Discussions: Poems in Translation

A friend bought a English translation of a poem originally written in Shona by Tavengwa Kaponda along to a workshop. This sparked several discussions that couldn’t be crammed into the space the workshop had.

There’s a school of thought that maintains translations should only be carried out by those fluent in both languages. But that ignores the fact that not all linguists are interested in poetry and not all poets have the time or motivation to become fluent in at least a second language. A German teenager may want to find out what her favourite band are singing or watch her favourite US TV show in English rather than badly dubbed into German. Whereas her British counterpart has no such incentive and languages aren’t treated as a priority in English schools. The Poetry Translation Centre pairs a British poet (who may not have any knowledge of the poem’s original language) with a translator fluent in both English and the original language. The translator provides a literal translation of the original poem and gives feedback on the translated poem so the British poet can be confident they’ve not strayed from the intentions in the original.

There are also two basic approaches to translating a poem. The translator can either work from a literal translation and try to reshape it into the original line lengths or sound patternings in the original. Or a translator can start with the sound patternings and rhythms and write a new poem loosely based on the literal translation, focusing on capturing the spirit of the original rather than the precision of the translation. Both approaches are valid.

There are additional complications when two languages do not have the same roots and also different cultural backgrounds. Some words don’t have an English cultural equivalent so are only translatable by providing an explanation rather than a short phrase. That can be done in prose but is difficult in poetry.

My workshop friend is fluent in both English and Shona so had no need to rely on a translator. However, a discussion about the difficulty of translating “nhemamsasa” from Shona into English became an introduction for others to have a go at translating the poem. Here I ran into two barriers 1) I have no knowledge of Shona and 2) online dictionaries are incomplete so, whilst they could give me an idea of what the original poem was saying, they couldn’t provide a literal translation. I did however have the workshop discussion and my friend’s translation so could combine Ambrose Musiyiwa’s translation, my snippets of literal translation and trying to keep the original structure.

The original poem:

Gwenyambira angakande mbira
.          mudziva otya kusara nechitima chechimanjemanje
.          Mutinhimra nhemamsasa mutasvi wenguva
.          anowana wakamumirira
pachiteshi paanodzikira

Tavengwa Kaponda

My translation:

The player might throw his mbira
.           in the river. Fearful he’ll miss the train, his heart beats
.           an inherited, ancestral tempo, rides through time,
.           where finds the mbira rhythm in wait
at the station when he gets off.

Translation will always be a compromise between what the original poet is saying and how they intended to say it. However, not translating leads to insularity. Reading only sonnets encourages the view that sonnets are the only poems worth bothering with, so, although translating is problematic, it is still worthwhile. No matter which individual languages we speak or don’t speak, they pale against the universal desire to communicate and connect. Mary Ruefle suggests the first translation “was when a mother heard her baby babble or cry, and had to decide in an instant what it meant.”


Haiku Competition – free entry:

Winner will receive a £100 Amazon voucher. Here are the entry details:

– The haiku has to follow the 5/7/5 syllable structure

– It has to be family friendly

– Only one entry per person

– It’s free to enter and open to all

– By entering, you retain full copyright but give us a non exclusive license to publish it on our site (as we’d like to publish some of the best entries)

The full rules and details are here: http://design.printexpress.co.uk/the-print-express-haiku-competition/

“The Road More Travelled: tales of those seeking refuge” (Pebblestone) – short story anthology

The Road More Travelled book coverNine stories and a poem on the theme of seeking refuge being sold to raise funds for The Refugee Council in support of refugees. The stories focus on the human stories behind the statistics and (negative) media headlines, focusing on the impact of circumstances that displace people and the tales both of those people displaced and the reactions of those dealing with the displaced.

Beverley Butcher’s “This is Britian” is a ‘what if’ story, here what if those who are against Britian supporting refugees had to come with suddenly becoming refugees if Britain was bombed. It sets up the questions and lets readers draw conclusions. Brett N Wilson’s “Long” looks at the resilience of humans in desperate circumstances – here starved gulag prisoners being moved in a human chain by guards just as butalised by the system as the prisoners – and how bonds between men can still be formed. David Beckler’s “The One That Got Away” is set in a war-torn country and focuses on fisherman Karim who’s had his trawler stolen by bandits so is reduced to a smaller boat and smaller catches, and witnesses dinghies overloaded with refugees washing up on the shore. His resentful wife, Eisha, blames the refugees for all her woes and refuses to take care of an orphaned baby Karim rescues. Thankfully a neighbour steps in. Then bandits storm Karim’s small boat. Threatened with the complete loss of his livelihood, Karim faces a choice, does he follow his wife’s lead or does he retain his humanity?

This is a similar choice to that faced by Nikos the bartender in Ros Davis’s “End of the Season.” Set on Kos, it explores the reactions of locals to the arrival of refugees and the resulting impact on the tourist industry; people fearful of losing their own jobs and means to provide for their families are forced to accommodate those who have already lost far more. Rosie Cullen’s “No Room to Dance” explores a different angle on a family accommodating a refugee seen through a child’s eyes when Jenny is resentful that she has to share her toys with Zofia but Zofia is not forced to share her music box. This resentment grows when the box is broken and her father undertakes the painstaking task of repairing it. Jenny faces a lesson she’ll never forget.

An attempt at solidarity backfires in Paul Arnold’s “I Know How You Feel” when Ethel, a Liverpudlian social butterfly, travels to New York in the 1930s, a place she falls in love with, and tries to help at a homeless shelter. In contrast, small acts of kindness go a long way in B E Andre’s “Fruitellas” when a teacher puts her job on the line to reach out to a refugee at her school. Compare and contrast is the theme in Cliff Chen’s “Life Exchange” which looks at the persepectives of a Trinidadian in Galway and a tourist in Trinidad. The final story, Ricki Thomas’s “Those Who Sell the Guns”, an adult looks back at war through a childhood experience which saw her moved from Tehran to England without a father, and the current situation where war is creating refugees again and history seems to be repeating itself.

Brian Bilston’s “Refugees” is a speculum or verbal mirror image poem designed to create a second view of a situation by presenting the lines from the first half of the poem in reverse. The first half ends “Build a wall to keep them out/ It is not okay to say/ These are people just like us/ A place should only belong to those who are born there/ Do not be so stupid to think that/ The world can be looked at another way.” Rather than presenting the poem in reverse, the reader is instructed to read the poem backwards. The first version presents a cynical “we should look after our own first” viewpoint, the second takes a humanitarian view. Unfortunately, in my copy, the poem was presented with some of the lines on a right hand page and the remainder on the left so reading it involves flipping a page back and forth.

“The Road More Travelled” is a coherent, compassionate anthology exploring all aspects of issues surrounding refugees: what causes people to flee their homes, the dangers of the journey ahead of them, survival during that journey and how they are met and treated on arrival. The stories do not dictate or manipulate a response from the reader, but allow their narrators to present their tales. This in particularly effective in the stories told with a child narrator who does not fully comprehend the implications of what is happening. The characters met are memorable with a life beyond these pages. There is humour. “The Road More Travelled” does acknowledge difficult themes and circumstances but focuses on compassion and humanity, not gloom and despair.

“The Road More Travelled” is available at Smashwords

“Welcome to Leicester” poetry anthology launch

The launch of “Welcome to Leicester” poetry anthology takes place at the African Caribbean Centre, Maidstone Road, Leicester LE2 0UA from 7pm on Friday  7 October. The launch will feature readings from some of the contributors.

Welcome to Leicester poetry anthology launch


Welcome to Leicester poetry anthology book cover

“Beginning with Your Last Breath” Roy McFarlane (Nine Arches Press) – poetry review

Roy McFarlane Beginning with your last breath book coverRoy McFarlane explores growing up in the West Midlands (he is British born with Jamaican origins), discovering that he was adopted and the mix of emotions that triggered even though his adoptive parents were supportive and loving. This is particularly effective through the repetition in the villanelle “The weight of knowing” when he looks at a photograph of his birth mother,

“The woman in the photograph

sent me letters to leave me in a spell
but I was conjured by memories that
this was the woman who gave me away.

And those eyes telling their tales
and untold stories couldn’t change the fact of
the woman in the photograph;
this was the woman who gave me away.”

The title poem explores his compulsion to write,

“If poetry could take the pain away
I’d swap places and it would be me
struggling to breathe
that five-year-old child you held close
to your bosom like a small bagpipe
limped limbs, lungs bulging,
inflating and deflating;
to capture,
to write,

to verse my life
to begin with the first breath
with you watching over me
until the break of dawn.”

The death of his (adoptive) mother acted as a trigger for McFarlane to write about his life, loves, sorrows, racism and coming to terms with his adoption. He does meet his birth mother later and a compassionate poem explores her reasons for giving him up which allows him to accept her motives and appreciate that family isn’t always linked by blood. His growing up is complicated by racial prejudice at a time when politician Norman Tebbit suggested testing the patriotism of ethnic minorities living in England by establishing which cricket team they supported at international level. McFarlane’s poem, “The Tebbit Test (Patriotism)” responds by pointing out that for a black man, supporting the English team isn’t straightforward. John Barnes played for Liverpool and England and suffered taunting and so-called fans throwing bananas on the pitch when he played. McFarlane lives,

“the engulfing experience of John Barnes,
the genius, the wizard that scored against Brazil,
cutting through their defence with pure beauty.
Only to be reminded a few days later on a plane
returning home, filled with the England team and supporters,
that goal don’t count, the one scored by the nigger.”

The aim here is to record the poet’s life journey, to document the prejudice, but also to widen his subject matter beyond racism. It doesn’t avoid the topic but it isn’t purely about racial prejudice. McFarlane also writes with tenderness, here about his wife putting on a pair of tights

“caressing and smoothing out
folds or ripples that you find
as I did the night before
when we had reached our pinnacle
I held you tenderly and lovingly
eased out the swell and tide
that still lingered in the bodies
of two lovers overwhelmed in love.”

“Beginning with your last breath” allow lost love, friendships, boxing love of family, music, race, acceptance of adoption to interweave with personal narratives. McFarlane tells his story with compassion and a desire to share, needing to tell not just the story but about the transformative ability of love. These are poems that anyone can relate to, written with a respect of craft and attention to detail.

“Beginning with your last breath” is available from Nine Arches Press

“Refractions” Kevin Morris ebook – poetry review

Refractions by [MORRIS, K.]Kevin Morris writes from familiar, everyday situations in rhyme-led, usually short verses, e.g. in “Dog and Ball” which ends,

“My introspection.
How can I suffer dejection
When I recollect your playful snort
And the ball you caught?”

He poses questions about his readers, in “Composed More or Less in Real-time While Sitting in a Liverpool Garden”

“The wind has dropped now,
And I wonder how
My poem will be understood
By those who would
To find meaning in words that erratically fly
From one who sits listening to a barking dog, who cares not
A jot
For what
I have to say
On this sunny, wind swept day.”

Does Kevin Morris have something to say? There is a small group of poems which touch on the subject of prostitution provoked by a newspaper article that argues that sex workers should not be criminalised but those who pay for the services offered should be. “Waltz” offers a metaphor and less direct approach,

“It takes a couple to waltz.
With beauty charming
And character disarming,
She does dance
And romance
Until the sun’s rays lance
The comforting dark
And a new day starts.

Both parties are willing;
But does the payment of a shilling
To the girl
Who does so seductively twirl
Render their interaction
An exploitative transaction
And the waltz false?”

Ignoring that schillings are no longer legal tender in the UK, the poet’s approach takes the simplistic view that if someone freely chooses to go into sex work, then it shouldn’t be criminalised. At face value, this is a position that can’t be argued against. However, it does not take into account that not all sex workers freely choose their line of work. It conveniently ignores the problems of trafficking, the influence of drugs, including alcohol, and desperation that means that sex work isn’t a choice made without influence from other factors. Kevin Morris lends what he sees as a business transaction – a man buys a service from a woman – a romantic view that is misplaced.

Elsewhere, he acknowledges all lives come to an end eventually. In “Corridor”

“A door must open
And a word be spoken
To the figure from the gloom
Who vanishes soon.

Things remain
The same.
The empty corridor
And sadness reigning evermore.”

To lighten the load, there are a set of limericks. I confess to not being a fan of limericks so I will quote one as a taster, “There Was a Young Lady Called Suzie”

“There was a young lady called Suzie
Who said, ‘I am extremely choosy
About the men I date,
But it is getting late
And I am very boozy!’

“Refractions” is an ebook available from Amazon.

My review of K Morris’ Lost in the Labyrinth of My Mind is here.

Posted in Book review. Tags: . 2 Comments »

Writers and Email Marketing

You have an email address book full of friends, family and contacts. It’s tempting to send them all an email to tell them about your latest book or forthcoming event. But you shouldn’t. Unsolicited marketing emails are against the law and, under English law, ignorance is no defence.

What is an unsolicited marketing email?

An unsolicited marketing email is one that is sent to people who have not subscribed to an email list and/or have not given permission to be sent marketing emails.

An unsolicited marketing email is not when you reply to a friend or family member and let them know about your book or event as part of the conversation. It is not when you list your publications in your email signature. It is not an email sent in response to someone giving your their business card and inviting you to get in touch.

As a general rule, if you are sending one email to one person which you’ve personalised or tailored to the recipent, it’s not a marketing email. If you are sending one email to a group of people in response to a group chat and mention your book or event because it’s relevant to the discussion, it’s not a marketing email. If you send the same email all about your book or event to a group of people, it’s marketing.

So how can writers use email marketing without falling foul of the law or gaining a reputation for being a spammer?

Collecting Email Addresses

Essentially any personal email addresses collected for the purposes of marketing should be collected on the basis of opt-in consent, e.g.

  • through a website contact form or web subscriber service where users send an email address on the understanding they are subscribing to an email marketing list or newsletter;
  • through a competition where entrants give consent to further mailings;
  • where an email contact is an existing customer (although it’s better from a customer relations viewpoint to check the customer is happy to receive newsletters and/or marketing material first).

If a reader sends you a query or tells you they enjoyed your last book or event, they are not giving consent to be marketed. Reply to their email thanking them and ask permission to add their details to your mailing list.

Corporate or commercial email address holders do not need to give consent, but that doesn’t mean you can spam them or fail to unsubscribe them if asked to do so.

Sending Emails

  • Check you have news to send – don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to send an email newsletter according to a fixed timescale or that you will lose subscribers if you don’t keep in touch;
  • Ensure your news is useful – a writer writing is book is no more news than a plumber fixing a leak: your subscribers need to know when and how to order the book;
  • Don’t send embargoed news – your subscribers are your ambassadors, they will naturally want to recommend your new book or tell others about your event, so don’t prevent them;
  • Don’t tease – don’t send an email saying details of your new book will be in the next email or tell subscribers you have a new event but details will follow. Frustrating subscribers means they will stop reading and may unsubscribe;
  • Check your email has unsubscribe information on (each email needs this information, not just emails to new subscribers);
  • Check your email has a bricks-and-mortar address on – this can be a publisher’s or business address – if sending from within the European Union (not necessary if you use a web service based outside Europe). The UK has not left the EU yet and if (some of) your subscribers live in EU countries, you still need to comply;
    Don’t include unnecessary links – ‘click here to order’ is fine, summarising an article and including a link to the full article is fine if you’re including more than one, linking to your website or blog in the main body of your email because you’ve been told it’s “beneficial for search engine optimisation” is not (it’s not beneficial for search engine optimisation and although it may drive some extra traffic to your website or blog, it will increase your bounce rate if readers clicking through can’t find anything of interest, which will have a detrimental effect on your search engine optimisation.)

Maintenance of your Email Address List

  • If someone on your address list unsubscribes, actually unsubscribe them. A confirmation is polite, but not necessary;
  • If someone changes their email address and notifies you, change their details as soon as possible;
  • Don’t take email addresses from websites of people whom you think might be interested in your news;
  • Don’t automatically add email addresses from people who contact you – check they are happy to subscribe first;
  • Don’t allow a publisher access to your email address list – take the information the publisher would like to send and include it in your own emails by all means, but the marketing mail must come from you, not your publisher as subscribers have signed up to your list;
  • Don’t allow others to access your email address list – you might think your subscribers will be interested in another writer or a writing course or writers’ group, but don’t let that writer, course organiser or group have your list. Include details about the writer/course/group in your next email with relevant contact details and let your subscribers decide;
  • Don’t sell your list on – you may make a quick buck, but it will be at the expense of your longer term marketing strategy as people will unsubscribe and tell others not to subscribe.

A Brief Guide to Email Marketing for Writers Summarised:

  • Have a strict opt-in only policy on collecting email addresses;
  • Ensure your emails are useful and contain information subscribers need to know;
  • Action updates and changes to email addresses or contact details as soon as possible;
  • Ensure you include unsubscribe and clear identification on every email.

It’s not just about keeping within the law, but also showing your subscribers the courtesy you’d like from email lists to which you subscribe.

Leicester Poetry News

I’ve been caught up in typesetting “Welcome to Leicester” so I’m listing poetry related events taking place in Leicester during September and the beginning of October.

9 September 6 – 8pm Sanctuary Radio

Co-editor Ambrose Musiyiwa and I were interviewed by Marilyn Ricci for Sanctuary Radio’s book club programme and this will be broadcast on Friday 9 September between 6 – 8pm at www.sanctuaryradio.co.uk. We talk about “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” (Five Leaves, 2015) and “Welcome to Leicester” (Dahlia Publishing, October 2016).

17 September 2pm South Leicestershire Poetry Stanza

Meet at Leicester Language Academy on New Walk. Friendly workshop.

19 September 7.30pm Shindig

Western Pub, Western Road, Leicester. Featuring readings from Alison Brakenbury, Shruti Chauhan and Lydia Towsey.

25 September 2.30pm Enchanter

Film poem with live music accompliment at Phoenix Arts. Seating is limited.

1 October Journeys Poems Pop-up Library at Leicester Railway Station

October sees the Everybody’s Reading Festival in Leicester which runs from 1 – 9 October. During the Festival there will be a pop-up library at Leicester Railway Station featuring poems from “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” available as postcards for communters to take away.

3 October 7pm You Are Here Poetry Workshop led by Maria Taylor

Friends Meeting House, Queens Road, Leicester. Booking essential – see brochure. Workshop will look at generating new poems based on memory, places and how abstract emotions can be turned into raw material for poetry along with opportunities to read and learn from poets who write on these themes. Maria has a new pamphlet forthcoming from Happenstance and is Under the Radar’s Reviews Editor.

4 October 2pm Central Library Deborah Tyler-Bennett

Bishop Street, Leicester. Deborah Tyler-Bennett reads from her recent collection, “Napoleon Solo Biscuits,” a volume full of icons from popular culture, from the “Man from UNCLE” to Private Walker in “Dad’s Army” … The reading will be followed by Q and A about writing using popular figures.

4 October 8pm Word! with Malika Booker

Y Theatre, East Street, Leicester £7/£4. Open mic sessions available (arrive at 7pm to book).

5 October 7.30pm Gobsmacked

Upstairs at The Western, Western Road, Leicester £8/£6 booking recommended. Brand new show from performance poet and psychiatric nurse Rob Gee. From the bus driver who gets kidnapped by his own alter ego to the hazards of goalkeeping on tranquillisers, Gobsmacked explores the world of chaos and adventure that lurks behind the veneer of everyday life.

6 October 7pm Leicester Writers’ Club presents Writers breaking out of the Box

At Phoenix Arts, Midland Street, Leicester. £5 for non-members. Finding the words to tell our own stories is always a feat. It can be a game we enjoy playing. Authors from Leicester Writers’ Club discuss how they work creatively with various challenges such as dyslexia, English as a second language or visual impairment. Hear how their stories turn out and join in a Q & A. Guests are most welcome. Light refreshments will be available.

7 October 10am Poetry for Beginners with Karen Powell

Hamilton Library, Maidenwell Avenue, Hamilton, Leicester. Free but booking required – see brochure. No experience necessary, this workshop will show beginners short writing exercises to turn ideas into poems-in-progress and will explore poetic techniques and forms.

7 October 7pm Launch of “Welcome to Leicester”

At the African Caribbean Centre, Maidstone Road, Leicester. Event for the Welcome to
Leicester anthology to be published by Dahlia Publishing featuring readings from the anthology. Poems have been submitted by writers who want to share stories about Leicester to tie in with National Poetry Day’s theme of messages. We will be encouraging you to read the poems alongside the performances so sharing stories about a familiar area and encouraging you to discover more about your neighbourhood.

8 October New Walk Museum

Day of writing-related events at New Walk Museum, including ‘Walls’ and poetry and rap.

8 October 7.30pm Burning Eye Books

Upstairs at the Western, Western Road, Leicester. £8/£6. Burning Eye Books Presents: Ash Dickinson, Lydia Towsey and Andrew ‘Mulletproof’ Graves join us for a scintillating evening of high quality spoken word, comedy and entertainment.

8 October 7.30pm Under Milk Wood

The Guildhall, Guildhall Lane, Leicester. Free, booking essential – see brochure. Performed by Stage Left Theatre Workshop.

9 October John Hegley

at the Guildhall for two events, one child-friendly starting at 4pm and one evening event starting at 7pm.

Throughout the Festival, the Exchange Bar is offering a free cup of tea for a handwritten poem.

The full Everybody’s Reading Festival brochure is available at: http://www.everybodysreading.co.uk/

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