Poems from Small Islands | edbookfest

August 15, 2011

The Edinburgh International Book Festival is here and our August will never be the same again! There’s plenty of poetry events that we can’t wait to get stuck into, and the first of the lot was last night’s ‘Poems from Small Islands’ event, the showcase of the now annual Crear / Literature Across Frontiers / SPL translation workshop [here’s a piece Robyn wrote about Crear from our Poetry Reader issue 6]. This year, the participating poets all come from ‘small islands’: Miriam Gamble is from Northern Ireland; Adrian Grima from Malta; Maria Rosa Llabrés Ripoll lives in Palma, Majorca; Jenan Selçuk lives in Famagusta, Cyprus and Ian Stephen in Lewis, Stornoway (when he’s not at sea).


The story of their week was unfolded through this dialogue via poems. We started by hearing Miriam’s translation of Adrian’s ‘Andrew Dreams of Catherine Wheels’; heard Adrian read his translation of ‘;’ by Miriam; Maria Rosa read her translation of Ian’s poem, ‘Baptist Church (Abandoned)’ and Jenan read his attempt at translating Miriam’s challenging poem ‘The Flaying of Marsyas’ (‘it nearly killed him’, Miriam told us). And so wonderfully on – a journey through their week, free-wheeling between Catalan, English, Turkish and Maltese.

It was a lovely evening, many of the poems prefaced with an explanation of the process: the difficulty of gendered words; the challenge of uncharted subject material; how some of the translations cleaved more closely to the original than others. One poem, Adrian’s poem for Abder, became ‘The Sea Swell’ in Ian’s hands, and many stanzas shorter in Miriam’s version, owing to the tradition of the compact Northern Irish lyric.

Miriam articulated her feelings on the complexities of translation: ‘it’s not the original poem, but not a freed poem either. It falls somewhere between the lines.’ Robyn closed by saying that she appreciated it was challenging to listen to an hour of poetry in an unknown tongue, but that she hoped the audience had revelled in the music of language. We certainly did.

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