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Showing posts from 2006

Günter Eich: Listening to the rain

Günter Eich

The Rain’s Messages
(Botschaften des Regens)

News, that’s meant for me
shaken from rain to rain
scattering across slates and tiles
spreads like a virus, like unwelcome
contraband -

Across the wall the windowpanes
rattle their alphabets
and the rain speaks
in the language I thought
only I could understand -

the rain sends
its despairing bulletins
the rain radios misery
and falls blaming, recriminating
as if of all people
I should be held accountable

Let me say this as clearly as I can
I’m not afraid of the rain
or its accusations
nor of whoever sent them
When the time is right, and only then
I’ll go outside and answer him

version by The Cat Flap

Time of the sun

Le regret de la terre
(Jules Supervielle, 1884-1960)

One day we’ll look back on it       the time of the sun
when light fell on the smallest twig
on the old woman the astonished girl
when it washed with colour everything it touched
followed the galloping horse and eased when he did

that unforgettable time on earth
when if we dropped something it made a noise
and like connoisseurs we took in the world
our ears caught every nuance of air
and we knew our friends by their footsteps

time we walked out to gather flowers or stones
that time we could never catch hold of a cloud

and it’s all our hands can master now

translation by The Flat Cap

Ernst Jandl: Not a concrete pot


auf einem stuhl
liegt ein hut.
wissen voneinander
so dingfest


on a chair
lies a hat.
knows anything
of the other.
so thingsure

Dedalus Press has re-issued Ernst Jandl’s Dingfest/Thingsure, a handsome dual language edition of the poet’s work with translations by Michael Hamburger, which replaces the volume originally published by the same publisher in 1997 as part of its Poetry Europe Series. The book collects the shorter poems of this wide-ranging experimental Austrian poet – a poet whose work, so embedded in the verbal possibilities of the German language, is often regarded as untranslatable. Here, for example, is his famous ‘ottos mops’ (otto’s pug), not included here, a poem which depends wholly on the different qualities of the sound of ‘o’ in German .

ottos mops

ottos mops trotzt
otto: fort mops fort
ottos mops hopst fort
otto: soso

otto holt koks
otto holt obst
otto horcht
otto: mops mops
otto hofft

ottos mops klopft
otto: komm m…

Goat song

Aleksander Wat and Czesław Miłosz

Aleksander Wat
(1900 – 1967)

To a Roman, My Friend

Everything that lies in rubble
reaches tenderly at me:
the ruins of my Warsaw
the ruins of your Rome.

In April ’forty-six
I saw two old goats
searching for some special herbs
in the former Albrecht’s Café
(now overgrown with nettles,
thistles, burdock, spear grass).
Their barefoot shepherdess
in graveyard stillness
stood gaping, a child, under a pathetic column that once adorned
     the fourth floor
                                of the Credit Society building,
where then it was just a fancy ornament
changed today into an orphaned pendicle
on a fragment of charred wall.

On the Aventino I met two goats, roamers of ruins,
and a barefoot shepherdess
staring at faded frescoes.

Thus after man’s glory,
after his acts and disasters
goats arrive. Smelly,
comic and worthy goats
to search among remnants of glory
for medicinal herbs and forage
for earthly nourishment.

Translated from the Polish by Czesław Mi…

'More than the usual chaos'

More than the usual chaos
the raisin box, the onions,
the potatoes, the small cup,
the brick, the drum

each one a solemn offering
searched out and handed over
with such ceremony
I can hardly bear to clear my desk

More than the usual chaos
may such
unlooked for riches
accompany me always

PIR 87

Dear Sir(r)

It has come to my attention that you purport to publish a poem of mine in PIR. In the manner of subject people everywhere, I wish to grudgingly thank you, and to use the occasion as an excuse to ask for more....
But first I wish to explicitly acknowledge that I now believe that it is possible to be an editor and a human being at the same time. This suspicion had been growing on me for some time, as The Cat Flap could not have been written by a complete bastard. . . I feel I've now traced the sources of my previously unpositive attitude to you: you didn't previously publish my many offerings; you obviously had a serious Montale phase (but who am I to judge: I had a serious Neruda phase; after a while, however, like Catholicism and Communism, it went away, leaving, like them, a certain positive residue; and your, eh, sirrname, operating no doubt at a subliminal and psychological level, caused me to see you as rather aloof, cold, distant, etc.

A brief sample from the Ca…

Getting it right

Another commonplace book entry, offered as encouragement.


Death will not correct
a single line of verse
she is no proof-reader
she is no sympathetic
lady editor

a bad metaphor is immortal

a shoddy poet who has died
is a shoddy dead poet

a bore bores after death
a fool keeps up his foolish chatter
from beyond the grave

Tadeusz Rózewicz
translated from the Polish by Adam Czerniawski

The best intentions

Olav H. Hauge

A Poem Every Day

I want to write a poem every day,
every day.
That should be easy enough.
Browning kept at it, though
he rhymed and
counted beats
with bushy eyebrows.
So, a poem every day.
Something strikes you,
something happens,
something catches your notice.
– I get up. It’s light now.
I’ve the best intentions.
And see the bullfinch rising from the cherry tree,
where he’s stealing my buds.

translated from the Norwegian by Robin Fulton

from Olav H. Hauge, Leaf-Huts and Snow-Houses, Translated by Robin Fulton, Anvil, 2003.

Four of the best

Bloodaxe has recently started publishing a new series of slim anthologies, each of which features generous selections from four poets. Bloodaxe Poetry Introductions 2, published in June, brings together four major European poets: Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Miroslav Holub, Marin Sorescu and Tomas Tranströrmer. Each selection is prefaced by introductory materials – essays, interviews, profiles and commentaries by the poets. Below, as a sampler, is one poem from each of the selections.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Optimistic Little Poem

Now and then it happens
that somebody shouts for help
and somebody else jumps in at once
and absolutely gratis.

Here in the thick of the grossest capitalism
round the corner comes the shining fire brigade
and extinguishes, or suddenly
there’s silver in the beggar’s hat.

Mornings the streets are full
of people hurrying here and there without
daggers in their hands, quite equably
after milk or radishes.

As though in a time of deepest peace.

A splendid sight.


Thomas Street Is Happening (just not today)

14 June 2006

To St Catherine's Park to do a reading for the Thomas Street Is Happening Festival. The brief is to read poems that in some way relate to this area, a project that appeals because I have written quite a few pieces set in this part of the city or in some way inspired by it. For years I lived opposite Christchurch Cathedral and now live down the road in the Tenters. I was, though, a bit wary about reading in St Catherine's Park. Park is probably a bit of an exaggeration; it is in fact the graveyard at the rear of St Catherine's Church in Thomas St, with the entrance in Thomas Court – not by any means a major thoroughfare. I used to drop in with the mutt to give him a bit of greenery until I realised it seemed to be used exclusively by dealers and users. I find it hard to visualise it being packed with poetry lovers on a Wednesday lunchtime. And indeed there is no-one in the park except for one of the organisers and two sound technicians who have brought an impre…

Taking Bearings: Seamus Heaney’s District and Circle

District and Circle is Seamus Heaney's twelfth book and it is very much a re-visiting of his own past, a circling and remapping of terrain familiar from forty years of previous work. Few poets are likely to abandon their lifetime's concerns and preoccupation and jump on board some skittish new craft, but what's remarkable about this collection is the extent to which it situates itself in the essential elements of the earlier work – as if the poet wanted to re-ground himself by testing the old sources again and subjecting them to the pressure of experience and craft. In their solidity and immediacy the early poems in the book give the same kind of pleasure as the first Heaney collections, though it’s a pleasure somewhat diluted by familiarity. From the outset Heaney was a poet of extraordinary materiality: the visible world swarmed in to be reconstituted in dense stacks of language – those processions of thickly textured nouns and adjectives, that lust for exactitude, for a…

Lost Country: Dunya Mikhail

I was in Cúirt the other week to give a reading and to enjoy some of the fare on offer. I read with Dunya Mikhail, an Iraqi poet currently based in Michigan. She speaks and writes in three languages: Arabic, English and Aramaic. The Aramaic comes from her Christian background – Aramaic, the language Christ spoke, is the language of the Chaldeans, the Iraqi Christians who pre-date Islam. Mikhail has published five books since the 1980s, and New Directions publishes The War Works Hard , translated from the Arabic by Elizabeth Winslow (winner of a 2004 PEN translation Fund Award). Carcanet will publish it in July of this year. As that title implies Mikhail’s chief subject is war. The poems are blunt and satiric and return obsessively to war and its effects, not surprising for a body of work produced between 1985 and 2004.

Born in 1965, at the juncture of the most atrocious campaign the Baath party waged to trounce the smallest pockets of popular resistance, Dunya Mikhail’s imagina…

The Charm Factor

Today the wannabe poet progresses like the academic, the civil servant, the manager, up a series of marked steps to become a member of the fraternity and sorority of Published Poets. The obedience such an ascent requires can be at odds with the very principles of the art. It is an art of speculation not in the old sense but entirely in the new, speculating on the prize, the publisher, the public -- poetry has become as keen to embrace the main chance as the basest prose.

The above is from Michael Schmidt’s lecture ‘What, How Well, Why?’ given at the StAnza festival in Scotland this March. Schmidt, the founder of Carcanet and Professor of Poetry at Glasgow University argues for a critical culture that’s open and receptive as well as rigorous: ‘If we want our poets to develop and grow without pollarding, trellising, pruning, grafting, we need a diverse and vigorous culture of reception.....’ The kind of insularity that routinely dismisses Modernism and post-Modernism ends up privilegi…

Soiscéal na bhfilí

Ag breathnú cúpla lá ó shin ar Soisceál Pháraic ar TG4. Cúrsaí filíochta a bhí i gceist, saothar Michael Hartnett ach go háirithe. Ar an bpainéal bhí Liam Carson, Gabriel Rosenstock agus Mary Shine Thompson. Ní mó ná sásta a bhí siad leis an obair, ón méid a chuala Liopa an Chait ar aon nós. Níor bhain sé le filí Innti, níor chuir sé suim sa ghluaiseacht nua filíochta agus é ag bualadh timpeall Teampall Ghleanntáin i gCo Luimní nach ceantar breac-Ghaeltachta fiú amháin é agus é ag féachaint siar ar shean leads sean-aimseartha leathchraiceáilte na seachtú aoise déag sna hoícheanta fada fírfhliucha anfa ar toinn taobh leo a bhainfeadh an ceann díot mura mbeadh do Bhurberry agat agus gan taithí ar bith acu ar an Long Valley agus cailíní Chorcaigh. Bhuel, fair enough, níl an oiread sin spéise agam féin i gcuid mhaith den fhilíocht Ghaeilge a d’fhoilsigh sé nó i bpolaitíocht gheaitsiúil leithéid A Farewell to English, ach ba chéim san aistear iad, bhí sé ag iarraidh traidisiún agus poba…

Monk, step further off

Went to see Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Bill Manhire and Adam Zagajewski reading at the Poetry Now festival in Dún Laoghaire. Ní Dhomhnaill gave an undertstated but quietly powerful reading, which included her versions in modern Irish of the poems of Gormfhlaith (died 947), the medieval Irish woman poet to whom twenty or so poems are attributed, and even though some of them are dated after her own life, there is a strong tradition of Gormfhlaith as a poet. She was the daughter of the Uí Néill king Flann Sinna and was married to three men, all of whom she outlived: Cormac Mac Cuilenneáin the king-bishop of Cashel, Cerball mac Muireacáin and the Uí Néill king Niall Glúndubh who was killed in battle and for whom she wrote the poem below, ‘Beir a mhanaigh leat an chois’. It’s published in Osborn Bergin’s Irish Bardic Poetry and Thomas Kinsella provides a translation in The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse, 1986), which I also give below. I’m not sure if Nuala’s versions have been published but I…

The Rain and the Glass


Listening silence in the glass
The listening rain against.
All in the silent house asleep,
The rain and the glass awake;
All night they listen for a noise
No one is there to make.

All in the silent house asleep,
The rain and the glass awake;
Listening silence in the glass
The listening rain against.
All night they listen for a noise
Their silence cannot break.

These lines were written by Robert Nye at the age of thirteen one afternoon in 1952 after he fell asleep ‘by a window in the front room of the house in an Essex resort where I was living with my parents’. The poem came to him in a dream; ‘It was after this dream that I knew what I had to do for the rest of my life’. The poem is published in The Rain and the Glass which contains all the poems Nye has written since his Collected Poems in 1995 together with his own selection from that volume, and his piece about the book is published in the January 2006 edition of Acumen. Many poets will sympathise with Nye’s sense that…

The Bacchae of Baghdad

How do you deal with the literature of the distant past? How do you make Greek tragedy comprehensible to a contemporary audience? How do you make the language of Greek drama performable? How distant is the distant past in any case? Is Beowulf nearer to or farther from us than Catullus? Is Homer more or less alien than Táin Bó Cuailgne or the Fiannaíocht? The sensibility shift between our slice of time and the many pasts doesn’t run in a nice vertical line, but loops and veers, sometimes intersecting with our world, sometimes sheering back and sometimes running in parallel. Other than the fact that your car might be more fuel efficient and your software more bloated, there’s no linear progression from era to era in anything that matters. Some art forms, though, don’t travel as easily as others. We might enjoy a jar in The Front Lounge with Catullus but baulk at extended conversation with the author of The Seafarer. We love Sappho now because all those intriguing fragments that constitu…

Sailor's Home

How long is it since poetry became public property? Today, poets write with the idea of publishing in our minds, and poetry books are published with the idea of sales in the publisher’s minds (however few!). Even poetry events seem to be organised according to the numbers of tickets that can be sold. The public has become an invisible hand, playing with and controlling the standards of the poetry world, and as such has transformed it into just as dull a field as any other directly commercial endeavour.

The above is from the preface to Sailor’s Home, a miscellany of poetry by Arjen Duinker, W.N. Herbert, Uwe Kolbe, Peter Laugesen, Karine Martel and Yang Lian, published by Shearsman Books . I suppose it’s true that poets write with the idea of publishing, though I’m not sure how primary a concern that is. Most poetry publishing is pretty fugitive. The tiny numbers involved mean that the act of publication is, in a sense, symbolic rather than real, or a kind of virtual reality, and I …

The rustling of the silk

Back after a long absence with three versions of a poem from the Chinese, for our edification, followed by a moral quandary.

The first is Ezra Pound’s.

Liu Ch’e

The rustling of the silk is discontinued,
Dust drifts over the court-yard,
There is no sound of footfall, and the leaves
Scurry into heaps and lie still,
And she the rejoicer of the heart is beneath them:

A wet leaf that clings to the threshold.

Much has been written about Pound as a translator or mediator of Chinese poetry into English. He didn’t speak Chinese, so his versions don’t have scholarly pretensions. In the Cathay poems he relied on the notes that Ernest Fenollosa compiled in Tokyo, and was quite happy to use the Japanese designation Rihaku for the Chinese poet Li Po. Arthur Waley, whose own translations of Chinese poetry were hugely influential, objected to many of Pound’s versions, though it’s hard to see how his version of, say, ‘The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter’ improves on Pound’s. Pound’s great gift as a p…

Looking for Home

Liam Carney as Gerry Newman in Homeland

Maybe because the country is small Irish writers very often have a highly self-conscious relationship with it. They feel intimately bound up with the life of the state and feel it incumbent upon them to record its psycho-geography, its socio-economic shifts, its daily preoccupations – almost, at times, as if the imagination were an extension of the chat show, capable of absorbing and rapidly processing the urgent issues of the day and relating these to to how the nation sees itself, how its perception of itself might have altered, how far the nation has fallen from idealised visions of itself. . .Writers everywhere take their subjects where they find them, but somehow it works differently here; writers sometimes seem to be writing to an expectation that they be in some way representative, that their work should be a kind of ongoing Prime Time earnestly investigating the eternal state of chassis of the national soul. I was thinking this the other…

Henry Snodden and the Coastguard Station

Below is a poem by Eugenio Montale followed by three translations. The first version is less a translation than an extended riff on a vague notion of the original, and is taken from Tom Paulin's The Road to Inver, which came out last year. Billed as presenting four decades of the poet's translations, the book does nothing of the sort. Instead, it presents a series of loose takes on original poems identified only by the appearance of the poet's name in brackets underneath the titles. Thus

Who can say to the birds
shut the fuck up
or tell the sheep in the yow trummle
not to struggle and leap?

turns out, after a deal of searching, to be Goethe's 'Unvermeidlich':

Wer kann gebieten den Vögeln
Still zu sein auf der Flur?
Und wer verbieten zu zappeln
Den Schafen unter der Schur?

Is there anything wrong with this? It's a pretty common procedure, after all, translation as 'imitation', a kind of intertextual frolic à la Pound or Lowell. What's interesting…

Poetry Ireland Review 85

Just putting the latest Poetry Ireland Review (no 85) to bed. I’m reasonably pleased with it – there’s a good mix of stuff: poems in translation including Piotr Sommer, Adam Zagajewski, Yang Lian and some of the poets in the Cork 2005 series. Adam Zagajewski, Yang Lian and Robin Robertson, who also has a poem in the issue, will all feature in Poetry Now 06 in Dún Laoghaire. David Butler looks at Michael Schmidt’s translations of Vallejo, and we publish a slew of them; James Harpur writes on Boethius and contributes new poems. There are also poems by, among others, Eamonn Grennan, Arlene Ang, Peter Robinson, Michael Coady, Hary Clifton, Biddy Jenkisnson and Michael O'Loughlin. Michael Cronin reviews Ciaran Carson’s version of Cúirt an Mheán Oíche and Alan Gillis’s first collection; Peter Denman looks at Pat Boran, Joseph Woods and Thomas McCarthy ; Siobhán Campbell considers Sara Berkeley, Carol Ann Duffy and Mark Roper ; Peter Robinsonreviews Jean Valentine ; Fred Johnston on W…

Messages for Moore

Fans of haiku and of Paul Muldoon will be pleased to know the poet has followed up his ‘Hopewell Haiku’ with Sixty Instant Messages to Tom Moore. The Flap is grateful to David Burleigh, whose review of the pamphlet in Modern Haiku (Summer 2005) alerted him to this work. The IM’s record a trip to Bermuda, where Moore was appointed Registrar to the Admiralty Prize Court in Bermuda in 1803, though he wasn’t long there before he appointed a deputy and returned to London. You can read Moore’s account of his time there, and of his travels in the United States, in Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems (1806). Here’s a taster to whet the appetite:

Hamilton. Tweeds? Tux?
Baloney? Abalone?
Flux, Tom. Constant flux.

The Big House, you see,
still stands, though now the tenants
are the absentees.

Orange overshoes
make the puffin less nimble
on dry land, it’s true.

Sixty Instant Messages to Tom Moore , by Paul Muldoon (Lincoln, Ill.: Modern Haiku Press, 2005). ISBN 0-9741894-1-3. 32 pages. Hand set and bound by S…

Head down in Dublin

The poems that I like best are the poems in which something happens. You go through to the end and you ask what was that about, and then you go back over it and have another look at it. There has to be enough stuff on the surface to hold your attention, and you can do that with lots of different things, with imagery, or sound, or whatever you want. But then there has to be an element of worrying at the poem until you get something from it. Something draws clear, something very small perhaps is clarified in it. That’s how the best poetry works, I think….there are some poems that I thought I knew well which are still coming clear to me now. There are lots of different things going on in good poems, and you can live with a poem for years and then suddenly think, ah, that’s what that’s about. I think that’s a good thing. If you instantly think you’ve got all that a poem offers, either it’s not a very good poem or you’ve made a mistake.

The above is from an interview with Nick Laird which…

The Translation Muscle

Take a number of Cork poets and pair them with poets from the then ‘accession’ states of Europe and countries beginning their negotiations with the EU like Bulgaria and Romania, and publish the results of the encounter – this was the ambitious project which the Munster Literature Centre set itself as part of the Cork 2005 European Capital of Culture.

Poetry translation into English can often be a fairly loosely defined affair and in truth we probably need a more extensive vocabulary to describe the range of practice from close linguistic encounter to the working of translations provided by others which, with one exception, is what happens here. The fact that the poets don’t speak the languages they are translating caused a small splash of controversy. Can a poet who does not speak a source language be said to ‘translate’ a poem from that language? If not, how should that encounter be described? The poets, apart from Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, worked from cribs provided by intermediate tr…