Into Another Language

Seizing Places
, Hélène Dorion, translated by Patrick McGuinness
   (120pp, NP, Arc)
Silence River,
Antônio Moura, translated by Stefan Tobler (89pp, 9.99, Arc )

Arc gifts reviewers with extensive information: Hélène Dorion was born in 1958 in Quebec City, and now lives in Montreal. She studied philosophy at Laval University (Quebec) ,... and so on, into the translator's notes on his task. I have marked a quibble where he describes her mode of writing - of a nakedness and a compression, and so on and concludes with this, that the perceptions ... 'suddenly seague into something expansive and almost spiritual in its clarity. However intense and physical the experience, its vanishing point is always a spiritual one - the two are, in Dorion, part of a continuum, perhaps indeed translations of each other.' What is this 'spiritual'?

The book is one book translated, in five sections, each with a 'Seizing' (Ravir
) title, Seizing Cities / Shadows / Mirrors / Windows / Faces. Each section divides into short poems divided by a . From 'Seizing : Mirrors':

     Night - And the shadow discloses
     the reflection, pure
     mirror of the years drifting
     behind your eyes - Why

    so many skies
    sloping down to your mouth?

And from 'Seizing : Windows',

     Sixteen centimetres by sixteen
     words of lead on soft paper
     torn by lines of ochre
     and blue. Signs, like steps
     moving forward in a single journey.
    The light scatters the stones
    that time breaks in your hands.

Those last two lines in French,

     La lumière disperse des pierres
    que le temps casee dans tes mains.

Why the word 'spiritual' to describe where the poems conclude? Why attach 'almost'? Isn't this a confession of vagueness? It is likely a reading in French would float more - not to disparage the translations, which seem consistently to hold a moment well - but to wonder not least where the translator is locating 'spiritual' in the intention - or even consistently as a lucky break. What does it mean? Would the poet herself claim or even allow 'spiritual'? My feeling is, the poems are grounded, and because of this
they hold on to truthfulness in the moment, are in the everyday real and do open the reader (this reader anyway) to an adventure well out of the ordinary, and it says a lot to me about these poems that I want to quote all of them, to say 'listen' to this and to this and this.

The back cover of Antônio Moura's Silence River tells me this is the first full-length book by a living Brazilian poet to be published in the UK and that Moura (b.1963) is 'one of Brazil's leading literary figures'.

The conveying of a poet into another language can be talked through in various ways. Stefan Tobler's preface caught hold of me by its enthusiasm, pleasure in the work, and that he cares
. In contrast, David Treece's introduction had me bored by the first page. It's the difference - or is here - between the worker on the text and the standing apart academic.

The translator's practical invitation and his conveying the pleasure of the task is, so far as I can tell, brought to fruition in his translations. There is a faster flow than Hélène Dorion's, while having something akin in the way the poems connect; 'Fall' begins like this,

     When the sound of a fall is
     heard and on running to the spot

     stretched out and alone, exposed,
     a soul is found, victim of its own body,

     his open eyes staring into space
     the sky is for him, almost dead,

     the blue of a bruise on the shoulders of
     the world that, human animal, approaches,

and several couplets more without a full stop. I'm not sure I know what Portuguese sounds like. The look of the sound, if you see what I mean, is of something much more staccato than Dorion's French, more accented. And it is can be tricky to check lines for sound across languages. Here is the first line of a short poem, Indicios
/ Signs:

     A natureza reina silenciosa

     Nature reigns in silence

On the face of it, one might say, this looks straightforward, but the line in English seems static, as perhaps it might seem in the original for anyone who can hear it properly, sounds musical to me. An ovation for dual language books, anyway; and finally from this book that overall pleases me a lot, the opening of a poem without title,

     Walking home, usual routine,
     on your brow the daily sweat

     for bread baked by God and the devil,
     stars above, remains of the dead

     below your feet that walk
     carefully not to disturb them,

and several couplets more before a full stop, and several couplets more before an end without one.

            David Hart 2013