve been accustomed to the idea of hearing other languages around me. After all, wherever I’ve lived, I’ve been the immigrant, the outsider listening to foreign tongues.

This matter has been put very neatly by another global immigrant/wanderer, Peter Bland, the English-born New Zealand poet, who has shuttled between, and settled regularly in, both countries. (He is back in England at present.) In the opening lines of his poem, “Advice to Immigrants”, he writes:

For the rest of your life

there’ll be two sets of voices –

those in the street

and those in your head.

When I arrived in Bloemfontein in the early 1980s, Afrikaans and Sesotho were the languages I heard in the streets.

So I began, apprehensively and with considerable difficulty, to attempt translations of Afrikaans poems into English. From the beginning, I assiduously avoided texts with tight structures and complex rhyme schemes, primarily because I was concerned about the stiltedness that can creep in when one hunts for rhyming words at the expense of meaning. This is one of the criticisms I share with André P Brink and what he calls “a very ponderous volume of texts in English translation” that was done in the 1960s by what he describes as “a group of well-meaning but heavy-handed academics”. Later, when I had become more adept at the practice of translation, I came to realise that those translations were not only “heavy-handed” but at times wayward. It was the sort of waywardness that recurred when I was researching differences between several translations of The Dhammapada. Translators were often tempted to sneak in interpretative words into their translations, thus altering the original text’s meaning. As Umberto Eco argues: “In translation proper there is an implicit law, that is, the ethical obligation to respect what the author has written.” Inevitably, therefore, we find ourselves entirely at odds with David Slavitt’s comment; “I feel no obligation to the literal meaning of the text whatsoever”.

Let me try to explain what I mean about the waywardness I’ve just mentioned. The first translation I published was Ernst van Heerden’s “My Ikaros”, primarily because I was busy at the time with research on the Daedalus and Icarus myth. As far as translating was concerned, it turned out to be an interesting choice right from the first line.

The poem opens with these words: “Die vlugtige en verbanne seun”. A careful perusal of the dictionary offers the following options for the word, “vlugtige”: “fleeing”, “fugitive”, “swift”, and “hurrying”. The word “verbanne” yields options such as “banished”, “exiled”, “expelled”, and “outcast”. Jean Branford, one of that “group of well-meaning but heavy-handed academics” Brink mentioned earlier translated the line (to be found in The Runner and the Shadow) as “Incorrigible and wayward boy”.

Although we might agree that it is Icarus’s waywardness and incorrigibility that bring about his literal downfall and death, those words interpret his behaviour in the myth rather than translate what Van Heerden has written. It is quite devious for a translator to slip in interpretative or explanatory words. (One explanation for this practice that I am familiar with argues that it saves burdening the text with countless footnotes.) At the time when Daedalus and Icarus sought to escape from King Minos, they were fugitives and outcasts in Crete. There are sufficient target-language words to provide diction appropriate to the poem’s subject without the interpolation of interpretative or informative words or phrases.

Also in Van Heerden’s poem, the last word of line 1 is “seun”, which may be rendered as “boy”, “youth”, or “son”. Given the centrality of the father/son relationship between Daedalus and Icarus, it seems almost perverse to opt for “boy” rather than “son”. Choosing “youth” as an alternative (with the same caveat I have about “boy”) would depend on how old one presumes Icarus to be, whether child or adolescent. And that choice, too, would impact on the meaning of the poem and, by implication, an understanding of the myth itself. Either way, it would still not justify the use of “incorrigible” or “wayward”. Ultimately, I arrived at “”The fugitive and outcast son”.

~

Which brings us to Coleman Barks, the widely-acclaimed “translator” of Rumi. The inverted commas are necessary here because, interestingly, Barks does not speak or read Persian. His translations do not therefore constitute natural language-to-natural language translations as such – what Jakobson calls translation proper – but paraphrases. He relies on other English translations, including versions by John Moyne and Reynold A. Nicholson. Although Rumi’s is rhymed, metered poetry in the original Persian, Barks opts for free verse in the main, and, on occasion, has been known to incorporate lines or metaphors from different poems into one “translation”. One has to ask whether Barks is broadening the common definitions of translation or simply ignoring it completely?

Perhaps he is adopting an approach similar to Ezra Pound’s Homage to Sextus Propertius. John Sullivan refers to Pound’s poem as a creative translation which, he explains, does not require the translator to produce either an accurate text or even a complete one. In essence, the translated text may be more accurately described as a creative paraphrase, an adaptation or imitation of the original or a text “based on” it.

Quite clearly, the mythic context of the Van Heerden poem places certain demands and limitations on the diction available to the translator.

~

In the main, we are literary translators, with a particular preference for poetry, although we have tackled literary prose. We focus on poems for two reasons: first, we write poems, and, secondly, poetry represents the most challenging form of literary translation.

We opt for poetry because we believe that, as poets, we have a sound working knowledge of what goes into writing a poem, and can bring that knowledge to bear when it comes to the intricacies of rewriting someone else’s poem in English. Sullivan argues that “Great translations are … genuine creations; at very least, they are re-creations” while John Felstiner suggests that “Translating a poem often feels essentially like the primary act of writing, of carrying some preverbal sensation or emotions or thought over into words.” And the ubiquitous Newmark says quite simply that “A successfully translated poem is always another poem.” We subscribe to that maxim.

Of course, to translate poems, one has to find appropriate texts. In most cases, those we have translated have been texts that have come to us serendipitously. But there are occasions when someone invites you to translate. Our most recent pieces appeared in the new anthology, In a burning sea, edited by Marlise Joubert. This proved to be a most stimulating and creative process: the translators were in direct contact with the poets who read and commented on our translations. In most instances, and to our considerable relief, the poets were either entirely satisfied with our work or suggested only two or three minor alterations. However, in one instance, our translations were returned with more than a hundred changes. We were disheartened, even disillusioned. So we re-examined our translations and compared them to the revised versions the poet wanted. What we discovered was that the poet was actually altering and rewriting the Afrikaans originals every time we submitted revised translations. Eventually, it was decided that the original versions of the Afrikaans poems were to stand, together with our initial translations. Had deadlines not been looming, it might have been instructive to enter into a discussion about the ways in which our translations seemed to have precipitated the reappraisal and revision of the original poems.

~

At this juncture, I need to say that my wife, Gisela, and I translate as a team. There are advantages to this arrangement since she is a mother-tongue Afrikaans speaker, and I am a mother-tongue English speaker. As far as the translation process itself is concerned, this combination amounts to bringing the best of both worlds – a sound knowledge of both source- and target-languages – to the work at hand.

And for those inquisitive readers who wonder whether working together is stressful as far as our relationship goes, the answer is, unequivocally and perhaps disappointingly, no. That is because the translation process is one of negotiation. It is an adjunct to the processes of negotiation that Umberto Eco discusses in his book on translation, Mouse or Rat?: Translation as Negotiation.

So, assuming that some readers might be interested in such things, here are some insights into the way we work.

I usually do the initial rough draft into English, usually working from grammatical unit to grammatical unit rather than line by line. If there are lines or words that I have difficulty understanding, I retain the Afrikaans in the rough draft exactly as and where they appear in the original. At this stage, getting an overall sense of the text, of the poet’s style, while creating a document we can work on is of more immediate import than fiddling around with dictionaries.

Once the rough draft is completed, my wife joins the process. Together, we go through the problems I’ve had with the original text. We sort those out by discussing the implications of the words or phrases, and deciding on some suitable English possibilities while excluding others.

Typed up, the draft might look something like this, the initial draft of the last four lines of the ninth section of Phil du Plessis’s poem, “Asemgedig”:

 

Ek sal met hale van ’n blou kwas

’n stortvloed van reën

’n gety van vergetelheid

oor die landskap laat spoel

 

 

I shall with strokes/dashes from a blue brush

a flood/torrent/deluge of rain

a tide of vergetelheid

over the landscape let flow

 

With creation of these lines, a couple of questions arise: Where should one put the phrase, “oor die landskap”, in the English version? What would the impact be of having it at the beginning? And which alternative nouns are most suited to the context and the syllabic count of the lines? And is there an apposite verb to encompass, “laat spoel”? You’ll notice, too, that we’ve made no attempt to use English grammatical ordering at this point. It leaves possibilities open.

Once we have a rough draft entirely in English, we focus our joint attention on discussing the translation word by word, unit by unit, line by line, remembering all the while that we are working towards a text that reads like a poem written originally in English. We are quite aware of Peter Newmark’s question: “Why should a translation not sometimes read like one, when the reader knows that it is what it is?” That is all very well, but it may just seduce a translator into a literal rendering that might yield something like this: “I tripped on the carrot of a tree and broke my keybone.”

To get the English draft to a state that we are happy to abandon it – to corrupt Paul Valéry – may take days or even weeks. We revise the poem umpteen times, usually by reading it aloud, listening for stylistic infelicities, inappropriate words of the poem’s overall register, and the like. We discuss possible alterations, try them out, then retain or reject them. And so the process goes. We know we’re getting pretty close to finished when no changes come to mind immediately.

~

However, this overview doesn’t reveal the decision-making processes involved. So here’s a rather more detailed example.

The opening line of Dolf van Niekerk’s poem, “Lang reis na Ithaka” reads, “Ek ken die woede van die see”, and contains eight syllables. In this line, the only word demanding careful consideration is “woede”, since the remaining words all have English words that match both in meaning and in syllable count. It is crucial not to underestimate this line’s importance and impact as the opening of the whole poem. The word, “woede”, demands careful consideration because it is the word which initiates the atmosphere, the register of everything that follows in the poem.

According to the Pharos Afrikaans-English, English-Afrikaans Dictionary (2005:710), the word, “woede”, has the following English options: “rage, wrath, fury, ire, passion, furor”. To retain the source=language’s syllable count requires the English word to be bi-syllabic, thus excluding “rage, wrath [and] ire”. Thus we are left to choose between with “fury” and “passion”.

To be more certain of the decision, we then consider the English definitions of the word “passion”, of which there are a substantial number (Shorter Oxford Dictionary, CD-Rom, 2007):

passion /0ˈpaʃ(ə)n/ noun. OE.

[ORIGIN Old French & Modern French from Christian Latin passio(n-) suffering, affection, from Latin pass- pa. ppl stem of pati suffer: see -ion.]

► I The suffering of pain.

1 Christian Theology. (Now usu. P-.) sing. & †in pl. The narrative of the suffering of Jesus from the Gospels; esp. a musical or dramatic setting of this. OE. ▸ b The suffering of Jesus on the Cross (freq. including that in Gethsemane). Formerly also in oaths.

2  ▸ a The sufferings of a martyr; martyrdom. arch. ▸ b A narrative account of a martyrdom. ME.

3 gen. Any form of suffering or affliction. Long rare.

A painful disorder or affliction of a (specified) part of the body. Now rare or obsolete. LME. ▸ †b A violent attack of disease.

► II (An) emotion, (a) mental state.

5 (A) strong barely controllable emotion. ▸ b A fit or outburst of such an emotion. ▸ c A literary composition or passage marked by strong emotion; an emotional speech. arch.

6 (A) strong sexual feeling; a person who is the object of such feeling.

7 (An outburst of) anger or rage.

8 A strong enthusiasm for a (specified) thing; an aim or object pursued with strong enthusiasm.

► III 9 The fact or condition of being affected or acted upon by external agency; subjection to external force. Opp. action. Now rare or obsolete. ▸ †b A way in which a thing is or may be affected by external agency; a property, an attribute.

passionful adjective (rare) full of suffering, passion, or anger

The business here is to appraise every meaning not only as a suitable target-language option for the source-language word but also for its greater or lesser pertinence to the subject of the sea and the whole background of the Odyssean journey. It seems a little reckless to reject any definition until it has been fully contemplated for all its implications. In this particular instance, one cannot overlook even the definitions identified as “rare” or “obsolete”, as they may be suitable within the historical context of the poem’s subject. Given Poseidon’s persistent wrath toward Odysseus throughout the journey home, definitions 7 and 9 were distinctly attractive, while definition 3 could be easily related to Odysseus’ hardships, with definition 5 touching upon his anger towards Poseidon and vice versa.

Without making any hasty decisions about these possibilities yet bearing them in mind, we turned to the following English definitions of “fury”, also taken from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary:

 

fury /0ˈfjʊəri/ noun. LME.

[ORIGIN Old French & Modern French furie from Latin furia, from furiosus furious, from furere to rage: see -y³.]

► I 1 (A fit of) fierce passion, madness, wild anger, or frenzied rage.

2 Impetuosity or violence, esp. in battle.

3 Inspired frenzy; (artistic) inspiration. Now rare or obsolete.

4 Violence of weather, disease, or other agency.

► II 5 An avenging or tormenting infernal spirit; spec. (freq. F-) each of the three Greek or Roman goddesses of vengeance and punishment. Freq. in pl.

6 A person resembling an avenging fury; esp. an angry or malignant woman, a virago.

Almost immediately, definitions 1 and 4 present themselves as apposite within the subject and context of the text, the “wild anger or frenzied rage” and the “violence” of the weather at sea capturing the enormous power of the natural forces Poseidon commands as well as his unbridled wrath towards Odysseus. Definition 5 carries similar overtones of Poseidon’s desire to wreak vengeance on Odysseus, not least for blinding one of his sons, the one-eyed giant, Cyclops; the first half of definition 6 also seems pertinent.

In this opening line, it is difficult to conceive of “woede” being used in any positive sense, given the mythic context of the Trojan War, mentioned immediately afterwards, in line 2 of the poem. Having weighed these possibilities and their implications, we opted for “fury”, which then yielded a translated line that reads “I know the fury of the sea”, a line that is also eight syllables long. However, at that point, we were also aware that there were still 217 lines to be translated!

Readers will notice how the decision-making process involves not only the appropriateness of a definition’s meaning – to say nothing of the number of syllables it contains – but also its pertinence to the context of the myth and the Homeric account on which van Niekerk has drawn.

~

Reading translations is an integral part of developing one’s awareness and skills as a translator. Indeed comparing different translations of the same text can be an extremely instructive exercise, as I discovered when I did some comparative work on a selection of translations of The Dhammapada, a Buddhist text. It is fascinating to see what different translators make of the same source-language text. I even encountered a version which, the author stated, was not based on the source-language text but from a range of English-language translations done by previous translators.

Comparing translations of the same works can also be extremely insightful. The problem here is that it is not always easy to find multiple translations of the same work. But there are valuable exceptions. Here is an example of a particularly special form of comparison. The opening seven and the last two lines of these two translations are juxtaposed:

 

What are we waiting for, gathered in the market place?

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

 

The barbarians are to arrive today.

The barbarians are due here today.

 

Why so little activity in the senate?

Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?

 

Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?

 

Because the barbarians will arrive today.

Because the barbarians are coming today.

 

What laws should the senators make now?

What’s the point of the senators making laws now?

 

The barbarians, when they come, will do the legislating.

Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

                                       ~

 

And now, what will become of us without the barbarians?

Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?

They were a kind of solution.

Those people were a kind of solution.

 

The first translation of C.P. Cavafy’s “Waiting for the Barbarians”, was published in 1980; the second, in 1992. And one might readily detect that from the differences in diction. But what makes this comparison most intriguing and worthy of particular consideration is that they were both done by the same translators, Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. If one were going to translate this poem into Afrikaans, as Cas Vos has done recently, which text would one choose, if one weren’t working directly from the Greek original? One might even opt for a melange of lines drawn from both translations, depending on which line seemed the most “translatable”.

Equally informative are the perceptions translators themselves offer about translation. Unfortunately, it makes rather gloomy reading; there is no shortage of concurring opinions about the apparent failure of the whole translation enterprise.

Generally, there is something apologetic about their tone, especially when they are talking more specifically about the translations they have created. Jack Cope, for example, speaks of “the inadequacies translators always feel”. He goes on to say: “If translations cannot fully reflect the niceties of poetry or prose, at least one hopes they convey a sense of the meaning … and in general the vigour of expression in the original language.”

But such apprehension or anxiety is not a recent phenomenon. As far back as the seventeenth century, James Howell (c. 1594-1666) was already contributing to the sad litany:

Some hold translations not unlike to be

The wrong side of a Turkish tapestry.

If there was something sufficiently suspect about Turkish tapestries to make them a suitably sombre analogy for translations, the same was evidently true of their Flemish counterparts. In Chapter 62 of Don Quixote, Cervantes puts these words into the protagonist’s mouth:

But yet it seems to me that translating from one tongue into another, unless it is from those queens of tongues Greek and Latin, is like viewing Flemish tapestries from the wrong side; for although you see the pictures, they are covered with threads which obscure then so that the smoothness and gloss of the fabric is lost; and translating from easy languages argues no talent or power of words, any more than does transcribing or copying one paper from another. By that I do not mean to imply that this exercise of translation is not praiseworthy, for a man might be occupied in worse things and less profitable occupations.

Perhaps we should take strength from the idea of translation as a deterrent for social misdemeanour? One might even propose, albeit frivolously, that dubious social misconduct ought to be punished by a sentence of compulsory translation.

These gloomy themes persist pretty much to the present day. There is nothing like a translator’s preface to draw a melancholic pall over the day, so I shall refrain from reciting any more examples, although they seem ubiquitous in the profession.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his vast experience and accomplishment as a translator, Roy Campbell (amongst several others to whom the statement is attributed) once asserted: “Translations (like wives) are seldom faithful if they are in the least attractive.” Which probably says more about Campbell’s attitude towards women than towards translation.

Perhaps the apprehension some translators feel may be traced to some quite brutal understanding of translation. In discussing Ezra Pound’s version of Sextus Propertius, for example, J.P. Sullivan draws attention to the Italian maxim: Traducttore traditore (often translated as Translation is compromise), while Israel Ben-Yosef and Douglas Reis Skinner (in the introduction to their book of translation from modern Hebrew, interestingly titled Approximations) go so far as to say: redder est trader (to translate is to betray). If, indeed, compromise and betrayal are inherent in translating, then it is hardly surprising to find a certain reluctance to admit success. However, such assertions seem rather melodramatic when one considers the nitty-gritty of the process.

~

As we mentioned at the beginning, Paul Jennings once remarked that it is difficult to decide whether translators are heroes or fools. One wonders whether his words should be construed as synonymous or oxymoronic. Whatever the case, translation is what some of us feel driven to do, no matter how we might be labelled. If, as the pessimists tell us, translation is preordained failure, futility epitomised, unavoidable compromise, or even betrayal of a kind, it nevertheless brings worlds, cultures, and literatures to us that we cannot know in any other way.

Besides, translations are, by their very nature, transitory. But then, so too are translators.

(c) Tony Ullyatt / December 2014

Breyten Breytenbach – vertaling in Engels

Friday, November 21st, 2014

 Breyten Breytenbach – vertaal deur die outeur (en ander) /translated by the author (and others)

 

 

poem

take me through a zone of snow
farmlands with bales of hay in summertime
where birds eat the patches of words
then swarm to rhythms in motion
towards clearness, towards some clearness

take me back over the courses of a life
where loved ones lie with decayed faces
in cribs of dust
show me the purpose of the tortoise tracks in the sand
let me see the stars another final
first time blessing the earth
with clearness, with thirsty clearness

let me grasp how the wind hangs out
flags and joys for the fluttering
in the tremor of tree tops
let me hear the child cry
the boy’s laugh on his way to school
the lament of the hailer of darkness at night
for clearness, for the dream of clearness

let me stretch this body for a while yet
over the folds and the sighs of a woman
let the quivering of the spinal column be a flame
it’s all right that dark like day against the window glass
sheds the recalled in seed of forgetting
and that love and grief were mentioned
for the sake of clearness, for the sake of the silent song of clearness

take me to the highest mountain
let me carry stones in my trouser pockets
fit the wings of plastic across my shoulders
that I might soar where everything blue crackles
and only the empty level sea-mirror glitters
of clearness, of the blinding quality of clearness

lower me into the deepest well
where walls are damp from the searching of hands
for the moon that like a thought
is bobbing faceless in the deep’s dark
string the flow of words like a rope around my neck
and let me hang from the raw intertwinement of clearness

but let me sit squatting in silence
let it all come and go
let me forget and be absorbed in coming and passing away
let me hear the heart swobbling in the void
as it is a journey, a space of breath
of clearness, oh the clearness

 

(©Tr. by Waldemar Gouws / 2015 of the unpublished poem “gedig” of Breyten Breytenbach)

 

*

 

(n)oneness

“Move on!”[1] : Breyten Breytenbach

 

You will see, dear reader (have seen and read)

that for long I’ve been trying to turn so many seasons and years and cycles

into poetry

to set up a description or experience

(to kiss and to bless)

that could have been on a par with this world

 

O, not of the same kind – for inherently

something else subject to processes peculiar

to the nature of that other foot rule – writing –

and even less as gloss or fleeciness to cover that

(the fish of a different flesh)

which begs description

 

However, then rather a membrane to convey

the throbbing faithfully: to live

is really very much like living

en route to degeneration, obscuration, substitution, oblivion

 

So: not to pass off words

on whatever vibrates within or outside around you,

also not as addition to the all-around

which is without early or late or any jointing,

what is is not

 

But to learn to move. To tremble

at first light. To know (clarify)

nothing explains the bird’s piping

because it is already completely clear.

To help prevent that the again and again

not merely constitutes the multiplication of folly:

 

Disintegration really happens to be the only defence

against mortality.

 

And then to sift through the words every night

for the sake of the overriding knowledge that everything

is nonpresence

and to know you are living alongside your own

survival like a spot of shadow in the dark

 

All journeys have a beginning: even though

the final one has no end

 

Until the squall arrives or the sun splits

and you, stripped of all appearance and being, realize

it was of no avail,

the writing a fluttering

of which broken-winged birds dream,

no hem on the seamless garment

of what was lived through,

my writing that couldn’t even stir a leaf

or make a lizard sing

 

O reader – now isn’t it liberating

to could have lived for nothing

in the never-ending silent moving?

 

(c) Tr. by Waldemar Gouws / 2015 of the unpublished poem “(n)oneness” by Breyten Breytenbach

 

*

in the Rue Monsieur-le-Prince

going down on the left side

thus the Luxembourg Gardens side

where nightly little twigs are burnt by the sun

to nestle scrochingly in the trees

and this bridescake of the Odeon Theatre

that used to be a honey house of freedom

so long ago already in May sixty-eight

 

in the Rue Monsieur-le-Prince

is the restaurant where we precisely

at nine o’clock and not a day later

will meet

you will recognize me because I shall

again have a beard

even if of cheap silver

or a tree of burnt-out twigs

and the Algerian boss-cum-chef

with the mustache in the nest of red cheeks

will put his arm full of bees around my shoulder

to say

alors, mon frére – ca fait bien long temps…

 

will we order couscous mouton for two –

I can already taste the crumbly snow-yellow grains

and the bit of butter – ?

and a flask of very dark Sidi Brahim

with the taste of the sun and the sea

of the Maghreb’s vineyards?

 

what do you say to a thé à la menthe

measured in glowing glasses with little flowers

and some of that sweet stuff

which is heavy and light of honey?

 

listen how the same wind

calls through Paris’s old-old streets

 

you are my darling and I am so glad

 

(my seventy six)

 

Breyten Breytenbach (from/uit Die ongedanste dans, 2005:100-101. Lewendood, 1985; vertaling/translation Helize van Vuuren)


Breyten Breytenbach

Breyten Breytenbach is a distinguished poet, painter, novelist, playwriter, essayist and human rights activist. He is considered one of the greatest living poets in Afrikaans.  His literary work has been translated into many languages and he has been honoured with numerous literary and art awards.  Having exhibited worldwide he is also a recognized painter, portraying surreal human and animal imagery.  He was born on 16 September 1939 in Bonnievale and studied art at the Michaelis Art School in Cape Town.  In 1960 he left South Africa and went to Paris where he married Yolande Ngo Thi Hoang Lien (Yellow Lotus), a French woman of Vietnamese origin.  But he could not return to South Africa because of the Mixed Marriages Act, which classified Yolande as Coloured.  A committed opponent of apartheid in South Africa, Breytenbach established the resistance group Okela, and from 1975-1982 he was a political prisoner in South African prisons serving two terms of solitary confinement.  Both his paintings and his literary work include the notions of nomadism, values of the outsider, incarceration, death and decay, pain, movement, social criticism, memory, identity and consciousness.  Breytenbach made his debut with a collection of innovative poems in 1964 with the publication of Die ysterkoei moet sweet.  In his latest collection of poetry he engaged in a nomadic conversation with his friend, the late Palestine poet, Mahmoud Darwish.  He received the Protea Prize, Mahmoud Darwish Prize and for the French translation of Oorblyfsels/ Voice over, the Max Jacob Prize. His latest volume of poetry, forty five twilight songs, appeared with Human & Rousseau in 2014.

 

 

the opening poem

(“in the beginning there is love”)

 

to her with the tiny feet like tamed pigeons

to her whose warm breath will be strung from your mouth

as the bunting of a pleasure cruiser

to her with the mother-spot a morning star

burning next to the scar under the breast

to her for whom the crest is a barely discernible sigh

to her with the black buttocks but purple flames

in the small of the back

to her who is the consort of a king enjoying you from up high

to her who is fresh snow between the sheets

to her with the slanted eyes and the bashful nether mouth

to her who laughs at your puny haft

to her who spits in your face in a foreign tongue

to her with the long grey memory and the wrinkles

the dim sight and the initiate’s know-how

to her who chases you away like a dog

to her who gurgles when stiffening in a jerk

like a body hanged from the rope of pleasure and pain

to her who takes all the Holy Names in vain

to her with the frog between the legs

to her with the pudendum like a green guitar

swollen and smooth

never yet plucked by a singing finger

to her who thought you had wings

to her with the pitch dark mouth and the powdered tits

to her who takes you for a dead lover

to her with the erotic hands

to her who killed herself

to her who murdered you

to her whose belly is a banked fire

to her who quite still turns her head away

so that you might not taste the tears

to her with the dorsal vertebrae like a ladder of notes

praying through the fingers

to her who relishes humble pie

to her who whispers unbelievable unlawfulnesses

in your ear at first

only to spout a sudden inkwell

to her with the brown body like a master violin

to her who talks to darkness

to her who like a snake

will let all of you slither down a smooth throat

to her who has forgotten you

to her who has never heard of you

to her for whom you write dedications like nuptial dances

 

to her, for all of her

this poem

 

(From: Lady one:Of love and Other Poems, Harcourt, 2002)

(Tr. by the author)

 

 

the way back

 

then Wordfool told the woman and the child

come let us squat on our haunches

here against the climb

and look down on the smoking city

to take stock-

we remain tied to the road

as the place of origin

even though we’ve forgotten the people’s names

 

then Wordfool told the woman and the child

we are free

I know it is hard

and once every year it is good

to turn around

and look back

on the journeys and the state of the dead

 

once every year

the season goes dark

and the time is right

and ripe to bring the pumpkin

a celestial fruit of eternal life

to market

 

come let us sing

 

how shall we preserve the flesh?

in crypts mummies nod their heads

heavy with the travels of decay

moths and blight darken their coats with holes

 

how shall we exorcise distance?

we stuff the trips and the tides

with desert honey and locust meat

and forgotten remembrances of the Old Country-

that a good fragrance may come from the hills

and keep book in the dust

 

then Wordfool told the woman and the child

let’s imagine ourselves as scouts

gather wood and light the fire

to signal to the dwellers

of the dead city

that we wish to entice the moon

from her dark hollows

to reconcile with the pumpkin

 

moreover Wordfool told the woman and the child

forgive me please

one makes poems also from sticks and seeds

to capture the soft words

one is always looking for measure and rhyme

and then the combustion of incarnation

you mustn’t tell anybody

 

(From: Windcatcher: New & Selected Poems, 1964-2006, Harcourt, 2007)

(Tr. by the author)

 

 

for Michael Fried: Paris, December 21, 2004

 

we live in dark times

birds of heaven are poisoned

we roam through brightly lit halls

stare myopically at exhibitions

of grey imaginaries, encyclopaedias of passing

meticulously annotated absences of sense

 

the emptier the contents the more painfully

perfection and the perfidy of looking will flow

as the world completes itself through us

and we see corpse camps, genocide, man

abjuring his skein of belonging

in a desperate wing-beat to be

 

free of death

the birds of heaven are poisoned

and we live in dark times

 

and somewhere on fetid waters of holy rivers

burning effigies of dark-faced goddesses bob

they’ve long since stopped singing to us

 

in closet spaces we stare myopically

at the skinned life of the writer

naked like a soft dragon on the floor

to kiss a black tongue to the shoe

of his cruel beloved

the spine a curve of cursed words

and we see death camps, genocide, troughs

stuffed with corpses, man

jeering at his rope of legitimacy

in a thrashing wing-thrust

to be free of passing

has long since stopped singing to us

 

“finally, when I shave my sombre morning face

I have the impression of shaving

my cadaver before it is put on its bier

and let to water

in the putrid river of oblivion”

 

from the void comes incarnation

comes dark wind

will the wind be a wound

and signal the blind child

 

in twilit cellar chambers

we eat salad and lard and bread

suddenly recall the stories of illicit ancestors

how clumsily our mouths fold around deceased tongues

to elicit murmurs of forgetting

man relinquishes the illumination

of ever again being mad and clear

 

and out there the clear city rises

magnificent ruin of man’s monstrous imagination

where much love was committed

and murders often done by knife

while the writer sang

of incandescent rivers where goddesses bathe

the water dragon naked and blind

 

to the left a high moon slips

as petrified subconsciousness

chafed pale by dust of space and time

 

tomorrow paper snow will litter and letter

the roof-map and the nest of streets

and from gutters icy drops will drip

on dark faces of shivering wanderers

 

(From: Windcatcher: New & Selected Poems, 1964-2006, Harcourt, 2007)

(Tr. by the author)

 

 

midmorning in heaven

 

midmorning in heaven above West Hill

with moon a perforated dipper

of light       dredged from time

bone-bleached by gospel tides

of verbs become verbiage

to stool in stone the size of a dream

 

which only goes to show

that since the outset of stellar configurations

there’s been a door to life in the dark out there

 

oh watchmen, you lying low in the lee of your blindness

to leer at the light in our salt

and the shimmering of rose roosting our wounds:

if you were to gaze on the gazetted faces of the dead

you’d remember gossamer mothers in gas chambers

and know: this is not the way

to recover your identity

 

you standing in the doorways of our demure dwellings:

come inside from the blind binding out there

come darken our thresholds

come rest your whitened eyes

so that we may know ourselves

as people just like you

 

come, come drink Arabic coffee with us

and you will see us weep

and fit into coffins just like you do

 

(From: Voice Over: A Nomadic Conversation with Mahmoud Darwish, Archipelago Books, 2009)

(Tr. by the author)

 

 

measures

 

you can’t let a drunken man hold a pen

he will try to tack and sail against history

you can’t let a drunken man leave the house

before dawn

when streetlights are still green

he will go to the quay to bellow at the wind

you can’t ask a drunken man to think straight

he will tell you all about rodents in Siberia

you can’t let a drunken man walk through town

where women have long and sly eyes

he will stumble over his words and his feet

and go piss behind the laurel bush in the park

with a shiver down his spine

truly, you can’t ask a drunken man what about a poem

he will pull faces by the window at passers-by

and pretend he’s looking to rhyme with fold

you can’t believe a drunken man

when he says he has flown

even if he’s covered in bumps and bruises

and though a dirty pair of underpants

be slapping from the flagpole on city hall

you cannot ask a drunken man after the whereabouts of God

he will intimate that his underpants have been stolen

you can’t allow a drunken man to work on the roof

he will tell you he knows the ins and outs of the sound of singing

while in his naked skin listening to the greediest secrets

whispered in chimney flues

you can’t question him at all about love

for as drunken suitor he will stumble

when he offers you his heart as bag of rotten tomatoes

while his mouth is still red

you can’t expect a drunken man

to snitch on dead friends

he has a knife with a white blade in the pocket

you can’t inquire of a drunken man

if he ever thinks of death

he splutters too much when he curses and laughs

verily, I say to you

you can’t have a drunken man

cry on paper

it becomes a shitting of flies

with tears and snot

      and old wine stains

here

 

(Uncollected)

(Tr. by the author)

 

***

Other:

Breyten Breytenbach – translated by Tony Ullyatt

 

26 November 1975

May trees remain ever green
and all the stars white,
and may there always be people
who without shyness can look
each other in the eye –
because life is only one breath long
and all the stars of the Nether Regions dark –

 

I shall die and go to my father

I shall die and go to my father
in Wellington with long legs
shining in the light
where the rooms are dark and heavy
where stars sit on the roof’s ridge
and angels dig for worms in the garden
I shall die and with little baggage
hit the road
over the Wellington mountains
between the trees and the dusk
and go to my father;

The sun will beat on the earth
the wind’s waves cause the joints to creak
we hear the tenants’
abrasive shuffle above our head
we will play draughts on the back stoop
– old father cheating –
and over the radio
listen to the night’s news.

Friends, dying’s cohorts,
do not hesitate; now life hangs
still like flesh on our bodies
but death does not disappoint
we come and we go
are like water out the tap so
like sounds from the mouth
as we come and we go
our bones will know freedom –
Come with me
in my death in me go to my father
to Wellington where the angels
angle with worms for stars from heaven
let us die and perish and be cheerful:
my father has a huge boarding house.

 

[Untitled]

and the poem is the meaning
of the poem

 

(Tr. by Tony Ullyatt)

Antjie Krog – vertaling in Engels

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Antjie Krog – translated by/ vertaal deur outeur/author, Denis Hirson, Richard Jürgens, Karen Press and Tony Ullyatt

 

  

 

Antjie Krog
Antjie Krog

Antjie Krog was born in 1952 and grew up on a farm in the Kroonstad District of the Free State Province in South Africa. She is the daughter of Willem Krog and Dot Serfontein, herself a writer with whom Krog has a complex relationship of connection and disconnection as literary foremother. She studied at the University of the Free State (BA 1973, BA Hons 1976), the University of Pretoria (MA 1983) and UNISA (Teacher’s Diploma). During the 1980s she taught at a high school and teachers’ college in Kroonstad. In 1993 she became editor of the journal Die Suid-Afrikaan (The South African), based in Cape Town. From 1995 to 2000 she worked for the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation) as a radio journalist, reporting on the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commision from 1996 to 1998. During this time she also wrote articles for newspapers and journals.She has read from her work at various international literary festivals, been keynote speaker at a variety of conferences and lectured extensively on aspects of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in England, Germany, the Netherlands and the USA. In 2004 she was appointed professor extraordinaire at the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town. She is married to architect John Samuel, and has four children and three grandchildren.

Krog’s first volume Dogter van Jefta was published in 1970 when she was 17 years old, following adverse publicity about the poem ‘My mooi land’ (‘My beautiful land’) published in a school yearbook. To date Krog has published ten volumes of poetry as well as three volumes of children’s verse in Afrikaans. Her poetry is strongly autobiographical, depicting the progressive stages of her private experience within the larger context of public life in South Africa. It is also characterised by a constant reflection on the writer’s aesthetic, political and ethical responsibilities. Whereas her first four collections, published in the 1970s, focused mostly on the private experience of the female adolescent and student, the young married woman and mother, the volumes published in the 1980s became increasingly politicised. These books gave voice to a transgressive gender consciousness (Otters in bronslaai, 1981) and made use of historical material to engage with the oppressive policies of the apartheid government (Jerusalemgangers, 1985 and Lady Anne, 1989).

Krog’s first collection to be published in the nineties (Gedigte 1989-1995, 1995) was a deliberate attempt to move away from the complexity of the previous volumes and used thematic material not normally found in poetry (peeing in township toilets, for instance). Kleur kom nooit alleen nie (2000) grappled with defining her own position in post-apartheid South Africa as well as finding a place for herself in the larger context of Africa. The next volume was published simultaneously in Afrikaans and English as Verweerskrif / Body Bereft (2006), eliciting controversy for its candid account of the menopausal woman and ageing female body. Her most recent publication is Waar ek jy word / Waar ik jou word (2009), a slim collection of Afrikaans poems with Dutch translations published as the National Poetry Day booklet in the Netherlands.

Krog’s poetry is strongly metaphorical, intensely lyrical and passionate in its engagement with both the private and the political spheres of life (the main character in J.M. Coetzee’s novel Diary of a Bad Year refers to the “white heat” of her work). She mostly uses the free-verse form, but also has the ability to vary her use of poetic forms and to build densely constructed cycles and volumes.

Krog started publishing prose in the 1990s, developing a unique form of autobiographical writing which combines factual with fictional and lyrical elements. The best known of these works is her account of reporting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Country of my Skull (1998). It was her first work to be published in English and brought her international recognition. She has also written a play, Waarom is die wat voor toyi-toyi altyd so vet? which was performed at arts festivals in South Africa in 1999.

Since the late 1990s, Krog has also established herself as a translator. She has translated Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom (2001), works by Henk van Woerden and Tom Lanoye, as well as a selection of South African verse written in the indigenous African languages into Afrikaans. This was followed by a reworking of narratives in the extinct language /Xam into Afrikaans poems in Die sterre sê ‘tsau’ and English poems in The stars say ‘tsau’ (2004).

She has won major awards in almost all the genres she has worked in: poetry, journalism, fiction and translation. Her work has been translated into English, Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, Swedish and Serbian.

– Louise Viljoen  

 

 

Christmas before the first democratic election

 

after the rains

the veld gives herself like a slut to the green

of bleak barren plains suddenly nothing

to be seen     everything feasts    everything

carouses green    among thorn trees and braggart tussles          

     is the vapour of jitters and glue-lick

     the hump of karee   the foxtrot of wild olive

and for Christmas the cat-bush tiptoes red stipples

wait, see there: the ginger-green pools swell every afternoon

ample with boons of clouds reflecting lightning white

 

the excess is so unimpaired

so sudden

so cicada-singing

so well-disposedly generous

that it attests to a bloody insensitivity about us

us to whom these velds belong

lied and belied we feel    we to whom these velds belong                          

eroded bewildered assaulted we feel     we to whom these velds belong

we fold out hands around our share of chicken and trifle

perhaps the last Christmas together like this

 

this, on this farm 

 

(From: Gedigte 1989 – 1995, Hond, (1995))

(Tr. by the author)

 

 

narratives from a stone-desert called Richtersveld

narrative of Griet Farmer of Eksteenfontein

 

“I am very close to cattle

a house is nothing for me

but the open veld

I got length in the open veld

in a small round house

when we arrived here it was raining

and the daisies were so high

that when I squatted I was sitting under a floor of flowers

from that day I adopted this stony place

and love it until now

for the disposition

for the veld

the man-of-the-park fetched us one day

to show us the park where our cattle once grazed

but there was a puffadder in the road and the man stopped

drive over that thing, kill it, I shouted, it only wants to poison us

no, said the parksman and waited patiently for the snakething

to cross the road

he showed us the halfhuman

but really, that I am used to

but my eyes stabbed this way and that

for that bulb that we used to eat in the veld

it had such funny fingers

and myself and Kowa’s mouth were watering    

Kowa even took a knife to clean it of thorns                            

and so we walked and searched while the others were at the halfhuman

here I found it! the !Xona and I tore off a piece

but the man said you may not simply take a piece

and I told the man

what shall we do we have eaten this since a long time

then he said it should be protected for your children

then I said but our children do not eat bulbs

then he said Kowa and I may each take one         

Kowa silently pocketed another small one

but I am at peace now

I know they still grow somewhere”

 

 (From: Kleur kom nooit alleen nie. Kwela Boeke, 2000)

(Tr. by the author)

 

 

narrative of old nomadic movement patterns

 

in the winter the people from Paulscorner  move to Lostcourage, Hump, Goodmanswater, Ditchling, Dams, One Willow and Pits. The people from Redfountain pitch their place for grazing at Carpetthingvalley, Kammassies, Thickheadkraal and Turn. From Narrowriver lies the road through Ownedwater, Khiribes, Baboonscorner, Hosabes en Redheight. Depending on the rain Spittleriver moves to Scissormountain, Wheathigh and Partrichvalley, Stonefountain move to Newvalley, Greywater and Governmentwell. Tworivers to Wavekraal and Hareriver. Oom Jakobus moves from Ochta to Smallpoxtit and later to Oena. Ploughmountain. Bigentrails. Windblow. Kabies.

 “This pattern was completely overturned by the establishment of economic units.”

 Land Use in Namaqualand by Henry Krohne and Lala Steyn

                                                                                                          

 

narrative of goatfarmer Oom Jakobus de Wet

 

“around Jerusalem are mountains

here alone with the goats in the veld

are also mountains

but all around is God

the whole evening I feel Him coming from this side of Lizardvalley

 

the beginning of me

was at Tattasberg mountain which they now call Richtersveld

herding goats  the jackal gorge from the buttock to the stomach

the baboon is different  he doesn’t catch, he takes

he tears open at the hips

in order to thread the entrails

 

my grandchild Benjamin does the herding

his mouth told this to me this morning

himself he said he wanted to be a goatherd

and I am satisfied

God put into everybody his own talent

at night at the camp we needn’t talk

we know where grazing took place and where it should take place

it is a good life to give to a child

every child has his honour

let me say it

it is tasty to be with a grandchild

he makes me laugh

he let me say untoward things

it is good to be with him

 

because day and night one is alone here at the post with Christ

we talk

you can lie back

and look at Him with clear eyes

you only have to look

because spirit is always aware of spirit

 

my goats are branded: swallowtail and half moon in front

               try-square and swallowtail at the other ear

government has given me a stud ram

a carcassholding ram a real praise goat

among my goats I can never do apartheid

my goats are one

then the blessing of the Lord is there

but if I divide

I will bring my end

 

over midday the heat sets firmly in the hills

stones are bleached into blue

at the camp between ebony and karee

oom Jakobus turns the colon upside down

and spreads kidneyfat like breath over the branches                           

the shadelet is so shallow he mutters next to the slaughtered orrogoat

on the radio on a tin

Cobus Bester reads the one o’clock news in Afrikaans

 

fragile lies the river

open artery in the heat

the landscape unthinkable without this browngreen cut

undestructibly older than the oldest human breath on stone 

it feeds the goats of dream and the goats of dying

of nothing too many

of nothing too utterly few

 

the mountain on the other side looks as if it’s leaking

against the midday hour the mountain slakes in blue

strains away in tainted bronze                                            

the first vygies hiss in cianide

when the sun looks out I am there   I am there in lavender blue

 

I look at my watch

it is twenty minutes to three

and it means nothing absolutely nothing

we drowse between shade and grazing and heat

 

the sun at last tilts

the ridges echo of bleating as the big goats turn homewards

the strapped lambs fight with the riempies

 

nothing as soft as lambkin of goat

nothing as snouty

as delicately mouthed   defencelessly eyed

as lambkin of goat in the evening when dusks sets in

some get teat some foreign teat

and its big bleat to flat bleat to smallforlorn bleat

to gay bleat to moan bleat to spoilt bleat

to the vexed bleat of boss bleat

 

the velvet of a lamkin of goat’s ear

slips through my palm

how do I follow the lines towards you love

when the late light knells along the stones

how do I remember my shivering body in your hand

while you nibble down my spine

how do I grow you here love

next to the great river

so that the past brackish bitter year

can be sedimented into love?’

 

the goats come home

short woolen waterfalls plunge from the trees

   in the late noon dust

lambs and kraal and goat beards

flickering piss and square droppings

like the diamonds it also has form here

two nipples   callous knees

whatever they’ve eaten let them fart tonight

little horns like horny wings

which could be pure angel

but the transparent striped eyes of a male goat

speaks of the devil complaining to satan, says Benjamin

and outside his nephew Joseph is preaching

over there on the hill he stands swinging his arms

his voice blown in texts down to us

joseph preaches for the stones the valleys

to the river he sings

to the goats the night he preaches

this child is an embarrassment to me grumbles oom Jakobus  

colour never comes alone he says

colour never comes alone

 

(From: Kleur kom nooit alleen nie. Kwela Boeke, 2000)

(Tr. by the author)

 

 

WHERE I BECOME YOU (1. )

1.

you come to win me over
at the other end of the world
I hear your call
shivering night blue and blindly
bound by radiant bones

with you my head bitingly cold

unwillingly hairgrown
scentgirded
you begin to unfasten the I from the self
the inviolable once
you let loose in many

separating-laying-side-by-side
loosening one piece from another
so that the bonds seem incessantly to unfold
in the unbearably co-writing
breath of unsundered roses

to dis-
mantle
the I
from the also-I
the you
from the almost-
you-in-me

listen, you say, how un-
fathomably it grieves,
the profoundness of love

 

 

© Translation: 2009, Karen Press
From: Where I Become You
Publisher: First published on PIW, Rotterdam, 2009

 

© 2009, Antjie Krog
From: Waar ik jou word
Publisher: Poetry International / Uitgeverij Podium, Rotterdam / Amsterdam, 2009
ISBN: 9-789057-592980

 

***

 

WHERE I BECOME YOU (4. )

 

overwhelmed by the whisper of our
capacity to grip
this kneadable earth’s mantle

can I not be not-you
you not be no-one
we not be nowhere
the unheard-of befitting word
not be unsaid by us

my heart falters – more weightless than before
yet bridgeable

there where I am other than you
I begin
it’s true

but there where I am you
have become you
I sing beyond myself
light pulses of quicksilversong
a thing cast beyond all humankind

 

© Translation: 2009, Karen Press

 

© 2009, Antjie Krog
From: Waar ik jou word
Publisher: Poetry International / Uitgeverij Podium, Rotterdam / Amsterdam, 2009
ISBN: 9-789057-592980

 

***

 

WHERE I BECOME YOU (9. )

 

9.

autumn the singularity from your sleep before dawn
all signals roam through your tongue
and we hold each other’s blood in trust
my lived one
my faithsong enraptured

your non-negotiable breath
makes of us separate ones
in the course of time
o my embodied love
lingering in gravity, all-powerful: us

 

© Translation: 2009, Karen Press
Publisher: First published on PIW, Rotterdam, 2009

 

© 2009, Antjie Krog
From: Waar ik jou word
Publisher: Poetry International / Uitgeverij Podium, Rotterdam / Amsterdam, 2009
ISBN: 9-789057-592980

 

***

 

COUNTRY OF GRIEF AND GRACE

a.

between you and me
how desperately
how it aches
how desperately it aches between you and me

so much hurt for truth
so much destruction
so little left for survival

where do we go from here

your voice slung
in anger
over the solid cold length of our past

how long does it take
for a voice
to reach another

in this country held bleeding between us

b.

in the beginning is seeing
seeing for ages
filling the head with ash
no air
no tendril
now to seeing speaking is added
and the eye plunges into the wounds of anger

seizing the surge of language by its soft bare skull
hear oh hear
the voices all the voices of the land
all baptised in syllables of blood and belonging
this country belongs to the voices of those who live in it
this landscape lies at the feet at last
of the stories of saffron and amber
angel hair and barbs
dew and hay and hurt

c.

speechless I stand
whence will words now come?
for us the doers
the hesitant
we who hang quivering and ill
from this soundless space of an Afrikaner past?
what does one say?
what the hell does one do
with this load of decrowned skeletons origins shame and ash
the country of my conscience
is disappearing forever like a sheet in the dark

d.

we carry death
in a thousand cleaving spectres
affected
afflicted
we carry death

it latches its mouth to our heart
it sucks groaningly
how averse lures the light on our skin
it knows
our people carry death
it resembles ourselves
ou stomachs wash black with it
a pouch of ink
we carry death into the houses
and a language without mercy
suddenly everything smells of violence

death snaps its repentless valves in our language
yes, indefatigable meticulous death

e.

deepest heart of my heart
heart that can only come from this soil
brave
with its teeth firmly in the jugular of the only truth that matters
and that heart is black
I belong to that blinding black African heart
my throat bloats with tears
my pen falls to the floor
I blubber behind my hand
for one brief shimmering moment this country
ths country is also truly mine

and my heart is on its feet

f.

because of you
this country no longer lies
between us buth within

it breathes becalmed
after being wounded
in its wondrous throat

in the cradle of my skull
it sings   it ignites
my tongue   my inner ear   the cavity of heart
shudders towards the outline
new in soft intimate clicks and gutturals

I am changed for ever   I want to say
forgive me
forgive me
forgive me

you whom I have wronged, please
take me

with you

g.

this body bereft
this blind tortured throat

the price of this country of death
is the size of a heart

grief comes so lonely
as the voices of the anguished drown on the wind

you do not lie down
you open up a pathway with slow sad steps
you cut me loose

into light – lovelier, lighter and braver than song
may I hold you my sister
in this warm fragile unfolding of the word humane

h.

what does one do with the old
which already robustly stinks with the new
the old virus slyly manning the newly installed valves
how does one recognise the old
   with its racism and slime
its unchanging possessive pronoun
what is the past tense of the word hate
what is the symptom of brutalised blood
of pain that did not want to become language
of pain that could not become language

what does one do with the old
how do you become yourself among others
how do you become whole
how do you get released into understanding
how do you make good
how do you cut clean
how close can the tongue tilt to tenderness
or the cheek to forgiveness?

a moment
a line which says: from this point onwards
   it is going to sound differently
because all our words lie next to one another on the table now
shivering in the colour of human
we know each other well
each other’s scalp and smell   each other’s blood
we know the deepest sound of each other’s kidneys in the night
we are slowly each other
anew
new
and here it starts

i.

(but if the old is not guilty
does not confess
then of course the new can also not not be guilty
nor be held accountable
if it repeats the old

things may then continue as before
but in a different shade)

 

© Translation: 2000, Antjie Krog
From: Down to my last skin
Publisher: Random House, South Africa,
ISBN: 0 9584195 5 8

 

***

 

LAND

under orders from my ancestors you were occupied
had I language I could write for you were land my land

but me you never wanted
no matter how I stretched to lie down
in rustling blue gums
in cattle lowering horns into Diepvlei
rippling the quivering jowls drink
in silky tassels in dripping gum
in thorn trees that have slid down into emptiness

me you never wanted
me you could never endure
time and again you shook me off
you rolled me out
land, slowly I became nameless in my mouth

now you are fought over
negotiated divided paddocked sold stolen mortgaged
I want to go underground with you land
land that would not have me
land that never belonged to me

land that I love more fruitlessly than before

 

© Translation: 2000, Antjie Krog
© Karen Press
From: Down to my last skin
Publisher: Random House, South Africa,
ISBN: 0 9584195 5 8

 

***

 

MA WILL BE LATE

 

that I come back to you
tired and without memory
that the kitchen door is open I

shuffle in with suitcases hurriedly bought presents
my family’s distressed dreams
slink down the corridor the windows stained

with their abandoned language in the hard
bathroom light I brush my teeth
put a pill on my tongue: Thur

that I walk past where my daughter sleeps
her sheet neatly folded beneath her chin
on the dressing table silkworms rear in gold

that I can pass my sons
frowning like fists against their pillows
their restless undertones bruise the room

that I can rummage a nightie from the drawer
slip into the dark slit behind your back
that the warmth flows across to me

makes me neither poet nor human
in the ambush of breath
I die into woman

 

© Translation: 2000, Antjie Krog
From: Down to my last skin
Publisher: Random House, South Africa,
ISBN: 0 9584195 5 8

 

***

 

my words of love grow more tenuous than the sound of lilac
my language frayed
dazed and softened I feel myself through your stubborn struggle

you still hold me close like no-one else
you still choose my side like no-one else
against your chest I lie and I confess
you hunt my every gesture
you catch up with me everywhere
you pull me down between bush and grass
on the footpath you turn me around
    so that I must look you in the eye
you kick me in the testicles
you shake me by the skin of my neck
you hold me, prick in the back, on the straight and narrow

 

© Translation: 2000, Antjie Krog
© Karen Press
From: Down to my last skin
Publisher: Random House, South Africa, 2000
ISBN: 0 9584195 5 8

 

***

 

NARRATIVE OF THE CATTLE FARMER

Uncle Jacobus de Wet talks in poems
‘near Jerusalem there are mountains
here alone with the goats in the veld
there are also mountains
but God is all around us
I feel him approaching all evening from the direction of Akkediskloof (Lizard Canyon)

my grandchild Benjamin does the herding
he told me so himself this morning
even said he wanted to be a cattle farmer
and I’m content
God has given everyone a talent
in the evenings in the pasture we don’t have to talk
we know which have been pastured and which have yet to be pastured
it’s a good life to give a child
every child has his honour
let me just say this
it is very pleasant to be with a grandchild
he makes you laugh
he lets you talk about things that aren’t really relevant
it’s good to be with a child

because you’re alone here day and night in the pasture with Jesus
you talk
you can lie back
and with clear eyes talk to him
you only have to look
because flesh notices flesh

the river lies defenceless
open vein in the heat
the landscape unthinkable without that brown-green cut
indestructible older than the oldest human breath on stone
he feeds the goats whether they live or die
there isn’t much of nothing here
there’s much too little of nothing here
the mountain on the other side looks as if it’s leaking
at midday it is extinguished in blue

I look at the watch
it’s twenty to three
and that means absolutely nothing
we doze between coolness and eating and heat

the sun sinks at last
the ridges echo with blaring as the big goats come in to pasture
the lambs are tied up and pulling at their tethers
nothing as soft as goat’s lamb
(my language remembers)
nothing so sweet snouty
sweet to the mouth defenceless-looking as goat’s lamb
towards evening
some get their mother’s tit some get a strange tit
from full blaring to flat blaring to lost blaring
to muffled blaring to whining blaring to spoiled blaring
to irritated bossy blaring

the satin of a lamb’s ear
slips through my hand
‘how do I tie my line to you my love
when the late light strikes stone’

a colour never comes alone she says
when the ridges float and fall in blue folds of satin

the pleated mountains turn to fire
and amber
the river stills into reflecting streaks of jelly
it’s feeling time and flying time
in the violence of colour and reeds
a heron flies silently through the valley
redbreast fly-catchers, tufted ducks, seed eaters
bunched in tassels on the grassy bank by my tent
the mountain hides its stone in the water

there’s a shivering of stone and river willows and reeds
frightened by sound a dove falls from the crag

I sleep on the bank of The River
the whole day it flows past me quiet and broad like blood
from a wound – above me lie the chippings of stars
the night opens itself –
soon colour loses its original way

 

© Translation: 2004, Richard Jürgens

 

***

 

NARRATIVE OUTSIDE THE PARK

Susara Domroch of Kubus
‘well I’ll vote for Grandpa Mandela
why is it that you’re someone these days if you’re Nama?
because we’re now our own word
under the old governments we were their word
for many years we were driven to the barren places
Coloured Reserves
we were nothing
but today we’re something
and it’s him, that Granddad Mandela, it’s him
no, Mandela’s lot have got my vote’

the church in Kubus stands white against the quartzite sky
and echoes its voice among the ridges
‘o God blow and bloom your love for us’
says Uncle Adam
the congregation sing with their hands on their hearts
‘yes Jesus is a rock
in a thi-ir-sty land
a thi-ir-sty land
a thi-ir-sty land
you are like breath to me
Je-sus Je-ee-ee-sus’
Kubus hangs on the edge of Raisin Mountain

God it takes a lot to survive out here

Mrs Farmer of Eksteensfontein

‘I’m just very attached to cattle
a house isn’t for me
but the open country
I grew up like this in the open country
in a little round house
when we came here it was raining
and the marigolds were growing high
when I squatted I sat under a floor of flowers
so I made a place of my own
that I still love
for the earth
for the country’

 

© Translation: 2004, Richard Jürgens

 

***

 

NEITHER FAMILY NOR FRIENDS

 

tonight everything speaks through the dead
towards me
your brittle bundle of bones
my longestloved beloved
lies lonely and longingly cradled somewhere lost
and lean
I am overwhelmingly awake tonight
of me so little has become
you are all I had in this world
beloved deathling
alone and cold it is behind my ribs
Africa had me giving up all
it is so dark
it is so bleak
soft beloved taunter
of me so little has become
I am down
to my last skin

 

 

© Translation: 2000, Antjie Krog
From: Down to my last skin
Publisher: Random House, South Africa,
ISBN: 0 9584195 5 8

 

 

***

 

 

SONGS OF THE BLUE CRANE

(//Kabbo sings the blue crane’s story; he sings over his shoulder that the berries of the karee tree are on his shoulder; he sings as he walks)

I

the berries are on my shoulder
the berries are on my shoulder
the berries, they’re on my shoulder
the berries are on my shoulder
the berries are here, above (on my shoulder)
Rrrú is here above
the berries are here above
rrrú is here above
is here above
the berries rrú are safe (on my shoulder)

II

(while he is running away from someone)
a splinter of stone that’s white
a splinter of stone that’s white
a splinter of stone that’s white

III

(while he is walking slowly, calmly and at a steady pace)
a white stone splinters
a white stone splinters

IV

(when he flaps his wings)
scrape (the springbok for) a bed
scrape (the springbok for) a bed
     Rrrrú rrra
     Rrrú rrra
     Rrú rra

 

Poet’s Note: According to //Kabbo, the blue crane describes his own white-feathered head, which has the form of a splintered stone. The Bushmen made stone tools for the hunt and for use as cutting implements.  

© Translation: 2004, Richard Jürgens

 

 

***

 

WHAT THE STARS SAY

 

(fragment)

the stars take your heart
because the stars aren’t the least bit hungry for you!
the stars exchange your heart for the heart of a star
the stars take your heart and feed you the heart of a star
then you’ll never be hungry again

because the stars say: ‘Tsau! Tsau!’
and the bushmen say the stars curse the springbok’s eyes
the stars say: ‘Tsau!’ they say: ‘Tsau! Tsau!’
they curse the springbok’s eyes
I grew up listening to the stars
the stars say: ‘Tsau! Tsau!’

it’s always summer when you hear the stars saying Tsau

 

 

© Translation: 2004, Richard Jürgens

 

***

 

Where I Become You

When your skin screamed my bones caught fire.
Hugo Claus

1.

you come to win me over
at the other end of the world
I hear your call
shivering night blue and blindly
bound by radiant bones

with you my head bitingly cold

unwillingly hairgrown
scentgirded
you begin to unfasten the I from the self
the inviolable once
you let loose in many

separating-laying-side-by-side
loosening one piece from another
so that the bonds seem incessantly to unfold
in the unbearably co-writing
breath of unsundered roses

to dis-
mantle
the I
from the also-I
the you
from the almost-
you-in-me

listen, you say, how un-
fathomably it grieves,
the profoundness of love

 

© Translation: 2009, Karen Press

 

***

 

2.

your vowels die passing me
so close that I
could have been the one

endless the static cargo of stars
that sputtering in the night shackles us

but you that I could have been
but was not yet, you shuffle
stubbornly you sift to bestowed profusion

each leaf that falls
falls alone, I counter

your face grinds to a halt

I want
the I that is I
to stay

but where
does it begin,
this being-I?

at the place
where the I is like you
or there where the I is other than you?

my tongue goes deaf
your eyes coo from the sockets of the lost ones
just a breathlick of light
pomegranate pip light
between where I-am is
and not-you is

I decay – grit in the throat
your vowels die passing
so close
that my eyelid welds itself to your love

 

 

© Translation: 2009, Karen Press

 

***

 

3.

stars tongueblind and dying in gravitation
you come
heartstained and upwards
you come
your crystal breath
and the mouthclose sound of birds

stars tongueblind
stars dying
stars breathtakingly closest galactic sight

unwon I must become
unfastened
with wrists that can pile up stars

 

© Translation: 2009, Karen Press

 

 

***

 

4.

overwhelmed by the whisper of our
capacity to grip
this kneadable earth’s mantle

can I not be not-you
you not be no-one
we not be nowhere
the unheard-of befitting word
not be unsaid by us

my heart falters – more weightless than before
yet bridgeable

there where I am other than you
I begin
it’s true

but there where I am you
have become you
I sing beyond myself
light pulses of quicksilversong
a thing cast beyond all humankind

 

 

© Translation: 2009, Karen Press

 

***

 

5.

dismantled starfoam
stripped
swaggering starheaps of ruin
dust that thickens latent and formless

gravity’s force imposes her will
and gone at once
all sheltering

vulnerably reeling clots form their blades of light
stars vulnerable
stars pockmarked

how the spiral arms linger
around the new stately tilting tenderness
how chaotic the swirling

starspittle
starfoamfog
we could have been the ones together
if we could have recruited each other more bloodily

but now you come to recover me
at the other end of this giddy world
to be taken-apart-set-down
the nails in blood
the milk in bones
the phosphorus in the cortex
we, yes we consist of stardust

stars tongueblind
stars dying
so unimaginably we roar
so gigantically we carry our equilibrium
that, when we are cold
we glow as we burn

 

 

© Translation: 2009, Karen Press

 

***

 

6.

to reach the point
beyond the uttering of the I
the point
of the I so multitudinous
that it no longer matters
to say I
that the I is no longer itself
but discernible
multiples

of the hopelessly lovable shadows
of your collarbone

 

© Translation: 2009, Karen Press

 

***

 

7.

the winter wind
my littlest
my leftbehind
jasmine-draped skull

describes our shadow against the stone
against the wall we are
one
but your wound
keeps reflecting if I
look at you
separately
from inside the scent of your deepest arm

 

 

© Translation: 2009, Karen Press

 

***

 

8.

you
the true you
the yes-you
the grass still rustles from your ankles just
now each time I look up
turning away
departing
beloved
astral birdsong wrapped in night
come!
let a word come right through you
let more come than I
more than the undermining mine
the perjuring mine
the endlessly l-ing mine
let us become
unglowing nakedly
unmoved
that which we never
could have become alone

 

© Translation: 2009, Karen Press

 

***

 

9.

autumn the singularity from your sleep before dawn
all signals roam through your tongue
and we hold each other’s blood in trust
my lived one
my faithsong enraptured

your non-negotiable breath
makes of us separate ones
in the course of time
o my embodied love
lingering in gravity, all-powerful: us

 

 

Poet’s Note: .

Background Sources:
Govert Schilling, Evoluerend Heelal – de biografie van de kosmos, Fontaine Uitgewers Davidsfonds/Leuven, 2003
Paul Celan, Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan (translated by John Felstiner), W.W. Norton New York & London, 2001

© Translation: 2009, Karen Press

Poems published with the kind permission by Poetry International Web

 

 

 

 

 

 

 *********************************************

birth

 

at last this lovely little mammoth godawful in roses and blood

straining lovely between my legs tore loose

tumbled, no slipped out besmeared into my arms yelling birth

yelling pain yelling strength oh I throb throb throb about my

boychild my onlyest my loveliest my smallest my most superlative sound

wash him with colostrum

his arms next to his body wrap him in nappies

in a manger of songs shy murmurs from a twilight room

and feed him

feed him oh free feed him from my heart

 

(Translated by Denis Hirson)

 

 

 

how and with what?

 

I dig rennets from the sink sieve

oats and rinds burp into the drain outside the window

the nappy liners are being stunk out into the toilet

the dirty nappies sunlight soaped

bottoms washed powdered

the one cries with hunger

the other with anger

the eldest with his nervous vegetable knife voice

carves a whole superman flight through the noise

 

my man closes the door against us all

and turns up the Mozart piano concerto

 

and I go crazy

 

my voice yells a mixerpulpershreddermincer

my nose leaks like a fridge

my eyes quake like eggs in boiling water

my ears are post boxes pouting with calendars and junk mail

my children assault me with their rowdiness

           selfishness

           cheekiness

           destructiveness

their fears complexes insecurities threats needs

           beat my “image as mother” into soft steak on the wooden floor

I smell of vomit and shit and sweat

           of semen and leeks

I illustrate a kitchen

           with hair whipping dull against novilon skin

           the milk coupons of my back bent uninterestedly inside the gown

           the legs veined like blue soap

           slippers like pot scourers

I sulk like a flour bag

I am chipped like a jug

my hands drier and older than yesterday’s toast

give half-hearted slaps against the clamour

 

I go outside and sit on the step this Sunday morning

neither sober nor embarrassed

wondering

 

how and with what does one survive this?

 

(Translated by Denis Hirson)

 

Narrative outside the park

 

Susara Domroch of Kubus

‘well I’ll vote for Grandpa Mandela

why is it that you’re someone these days if you’re Nama?

because we’re now our own word

under the old governments we were their word

for many years we were driven to the barren places

Coloured Reserves

we were nothing

but today we’re something

and it’s him, that Granddad Mandela, it’s him

no, Mandela’s lot have got my vote’

 

the church in Kubus stands white against the quartzite sky

and echoes its voice among the ridges

‘o God blow and bloom your love for us’

says Uncle Adam

the congregation sing with their hands on their hearts

‘yes Jesus is a rock

in a thi-ir-sty land

a thi-ir-sty land

a thi-ir-sty land

you are like breath to me

Je-sus Je-ee-ee-sus’

Kubus hangs on the edge of Raisin Mountain

 

God it takes a lot to survive out here

 

Mrs Farmer of Eksteensfontein

‘I’m just very attached to cattle

a house isn’t for me

but the open country

I grew up like this in the open country

in a little round house

when we came here it was raining

and the marigolds were growing high

when I squatted I sat under a floor of flowers

so I made a place of my own

that I still love

for the earth

for the country’

 

(Translated by Richard Jürgens) 

***

 

 

for my son

 

the earth hangs unfinished

and when the wind starts

the child stands in Kloof Street with his school bag

 

child of mine! I call to his back

there where my heart is tightest

 

as always I am elsewhere

I think him into almonds

and arms full of pulled up light

I trace his whispers in my matrix of blood

 

shyly the child shoots across the street

the wind takes his orthodontic drool

 

it is me

          your mother

but his eyes are on the brink of leaving me

the earth lies unfinished

the wind splinters from him all that is child

and I tighten about him

past guilt past all neglect

 

I love him

way

way beyond heart

 

(Translated by the poet)

 ***

  

letter-poem lullaby for Ntombizana Atoo

 

 

1.

 

hush-hush

sleep-a-bye

sweet

sleep soft

sleep whole

sleep blackly tilted

 

childest child of mine

childling born wet born now

 

outside orbits the earth

so ah and you

so softly bloused in blue

 

let wind take your nostrils

let earth take eyes and ears and tongue

let fire let rain take your skin

 

inside crackles your tongue

your fists tiny roses clenched in plum

you     you lay in a baylet

for the last time made holy by blood and yourself

shush now

shush now

 

childkin black     childkin veld

childkin nobody

to nothing ever held

childkin breast      childkin thirst

 

hush-hush

sleep-a-bye

sweet

sleep soft

sleep whole

sleep blackly tilted

 

 

2.

 

the wind is all over the sky

with my voice on its way to you

you who lies irrefutably stippled

somewhere in cloth and herb

in songlets and pain

your vertebrae curving against what’s to come

hold on dear child

against it all

 

that you could see the earth

clinging with suns and moons and comets and meteorites

the windfiltered sky

in tufts of fire tomatoes fly out among leaves

the moon reports in milk

in the thorn trees next to the road

     the stars also hum their way to you

you have to see

you have to hear how the sun lures the wind over your threshold

taste how the water changes to still ivory plates in the setting sun

 

dear child the earth glows of heaven

 

 

3.

 

I will come and claim you from bones and bullets and violence and aids

from muteness from stupidity from the corrupt faces of men

I’ll gather you from millions of refugees

from hunger and thirst from the damp of cries and the stink of tolerated grief

the desperate mangle of dreams

from the back I’ll recognise the brave stalk of your neck

I will catch up with you

and pull you out by the arm

 

because you have to see differently

for us Africans – us the children of the abyss

we all have to balance differently

this continent drifting like a big black plundered heart on the globe

continent that is us

continent throbbing with blood in the vast ventricles of desert

     and forest savannah and stone

forlorn continent

on which so many lost figures commit lost deeds of forlorn trust

big aggressive heart on which thousands die daily without sound

decaying in heaps

into raking brooms of bones

 

I want it to be you my smallest

that between your ribs

you have to feel the tremor that things have to be different

that something has to become true of what we are

 

that what we are as Africans is something so soft so humanly skinned

so profoundly constitutionally big and light and kind as soul

so caring as to surpass all understanding

 

motho ke motho ke batho babang

rather

we are what we are because we are of each other

 

why do we keep on then being so wrong?

 

I lay my cheek next to yours

I want to breathe into you

to care

to care

hush-hush

 

 

4.

 

I want to join your shoulderblades into tiny wings

     to breast the roaming despair

lovely thing I am so close to you your cheek lies in peach down

your necklet wobbles this side that side

next to your mother who sleeps with her head turned towards you

do you hear me?

everything is so lucid tonight

your mouth has loosened a little from the breast

do you hear me?

I who am all-that-is-white

who am lightningwhite and indissolubly always only myself

I want you to make this continent yours

     bask in your hands this morose mumbling heart

     cradle it so that Africa at last splays out its clogged crooked valves

     rig its full sails to the wind and navigate the earth in celebration

it has become yours

it has become mine

it is ours

 

dark outside

a chain rustles and I hear magazines slip off into the grass

I stop breathing and bend over you

my finger touching your fist

which slips open and holds me immediately

tightly

your mother stirs

loveliest thinniken thing I have just come to say hi!

and welcome

and that something of me will go with you

and that you needn’t know of it

 

 

5.

 

weep

weep for the past centuries and their defeated mutilated survivors

weep for the injustice and the closed perspective of greed

 

how does one become new?

how does one find a mechanism into the future

underneath all this dictatorial dust and portions of obese scum

 

the moment that humanity lifts her head

let us recognise it!

 

because the heart waits on her banner

 

my eyes screw loose

on the road to the millennium

 

may the coming epoch belong to Africa

revealed by an obstinate landscape of words

and a little girl with wild plaits and cheeky slender neck

making poems along the dusty road singing forward the way…

 

(Translated by the poet)

 

 

 

because of you

 

because of you

this country no longer lies

between us but within

it breathes becalmed

after being wounded

in its wondrous throat

in the cradle of my skull

it sings, it ignites

my tongue, my inner ear, the cavity of heart

shudders towards the outline

new in soft intimate clicks and gutturals

of my soul the retina learns to expand

daily because of a thousand stories

I was scorched

a new skin.

I am changed for ever. I want to say:

f o rgive me

f o rgive me

f o rgive me

You whom I have wronged, please

take me

with you.

 

(Translated by the poet)

 

 ***

 

Body Bereft

 

wednesday 18 june

over my terrified

body my hand moves again up to

my breast again hoping

that the lump of clay will not be there

that the hand misconstrued

that it has indeed vanished in the

 

meantime. the mountain stands

stripped clean and burnt through. I live by the

breath of the mountain alone.

I have no other competence. on

the windward side fringes of light sing, on

the lee side there is nought

 

from the waist you

blindly suppose yourself

secretly whole, you try to defuse

 

your body’s insurgence

against your body. let the stone lump

grow cold in the fog, let

the pine trees tilt like umbrellas in

a cortège, let my thoughts

steam to ripeness in sorrow. but I,

 

I am occupied this

morning: softly I coax my breasts to

unwind in foam, let them

freely drowse in tranquil fragrance, then

I rinse them in honey

to luminous shape and there where the

 

mammogram reveals its

blackest clot, I lather in light, I

caress with the sweetest

tonality of breath, of light-limbed

tintinnabulous bliss

there the light soaks in so blindingly

 

that the black membrane feels

itself blessed by blue, diluting its

viscous toxic polyps,

dissolving them to effluence. see

the rust bleed like biestings

from my nipples. Whole like a whiplash

 

I want to live on this earth.

                                                (late night)

fuck-all. I feel fuck-all

for the life hereafter – it’s now that

I want to live, here that

 

I want to live. when I

look at you I grow sad, oh yes as

sad as the heart can see

 

sunday 22 june

my heart

whimpers on her hinges. I want to

touch something, hold something,

revive the wholeness that once was mine.

 

I want to return with

my previous body. I am not

I, without my body

only through my body can I in-

habit this earth. my soul

is my body entire. my body

 

embodies what I am.

do not turn against me, oh do not

ever leave me. do not

cave in around me, do not plummet

away from me, do not

die off on me, do not leave me with-

out testimony. I

have a body, therefore I am. step

into the breach for me –

yes, you are my only mandate to

engage the earth in love.

 

monday 23 june

the last rains of winter fall

faster than yearning or winter trees

with lymphatic systems

against the wintry light. it’s as if

I am young again in

my upper arms suddenly, and smooth

 

at the back of my head.

my body glows complete, my elbows

hang free with my senses

extended over my skin. I see

the mountain, maintaining

herself on her cliffs, containing her-

 

self in stone as stone, her-

self complete in herself. she decays

with the earth in the tongue

of eternity. I can do nought

but ascend in her with

roaring immaculate radiance

 

sunday 3 october

steadily the days curve

more brightly over me. the blossoms

are crushed by the wind. on

some inclines I shall never saunter

again. from the earliest

times you have been identified daily

 

and appropriated with

eyes and inhalations. only in

some imaginations

are you methodically flaked off.

my heart knows that you have

nothing to do with us, that you are

 

lost deep in the concept

of mountain, that the word mountain is

an abstract noun, that blue

is a verb, stone a friend, for next to

you I become she and

she he and we irrevocably

 

become us, because you

remain you. all in-

cantations of yearning

tilt in my chest. my pulse resounds with

poems and axillary

feathers, my blazing gizzard

 

buzzes with rhyme. I hone

my heart to yours. I shall never let

you leave me. words my mouth

will lose – my seams will be undone – I

speak many tongues but not

one of them any longer my own

 

(Translated by the poet)

 

 

 

for my son

 

the earth hangs unfinished

and when the wind starts

the child stands in Kloof Street with his school bag

 

child of mine! I call to his back

there where my heart is tightest

 

as always I am elsewhere

I think him into almonds

and arms full of pulled up light

I trace his whispers in my matrix of blood

 

shyly the child shoots across the street

the wind takes his orthodontic drool

 

it is me

          your mother

but his eyes are on the brink of leaving me

the earth lies unfinished

the wind splinters from him all that is child

and I tighten about him

past guilt past all neglect

 

I love him

way

way beyond heart

 

(Translated by the poet)

 

 

 

my words of love

 

my words of love grow more tenuous than the sound of lilac

my language frayed

dazed and softened I feel myself through your stubborn struggle

 

you still hold me close like no-one else

you still choose my side like no-one else

against your chest I lie and I confess

you hunt my every gesture

you catch up with me everywhere

you pull me down between bush and grass

on the footpath you turn me around

    so that I must look you in the eye

you kick me in the testicles

you shake me by the skin of my neck

you hold me, prick in the back, on the straight and narrow

 

(Translated by the poet)

 

 

the day surrenders to its sadness

 

the day surrenders to its sadness

over palm tree and roof the rain reigns mercilessly

the small white house with trellis and high verandah

stands like a warm cow her backside to the rain

eyes tightly shut

 

inside a woman moves from window to window

as beautiful as sunlight through vine leaves

as beautiful the drops on green

the rain on avocado bark

on the flintstone of leaves

the bougainvillaea sparkling wet, sly

keel green on apricots

 

the double hibiscus groans desperate and red in the dark

 

the intimacy inside is tangible

children sleeping damp in their room

the man in front of the heater

with art book cigarette and wine his eyes

glance up somewhat drenched in love

 

dusk snuffles softly against the gutters

a woman wanders from one steamed window to another

and sees the house constantly from an outside perspective

disabled and thanks to the light in every window

barely conscious of the total magnitude

 

a warm cow her backside to the rain

 

(Translated by the poet)

 

 

 

latin-american love song

 

neither the moist intimacy of your eyelids fair as fennel

nor the violence of your body withholding behind sheets

nor what comes to me as your life

will have so much slender mercy for me

as to see you sleeping

 

perhaps I see you sometimes

for the first time

 

you with your chest of guava and grape

your hands cool as spoons

your haughty griefs stain every corner blue

 

we will endure with each other

 

even if the sun culls the rooftops

even if the state cooks clichés

we will fill our hearts with colour

and the fireworks of finches

even if my eyes ride a rag to the horizon

even if the moon comes bareback

even if the mountain forms a conspiracy against the night

 

we will persist with each other

sometimes I see you for the first time

 

(Translated by the poet)

 

 

 

marital psalm

 

this marriage is my shepherd

I shall not want

in a swoon he loves me

and lusts after me with disconcerting fitness

man who makes me possible

(though I can fight him spectacularly)

(the way we make a double bed

shows an undivided indestructible pact)

 

sometimes he catches me by the hind leg

as one big piece of solid treachery

persecutes me

fucks me day and night

violates every millimetre of private space

smothers every glint in my eye which could lead to writing

 

“do our children successfully in respectable schools have to see

how their friends read about their mother’s splashing cunt

and their father’s perished cock

I mean my wife

jesus! somewhere a man’s got to draw the line”

 

I will fear no evil

the rod and the staff they comfort me

 

(Translated by the poet)

 

 

 

stripping

 

while you undress

I watch through my lashes

that bloody thick cock

prudish and self-righteous it hangs

head neatly wrinkled and clear cut

about its place between the balls – wincing in my direction

 

and I think of its years and years of conquest

night after fucking night through pregnancies

menstruation abortion pill-indifference

sorrow how many lectures given honours

received shopping done with semen dripping

on the everyday pad from all sides

that blade cuts

 

that cock goddamit does more than conquer

it determines how generous the mood

how matter-of-fact how daring the expenditure

standing upright it is bend or open-up

and you better be impressed my sister

not merely lushy or horny

but in bloody awe, yes!

everything every godfucking thing revolves around the maintenance of cock

and the thing has no heart no brain no soul

it’s dictatorial a fat-lipped autocrat

it besieges the reclusive clitoris

a mister’s Mister

 

somewhere you note numbers and statistics

that morning in Paris and again that night

your hands full of tit

 

I am waiting for the day

oh I look forward to the day the cock crumbles

that it doesn’t want to

that in a rosepoint pout it swings only hither and dither

that it doesn’t ever want to flare

but wiggle waggles unwillingly

boils over like a jam pot or fritters away like a balloon

 

and come it will come

because rumour has it

that for generations

the women in my family kapater their men with

yes with stares

oh jesus, and then we slither away like fertile snakes in the grass

taking shit from nobody

and they tell me

my aunts and my nieces and sisters they laugh and tell me

how one’s body starts chatting then how it dances into tune

at last coming home to its own juices

 

(Translated by the poet)

 

 

 

birth

 

at last this lovely little mammoth godawful in roses and blood

straining lovely between my legs tore loose

tumbled, no slipped out besmeared into my arms yelling birth

yelling pain yelling strength oh I throb throb throb about my

boychild my onlyest my loveliest my smallest my most superlative sound

wash him with colostrum

his arms next to his body wrap him in nappies

in a manger of songs shy murmurs from a twilight room

and feed him

feed him oh free feed him from my heart

 

(Translated by the poet)

 

 

 

how and with what?

 

I dig rennets from the sink sieve

oats and rinds burp into the drain outside the window

the nappy liners are being stunk out into the toilet

the dirty nappies sunlight soaped

bottoms washed powdered

the one cries with hunger

the other with anger

the eldest with his nervous vegetable knife voice

carves a whole superman flight through the noise

 

my man closes the door against us all

and turns up the Mozart piano concerto

 

and I go crazy

 

my voice yells a mixerpulpershreddermincer

my nose leaks like a fridge

my eyes quake like eggs in boiling water

my ears are post boxes pouting with calendars and junk mail

my children assault me with their rowdiness

           selfishness

           cheekiness

           destructiveness

their fears complexes insecurities threats needs

           beat my “image as mother” into soft steak on the wooden floor

I smell of vomit and shit and sweat

           of semen and leeks

I illustrate a kitchen

           with hair whipping dull against novilon skin

           the milk coupons of my back bent uninterestedly inside the gown

           the legs veined like blue soap

           slippers like pot scourers

I sulk like a flour bag

I am chipped like a jug

my hands drier and older than yesterday’s toast

give half-hearted slaps against the clamour

 

I go outside and sit on the step this Sunday morning

neither sober nor embarrassed

wondering

 

how and with what does one survive this?

 

(Translated by the poet)

 

 

***

 

 

neither family nor friends says Lady Anne Barnard

 

tonight everything speaks through the dead

towards me

your brittle bundle of bones

my longest loved beloved

lies lonely and longingly cradled somewhere lost

and lean

I am overwhelmingly awake tonight

of me so little has become

you are all I had in this world

beloved deathling

alone and cold it is behind my ribs

Africa had me giving up all

it is so dark

it is so bleak

soft beloved taunter

of me so little has become

I am down

to my last skin

 

(Translated by Karen Press)

 

 

 

Where I Become You

When your skin screamed my bones caught fire.

Hugo Claus

 

1.

you come to win me over

at the other end of the world

I hear your call

shivering night blue and blindly

bound by radiant bones

 

with you my head bitingly cold

 

unwillingly hairgrown

scentgirded

you begin to unfasten the I from the self

the inviolable once

you let loose in many

 

separating-laying-side-by-side

loosening one piece from another

so that the bonds seem incessantly to unfold

in the unbearably co-writing

breath of unsundered roses

 

to dis-

mantle

the I

from the also-I

the you

from the almost-

you-in-me

 

listen, you say, how un-

fathomably it grieves,

the profoundness of love

 

2.

your vowels die passing me

so close that I

could have been the one

 

endless the static cargo of stars

that sputtering in the night shackles us

 

but you that I could have been

but was not yet, you shuffle

stubbornly you sift to bestowed profusion

 

each leaf that falls

falls alone, I counter

 

your face grinds to a halt

 

I want

the I that is I

to stay

 

but where

does it begin,

this being-I?

 

at the place

where the I is like you

or there where the I is other than you?

 

my tongue goes deaf

your eyes coo from the sockets of the lost ones

just a breathlick of light

pomegranate pip light

between where I-am is

and not-you is

 

I decay – grit in the throat

your vowels die passing

so close

that my eyelid welds itself to your love

 

3.

stars tongueblind and dying in gravitation

you come

heartstained and upwards

you come

your crystal breath

and the mouthclose sound of birds

 

stars tongueblind

stars dying

stars breathtakingly closest galactic sight

 

unwon I must become

unfastened

with wrists that can pile up stars

 

4.

overwhelmed by the whisper of our

capacity to grip

this kneadable earth’s mantle

 

can I not be not-you

you not be no-one

we not be nowhere

the unheard-of befitting word

not be unsaid by us

 

my heart falters – more weightless than before

yet bridgeable

 

there where I am other than you

I begin

it’s true

 

but there where I am you

have become you

I sing beyond myself

light pulses of quicksilversong

a thing cast beyond all humankind

 

5.

dismantled starfoam

stripped

swaggering starheaps of ruin

dust that thickens latent and formless

 

gravity’s force imposes her will

and gone at once

all sheltering

 

vulnerably reeling clots form their blades of light

stars vulnerable

stars pockmarked

 

how the spiral arms linger

around the new stately tilting tenderness

how chaotic the swirling

 

starspittle

starfoamfog

we could have been the ones together

if we could have recruited each other more bloodily

 

but now you come to recover me

at the other end of this giddy world

to be taken-apart-set-down

the nails in blood

the milk in bones

the phosphorus in the cortex

we, yes we consist of stardust

 

stars tongueblind

stars dying

so unimaginably we roar

so gigantically we carry our equilibrium

that, when we are cold

we glow as we burn

 

6.

to reach the point

beyond the uttering of the I

the point

of the I so multitudinous

that it no longer matters

to say I

that the I is no longer itself

but discernible

multiples

 

of the hopelessly lovable shadows

of your collarbone

 

7.

the winter wind

my littlest

my leftbehind

jasmine-draped skull

 

describes our shadow against the stone

against the wall we are

one

but your wound

keeps reflecting if I

look at you

separately

from inside the scent of your deepest arm

 

8.

you

the true you

the yes-you

the grass still rustles from your ankles just

now each time I look up

turning away

departing

beloved

astral birdsong wrapped in night

come!

let a word come right through you

let more come than I

more than the undermining mine

the perjuring mine

the endlessly l-ing mine

let us become

unglowing nakedly

unmoved

that which we never

could have become alone

 

9.

autumn the singularity from your sleep before dawn

all signals roam through your tongue

and we hold each other’s blood in trust

my lived one

my faithsong enraptured

 

your non-negotiable breath

makes of us separate ones

in the course of time

o my embodied love

lingering in gravity, all-powerful: us

 

(Translated by Karen Press)

 

 

***

 

 

colonialism of a special kind: 2
 

what becomes of those who choose to live on the earth lightly
here today there tomorrow
the only trace that they leave
the language of grass and trees

what becomes of them?

what becomes of those who choose to care for everyone
who always seek out the place of humanity in rich and poor
who cannot endure that people suffer

what becomes of them?

the earth belongs to the mighty
and the abundance thereof
the world and all who live in it

what becomes of them?

 

(Translated by Tony Ullyatt)

 

 

 

Closed Gate

 

Nonetheless let me break through
the hedge of your eyes just once
so that I can know
if it is for me
that you are growing white jasmine.

 

(Translated by Tony Ullyatt)

 

 

 

Haiku I

 

to possess your joy
is to be living in a
day which never breaks

 

(Translated by Tony Ullyatt)

 

 

 

Stay with Me

 

stay with me
        when it rains
        so that my sorrow can be small

stay with me
        with the fold of your hands
        so that the wind blows past my ears

stay with me
        with your white owlet
        so that I forget about my dying

stay with me
        when the earth’s lower half cracks
        and my small island sinks in the night.

 

(Translated by Tony Ullyatt)

 

 

 

I would

(for John)

 

I dearly want to make you happy
I would write verse for you
        sober and supple as you are
I would sing for you
        each night while you sleep
I would give myself to you
        still as a fever tree
        sweet and open like medlars
                like mopanies in the autumn
                like marulas in the summer
        brown and whole like baobabs
        fiery like the bleeding hands of a coral tree
I dearly want to give you something to carry
that will remain with you like a little warm lizard
one day when you sit, old and all alone, in the sun.

 

(Translated by Tony Ullyatt)

 

 

Boerneef – vertaling in Engels

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Boerneef – vertaal deur Tony Ullyatt

 

 

Six Songs for Yesteryear

 

1

The young green of an oak tree:

that is spring for me

add in a malachite sunbird

only then it is really spring

the profusion of the double green

is doubly glorious to the eye

it helps later for the sun’s burning

this green gladness for the eye

 

2

The rain pours at Koorsteenberg

the fig orchards and the karee trees drink

the rain greys at Koorsteenberg

the rain sieves down at Koorsteenberg

this year woolly sheep will plump up once more

and the buck wagon creak under the heavy load of wool

 

3

Listen to the partridges and the pheasants

singing partridgeandpheasant hosannas

first it was dry and the world grey

and dismal for pheasants and partridges

now it has rained

the veld is wet

the pheasants hoppityskip along my dear

all the partridges and pheasants

sing partridgeandpheasant hosannas now

 

4

My heart blossoms white

for the chestnut-haired girl

I pick heather of the reddest red

for this chestnut-haired girl

Bellabint my young girl

it is heart-blossom white

it is heather red

for you my chestnut-haired girl

 

5

Nothing hangs as red as vineyard leaves

at Hex River

nothing stands so yellow as the autumn poplars

along the Dwars River at Ceres

stand stock still hold your breath

and look long and reverently

as a person should look at such an autumn

let it burn in you for some later time

the warm yellow and red for times gone by

 

6

You are all alone

you live alone

and play your squeezebox on a Saturday night

some notes here

some notes there

a bit of pleasure on a moonlit night

no one knows a potion for loneliness later

you become quieter, quieter still

and later dead still

 

Politieke opportunisme

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010
W.E. Henley

W.E. Henley

In gister se Nuuswekker het ek melding gemaak van die prominensie wat W.E. Henley (1849 – 1903) se gedig “Invictus” tans vanweë die gelyknamige film oor die Springbokke se wêreldbekersege in 1995 in die gemoed van onwaarskynlike poësieliefhebbers geniet. En getrou aan hul opportunistiese aard is dit veral politici wat munt hieruit probeer slaan.

Voor in die koor is dit hoeka Gordon Brown wat die reëls “In the fell clutch of circumstance / I have not winced nor cried aloud./ Under the bludgeonings of chance / My head is bloody, but unbowed.” as bron tot sy lewensinspirasie voorhou. “It is about determination. It summarises my view [of being prime minister],” het hy aan die London Times se verslaggewer gesê.

Maar, soos Daisy Goodwin in haar berig heel tereg opmerk: miskien moes hy eers die ontstaansgeskiedenis van dié gedig nagevors het alvorens hy dit in navolging van oud-president Nelson Mandela as harts-inspirasie voorgehou het.

Henley het dié gedig naamlik geskryf terwyl hy in 1870 gehospitaliseer was vir bykans twee jaar na die amputasie van sy een been en die stryd om sy oorblywende been te probeer red. Hy het tuberkulose onder lede gehad. Verdermeer is dieselfde gedig deur die bomplanter van Oklahoma, Timothy McVeigh, voorgedra enkele minute voor sy teregstelling in 2001. Selfs Jeffery Archer kon nie die versoeking weerstaan om sy eie tronk-memoirs met ‘n aanhaling uit dié gedig as motto te publiseer nie.

Alhoewel politici al te gretig is om die digkuns by te sleep wanneer hulle indruk probeer maak, geld dieselfde gode sy dank nie vir die digters wanneer hulle oor politici dig nie. Ter illustrasie plaas ek vanoggend ‘n paar aanhalings onder aan die Nuuswekker vir jou leesplesier.

***

Dan is die vreugde vandag dat dit Hennie Aucamp se verjaarsdag is … Veels geluk, Hennie. Mag daar sommer nog heelwat skryfsels voortvloei uit daai kranige pen van jou! (En onthou ook om Hennie se nuwe verse te lees indien jy dit nog nie raakgesien het nie.)

***

Op die webblad is daar wonderlike nuwe inskrywings geplaas deur Carina Stander en Ilse van Staden, terwyl Melt Myburgh op sy blog begin het met ‘n reeks besprekings oor poësie-items tydens die komende Woordfees. (Onthou: die volledige program kan hier beskou word.)

Nog ‘n vreugde vanoggend is nuwe gedigte deur Cas Vos en Marlise Joubert. En dan het ons sommer ‘n hele klomp Afrikaanse gedigte in Engelse vertaling van Tony Ullyatt ontvang. Dié vertalings sal later vanoggend hier te lese wees. Digters wie se verse geplaas gaan word, is: Jeanne Goosen, Antjie Krog, George Weideman, Wilma Stockenström, Phil du Plessis, Wilhelm Knobel, Boerneef, Breyten Breytenbach, Rosa Keet, EWS Hammond en Gisela Weingartz.

Wat ‘n ryke oes! Lekker lees aan alles en hê pret vandag.

Mooi bly.

LE

 

“Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leech-like to their fainting country cling
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.

(Shelley, 1819)

“All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky

(WH Auden, 1920)

“… How it takes the breath away, the piss, makes of your kiss a dropped pound coin,
makes of your promises latin, gibberish, feedback, static,
of your hair a wig, of your gait a plankwalk.
How it says this – politics – to your education education education; shouts this –
Politics! – to your health and wealth; how it roars, to your
conscience moral compass truth, POLITICS POLITICS POLITICS.

(Carol Ann Duffy, 2009)

“A talented young chimpanzee
Was keen to appear on tv
He wrote to Brooke Bond
But they didn’t respond
So he had to become an MP.

(Wendy Cope)

“I wanna be the leader
I wanna be the leader
Can I be the leader?
Can I? I can?
Promise? Promise?
Yippee, I’m the leader
I’m the leader

OK what shall we do?”

(Roger McGough)

 

 

 

Wilma Stockenström – vertaling in Engels

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Wilma Stockenström – vertaal deur Tony Ullyatt

 

Wilma Stockenström  has published six volumes of poetry, six novels, and a play. In 2008 a selection of her poems was published. After graduating from Stellenbosch University, she worked as a radio announcer in Pretoria. She made her début as an actress in Een bruid in de morgen (A bride in the morning) by Hugo Claus and appeared in several productions of South African television. In 1970 she published her first volume of poetry, Vir die bysiende leser (For the near-sighted reader). In 1977 she was awarded the prestigious Hertzog prize for her poetry; in 1992 she received the same prize for her prose. Her impressive novel Die kremetartekspedisie (Expedition to the Boabab) appeared in Dutch, German, French, Swedish, Italian and Hebrew translation.

 

I gift you my walled-in days

 

I gift you my walled-in days
because they are all I possess.
For you my days, the retrenched ones.
You will build up some system from them.
You will bestow meaning on what stands
stubby like hewn trees. I
offer you my doleful wizenedness.

 

 

Of all my bright yellow days

 

Of all my bright yellow days
I would write this one down;
that later I could know how swarms
of doves flutter from roofs
and that, if I wanted, I
could read of a bright yellow
day and of you here beside me.

Rosa Keet – vertaling in Engels

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Rosa Keet – vertaal deur Tony Ullyatt

 

 

a private thing


 

and if I had to die now
bury me on a sand dune
between bushes with a view of the sea
a litre coke a carton of cigarettes
and a book or two
I am not very flashy
but an eiderdown and a blow-up mattress
would also be welcome

and differently from the mass graves at ur or dachau
(where they cram the place full)
I think a grave is a private thing
and besides I am too egocentric
for an epitaph such as:
here lies pete and john and the world and his wife etcetera etcetera
besides when I feel lonely I can

always go and haunt someone as a guest.