This month’s writer’s group had the theme crumbs. As with previous themes, I initially thought it would be difficult to come up with something to write about but when you least expect it – something tumbles out of you despite everything. The group’s texts were very varied as for the direction they took on the theme. One dealt with aid work being the crumbs of the rich man’s table; one used crumbs as a starting point for a short-story on people with a need to take power and to control others; one dealt with the loss of someone, where the left crumbs of their life, played a large part in the poem; yet another took the point of view of bread crumbs themselves.
My text, a poem, takes its stand in the crumbs of a relationship falling apart. I do like the setting scene. In books, TV-shows and, especially in movies, love stories always deal with how the lovers meet and fall in love. Occasionally, you get an older couple who are going through a crisis. Very rarely do you get the slow and painful story of falling out of a relationship. *
You sleep in the sofa
holding my hand
I know I shouldn’t let you *
A kiss on the cheek
that always seek my mouth.
A hug for goodnight that
lasts longer than it should.
Messages sent every day
out of habit and longing.
We cross the line of friendship,
reluctant to break up our domestic life. *
Feeling ill and miserable
you sleep in the sofa
holding on to my hand –
I know I shouldn’t let you
Friday night, The National Poetry Society held a tri-lingual poetry reading at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden, London. Welsh poet Menna Elfyn and Hindi poet Rati Saxena read their poetry and discussed translating other poets work into their own language and being translated into other languages than their own.
The reading started with a poem by Menna Elfyn, read in Welsh by Elfyn, in Hindi by Saxena and finally in English, again by Elfyn. Both poets are excellent reciters and it was a very evocative experience to listen to a poem without understanding the language (I neither speak Welsh nor Hindi). I was struck by that the rhythm of the poem and the pleasant voices of both poets, made it very soothing to listen to. I would love to have audiobooks by both poets where they read in their own languages and perhaps with the English translations to read along.
Elfyn and Saxena continued to read another of Elfyns poems where Elfyn read the poem in Welsh and Saxena added the Hindi translation, line by line. To hear the languages next to each other gave a new dimension of rhythm and atmosphere. Who would have thought that Hindi and Welsh could rhythmically sound so alike.
Following the reading, there was a discussion of poetry translation. Elfyn told a story of another poet, who had told her that translations of poetry was like kissing through a handkerchief, to which she had replied that it was better than not kissing at all. Both Elfyn and Saxena seemed to agree that translations of poetry does take a life of its own, not entirely connected to the original poet. The translation is for the new audience – for them to experience and get an understanding for the poets work. I think as writers we are often quite protective of our work – it’s our baby, but the reader needs to be able to add to the reading. I once let a friend read my poetry-novel where one of the characters are named Miredhel. She didn’t know how to pronounce it so in her head she read Mildred. It didn’t bother me but she suggested I should change the name to something easier to pronounce.
Last but not least, hearing poetry read in a language I do not understand was a surprisingly rewarding experience. There was so much to gain from rhythm, intonation and voice, that I would certainly expose myself to that experience again.
I found A Long Song by Andrea Levy a very interesting story. I have read books before that concern slavery, or at least take place during that time, but all of them, so far, have taken place in America. America was of course not the only country who took part in this awful business and America was not the only country where slaves were kept. In A Long Song it is the English in Jamaica that keep slaves on sugar plantations.
What I like about the story is that it is one woman’s life-story and, although she is born a slave, the story does not focus on the horrors of slavery but on the everyday life of this woman as part of the life of Jamaicans, black and white (for lack of better wording). As a life-story it is a compelling tale of the ups and downs in one lifetime.
The one thing I did not like is that Levy sometimes when dealing with the cruel conditions of slavery chose to tell and not show. Anyone who has experience of writing courses will have heard the opposite: show don’t tell the reader. Obviously you can break the rules but in this case, it does not work for me. Too many times in the book I am told what the cruelties were but not put in the situation to experience it with the characters.
On the whole, it is a very well written book that is worth reading, letting you experience a time, a culture and a country that, for my part, is a far cry from my own world.