Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In Translation

I've had a busy few weeks with work, but have also been attending poetry events as reader, audience member or workshop participant. In particular, I enjoyed several excellent sessions of this year's Cheltenham Literature Festival unofficial fringe - Words on the Side.

I'm not, sad to say, a huge fan of workshops which try to inspire you to write poems, often by giving you a model or a prompt. They just don't work for me, although I know others get a lot out of them. At best, they give me something to go away and think about much later, but often it feels like a great pressure to jump through a hoop I would never have chosen myself.

A workshop I did enjoy, however, was Philip Rush's excellent session on 'translating Lorca' for Words on the Side. I have no Spanish and my knowledge of Lorca extends only as far as having seen a production of The House of Bernada Alba and loving Leonard Cohen's 'Take this Waltz'. The real point of Philip's workshop, though, was to explore how a poem written in another language could be the starting point for re-interpretation and re-invention as much as for literal translation. Using English translations of the poems or prose summaries, he encouraged us to produce new versions of Lorca. The result was not exactly mimicry, but it did help us to consider different ways of writing which might enrich our own.

Anyway, here's my very modest effort, slightly tweaked since the workshop: a version (but not a translation) of Lorca's 'La Luna Asoma'.

after Lorca, for Philip Rush

When the moon first rises
it muffles the bells,
draws unnavigable paths across the infinite
land, then floods that land
leaving only an island for your heart.

And there you sit, hungry for oranges
but eating only cold and unripe fruit,
turning two silver coins in your pocket,
sliding their faces across each other
to hear them weep.


  1. Jennifer Farley, CheltenhamOctober 22, 2012 at 10:05 PM

    I used to think L.C. was an old misery-guts but I love Take this Waltz. He is improving. I love Moonrise also: 'turning two silver coins in your pocket/ sliding their faces across each other/ to hear them weep.'

  2. Cohen has a really great sense of humour, Jennie, but it doesn't come to the fore so much in the earlier records. Take this Waltz is from the album I'm Your Man (1988), which is his best in my book.