Translation: At Our Feet. 49 Poets Respond to Ana Cristina Cesar

I am living hour by hour, with so much fear.
One day I won’t suffer — bit by bit I’ll stop suffering, I’ll go on safari.

— Ana Cristina Cesar

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I first came across Ana Cristina Cesar (1952-1983) years ago in a photo of a friend’s apartment with a pile of books of his to-read list. It was hard to avoid: the Brazilian edition is eye-catchingly fluorescent in pink and blue.
—Have you heard of her?
—No…
I’d almost certainly seen the influence of her poetry: she was included in the 1976 anthology that defined the so-called Marginal Poets and the poetry written in her short life certainly feels very present in Brazilian poetry today.
A nossos pés (At Our Feet, a play on her book A teus pés, At Your Feet) is written in response to her work and brings together poems by 47 Brazilian and two non-Brazilian poets. Six of them that I’ve translated here. Elsewhere Leonardo Gandolfi constructs a biography and bibliography based on the question “what if”, Heitor Ferraz Melo responds to her death, Carlos Augusto Lima takes a walk with her around Lagoa, Micheliny Verunschk seems to follow her style, Marília Garcia puts the lines of A teus pés in alphabetical order, Ricardo Aleixo samples her, my poem is based on my fascination with her outsider’s insight into student life at a university in the East of England.

ana
—    Tarso de Melo

among the poet’s wreckage, notebooks thrown on the fire
and half-finished translations (as if between one language and another
the poem had fought back), the neighbours are calling for your eviction

but don’t worry, Ana, bit by bit poetry detaches itself
from photos, from your eyes, breaks the hidden grille of your handwriting
comes back from its travels, resists the invitations at the last window

“poetry can’t wait”? yes, it can, years, maybe decades,
in the rayban silence, trapped in the family album, the loose strand
of a girl’s hair, a bridge in the landscape – but then it jitters

: it is already too much for the ear, it doesn’t fit inside the eye,
it slips from your fingers to return to the mass grave it lives off
– and escapes, without a word, a thread of blood on the gums


slow
—    Rita Isadora Pessoa

I swap hymen
for a he-man
like swapping
one phoneme

.                         for another

.                         my skin
.                         for another

.                         flower

written in the vicinity
.                         of natural catastrophes


Postcard
—    Ruy Proença

in my country there are palm trees. I don’t want to die without you and me spending a summer afternoon at the zoo, a winter afternoon at the planetarium. I leave behind thought and travel the whole world. people always think they’re Fernando Pessoa. or the opposite. I’m from an age when travel is departure. Pedra Sonora, Uruguay, Amsterdam, London, Ireland, Wales, Spain, the US, Paraguay, Maranhão, Bahia, Pernambuco, Ceará, Bariloche, Buenos Aires, Búzios, Brasília, Campos do Jordão, Rome, Paris, Santiago, São Paulo, Portsmouth and, above all, Rio and Niterói where I was born. this is my small world, my exile. my country is wherever I’m not. I live. I live pretending. I pretend to live. poetry is a lie. I don’t want to die before seeing previously unseen meteors kiss impotently. I don’t want to die without trying glasses for colour blindness. I don’t want to die before my therapy notebook is full. I don’t want to. and if I die before I’ll never see the moon close up. I outlive. I outpretend. it seems there’s a way out just here where I thought all roads ended. a way out of life. now you’re getting here, I don’t need to rob myself anymore.


misunderstanding
—    Júlia Studart

from this close you
seem a little
silly, vulgar
so I tell you
again:
.                         things die

but also it’s
that age where everything
begins, that
we break with
any misunderstanding

I already mistrusted
this bony nakedness

.                thinness

I repeat the line stolen
and crossed out on a
notepad,

.                                there is a love that takes holidays

I don’t have
any idea
how to excite
your body
today a cat
scratched me
and vanished
with the sole of
my left foot,
I woke up with an itch
on my hymen and no
wish to speak

now if everything
was no more than
a misunderstanding

.                                we can start another correspondence

if you really
insist, but I
won’t make any
guarantees, I make no
promises

.                                [death would be worse – I think,
.                                but it would be definitive]


a hummingbird bangs its head against the glass
—    Manoel Ricardo de Lima

someone screams in the middle of
the road – loud, so very loud. a
name. there’s fear in this. fear
when someone screams a name
so loud in the middle of the road. or
laziness when they write
a name down as acronym, number,
logo or favour. and vomit: a kind of
disgust, nausea

[ a compensation ]

there is delight and desire in speaking
a name. it can rip any
heart, in two. anonymous
name, no-one’s
name

to speak a name is to rip
the heart in two. it’s good
to think about this. how it would
be if they said something like
I know your handwriting. these
things we don’t know
well, these things we know
nothing about, not even askance

[ so many times this wish not
to die, ever ]

a kind of disgust, nausea, love
story, but one about love in
war and one that begins licking
from the foot up 


albatross
—    Paloma Vidal

they preferred
not to speak
ipanema beach
post 9
on the left
the 80s
that went by
without us noticing
a thing
they used to come
when my parents
travelled
against the flow
and who knows
from us
the beach packed
olha o mate
olha o biscoito
and we didn’t buy
a thing
the sandwiches
we’d brought
in a polystyrene box
the umbrella
the chairs
my grandparents sitting
silently
so as not
to give themselves
away
the 80s
went by
I didn’t see a thing
they preferred
not to speak
I learnt
the packed beach
the rough sea
my grandfather
who barely knew how
to swim
jumped in
and bobbed about
I ran
across the sand
calling
he didn’t hear
the sea took him
far away
I didn’t understand
from the sand
today
my children
call me
I prefer
not to speak
in the car
they want to know
“when you
were a kid”
I don’t know
if rather
than speaking
whether to jump in
and bob about
the blue covers everything
I am the blue
it’s like being
part
it’s like flying
in the water
it’s like being
in two places
at once
I drive silently
would like to say
the sign says
“albatross
bay”
they want to know
what is
an albatross
I say it’s
a bird
that looks
like it’s not made
to fly
but flies

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Translation: Five Poems by Thiago Ponce de Moraes

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Thiago Ponce de Moraes. Photo: Filippo Ronca

Thiago Ponce de Moraes is a Brazilian poet and translator. He has published the poetry collections Imp. (Caetés, 2006) and De gestos lassos ou nenhuns (Lumme Editor, 2010). He is currently finishing his PhD thesis on Paul Celan’s poetry and teaches the Federal Institute of Rio de Janeiro (IFRJ). Ponce has participated in several national and international festivals, including the Festival International de la Poésie de Trois-Rivières in 2015 and the Struga Poetry Evenings in 2016. As a translator, he made Portuguese versions of poets as Basil Bunting, Emily Dickinson, Antonio Gamoneda, J.H. Prynne, Robert Creeley, Robert Lax, William Blake, Yannis Ritsos and several contemporary poets from Latin America and Europe. He is also releasing his third poetry collection, Dobres sobre a luz (Lumme Editor) and a bilingual pamphlet, glory box (Carnaval Press), which includes my own translations of poems from all of three of his collections.

Thiago and I will both be reading at the launch of Dobres sobre a luz and glory box, this Saturday night in São Paulo in Estúdio Lâmina at São João 108.

These translations are all taken from glory box. Read more of this post

Translation: Three Poems by Heyk Pimenta

Heyk Pimenta. Photo: Marianna Teixeira

Heyk Pimenta. Photo: Marianna Teixeira

Heyk Pimenta is 29 years old today, 31 January. He’s a mineiro from Manhuaçu (Minas Gerais) and lives in Rio de Janeiro with Marianna and their son Zoé. He’s taken part in the exhibitions S.O.S. Poesia at the MAR–Museu de Arte do Rio, Rio de Janeiro and Poesia Agora (Poetry Now) at the Museum of the Portuguese Language, São Paulo. He’s published three books: Sopro sopro (Breath Breath, 2010, Edições Maloqueiristas), Poemas (Poems, 2014, Cozinha Experimental) and A serpentina nunca se desenrola até o fim (The Streamer Never Unwinds All the Way, 2015, 7Letras), where these poems are from. He and an all-star team run the Experimental Poetry Workshop (Oficina Experimental de Poesia) that takes place in Méier, bairro of the north zone of Rio. The poem “density 45” also from his most recent book was translated by Wagner Miranda and you can read it here: https://brincandodedeus.wordpress.com/2014/02/16/44-density-45-by-heyk-pimenta/. The Portuguese originals of these poems are at the bottom of the page and to read more of Heyk in Portuguese, check out his blog: http://heykpimenta.blogspot.com/.

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Translation: “Quiet” by Thiago Camelo

Over 2016 and beyond, I’ll be slightly changing the dynamic of the blog, alternating reviews with translations (the photos that I used to post here are now on my Instagram feed). I’ll start with the poetry of a few young contemporary Brazilian poets, that I’ve been working with over the past couple of months. The first is “Quiet” a pamphlet-length poem by Thiago Camelo, which will be launched later this week on 14 January at Hospedaria Rio in Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro (more details here).

 

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Thiago Camelo in Rio de Janeiro.


Thiago Camelo was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1983. He studied Journalism and Cinema at the PUC-Rio and has published two books of poetry: Verão em Botafogo (2010, 7Letras, Rio de Janeiro) and A ilha é ela mesma (2015, Moça Editora, Curitiba). In addition, he has published the short story A carne, as coisas in the Megamini imprint of 7Letras (2015). A ilha é ela mesma was supported by the Bolsa Criar Lusofonia grant, awarded by the Centro Nacional de Cultura (Lisbon, Portugal).
The poem “Silêncio” will be published in 2016 as a pamphlet by Pipoca Press in the collection Puxad_nho.

As well as being a poet, Thiago Camelo is also a lyricist; in 2015, ‘Espelho d’água’ written in partnership with his brother Marcelo Camelo, was recorded by acclaimed Brazilian singer Gal Costa on her album Estratosférica.

You can find out more about Thiago Camelo on his blog ruadasgaveas.tumblr.com and can contact him at tdscamelo@gmail.com

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“Leave the rest of your dream to sleep at the open window”

The title a contradiction. It is unclassifiable. And all of that you say about the book itself. Absent Presence is—depending on the moment you look at it—the autobiography, the memoirs, an extended prose poem, a novel, perhaps more specifically a Künstlerroman, a monologue written into the mirror, difficult prose, simple prose, an ars poetica, by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008), translated by Mohammad Shaheen. It is all of the above and none. What it is—and what it remains—is hallucinatory, enlightening, beautiful in specific sentences, such as:

Poems and twilight have this in common: obscurity mingles with clarity, because a hidden pit emits its rays in shafts of light and in words, and consequently deprives darkness of the eternity of adjectives.

Or in longer sections, such as this description of his writing process that plays off the title and the previous sentence a good 25 pages before:

You marvel at how the water and the song are united; the voice of water is rhythm. Perhaps music is the organisation of drops of water in a spirit which becomes clear in the hands of one who plays on instruments made out of watery, emotional material. […] …and you proceed to the hobby which has become a trade, and the trade which has been a hobby. The cup of coffee on the left side of the desk, the box of pens on the right, next to the bottle of black ink; in the middle, the white leaves covered with white writing. You meet them, and they meet you, containing the secret memory of those who have gone before. You alone have nothing determinate, no content, and in vain you try to find your own line in this white throng which stretches between writing and speech. You longer ask, ‘What shall I write?’ but rather, ‘How shall I write?’ You summon a dream, but it flees from form; you beg for a meaning, but the rhythm is uneasy with it. You believe that you have crossed the threshold which divides the horizon from the abyss. You have practised the opening of metaphor to an absence that is present, to a presence that is absent, a spontaneity that seems obedient. You know that meaning in poetry is made up of the meaning in the movement of meaning in a rhythm in which prose aspires to the citizenship of poetry and in which poetry aspires to the aristocracy of prose. ‘Take me to features of the river that I do not know, take me.’

Take us all.

I should also mention that I read this book a while back, but the impulse came from the Brazilian poetry blog, Modo de Usar, where a Portuguese translation of one of Darwish’s poems appeared my Facebook feed yesterday.

Mahmoud Darwish, Absent Presence (translated by Mohammad Shaheen), Hesperus Press, 2010

Inge and Paul

Herzzeit

Herzzeit

So much of the Second World War is unimaginable, but constant depictions have made us grow used to its horrors. For me at least, this makes parts of its aftermath more unimaginable still. In 1948 Paul Celan fled Communist Romania for occupied Vienna. Celan’s father died of typhus, his mother was shot, both in internment camps, Celan himself spent much of the war in labour camps:

On arrival in Cernăuți July 1941 the German SS Einsatzkommando and their Romanian allies set the city’s Great Synagogue on fire. In October, the Romanians deported a large number of Jews after forcing them into a ghetto, where Celan translated William Shakespeare’s Sonnets and continued to write his own poetry. Before the ghetto was dissolved in the fall of that year, Celan was pressed into labor, first clearing the debris of a demolished post office, and then gathering and destroying Russian books. (taken from Celan’s entry in Wikipedia)

It is impossible to say that the war ended in 1945 in anything more than historiographical terms, if its survivors carried it within them for the rest of their lives. And is peace peace, if three years after the end of the war, Celan was stateless in Vienna?

There he met Ingeborg Bachmann and they began a friendship or, for two short periods in 1948 and in 1957-58, a relationship. Their correspondence was published in Germany in 2008 as Herzzeit, which also includes the letters between Celan and Max Frisch (Swiss author and Bachmann’s later partner) and Bachmann and Gisèle Celan-Lestrange (Celan’s wife and widow).

It is a correspondence of floods and lacunae. There are long silences from one side or the other: writing is difficult for Ingeborg, especially. She cannot bring herself to reply to Paul in the first years of their friendship: it seems the feelings and the pain are too deep. There are letters abandoned halfway through and later sent enclosed within others:

My silence means above all that I want to preserve those weeks are they were, I wanted nothing more than to receive a letter from you every now and then, to prove that I was not dreaming, that everything was real, as it was. I was fond of you, quite unchanged, on a plain “beyond the chestnut trees”.

„Mein Schweigen bedeutet vor allem, dass ich die Wochen behalten wollte, wie sie waren, ich wollte nichts, als eben ab und zu durch eine Karte von Dir die Bestätigung bekommen, dass ich nicht geträumt habe, sondern alles wirklich war, [wie] es war. Ich hatte Dich lieb gehabt, ganz unverändert, auf einer Ebene, die „jenseits der Kastanien“ war.“

—Ingeborg Bachmann to Paul Celan, Vienna, 24 August 1949, sent as an insert on 24 November 1949

This difficulty in writing letters occurs later in her novel, Malina. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising to see the life reflected in the work. But here it goes further: a fascinating part of Hans Höller and Andrea Stoll’s commentary is how even during the silences of their writing, Bachmann’s poetry speaks and responds to Celan’s. For example, Celan’s poem the line “we spoke of dark things to each other/wir sagen uns Dunkles” in Celan’s ‘Corona’ influences Bachmann’s poem ‘To Speak of Dark Things/Dunkles zu sagen’ where the speaker, like Orpheus, knows only how to speak of dark things. And in the quotation, “beyond the chestnut trees” is from Celan’s poem ‘Drüben (Over There)’.

They grow apart over time and the correspondence peters out by the beginning of the 1960’s. This is when Celan is criticized in some (anti-Semitic) parts of the German press and is subject to plagiarism accusations, both spend times in psychiatric clinics. Maybe banally, Bachmann’s last letter to Celan is a Christmas card in 1961, but she continues to react or respond to Celan: in 1967 she leaves her publisher in protest at a decision to publish translations of Akhmatova by a translator with a Nazi past, rather than Celan’s. But, of course, neither of them could know they only had so much time, that Celan would commit suicide in the Seine in 1970, that Ingeborg would die in 1973. Thoughts, feelings and pain unwritten leave no trace. Should we be surprised that their letters read like fragments?

Bachmann and Celan are two of my favourite poets of post-war German literature, and I suppose it is inevitable that I would be fascinated by their letters, but I had not expected to be so moved by the friendship that develops between Ingeborg and Gisèle, especially after Paul’s suicide, “the most anonymous and solitary of deaths”. Gisèle’s letters often refer to Ingeborg’s acts of kindness, such as sending Gisèle flowers on Celan’s birthday, half a year after his suicide.

Over the next few years, it becomes clear that these gestures, phone calls, the meeting of the two in Rome become an important support for Gisèle. Ingeborg’s difficulty in writing is just as much the case here: in a 1959 letter to Gisèle, she wrote “I fear letters more and more because they regard us with such inflexibility, when all one seeks is a living word – or even a living contradiction” (« Je crains de plus en plus les lettres parce qu’elles nous regardent inflexiblement, quand on ne cherche que la parole vivante – et même la contradiction vivante »).

In search of the “living word”, Ingeborg phones, while Gisèle appears to be writing into silence. This and history (their future) made it difficult not to be overwhelmed by their melancholy—it is hard not to see this last letter to Ingeborg (2 January 1973) as desperately sad:

“I am still moved by your call yesterday evening: I was almost paralysed with the surprise, the distance, that you represent for me and I could not find the words that I wanted to say to you –
I am so touched by how much you care about me, I feel so deeply that it matters to you that I am well and that I find my own path. Thank you for such warm thoughts.
You know, you know … the hardships that one has with oneself, with life. One tries, one is mistaken, one finds paths that lead nowhere. One takes steps that are not always the right ones and finds oneself again at a dead end…”

« Je suis encore toute émue de votre appel d’hier soir : j’étais un peu paralysée par la surprise, la distance, ce que vous représentez pour moi, et je n’ai pas pu trouver les mots que j’aurais voulu vers vous –
Je suis très touchée par l’attention que vous me portez, je sens si fort que cela vous importe que j’aille bien et que je me trouve un chemin, merci de ces pensées si chaleureuses.
Vous savez, vous savez … les difficultés que l’on a chacun avec soi-même, avec la vie. On essaie, on se fourvoie, on trouve des chemins qui ne mènent nulle part. On fait des pas qui ne sont pas toujours les justes et on se retrouve à nouveau dans ses impasses… »

—Gisèle Celan-Lestrange to Ingeborg Bachmann, Paris, 2 January 1973

There is nothing more. I could only imagine time coursing towards Ingeborg’s own death on 17 October of the same year.

Ingeborg Bachmann/Paul Celan, Herzzeit: Briefwechsel, Suhrkamp Verlag, 2008

One Map Can Hide Another: Marília Garcia’s “Engano geográfico”

I first visited the street where I now live a night arrived from Europe before flying off for the south of Brazil the next day. The streets I walked along that night opened in different ways to how I now know possible; traffic came channelled through what now are decades-old buildings. I still wonder if the real world can be twisted back to fix that memory in reality. Return journeys always create a palimpsest of memory: of the place you’ve just left, the place you’re returning to, the mirror image of the journey that you’re making.

As she sits on a train from Barcelona to Toulouse, perhaps fleeing the end of a relationship, the persona in Brazilian poet Marília Garcia’s book-length poem, Engano geográfico (probably best translated as Trick of Geography, literally Geographical Mistake—there isn’t a translation I could find, so this an any mistakes of translation are mine) thinks back on a journey to a Pyrenean village years (?) before. Thought and memory, things remembered and seen, multiple times and geographies swim effortlessly together, creating both an incredible richness to the text, but also an engrossing vagueness: the verse is unpunctuated and uncapitalized; thought and vision run into one another; there are very few personal pronouns (impossible in English, but I was often unsure if the traveller was she, he or you); memory repeats itself along the journey in echoes of lines or the banality of the train company’s jingle. This lack of fixity makes for a strangely impersonality, an intensely personal, and also incredibly beautiful poem: Read more of this post

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