Um Poema Errante / A Wandering Poem by Christian Marques & Angharad Hengyu Owen

Reviewed by Jennifer Edgecombe

Um Poema Errante /A Wandering Poem is a bilingual, English-Portuguese collaborative project by poet Christian Marques and graphic artist Angharad Hengyu Owen, tracing an eight-month journey across Europe and Asia. I am reviewing the ‘zine edition’, which is a 32-page, smaller-than-A5 booklet published by the Colliding Lines collective. This accompanies a larger, 200 page production, available on the author’s website, which looks like a thick, glossy, white block of pages – more art-object than book. It is a tantalising, curious project to unfold and review.

The zine edition forces me to jump straight in – through the titleless title page and sparse cover – to the first poem, with the English translation on the left page and the Portuguese translation on the right. The first words read ‘Acknowledgement / Nice’ before leading straight into the first line of the first poem. I do not speak Portuguese but can establish that ‘Reconhecimento’ is the mirrored translation of ‘Acknowledgement’. There appears to be a gap where ‘Nice’ should be. A quick flick through the zine shows that the word ‘Nice’ appears again twice more at the top of two further pages, seemingly without a translation (it may be the place in which the poem is located at the time?). This gap in expectation introduces the rule that Angharad’s design is not simply a mirror of Christian’s work, but is also an aesthetic interpretation of the text itself, just as Christian’s original poems are an effective translation of his experiences while travelling.

Presenting two languages within the text also introduces themes of transition and the migration of subjects. In an online video, Christian notes that the translation led to interesting changes of expression, just as Angharad’s design leads to new meanings surfacing: ‘everything has an effect on everything else’. 

The opening poem, typed as formatted below, contains a pleasing use of white space, creating a secondary poem on the page. Through her use of space, Angharad creates a ‘vertical word tunnel’ using Christian’s words, and applies another layer of meaning and interpretation to the text. The base poem reads:

 

A man, found himself being without knowing

 why              he was

 

         And in an instant, his horizon

             blurred

       out, could no longer be

distinguished.

 

Angharad’s use of space creates this secondary poem:

 

being

he was

 

instant

blurred

no longer

 

I love this ‘poem within a poem’ technique, for it demonstrates the unique partnership between word and design that this book promotes.

Within experimental/design-based poetry, it is important that the layout is relevant to the subject matter. This perhaps doesn’t work as well in the poem on page 10: the layout overtakes meaning and becomes isolating. The English translation looks like a tower block to the left of the page, with the Portuguese text on its right hand side. It runs down the tower’s edge, set out as a more traditional form. The white text on a black background makes it look like a tower at night, with the white words symbolising room lights. The words in the ‘tower’ are spaced out to create this effect:

 

T h e

c       i       t      y

h    i     d     e    s

 

The English translation features the phrase ‘The city hides secrets / alchemical / esoteric / in the transfigured geometries of the old houses’, which justifies the poem’s concrete design. However, the rest of the poem contains quite beautiful imagery which I feel gets lost inside this stylistic form, such as, ‘the wood rots with a wicked appearance / its smell spreads stories’. Personally, I find this example too technically Concrete and gain more of an effect from reading the Portuguese version. Having to establish what the words are through the spaced out design slows me down and therefore distracts from the original wording.

The strength of this book lies in its layers of interpretation between the word, the page and the reader. The poem might not have been designed to look like a tower at night at all. What I distinguish as text in the shape of the moon or a fingerprint, or even a ‘word tunnel’, might not have been the intended effect. This successful collaboration leads to a transcendence of experience for the reader, and is highly effective as both a collection of poetry and a piece of art.

Crying For No Reason by Kim Kyung Ju, translated by Jake Levine

Reviewed by Jenna Clake

Kim Kyung Ju’s Wikipedia page states that he was once considered a ‘classical’ poet, before becoming more concerned with performance poetry and theatre. The performance element of his poetry is evident in Crying For No Reason: repetition is frequent, and simple and evocative images are revisited and reimagined, so that the poems appear to be one long interconnected piece of work.

In the first poem, ‘Sweep up a Flock’, an image is established and then refigured:

Like the sound of washing thighs in cold water, a flock
of birds takes flight.

A ridge is formed from the thighs of a flock of birds.
Wild roses bloom on the thighs of a flock of birds.

By comparing the flock of birds to a human body part, Kyung Ju establishes a connection between humans and nature. Throughout the pamphlet, Kyung Ju explores whether this connection is positive or not – at the end of this poem, the speaker ‘sweep[s] up a flock of fallen birds’. Surreal collisions appear throughout: in ‘Mug Cup’, a bird and rat leave their feet behind without much trouble. In ‘Reindeer on My Upper Lip’ the human body becomes a habitat:

Once upon a time, a baleen whale
Breached upon my upper lip.
When my ears got hot the ice began to melt
and the reindeer carefully licked the flapping whale.

As the reindeer aid the stranded whale, they ignore the speaker and ‘sorrowfully mumble to themselves’. The human is made unfamiliar and imposing, but the speaker believes the reindeer to be ‘dangerous’ instead.

Misunderstandings, or attempts to understand, are a crucial element of the poems. In ‘Snow Blind’, the speaker admits his aphasia, and this explains the meandering style of the work. While one speaker claims that reindeer are dangerous, another sees how nature might flourish without human intervention:

When the water got turned off
I became the water
rolling through the hills.

When a person got shut down
I became a dove perched
on a sunflower.

An inability to communicate – or an anxiety surrounding communication – runs beneath the surface in many of these poems. This is most explicitly explored in ‘Without a Trace’, as the flock of birds returns to tamper with the speaker’s writing. ‘Infected by a flock of birds, // a sentence forms sounds.’ That these ‘sounds’ are undetermined suggests that, to the speaker, they might be nonsensical, or not the words he wanted to write. The birds (perhaps a manifestation of this anxiety) infiltrate the speaker’s life (‘the birds in my dreams/ drool on my pillow’) until the speaker begins writing in their ‘spit’, and feels left ‘without a trace’. Kyung Ju ruminates on the poet’s role in ‘Poet Blood’, where the ‘poet’s role is to play breath’. This poem seems to be Kyng Ju’s ars poetica, where the performative elements of his work are emphasised. The speaker claims that the poet ‘makes any space a theatre’ and that ‘[b]reath makes a sentence,/ and into that space it floats into the world.’ However, the breath ‘doesn’t have long to live/ and disappears into a place no one can know,’ suggesting that Kyung Ju believes the poet’s time – or the time for their work to be relevant and appreciated – to be very short. These meandering conditions are typical of the poems in the pamphlet, and they often repel direct logic.

This difficulty of communication becomes more ostensibly personal in ‘Let Me In’, where the speaker tells an unidentified ‘you’: ‘my saddest name/ is your name’. The inability to express emotion and pain becomes apparent:

Even if I am scared I won’t talk because
I love you,
and because I am scared I won’t talk because
I love you.

The speakers in these poems often twist themselves into restraints and, for this speaker, love is no different. Despite its convoluted logic, the poem is emotionally resonant.

Crying For No Reason is a challenging pamphlet which resists straightforward readings. Indeed, I feel as though I might have misinterpreted Kim Kyung Ju’s work. My notes whilst reading were littered with questions marks and ellipses, as I tried to find a meaning that would fit. The beauty here is, perhaps, that no one meaning will fit, that the poems are layered with many meanings. I imagine my re-readings will create different, maybe clearer, interpretations.

Laudanum Chapbook Anthology: Volume Two – Abigail Parry, Kimberly Campanello, Frances Lock, ed. by Tiffany Anne Tondut

– Reviewed by Becky Varley–Winter

Tiffany Anne Tondut notes that the three chapbooks in this Laudanum Chapbook Anthology are ‘zanily disparate’. Abigail Parry gives zestful versions of Spanish love poems, while Kimberly Campanello makes found texts from the traumatic records of an Irish maternity home. Frances Lock’s Pikey is the only text that leans entirely on the poet’s own freewheeling voice, but all three poets work between different kinds of language, circling a sense of place. Tondut identifies the ‘question of belonging’ as their uniting concern, but not-belonging sits inside this question as a rogue seed.

Abigail Parry’s Death by Hearts and Flowers opens the anthology on a cheerfully-doomed note, translating a poem by María Do Ceo (1658–1752): ‘Cover me over / with violets and roses, I’m dying, / I’m dying of love’. It’s the most beguiling way to go: love in these poems is unrequited and addictive. It’s a shame that the original Spanish can’t be included alongside Parry’s versions, as she clearly takes poetic license with her source texts. José Cadalso lived from 1741–1782, so it’s unlikely that his original sounds much like ‘The Poet Has Had Just About Enough of Love’:

Piss off, Love. I’ve had enough –
I can’t go round again.
You’ve never brought me anything
but poison, snakes and chains.

I’ve had to have my stomach pumped,
I’ve had to grind the locks;
you’ve left me in an underpass
and shipwrecked on the rocks.

Parry deliberately dislocates a sense of time and place: ‘poison, snakes and chains’ and ‘shipwrecked on the rocks’ are more archaic, while ‘Piss off’, ‘stomach pumped’ and ‘underpass’ feel rooted in the present. Where do these poems belong? The extent to which older works should be updated is questionable; attempts to translate Shakespeare into modern English tend to grotesquely simplify his meaning, or lose it altogether, stripping away original beauty. However, I appreciate Parry’s poems in their own right. She calls them ‘versions’ rather than ‘translations’, due to the ‘extravagant liberties’ they take, and notes how neatly the sensibilities of Ventura Ruiz Aguilera’s Cantares can be grafted onto 1950s pop songs. She playfully titles her translation of his works ‘Jukebox’, giving each poem a 1950s title (‘Bye Bye Love’, ‘Lonesome Town’), setting them to the rhythms of Buddy Holly. She argues that the frustrations of lust and love are so fundamental that they are in fact supremely translatable, a record that won’t stop playing, repeating over centuries. Only the textures of communication change. This very familiarity challenges these poems’ ability to fascinate, but Parry takes a bracing, vigorous approach, giving each cover version her own twist, and aiming for a breathless pace.

While Parry’s work feels restless and devil-may-care, Campanello sinks deeply into silence and stillness, drawing on the painful legacy of a ‘Home’ which gave none of the safety that the word ought to suggest. St Mary’s Mother and Baby Home (Tuam, Galway) was run by the Bon Secours Sisters between 1926 and 1961. The mothers and babies endured abusive conditions, and 796 children died there. A nearby field contains their mass grave. MOTHERBABYHOME takes archival and contemporary sources, and, by erasing some words and highlighting and re-punctuating others, makes them into a jolting testament of pain. Each text is accompanied by a baby’s date of death, combining poetry and reportage into a sequence of paper gravestones. Campanello’s punctuation recreates the stuttering edge of emotion within statements of fact: ‘The,practice. was / to offer no pain re lief as suf-fering was regard.ed / as part ofher / punishment’. Lines are separated by tracts of white space, a strategy of écriture féminine that fits this subject, the mistreatment of maternal and infant bodies. Campanello manages to confront the frightening coldness of her material without exploiting it, surrounding it with restrained but palpable fury. The complete text is forthcoming from zimZalla as a boxed ‘report’; as well as remembering the dead, it also serves as an indictment of abused state and religious power. The selection presented here is already damning, and powerful.

Finally, Frances Lock’s Pikey reminds me instantly of the films of Andrea Arnold, in which women seek self-determination amid transient edge-lands and council estates. These poems have a style of their own, but are also vaguely reminiscent of Liz Berry’s work in their swirling embrace of colloquial language and registers of speech that are usually kept separate. Lock references James Joyce (Pikey is a ‘Portrait of the artist as a blonde no gentleman prefers’), and his mythic dailiness is a clear influence on her:

We been Burford. We been Savernake and Lavernock,
but this is a dark place, older than the sweat off Satan’s
back, […]

These poems have a strong sense of plot; they are full of rhyme and internal weaving, but also act as vignette-like chapters in a longer narrative. The female body is often subject to hostile hunger, navigating hope and threat: ‘I thought he was harmless’, the speaker says, ‘But I told him to go and he took out / a teary-eyed razor, slashed the air an inch from my / mouth.’ The touch of ‘teary-eyed’ captures the worn-away sadness inside this unpredictable violence.

Lock also has a quick eye for similes: ‘love comes rushing in of a sudden, love, like a funny / bone stunned’, or ‘Hindhead Tunnel opens up its blackish / mouth like a carpet bag.’ Her work is packed with invention and furtive, resilient joy: ‘I’m just one clapped hand from happy’. I instantly go to seek out more of her poetry. As a showcase of vivid voices, taking a range of different approaches, this anthology doesn’t disappoint. It’s also beautifully-designed, with a cover that looks like a smoky green cloud of feathers.

La Errante #1

-Reviewed by Jenna Clake-

La Errante, a new multi-lingual zine of poetry and illustration, unfolds like album artwork to reveal a poster sized collaboration of art and poetry. The editors explain that ‘words and pictures are on equal footing’ in the journal. Everything is cohesively blue and white with touches of black. Word and image sit side-by-side, but also intersect: Fiona Sampson and Rikardo Arregi’s poems are placed over a large, thick, sweeping brushstroke. ‘Errante’ translates to ‘wandering’ in English, and these large brushstrokes and artworks lead the reader’s eye across the page.

The journal is a collaborative project between a group of writers, editors, artists and booksellers working between Madrid and London, but the contributors also have Singaporean, Italian and Chilean heritage. Where the work appears in its original language, a translation is placed alongside. In some cases, the poems are bilingual. Livia Franchini’s untitled poem is written in both Italian and English. In the poem, both languages are integral to the speaker’s identity:

Cari cari I miei cari,
o dear me, il caro vita,
non c’è lavoro, she still lives at home,
I tick the box for ‘visiting family’
Dear mother, I worry the time is coming
when I’ll no longer see you shouting at the telly –

[…]

Cara, cara, daughter dearest,
tutto quell che è buono si scolora in bianco
white dots in oil, I slot this fish back
into its chilly bed, 10 degrees colder
Dear father I am sorry I made you carry
another tired bag into this empty flat

We see that the Italian language, Franchini’s mother tongue, is central to the speaker’s sense of belonging with her family. Though leaving home is necessary ‘she still lives at home’ seems to be imbued with a sense of shame. However, there is a deep sadness and homesickness too, as though the new home is lonely and not what the speaker expected:

Caro diario, I write to you
From this welcoming land today
All I ate was cold beans

This introduces a theme that recurs in the journal: isolation. The artwork does not always immediately seem to relate to the poems (this is not an ekphrastic journal, after all), but across the page Amanda Baeza’s artwork depicts a simian-like woman alone in the departures lounge of an airport. Baeza’s work complements Franchini’s poem subtly.

Isolation returns in Ella Webb’s artwork. Three figures are lost in a sea of indistinct shapes, perhaps lost on the side of a mountain. In Andres Lozano’s illustration, a man prostrate on the sofa is surrounded by paintings, records, a keyboard, notebooks and pens. There is a sense of contentment in this solitariness: a cat happily sleeps by the man. Toby de las Rivas’s poem sits adjacent to the illustration. The speaker of Martinez de las Rivas’s poem is alone with his thoughts:

One day, I shall have to give an account
of my self with my knees couched
in dirt & the great cities tumbling like stars.
If not to hím then to that portion of my
self that holds the rod & sits in judgement.

Reflections on identity and culpability are apparent in the poem: the emphases on ‘my’ stress the speaker’s need to find meaning, to understand the world. The speaker struggles throughout the poem, and addresses himself in exasperation: ‘This is so fucking point-/less, Tobe.’ Ultimately, there is a sense of self, even if it is only indistinct, that ‘you are not theirs’. The speaker of Fiona Sampson’s ‘Saw’ is encompassed by her isolation:

trespasser with a chainsaw
going into the arena
blindfold not seeing how
its space opens round you tier
after tier how could you not feel
darkness watching from between
the trees willing them to fall
toward you no visitor

is welcome unannounced their home
is not your home

Isolation takes on a nightmarish presence in this poem, but we are told that ‘we cannot dream it’. The poem, then, enacts a sort of trap, drawing us into this disturbing world and refusing to allow us an escape. The speaker’s isolation is all-consuming and terrifying.

Patricia Esteban’s ‘Readers’ is a prose poem that ironically explores the idea of being a famous poet:

Two of my friends stopped talking to one another because one of them was sure that ‘the branches swayed by the wind’ in one of my poems were those of the poplar in her garden, whereas the other insisted on the exclusive inspiration of her willow. And after reading my fourth book my hairdresser, one of my sharpest readers, refused, very politely, to carry on cutting my hair.

Esteban’s poem is full of irony, ridiculing the idea of fame by locating it in the close confines of her own neighbourhood. It is Absurdist in its humorous and exaggerated interactions, especially when the speaker’s neighbours and friends are extremely petty. The speaker notes that ‘they would strike strange poses or else every now and then blow cigarette smoke into my face’. For this speaker, fame – however specious – is isolating.

Layla Benitez-James’ ‘Fire Hazard Barbie’ is idiosyncratic and delightfully dark:

Fire hazard Barbie leaves a tortilla in the toaster-oven until it puffs up so high it touches
the red heating coils and bursts into flames.

Fire hazard Barbie lights her life with old bare bulbs and flocks of candles. She loves
the frayed wires, marvelous mimosa blossoms, loves her lava-colored country, loves
the lullaby of its promised apocalypse.

Fire hazard Barbie is wonderfully reckless and unrecognisable in the poem. Her name is repeated frequently to highlight this dichotomy between the well-established image of the toy and this new incarnation. The repetition also builds to Ken’s frustration:

Fire hazard Barbie knows that Ken will try, and that his tiny plastic ax will not make a dent
in any door,

again and again, it will not make a dent,

it will not make a dent, again and again,

forever

The repetition here mimics the futility of Ken’s attempts to reach Barbie, and this is utterly pleasing: we are left with an image of Fire hazard Barbie enjoying or destroying her life in the exact manner she wants to.

In such limited space, La Errante triumphs in presenting cohesive artwork, translation, bilingual poetry and writing that intertwines and complements each other so well.

Currently & Emotion ed. by Sophie Collins

-Reviewed by Jenna Clake

Translation is a political act: this is the recurring message behind Currently & Emotion. In her introduction, editor Sophie Collins notes that:

Shifting our perception of translation from that of a kind of literary service that simply facilitates access to foreign and/ or historical texts, to one that recognises an influential, political and manipulative act, is vital, because when ‘representation’ is viewed as something unproblematic, capable of providing ‘direct, unmediated access to a transparent reality’ … translation does nothing but reinforce hegemonic versions of the colonised, presenting individuals as ‘objects without history.’

The aim of the anthology not only exposes the political elements of translation, but also challenges the perception of translations ‘being either “faithful” translations that reproduce inasmuch as is possible the source text’ or ‘“free adaptations” or “versions” often rendered by poets with no initial knowledge of the source language.’ Collins outlines three types of translation as given by Roman Jakobson in ‘On Linguistic Aspects of Translation’: the interlingual (shown by ∞), which covers any translation of a text from one language into another; the intralingual (shown by ≠), which we can refer to as ‘English-to-English translations’; and the intersemiotic (shown by §), translations that ‘operate between different mediums’. The symbols are used to introduce each poet’s work, alongside a brief outline from Collins.

This approach is essential in making a reader (particularly one unaware of current discussions about translation) re-evaluate their views, and preparing them for the varied approaches to translation in the anthology.

The political is central to many of the texts in the anthology. Don Mee Choi’s The Morning News is Exciting is described by Collins as ‘completely political but not didactic’. Mee Choi herself states that ‘primary technique for translation and my own poetry is failure’. ‘Weaver in Exile’ is based on the ‘Korean folktale “Kyo nu wa jiknyo” or “Herder and Weaver”. The story concerns the romance of the female weaver and the male cowherd whose love for each other is disallowed.’

Stars are whores.

I weave pubic hair for dolls and frogs naively lit by your orange lamps. If
cloth is meat, what is blood? Try weaving shredded wrists, decapitated
hearts. Was my mother a sacred bitch?

[…]

Let’s skip to your dream. How many lamps did you see? Do you remember
east and west? Explain the island. Why is the bridge flat? Describe the
distance
between the murmuring pines. Did you love my mother? Will I remarry?

Mee Choi’s poem seems to be littered with non-sequiturs and dreams, creating a very disorientating poem (we might even call it Absurdist). The poem is addressed to the weaver’s father, and the speaker’s anger is tangible: calling the stars ‘whores’ and her mother ‘a sacred bitch’ suggests that the speaker is lashing out. The misogynistic language seems at odds with Mee Choi’s aims, but we can see the language as a reflection of the father’s views: the speaker uses the language to reflect how unfairly she is being treated.

The mixture of languages is essential to Chantal Wright’s translation of Yoko Tawada’s German-language story ‘Porträt einer Zunge’, which layers footnotes and the translations side-by-side to create an episodic story of the speaker’s friend, P:

currentlycurrently2

This poem consists of small, poignant and devastating moments, showing the ways in which translation might be impossible: throughout, words are not fully translated, or require substantial explanation so that we might understand. This, of course, is a commentary not only on translation, but how difficult it is for a person to live in a new country, and how difficult it is to adopt a language that doesn’t feel like your own.

      There are also less conventional methods of translation: Collins takes ekphrasis as a translation and, furthermore, takes Rachael Allen’s use of the 4chan forums as an atypical form of ekphrasis. Allen ‘decontextualizes the visual materials on the 4chan boards, selecting images that correspond with adolescent experiences… and reappropriates them as unlikely emblems of girlhood.’ In ‘Animu & Mango’, Allen uses anime to write about a teenage love:

The main bit’s where Naru and Keitaro kiss and, in char-
acter, Keitaro and Declan who lived in Pensilva and had a
cast and wore school uniform even after school (poor) and
I was Naru. In one scene I made Declan promise we’d go
away to college together but I don’t think he understood, we
were far beyond the slap-pink and heavy breathing of a slow
Chinese burn but would carry on doing them in silence or
burn shag bands on hay bales that were shrink wrapped in
the nearly-dark and as he burnt grass I dreamt heavily and
cleanly about our future together it was in truth a sluggish
start anyway he’s in the navy now and probably knows how
to make a promise

Allen uses a conversational tone to capture a teenager’s voice; we get the feeling that we enter mid-conversation, and that anime and the real world are closely intertwined for this speaker.

No anthology of translation would be complete without including Anne Carson’s work. Collins includes ‘The Albertine Workout’, which takes Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu as its source. Collins notes that Carson seeks to ‘work out’ Albertine ‘as though she were a logic problem’:

      8.
The problems of Albertine are (from the narrator’s point of view)
a) lying
b) lesbianism
and (from Albertine’s point of view)
a) being imprisoned in the narrator’s house.

9.
Her bad taste in music, although several times remarked on, is not a problem.

10.
Albertine does not call the narrator by his name anywhere in the novel. Nor does
anyone else. The narrator hints that his first name might be the same first name
as that of the author of the novel, i.e. Marcel. Let’s got with that.

11.
Albertine denies she is a lesbian when Marcel questions her.

12.
Her friends are all lesbians.

13.
Her denials fascinate him.

The matter of fact way that Carson deals with Albertine certainly imitates someone working out a problem. This is a logical progression through a riddle.

Currently & Emotion offers many varied examples of how translation is being used in poetry to create exciting new work. The political issues behind translation are not resolved, but Collins’s attention to female poets and translators is important: her introduction hints at ‘rapidly occurring and measurable changes in attitudes towards race, gender, and modes of representation’ – it is a well-known fact that women are published less often that men, and Collins’s introduction points to the infrequent publishing of translations: ‘in the UK and US translations into English from other languages currently represent approximately 3% of all books published, and if we reduce this to literary fiction and poetry the figure is actually closer to something like 0.7%.’ It is therefore evident that Currently & Emotion is important: if translations and women’s work are published so infrequently, anthologies like this are a chance for work to be shared more widely.