Translations & other writings

From ‘Poetry Translation as a Multimedia Object: an Intersemiotic Translation of Ungaretti’s “Eterno”’ in Norwich Papers, vol. 21, 2013, 87-108.

by Eugenia Loffredo

The Poem


Tra un fiore colto e l’altro donato

l’inesprimibile nulla


And this is our first translation (TT1), a word-for-word translation: 


                                             Between one flower plucked and the other offered

                                                             the inexpressible nothingness

Most of the poems in this collection are very short: few lines, few words in the lines, and a wide blank page intensifying the impression of sparseness. Ungaretti’s style has been described as essential, skeletal (ibid.:6), ‘a kind of hallucinatory reductio ad essentiam of moods, feelings, desert landscapes and displacements in time for the purpose of providing a historico-aesthetic perspective on life’ (11); or more as ‘compressed “fulminations” or analogical flashes of insight’ (61).

It is by teasing out the threads of the ‘compressed’ texture of this composition, that it is possible to gain an insight into its workings […]

[…] Nothingness and consciousness are the key words for the poetics imploded in such a condensed textual shape. An ‘implosion’, in fact, better describes their paradoxical relationship, whereby the two do not stand in opposition, but somehow collapse into each other. According to Ungaretti’s note, the coming to awareness occurs by means of that ‘constant labour of annihilation’, in other words, the foundation of the being is established ‘by’ and ‘in’ nothingness. But most importantly, the origins of this conception derive from his experience of the desert, and somehow from the optical effects of the mirage:

[…] more forcefully, the wider hallucinatory effects he himself experienced in the open desert, where the shimmering of the sand reduced the landscape to nothing more than the mere contours of external reality, and where he, too, could feel himself sinking into a state of suspended, memorial existence and timeless mystery (Jones 1977:1).

At the textual level, we can observe that the lack of substance, of a reality made up of quivering contours, is directly connected to the ‘timeless mystery’, as the words ‘eterno’ and ‘nulla’ are joined on the vertical axis (the beginning and the end of the poem).                   


Tra un fiore colto e l’altro donato

l’inesprimibile nulla

This paradoxical correspondence is also reflected in the double relation which they entertain – both appositive and oppositive. According to Jakobson’s syntagmatic and paradigmatic axes, these two words could be considered, in the selection process, as alternative signifiers – a speaker would choose either one or the other. In this case, the relation between the alternatives is of dissimilarity (if not of antonymity). In ‘Eterno’ both one and the other are present in the syntagm, and therefore become contiguous in the combination process. But, the paradoxical effect is made explicit by the arrow drawn here which visualises, within the syntagmatic chain, the paradigmatic relation – the vertical axis.

Between ‘eternal’ and ‘nothingness’, the notion of time is inserted by means of the floral image. The flower is commonly regarded as the paradigm of the ephemeral, as well as having become a transfigured poetic image employed by Mallarmé in ‘Crise de vers’ written in 1886:

‘Je dit: une fleure! et, hors de l’oubli, où ma voix relègue aucun contour, en tant que quelque chose d’autre que le calices sus, musicalement se lève, idée même et suave, l’absente de tous bouquet’ (2003: 213).

‘I say: a flower! And, out of the oblivion where my voice casts every contour, insofar as it is something other than the known bloom, there arises, musically, the very idea in its mellowness; in other words, what is absent from every bouquet (2007: 210).

Indeed, the dynamics of this well-known passage (‘Je dis une fleur’) – the process leading the poet to a negation and the attainment of ‘l’absente de tous bouquets’– is somehow echoed in ‘Eterno’, which, as a response to Mallarmé’s poetics, consciously weaves itself into the intertextual threads of an existing poetic web. But, line one of ‘Eterno’, spatially configured at the centre of the poem, also expresses time as consciousness, in the way it endeavours to fix a historical gesture and in the interval between two moments – the plucking and the offering of the flower.

 The tension between the ephemeral and the eternal is embedded more deeply in the substance of the poem, as a look at the phonic chain will demonstrate. In the vocalic configuration of the first line

TRA un  fiore  colTO  e  l’alTRO  donaTO            (Livorni 1998:86)

two main phonic values can be singled out: the [o] and the [a]. Their distribution, interestingly enough, generates a fine equilibrium as they alternate to enclose the first and second hemistich (trA un fiore coltO e l’Altro donatO). This balance is also expressed in the symmetric configuration of ‘trA’ and ‘tO’ of the first hemistich and ‘trO’ and ‘tO’ of the second, held together throughout the verse by the consonantal reiteration of ‘T’ and ‘TR’.

The vocalic configuration of the second line comes to undo this equilibrium irreparably:

l’InEsprImIbIle nUllA

The polysyllabicity and vocalic assonance in ‘inesprimibile’ (the strong value of [i] nearly absent in the first line) somehow forces an increase of speed in the reading, causing a ‘precipitation’ effect, as if quickly rushing to ‘nulla’. This, waiting at the bottom of the fall, seems to stop the swift motion. ‘Nulla’, as a matter of fact, is different from ‘inesprimibile’ in length and in the sequence of two opposite sounds [u], a closed vowel, and [a], an open vowel. The final event produced by the quick succession of the vocalic closedness and openness is a sense of surprise.

Thus, it is the orchestration of all these features (the hendecasyllable followed by the octosyllable, the contrasting number of syllables and the different vocalic palette of each line) that engenders the distinct rhythm conveying the tension between the eternal and the ephemeral. The nature of this opposition is such that the two never stand against each other as monoliths, but, according to Ungaretti’s poetics of nothingness as the fundament of consciousness, some aspects of the one (the eternal) can be found in the other (the ephemeral). This becomes intriguingly visible if we observe the phonic matter of the title itself: eTeRnO. ‘TRO’ are exactly the phonic features isolated in line one, in which consciousness and time are inserted. Thus, the eternal is rooted in consciousness, and both precipitate to nothingness.

Finally, it is not surprising if the intricate relation among the constituents of the poem actually turns out to be a more deliberate attempt of anagrammatic writing – most certainly influenced by Ungaretti’s friend Apollinaire. The anagrams of both words ‘eterno’ and ‘nulla’ can be found in line one, strengthening the coalescence of the eternal and the ephemeral:

‘eterno’ vs ‘nulla’ =

TRa uN  fiORE  cOlTO  E  l’alTRO  dONaTO vs trA UN  fiore  coLto  e  l’ALtro  doNAto  (Livorni 1998:86)

The translations

While giving us an insight into the complex workings of the poem, the analysis of ‘Eterno’ makes clear the reasons and the ways in which this poem may inspire a translation involving multimodality. The multiple-translations approach adopted here intends to trace a progression that goes from the literal to the multimodal, as these renderings increasingly incorporate and exteriorise other modalities. The choice is justified by the nature of this study: the stage-by-stage digitalisation of the poem will not only throw a bridge across the incommensurable space between verbal and non-verbal, but will also make visible a continuity which would support the contention that all of them are ‘translations’, rather than digital ‘adaptations’. It may be worth pausing briefly and asking, once again, the question of the need for a multimodal translation. We have already provided a literal translation, in the previous section, and possibly with a few more changes (choosing a different synonym or other), TT1 could succeed in having the same number of syllables as the ST, or perhaps could reproduce the anagrams. Moreover, in TT1 the position of ‘eternal’ and ‘nothingness’ are unaltered. So, why invoke other modalities?

An important motive supporting this kind of experimentation is given by Ungaretti’s crucial notion of the poetic word. In the same spirit as Mallarmé, Ungaretti’s poetic word is orphic, that is to say, ‘the image is universalised and purified by being recycled within the poet’s sensibility’ (Jones 1977:10). However, unlike the French poet, Ungaretti’s poetic word is also ‘historical’, in the sense that it critically retains some aspect of the psychological time of consciousness, so that its lyrical resonances are always intimations of cultural memories. From this emerges an analogical or impressionistic form of logic, of verbal and imaginative associations, based on a Bergsonian type of intuition. This particular mode of poetic logic does not deal directly with the real world, nor does it try to transcend intellectually by cognitive acts of greater and greater generalisation: it simply transfigures it emotionally from within. (ibid.:25)

Translating poetry, then, entails the inevitable change of the status (and the material status) of the poetic and historical word; more exactly, the changes it may undergo are the outcome of a sort of filtering of the poet’s sensibility through the translator’s. The translator, somehow and inevitably, continues the process of transfiguration initiated by the poet and thus, in translation, the word is ‘transfigured emotionally from within’ the translator’s psychological time. Translating becomes a co-authoring activity, in which the translator’s retrieval and subsequent recycling/recreation of the poetic word occur via the poetic ‘image’. In this context, the term should not be understood as an abstraction or a way of universalising a poetic experience; it would be more useful, instead, to think of ‘image’ as the ‘in-betweenness’ inhabited by the translator, a moment of relation to someone else’s experience, and, as such, it belongs to a specific historical/psychological time of consciousness (and of language). This temporal dimension, in fact, not only reveals the uniqueness of the translational event, but also emphasises the visual aspects of the image itself. It is this kind of image that the following translations endeavour to convey.

In this first production the graphic surface of the page (or screen, if viewed from a computer monitor) is activated. The distribution of words ‘projects’ the interaction of the vertical axis with the horizontal axis, signifying the relationship between the ‘eternal/nothing’ and the ‘ephemeral’.  ‘Eternal’ and ‘nothing’ are conjoined by an invisible vertical line – marking an absence – which intersects the visible horizontal string of words of line one – marking a presence – more precisely the ephemeral presence of consciousness. The ephemeral, however, is also contained within the blank space of nothingness (according to Ungaretti’s note mentioned earlier). By traversing the space between ‘eternal’ and ‘nothing’, the word ‘inexpressible’ joins the two terms, which become the two ends of one long segment. But, while it succeeds in counteracting the rigidity of both the vertical and the horizontal lines, the parabola formed by the letters of ‘inexpressible’ alludes to the temporal dimension of the poem, as well as suggesting the embracing gesture of the eternal. Actually, the effect implemented by the parabolic line is to confer a dynamic rhythm to TT2 in the attempt to dramatise the movement identified in the ST, whereby from the equilibrium of line one the reader is speedily rushed down towards nothingness. Finally, the letters in the bold type visualise the anagram (the eternal materially contained in the temporal string), but, being the word in Italian – untranslated – it rather becomes a vestige of the ST, hinting at the idea of translation as a sort of palimpsest in which layers of cultural memories are accumulated.

The digital image created here more noticeably operates the recovery and dramatisation of the poetic image experienced in the reading of ‘Eterno’, including both its verbal and non-verbal constituents. And, more perceptible are the effects of the translator’s ‘filtering’ activity. At the verbal level, it is possible to observe how the poem has shrunk to one line: ‘eternal nonflower’. The compression of the poem into a single phrase (the reductio ad essentiam) is a continuation of the process of hermetic involution occurring in the various editions of the compositions of ‘Allegria’. Following the same direction taken by Ungaretti’s poetry, then TT3a is an even more skeletal, essential poem.

The terms of the axial rapport laid out in TT2 are completely altered in TT3a: ‘eternal’ and ‘nothingness’ are now contiguous. ‘Nulla’, however, has been rendered not with another noun but with a mere negation affixed to flower, ‘nonflower’, which also enables me to retain the floral image (in actual fact, the newly coined word more loudly echoes Mallarmé’s absent flower). Therefore, in TT3a, the ephemeral is still present and already physically embodied in nothingness, to which the eternal is linked in adjectival form – although the strong break between the two words allows the possibility of reading them separately as two nouns. 

The superimposition of the phrase ‘eternal nonflower’, repeated ad infinitum in a telescopic fashion, aims to conjure up a particular visual image inspired by the desert and by the optical effects of the mirage. As suggested by Ungaretti in his note, it is through the peculiar experience of the desert that the conflation of eternity and nothingness is apprehended by the consciousness. More precisely, the mise en abîme of this one line attempts to reproduce the dizzying effect of staring at the light in the desert and the subsequent appearance of the mirage, when the external reality is reduced to shimmering contours. In addition, TT3a further pushes the movement of annihilation with regard to the subject, which is verbally absent here. In reality, a subject is missing in ‘Eterno’ too; but, it is possible to say that the two past participles ‘colto’ and ‘donato’, though in an impersonal form, can still be identified with consciousness itself which is trying to fix a historical gesture. Similarly, the absence of the psychological subject of awareness in TT3a is only apparent. This, in fact, has not been rendered verbally but visually, by means of perspective – indicating the presence of the perceiving consciousness, the subject doing the viewing. Images with a central vanishing point are generally seen as subjective images and TT3a is an ‘image with central perspective (and hence with a ‘built-in’ point of view) […] In subjective images the viewer can see what there is to see only from a particular point of view’ (Leeuwen 2001:136). We could say, then, that it is this centrality of vision that constitutes consciousness, and not only that of the poet but also of all future viewers of the image. At the same time, this centre offers a gap to the view, both spatial and temporal – the ‘between’ when/where time and eternity intersect. Also, the specific moment of insight, that is the poet’s intuition of the intimate relation between consciousness and nothingness, is intimated by one of the ending segments rising at the back of the image and separating itself from the rest. The symbolic force of the black and white ‘non-colours’ – whereby light and darkness are associated with the eternal and nothingness – clearly emerges when we consider the following version.

This final image continues the play with light and dark shades. The black background and white letters may represent a further stage of the optical effect of staring at light, the stage when we close our eyes and the dark and light shades of the after-image imprinted on our retina are inverted, as in a photographic negative. Indeed, the interaction of the light and the dark values intimates the possibility of reading both TT3a and TT3b as photographic imprints. This association with photography becomes intriguingly relevant in connection with the time of consciousness:

Now Husserl has shown, in his study of time consciousness, that each single moment of time must incorporate retentions of foregoing moments, and protentions of what is to come, as well as retentions of retentions and protentions of protentions, to which must undoubtedly be added retentions of protentions and protentions of retentions. In any case, when petrifying the hic and nunc, photography will also petrify these retentions and protentions, and all their combinations. This means that when observing the photograph, we are also aware of at least the categorical form of what has gone before, and what is to follow. Of course, also the future of the photograph is part of our past, even if it is a minimal past, as in the case of a Polaroid snapshot, and the picture of a Photomaton. (Sonesson 1989: 83)

Thus, a snapshot can be seen as a historical gesture which comprises past, present and future – alluding to the motion of time itself; yet, a snapshot also petrifies a moment, as it were, into the immobility of the ‘eternal’. But, more precisely, because of the rapport of the light and dark tones in TT3a and TT3b, these can be thought of as photographic negatives playing with the inversion of values. In the same way as in a negative, in TT3b, the black background foregrounds the negative dark spaces (the unoccupied spaces of a photograph), which form a pattern on their own delineating the positive shapes. The negative spaces are perceived by the eye as two-dimensional shapes while the subject of the object appears dematerialised. Significantly, these characteristics of the photographic negative embody the paradoxical relationship singled out in ‘Eterno’, between a ‘historical presence’ (the subject or an object) and ‘nothingness’, in which the negative space becomes as visible and present in proportion to the dematerialisation of the subject/object. The reading of a presence in absence (or an absence in presence) is strengthened if TT3a and TT3b are put side by side. These are complementary in their display of opposite effects (due to the inversion of values), but both are indirect imprints of an unknown referent, in other words the mere trace of a no longer existing real object, the subject of a snapshot taken a long time ago.

© (Eugenia Loffredo) 2013


Jones, F. J. (1977), Giuseppe Ungaretti. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Kress, G. and T. van Leeuwen (1996) Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. London: Routledge.Kress, G. and T. van Leeuwen (2001) Multimodal Discourse. London: Arnold.

Livorni, E. (1998) Avanguardia e tradizione: Ezra Pound e Giuseppe Ungaretti. Florence: Le Lettere.

Mallarmé. S. (2003) Œuvres Complètes. (Bertrand Marchal ed.). Paris: Gallimard.

Mallarmé. S. (2007) Divagations. (Barbara Johnson trans.). Cambridge, Massachussets: Harvard University Press.

Sonesson, G. (1989) Semiotics of Photography. On Tracing the Index, (accessed: 17 April 2006).

Ungaretti, G. (1992) Vita di un uomo: Tutte le poesie. Milan: Oscar Mondadori.



‘Palimptexts’ by Xiangyun Lim


i. Swallow / Fish

See, homes grow from soil, moulded                                                                                    by the sea’s pulse. Islands                                                                                                      of water, of trees, of fish, for

someone out there                                                                                                      breathes in the condensation of time.

A swallow flies past:                                                                                                        pilgrim from Song, beating
a familiar refrain of the pensive,
fleeting tail flicks of light

for it was bait of                                                                                                               glinting waves. Not a romance,
but a voyage in a home not its own
to discover, upon landing
a face rearranged

(drilling sounds pierce the walls as
dark chapped hands
build new lifts
in a cacophony
of foreign banter)

Sometimes, walking on these grey roads
void of any other, I hear myself anew:
his steps an intimate timbre.                                                                                                 Do the same consonants and vowels grammar his
boredom, plans, clutter

(a swallow flies past, pilgrim from Song
the familial refrain)

tracing vaults of oils and sculptures:
perhaps he too became a fish
like the fishes we now own
from the school of Chaozhou

v. Island

Staircase: old man
bringing down a tower of cardboard
boxes. Boy with Down’s
Syndrome trails                                                                                                              behind                                                                                                                                     in the memory of standing upright,
unmoving as an old man lifted his bag

Or stairs: Malay wife
climbing with hands
of husband, bolstered
by the plastic promise of new pillows.

Station platform: toothy wall-                                                                                             poster child, sitting atop a
when sand still papered playgrounds, drawing cats
that became the wiles of our myths: cat spirits.

(Oh tower of Bolligen: where do I find my
stone, tower of Bollingen)

Sunset: without night,
illuminating how we
flagpoles                                                                                                                              and wait for the train,
or perhaps for home.

Odyssey: a story fossilised in
fish bones as the sea’s pulse
still moulds, washes and beats.
See this island. Island of
water, of
trees, of
fish, for
a long time ago

we sat with dinner
as the sky blinked at us                                                                                                    beneath the hawker’s shelter and
echoing shouts. It rained, suddenly,
careless tears time forgot till                                                                                                    it was late. As passers-by
scurried, you stayed with me
at our umbrellaed table,
eating chicken rice,
drinking soup,
quiet as islands.


Palimptext I

Palimptext II

Palimptext III


Draft I

Draft II

Draft III

© (Xiangyun Lim) 2017

Xiangyun Lim has a particular interest in translating contemporary works from the Chinese diaspora. Having grown up in Singapore, Xiang has lived in Seattle, Barcelona, Taiwan and United Kingdom and finds belonging in the intersection of cultures and languages. She is one of the recipients of the Singapore Apprenticeship in Literary Translation (SALT).

She can be found at


art-poetry by Colin Campbell Robinson 

the dogen variations are inspired by Dogen’s Eihei Koroku


dogen 1

dogen 2

dogen 3

dogen 4


dogen 5

dogen 6

dogen 7


dogen 8


dogen 9

dogen 10

dogen 11

dogen 12

dogen 13

dogen 14

© (Colin Campbell Robinson) 2016

Colin Campbell Robinson is an Australian writer and photographer currently living and working in the Celtic extremity of Kernow. Recently his work has appeared in Otoliths, BlazeVox 15, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Futures Trading, E-ratio, and Molly Bloom 11 among others. Knives Forks and Spoons Press will be publishing his collection Blue Solitude – a self-portrait in six scenarios in January 2017.





Paschalis Nikolaou:

Rewording Andreas Embirikos: A Selection of Student Responses

(postgraduate students at the Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting of the Ionian University)

  1. A relatively faithful version preceded by a new form (in Greek rather than English) by HARA MARTZOUKOU where we have an impression of the original as it becomes minimized, abstracted, some of its key words and sounds repeated.


Xρώματα χίλια, 

Λέξεις –σπαθιά χαράσσονται ανενόχλητες ως το άχραντο μυστήριο

Και τούτη η δίνη, η αιώνια γιορτή ξεκινά με ορμή απροσμέτρητη,

Με αλήθειες άπεπλες,

Με λόγια λιτά.

Μάχη. ‘Ερως. Μάχη. Ένωσις. Κραυγή. Όλον.

The Words.   A translation:

When eventually we return from Paris and breathe the breeze of the Saronic Gulf under that gracious glow and amidst the aromas of pine, in the lucidity of myths –myths of the present and of antediluvian times – there, like a bugle call or a dry drum beat, there rise like sparkling fountains certain words, words –oracles, words in epic, archlike union, words of immeasurable importance for the present and for the future, and the words are “Elelef”, “I love you” and “Glory to God in the highest heaven” and suddenly, like swords unified when crossed or like the clang of a rushing train arriving at the underground platform in Paris, more words: “Chardon –Lagache,” “Denfert –Rochereau,” “Danton,” “Odeon,” “Vauban” and “Gloria, gloria in excelsis.”


 2. ALEXANDRA RIGA places the square paragraph of the translated ‘Words’ parallel to an image of the Greek suburban station at the Port of Piraeus, returning us this way to the original and reflecting the poem’s visual impact.

When at times we return from Paris and we breathe the breeze over the Saronic Gulf, under the loving light, within the scent of pines and the plainness of the myths –those of today and of antediluvian days- like a fanfare[1] of wind instruments, or like a sound pulsating, percussive, of drums, rise shimmering fountains, defined words, oracle words, words of an arched, meridian union, words of infinite sense, for the present and the future, the words “Alas”, “I love you” and “Glory to God in the highest”[2] and, suddenly like swords’ intersecting union, or like the clang of an arriving brash subway train into the underground tunnels of Paris, the words “Chardon-Lagache”, “Denfert-Rochereau”, “Danton”, “Odéon”, “Vauban” and “Gloria, gloria in excelsis”.

[1] ‘a short piece of music played loudly with trumpets  especially to announce that someone is arriving’


Σταθμός Ηλεκτρικού Πειραιά

Σταθμός Ηλεκτρικού Πειραιά


3. In this approach by EVANGELIA TSILAKOU, the second half of the translation becomes a cascade of image frames as the text fragments into captions, followed by photographs of Parisian stations separated by commas before the version’s intersemiotic experiments conclude on music notation.

The words

To Nanos Valaoritis

When we sometimes return from Paris and breathe in the Saronic breeze, under the dear light and in the redolence of the pine, in the austerity of the myths -contemporary and antediluvial- like a blare of horns, or like a vibrating, percussing sound of drums, lucent geysers rise -certain words, words-oracles, words of arched and peak junction, words of immeasurable importance for the present and for the future, the words




3  ,


and “Glory to the highest”
and suddenly, like swords which meet crossed, or like the clang of the arrival of a rushing metro, also the words:



5 ,

6 ,

7 ,

8 ,




Translating Tarchetti: Disjecta VII

© (Manuela Perteghella) 2015

In this short poem, the poet and his companion, Miriam, are sitting by the bank of a river, when a symbolic ‘darkness’ wraps them around. While the poet is thinking about their fate (self-death? Survival?) Miriam is enthralled by the border-free waves of the river, by the water flowing eternally. Its movement is equaled to happiness. I wanted to bring to the fore the river itself, as well as their drifting thoughts, and therefore have used a filmic mode, where a film of the river flowing fills the frames, and their words are in turn framed within the movement of the water. The new form of filmic poetry, and indeed the application of multimodal translation, has allowed me to use juxtaposition of moving images and words. The verbal text itself, floating, hovering, becomes an object projected onto the screen and therefore acquires other qualities. Rhyme has been substituted with alliteration and with the addition of cinematic melancholic music (Pas de Deux by Bird Creek) which gives the filmic poem a quasi-silent movie feel. The music has also been manipulated so that at times its tune repeats itself as if it had become paralysed. The bold black text gives way to a faint, grey one, which resembles the murky waters of the river, until the framed, flowing water cross fades into a still black slide, to highlight the instability of their predicament, as well as the morbid desire of being one with the river.

 Read Tarchetti’s Italian language poem here.

Translating Italian ‘Scapigliatura’ and Iginio Ugo Tarchetti

It is the dream more than anything that recalls the creative state with and within which surrealist needed to work. And it is probably in this state that an artist could more clearly and vividly experience death and eternity. The poet dreams of death and falling into it just ‘for fun’. However, the claustrophobic impression transmute into eternity.

Disjecta poem VIII

Version I

loculo 6

© (Eugenia Loffredo) 2015

The tension between enclosure and eternity reminded me of Giacomo Leopardi’s poem ‘Infinito’, and, in fact, in the first translation, I have added the last line from this poem.

E’l naufragar m’è dolce in questo mare

As for the image, I chose a ‘loculus’, an architectural niche of an archaeological site, in which the dead used to be buried. The personification of ‘Eternity’ in my translation may suggest her affinities to the Greek Goddess ‘Nike’, and the victorious hope over death. However, Eternity in the translation is quite relaxed, resting quietly, though watchfully, possibly following the curved shape of the arch of the loculus.

Version II


This moving image attempt to recreate the hypnotic state of the dream alongside with the dizzying effect of a falling into an eternal loop.

© (Eugenia Loffredo) 2015


Translating avant-garde: two translations by Clive Scott

Fig. 1

Goethe’s ‘Über allen Gipfeln’ (written 1780)

scott fig 2

Fig. 2

Apollinaire’s ‘Zone’ (1913) – Photographic transcription of lines 71-76

Now you’re walking in Paris among the milling crowds

Herds of lowing omnibus drive by close to you

Love’s pains contract around your throat

As if you were bound never to be loved again

If these were days gone by you’d join the brotherhood of monks

Shame takes a grip when you catch yourself in prayer

Scott fig 1

© (Clive Scott) 2014

Clive Scott is Professor Emeritus of European Literature at the University of East Anglia, and a Fellow of the British Academy.


Russian Futurism with Velimir Khlebnikov – the First Chairmain of the World by Veronika Bowker

All Khlebnikov’s contemporaries noted his exceptional modesty, that’s how he saw himself:

Khlebnikov, 1922

Я был единственной скважиной,

Через которую будущее падало

В России ведро.

I was the only bore-hole

through which the future was falling

into Russia’s bucket.

© (Veronika Bowker) 2014

Khlebnikov was convinced that all art is created not for today but for the future, that art should show people the way ahead and directly address future. He defined futurism and his method of thinking and writing as reconstructing the future:

Умейте отпечатки ящеров будущего

Раскалывать в слов каменоломне

И по костям

Строить целый костяк.

Learn to crack the fossils of the dinosaurs of the future

in the quarry of words

and with the bones

to rebuild the whole skeleton.

© (Veronika Bowker) 2014

Veronika Bowker was born in Moscow, she completed an M.Phil. in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia where she teaches Russian. She has collaborated with George Szirtes and Moniza Alvi on translations from Akhmatova, Mandelstam and Tsvetaeva.


‘Rêve II/Dream II’, André Breton. By Elise Aru

Rêve II GIF - Elise Aru

DSC03427[1] DSC03429[1] DSC03449[1] DSC03452[1]


© (Elise Aru) 2013




Carlos Drummond de Andrade

Como encarar a morte (click here to read the poem in Portuguese)

how to face final titolo

how to face final 1how to face final 2how to face final 3how to face final 4how to face final 5

By Carlos Drummond de Andrade

Translated © (Eugenia Loffredo) 2013


Extracts from Valeria Luiselli ‘s collection of essays entitled Sidewalks, translated by Christina MacSweeney, with  Christina’s added marginal notes on the text and on her translation process in comment boxes. You can click on the extracts.

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Sidewalks:                          First published in Great Britain by Granta Books, 2013
Copyright © Valeria Luiselli 2010
English translation © Christina MacSweeney 2013
First published in Spanish as Papeles falsos by Sexto Piso, Mexico, 2010
Faces in the Crowd:        First published in Great Britain by Granta Books 2012
Copyright © Valeria Luiselli 2011
English translation copyright © Christina MacSweeney 2012
Originally published in Spanish as Los ingrávidos by Sexto Piso, Mexico, 2011

Christina MacSweeney has an MA in Literary Translation from UEA and specialises in Latin American fiction. She has published a translation of Valeria Luiselli’s novel Faces in the Crowd (Granta, 2012) and a collection of narrative essays by the same author entitled Sidewalks (Granta, May 2013). Her translations of short stories have appeared in a variety of on line sites, including’ Booktrust’, ‘Words without Borders’, ‘Litro’, ‘The Drawbridge’ and ‘Brick Magazine’. She has recently finished the translation of a collection of essays on art criticism by the Paraguayan critic Ticio Escobar, to be published bilingually in September 2013 by the AICA.


Haroldo Conti    Sudeste 

Madrid: Bartleby Editores, 2009


  Una madrugada salió por fin al río abierto, en busca del pejerrey, como si marchara a una lucha. Aunque la lucha fuese más bien contra el tiempo y el agua y la suerte negra, porque el pejerrey es un pez inofensivo. Y esto mismo tampoco es una lucha, si se mira bien, porque el río teje su historia y uno es apenas un hilo que se entrelaza con otros diez mil.

  Había preparado el bote la tarde anterior y el hombrecito lo ayudó en todo esto con una solicitud desmedida. La verdad es que lo fastidiaba un poco, porque le placía preparar solo estas cosas, haciéndolas sin ninguna prisa y con una complacida minuciosidad, como los viejos. A popa, el trasmallo, plegado de manera que no había más que arrojar la lata pintada de color amarillo, que hacía de boya, para que se fuera solo; el Primus, la pava, una botella con un litro de kerosene, un farol, algunos metros de cabo, un poco de comida fría, las cosas del maté y algunas galletas, a proa, debajo de la lona; el bichero con el nuevo mango de tacuara, a un lado, en el fondo, y el machete al otro lado, sujeto por la cerreta, para lo que sea; una caja de fósforos en el bolsillo y otra dentro de la lata de yerba, muy bien cerrada; y esto y aquello y lo de más allá.

 Estuvo pensando si llevaba al hombrecito. Era una gran cosa contar con alguien que aguantara el bote mientras recogía. Era una gran cosa en todo sentido, aunque trajera un perro. Pero no iba a hacer si no salía de él, porque se había hecho demasiado a la idea de arreglárselas solo. Y todavía no estaba decidido si le gustaba o no, ni iba a decidirlo probablemente, porque él dejaba andar las cosas, de manera que estaba en él, por completo, en el hombrecito, quedarse o no, venir o no, y tal vez fuera mejor que no, porque todavía le resultaba un extraño o por lo menos un tipo bastante raro, y porque había eso detrás, como si ocultara una trampa, algo que quizá se marchara con él si lo abandonaba, aunque estaba casi seguro de que no lo haría, al menos por el momento, y aunque lo hiciera no cambiaría nada de lo que estaba escrito, si fuera así, bueno o malo o lo que sea.

  El hombrecito lo vio saltar al bote y pareció esperar que le dijera algo, pero él no lo miró siquiera, apartó el bote y remó con fuerza. Todavía estaba oscuro, pero alcanzaba a ver la silueta inmóvil sobre la costa y la mancha blanquecina del perro. Por fin desaparecieron detrás de la primera curva y sintió un poco de lástima por los dos, como si los hubiera defraudado a su pesar.

  Antes de salir al río, en el aguaje, apagó el farol y se alzó las solapas del gabán. Soplaba una brisa fresca y sintió a los juncos estremecerse en las penumbras, a ambos lados, muy cerca de él, como si deslizara entre ellos un animal. Veía, igual que a través de una cortina, la pálida superficie del río balanceándose acompasadamente mientras la luz brotaba, al parecer, de su interior, fría y espesa. El cielo estaba muy alto, casi había desaparecido hacia el este, y lo que quedaba de él en el oeste se hundía como absorbido por una boca de tormenta, detrás del horizonte. Contempló un instante el lucero del alba, trémulo entre dos luces, una gota de oro que vacila antes de caer. Echó al aliento en el hueco de las manos y las frotó contra las piernas. Luego empuñó los remos y salió al río. [pp. 135-137]

Haroldo Conti     South-East

Translated by Jon Lindsay Miles

Úbeda: Immigrant Press, 2013

   One early morning, he went out on the river at last, looking for the silverside, as if going out to fight. Although the fight was with the season and the water and foul luck, because the silverside’s a harmless fish. And it’s not a fight at all, if you consider it a little, because the river weaves its story and a man is just a single thread, woven in with ten thousand others.

  He’d made the preparations on the boat the previous evening, and the kid’s concern to help him was completely overdone. He didn’t like him helping much, these were things he liked to do alone, if truth be told, doing them unhurriedly, his pleasure in the details, in the way of older men. He put the trammel in the stern, folded in a way that meant he only had to take the tin, painted in bright yellow and that acted as a float, and throw it overboard for the net to follow on; the Primus and the kettle, a litre-bottle filled with kerosene, and a lantern, some rope, a bit of cold food, and his maté things and caked bread, all went in the bow and were covered with the canvas; the tip knocked of the boat-hook with its new bamboo handle went on one side in the bottom, and the machete on the other, where he hung it on its strap, and for whatever need arose; some matches in his pocket and some more inside the maté tin, very tightly closed; and this and that and other things.

  He was wondering if he’d take the kid. It helped if you could count on having someone in the boat, to hold it in position while you gathered in the nets. It was a big help for all kinds of things, even with a dog in tow. But he wouldn’t say a word of this unless it came from him, his plan had been to go alone and now he was too wedded to it. And then, he hadn’t decided if he liked the kid or not, he likely never would decide, for things would run their course and he wasn’t a man to stop them, which was why it had to come from him, entirely from the kid, if he came or if he stayed, and maybe it was better if he didn’t come after all, because he still found him freakish or at least a very odd bloke, and because there was that thing behind him, something like a hidden trap that might move on elsewhere if he left the kid behind, although he didn’t think he would, it was as close as being certain, at least not for the moment and, even if he did, it wouldn’t change the slightest part of what was written down already, if this was how things are, and whether good or bad or otherwise.

  The kid saw him jump aboard and seemed to be expecting that he’d say something to him, but he didn’t even look, just pushed the boat out from the shore and rowed away hard. The night still hadn’t lifted, but he caught sight of his silhouette, standing on the shoreline by the white patch of the dog. At last they disappeared behind the first bend on the stream and he felt a little sorry then, as if he’d let them down against his wishes.

  Before he reached the river, he folded up his coat lapels and then put out the lamp. A chilly breeze was blowing and he listened to the reed-bed as it shivered in the half-light, close on either side of him, as if an unseen animal were creeping through the reeds. He saw, as if through curtains, the river’s pallid surface and the rhythm of its swaying in the dawning of the light, which seemed to rise straight out from it, cold and rather thick. The sky was high above him, it had almost disappeared out to the east, and in the west, what remained of it was sinking as if soaked up by a storm, with its mouth away behind the horizon. He looked up at the morning star, a drop of gold that trembled there amongst the other lights, before it fell. He blew into his hands and then he rubbed them on his legs. Then he took the oars in hand, and went on to the river. [pp. 165-168]

Notes on Translating Juan Gelman’s Com/posiciones

by Lisa Rose Bradford

Though most translators endeavor to transplant a given work into a new language-land in order to share and perpetuate its beauty, not all of them strive to clone the source text, preferring rather to cultivate it by means of “generative translation.” By this term I am referring to a translational poetics that functions to reveal and revive the original articulation as a continuation of the seminal frisson while producing an entirely fresh work of art. Based on the creative translation and dialogical orchestration of an inspirational pre-text, the new expression reflects the genius of both the original author and the translating author. Juan Gelman’s Com/posiciones represent a rich example of this process, taking lines and stanzas from ancient Hebrew texts to intertwine, prune and graft with his own phases in order to accompany and converse with these poets. However, what happens to this poiesis with further translation, particularly when many of Gelman’s sources are English translations? Will a new conversion entail back-translation or additional generative strategies, meaning that the translator’s techniques will give these poems yet a different flight, beyond what’s considered as “translation proper,” not, as Gelman writes in his “Exergue,” to better them, but rather to merge with their spirit in creative dialogue?

In the case of my translations of Com/posiciones, my third of four Gelman collections, I was possessed by a liberating inclination to keep these texts in generative play. Thus, giving euphony and wordplay priority in the new versions, I often found myself amping up imagery, assonance, alliteration, and rhythm: the driving forces in all of Gelman’s verse. Regarding source material, moreover, I did not begin by reading the many existing English translations, preferring rather to produce a naïve reading/rendering. After finishing my versions, I often found ripe words to lift from texts by Carmi, Scheindlin, Cole, Rothenberg* and the King James Bible, perhaps not even from the same poem, to weave into my translations.

Take, for instance, one short poem, “The Perfidious Woman,” (Solomn ibn Gabirol). Here I strove for slant rhyme and condensation, sometimes with a tendency toward the archaic, as seen in the title itself, which in the Carmi English version of this poem is simply “The Faithless Woman,” but Gelman moves toward a notion of treachery:

La pérfida

 me dejó/se fue al cielo/

la de bella garganta envuelta en un collar/

tiene labios dulcísimos/

pero ella es amarga/

sacaba espadas de sus ojos/

lanzas que afila para matar a los hombres sin suerte/

sus ojos hacen señas/

está llena de ansias/como venado sediento/

su ceja/o arco/o arcoíris/

recuerda el pacto con Noé/la señal que el diluvio acabó/

si tenés sed/

ella ordena a sus nubes inundar tu corazón de cristales/


The Perfidious Woman                    

she has left me / climbed to heaven /

the one whose throat’s bejeweled with beauty /

her lips are of the sweetest /

though she is bitterness itself /

she draws swords from her eyes /

lances whetted to murder hapless men /

with beckoning eyes / she bursts

with longing / thirsty as a deer /

her eyebrows / archer’s bows / or rainbows /

remind you of Noah’s pact / the sign

the flood had ended / if you are parched /

she commands her clouds to flood your heart with crystal shards/

Comparing the two texts, the first a “Gelmanized” version, one may observe that my English lines are a bit longer, and that the language less simple—“climbed,” “bejeweled with beauty,” for example, both augmenting the rhetorical effect. In order to achieve the chiming sounds present in Gelman’s verse—not always the same sounds or in the same places—in the last two lines of the first strophe I created the resonance of “lips,” “itself,” “sweetest,” and “bitterness.” In the second stanza I elided the subject in line 2 and again created echoes in the words “whetted” and “hapless men.” The same occurs in the mirrored sounds in “murder,” “bursts,” and “thirsty,” where the effect is somewhat enhanced from the literal version of Gelman’s line, “she is full of longing.” In changing the lineation of the third line, the alliteration of “beckon” and “burst” is more evident and forceful with its final masculine foot. In the last stanza, I added “archer’s” to bow to fix the meaning of bow and so continue the motif of the woman’s being both deer and hunter. Altering the lineation of the middle lines, I tried to highlight the antithesis of remaining flooded and parched. Finally, I added “shards” at the very end to resonate with “heart” and accentuate the effect of being served broken glass to quench a thirst.

All in all, I haven’t produced a generative translation per se, but rather a translation that continues the inertia of generative poetics, which Gelman’s poetry invites a translator to do, and, so far, this strategy has been to his liking. One may deem this sort of version ethically treasonous, but in creating a delightful poem, English readers can enjoy in a revived version of kindred spirit, I believe the goal of translation has been successfully achieved.

*T.  Carmi. The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, 1981. Raymond Scheindlin. Wine, Women and Death. Philadelphia. Jewish Publication Society, 1986.  Peter Cole. The Dream of the Poem. Princeton, 2007. Jerome Rothenberg. The Big Jewish Book. NY: Anchor, 1976.

© (Lisa Rose Bradford) 2013

Lisa Rose Bradford  teaches Comparative Literature at the Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, Argentina. Her doctoral work, “A Generation of Castaways:  A Study of the Translation Process in Four Argentine Poets of the 1970s,” was completed at the University of California at Berkeley, and since then she has edited three compendiums on translation and cultural studies, Traducción como cultura, La cultura de los géneros, and “Crítica cultural en Latinoamérica: paradigmas globales y enunciaciones locales,” Dispositio/n51, 2000. Her poems and translations have appeared in various magazines, and she has edited and translated two books in Spanish: Usos de la imaginación: poetas latin@s en EE.UU. Los pájaros, por la nieve. Antología de la poesía femenina contemporánea de los Estados Unidos and three volumes of Juan Gelman’s verse in English, Between Words: Juan Gelman’s Public Letter (recipient of the National Translation Award), Commentaries and Citations, and Com/positions. She is presently finishing a fourth volume, “Oxen Rage” under the auspices of an NEA grant.


seven goats 1

The cast

seven goats 2

From Seven Little She-goats

Translation and Illustrations: Christina MacSweeney

Diego, I am alone

This woman you alone see, looking you in the eyes, is a sham. Beneath the lips that never smile are rows of black, rotten teeth. The wide forehead, crowned by braids beribboned with colours, hides that same death which has run through my bones since I contracted polio. Look, look carefully, because this might be the last time you’ll see me. Look at my eyes, heavy with wakefulness, look at them carefully, I never sleep, or hardly ever, I journey across days and nights in a state of alert, capture signals others do not see. Look at me, I am the hammer and the butterfly frozen in an instant, as my lover, the painter Ignacio Aguirre, said. I wake terrified from the fever of the night, believing I have died during my dreams. Do you see my ring-laden fingers? I kiss those hands, I venerate them, they seven goats 3have never failed me, they have followed the orders of my brain while my whole body has betrayed me. In this skin that enfolds me, the lymph, blood and fat, the smells and tastes, have been condemned since I was six years old. My body has been a Judas, and in Mexico we burn Judases, they burst into flames in the sky and are reduced to ashes. Every year, during Lent, every Good Friday, the same ritual: the burning of Judas in remembrance of betrayal. The hands you can see braided my long black hair and pinned flowers in it: the poet, Carlos Pillicer, wrote: ‘you are all thorned through with flowers’.

These hands you see have entwined Diego, they have thrown a shawl around my shoulders, caressed my bullfrog Diego’s feminine chest, held the nipple of a desired woman, wrapped me in a blanket to protect me from the cold, but most importantly they have held the paintbrush, mixed the colours on my palette, drawn my parakeets, my dogs, my miscarriages; they have drawn Diego’s head, my native nursemaid, the faces of my sister Cristina’s children, my father Guillermo’s eyebrows; they have written letters and a diary, sent love notes; they have made me a painter. The hands you see took the scissors and cut my hair, scattered the long tresses on the floor, dressed me in men’s clothes, buttoned up the flies and wrote the song: ‘Well, if I loved you it was for your hair, now I see your skull I don’t love you any more.’

            I painted everything: my lips, my blood-red nails, my eyelids, ears, eyelashes, my corsets, one after the other; my birth, my sleep, my toes, my nudity, my blood, my blood, the blood that flowed from my body and was put back in again; the Judases all around me, the one that watches over me at night, the Judas inside me that prevents me from betraying myself. Painting them was not an exorcism, I never tried to exorcise anybody or anything. Since childhood I’ve understood that if I exorcised the devils, I’d be a dead Indian.

            My father had epilepsy and epilepsy is a form of possession. When Diego was courting me, he warned him that I had ‘the devil in me’. It was true; that devil gave me strength, it’s the devil of life.

            This woman you alone see, looking at herself in the mirror, forever reflected on the other, on the canvas, on the glass of the window through which, in my imagination, I go out into the street, this woman you see smoking, this woman who stands out from the canvas and stares at you is me.

            I always knew there was more death than life in my body. I’d known it since I was small, but it didn’t bother me then because I learned to fight solitude. They isolate sick people. You know your friends when you’re in prison or in bed. When I was six, bang, one morning I couldn’t stand up, bang, polio. It was diagnosed as a ‘white tumour’. I spent nine months in bed. They washed my leg in a basin of walnut water with warm towels. My father helped me. He bought me paints and made a special easel so I could draw in bed. That leg was left very thin. Nobody had a clue. Doctors are mules. At six, I was wearing orthopaedic boots. ‘Peg leg Frida, Peg leg Frida’ they shouted at me in school. They’d made up a rhyme:

                                                Peg leg Frida

                                                wears socks like a Gringa

                                                and they don’t even itch her.

            On 17th September 1925 my life changed for ever: until then my thin leg had caused me no pain. A tram and a bus crashed. The tram ploughed into the bus in which my boyfriend Alex and I were travelling and smashed it against a wall. The impact was tremendous. The handrail went through my body like a sword through a bull. A man picked me up, put me on a billiards table and, like a butcher or a bullfighter, pulled out the metal pole that had passed straight through my body. Alex told me I was completely nude, covered in blood and gold dust. The dust stuck to my skin because of the blood and people said: ‘Look at the little ballerina, poor little ballerina’. One of the passengers had been carrying gold dust and it showered over me when we crashed. The diagnosis was: ‘Fracture of the third and fourth lumbar vertebrae, pelvis fractured in three places, right foot in eleven places, dislocation of the left elbow, deep abdominal wound caused by an iron bar entering through the left hip and exiting through the vagina, tearing the left labium. Acute peritonitis. Cystitis requiring catheterisation for several days.’ The doctors still don’t know how I survived. I lost my virginity, one of my kidneys was bruised, I couldn’t pass water, but what I complained about most was my spine. Of all my family, only Matita came to see me. The rest were sick from the shock. When I saw my mother for the first time, after three months in the Red Cross hospital, I said: ‘I’m not dead and I’ve got something to live for now; that something is painting.’ It’s true, painting was my antidote, my only real medicine. Doctors are bastards. Painting completed my life. I lost three children and a whole series of other things that would have filled that life. Horrible. Painting was a substitute for all this. I believe work is the best thing. On 5th December 1925 I wrote to Alejandro Gómez Arias: ‘The only good thing is that I’m beginning to get used to suffering.’ On 27th April 1927 I wrote again: ‘you can’t imagine how desperate you get with this illness, I feel the most awful, inexplicable discomfort and then sometimes a pain that nothing relieves. Today they were going to fit the plaster corset, but it probably won’t be until Tuesday or Wednesday now because my daddy hasn’t had the money. It costs sixty pesos. But it’s not just a matter of the money, because they could easily find that, it’s that nobody believes I really am in a bad way […] I can’t write much because I can barely bend my neck. […]  You can’t imagine how desperate the four walls of my room make me. Everything. There’s no way of explaining my desperation to you.’ On Sunday 1st May, Labour Day, 1927, I wrote: ‘The plaster corset was fitted on Friday and it’s been absolute torture from the first, I can’t compare it to anything; I feel short of breath and have dreadful pains in my chest and down my back, I can’t scratch my leg and can scarcely walk, let alone sleep. Can you believe it, they had me hanging – upside down – for two-and-a-half hours? And then balancing on tiptoes for over another hour while they dried the plaster with hot air; but it still hadn’t set properly when I got home. I was all alone and suffering horribly. I shall have to bear this torture for three or four months, and if this doesn’t help, I honestly wish to die because I can’t stand any more. It’s not just the physical suffering, but also that I don’t have the slightest distraction. I never leave this room, I can’t do anything, I can’t walk. I feel absolutely desperate and, to top it all, you aren’t here.’

            When my father took my photograph in 1932, after the accident, I saw a battlefield of suffering in my eyes. From then on I began to look directly at the lens, unsmiling, unmoving, determined to demonstrate that I was going to fight to the end.

            Only I know the Frida I carry inside me. Only I can stand her. She’s a Frida who cries a lot. She’s always in a fever. She’s on heat. She’s fierce. Desire overpowers her: the desire for men and for women, the desire that wearies her. Because desire really wears you down, it empties you out, disables you. I lost my life many times but I also recovered it; it came back drop by drop in a transfusion, in one of Diego’s kisses, his mouth on mine, and then it leaked out in a new operation. In the course of thirty years I was operated on thirty-nine times; the last time they cut off my leg. ‘Feet, why do I need them when I have wings to fly?’ And when Diego left me life went too, but I liked that. I wanted to give my life to Diego. Love him to death.

            My life so that he would live. I love Diego more than my life. I’m not capable of keeping things inside, never have been. I’ve always had to bring them out, speak them in some way, with my paintbrush, with my mouth. It was to speak myself, so that others would understand me, that I began to paint. My face. My body. My broken spine. The arrows in my deer form. I dressed my Judases in Diego’s clothes and mine, and I hung them from the canopied bed, just like the doctors hung me with sandbags tied to my legs, to stretch me so they said. In 1953 I also hung a little bell from my celluloid peg leg, that bastard leg, and asked them to put a red leather boot on it.

seven goats 4My corsets. So many corsets. At first I painted them gentian violet and methyl blue, chemists’ colours. Later I decorated them, made them obscene, because my illness was a filthy illness, a skunk hole. They hung me by the scruff of my neck, stretched my vertebrae with traction, and my spine became ever more fragile, less use each day. I could hear it cracking like a chicken bone. They kept me immobile for months and months and then decided it had done no good at all: bloody quacks. I often wanted to die, but also, furiously, I wanted to live. And paint. And make love. And paint in a way that was like making love. I had nothing except myself. I was the best thing for me. And Diego. When I married him I gained a torrid happiness. We laughed. We played. He would remember all the pranks I’d played on him, like the way I plagued him in the patios of the Ministry of Education when he was painting. We ‘Cachuchas’ used to really look up to Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros and would defend their murals. In the gallery, I asked him: ‘Maestro, do you mind me watching you painting?’ He replied that he loved it. On another occasion, seeing him pass by, I shouted: ‘Would I like to have a child by Diego Rivera!’

            And one day I put soap on three steps of the central staircase so he would slip and fall when he put foot there, but someone warned him and he went down the other side. I asked him to tell me honestly what he thought of my painting. Orozco saw what I was doing and he liked it. So did Diego. When we were married we started to travel and I became the distinguished Señora Doña Frida Kahlo de Rivera. We entwined ourselves like bean plants, put out roots and my wounds blossomed. We went to the United States and made fun of the Gringos. They’re like half-baked bread, they come out of the oven raw. And then they want you to love them. There’s always a weevil in the rice of happiness, but Diego was very much in love. Diego is a macho, he had other old ladies – all my life I had to put up with one lover after the next – one old lady after the other. Lots of lovers.

            They say Diego is immoral. It’s not true. He doesn’t believe in morality, he doesn’t have it. He lives for his work and gets all excited by those randy old ladies smelling like rotting fish. When he fell in love with María Félix I suffered horribly, but then she gave him the push and I defended him. I had other loves too. I was a carnivore, I took them in and threw them out, off to the rubbish heap with you, worn out old shoe, I’ll throw you out and never take you back. I went after any man I liked, or woman, I was a violent, tender lover. I was born to fuck but life fucked me. I still believe in myself and in life. In myself as long as I’m alive and in everything that lives. Diego, I am alone…

© (Christina MacSweeney) 2004

Christina MacSweeney has an MA in Literary Translation from UEA and specialises in Latin American fiction. She has published a translation of Valeria Luiselli’s novel Faces in the Crowd (Granta, 2012) and a collection of narrative essays by the same author entitled Sidewalks (Granta, May 2013). Her translations of short stories have appeared in a variety of on line sites, including’ Booktrust’, ‘Words without Borders’, ‘Litro’, ‘The Drawbridge’ and ‘Brick Magazine’. She has recently finished the translation of a collection of essays on art criticism by the Paraguayan critic Ticio Escobar, to be published bilingually in September 2013 by the AICA.

For the Spanish version click here.




‘Written on her ivory skin’: a visual metamorphosis of Galatea                                      

by Eugenia Loffredo and Manuela Perteghella

Our collaborative translation sets to explore the theme of ‘myth’ with Pygmalion and his statue Galatea who came to life. Transformation is the key word emerging from this story and visually magnified in our translation. ‘Written on her ivory skin’ reflects on how the metamorphosis, which the statue undergoes, is akin to the transformative process which a text undergoes in translation. Pygmalion turns ivory into a beautiful statue, which then is transformed into something alike yet something different, new. In any case, and most importantly, his creation is breathing life, and therefore able to interact with its creator.  Similarly, this transformative force is present in the translation process whereby a work is transmuted into something alike yet something different, so that the renovated text is alive and able to interact with us readers in new ways, changing our perception of a written work. As Galatea’s skin becomes supple and malleable so the plastic nature of words is shown in the way they generate different patterns and even seem to melt under the warm touch of their creator.

Another important point arising in Pygmalion’s story is the relationship between the ‘real’ and ‘ideal’.  Polarized concepts, as for instance creation vs reproduction, truth vs illusion, life vs art, illustrate the historical and cultural predicament translation still faces today, when it is compared to the ‘original’ work.

Before working with the visual elements we composed a verbal translation, which actually relies on a series of different sources. Our first draft into English used an intermediary translation from Latin into Italian by G. Paduano (2000 edition). The subsequent drafts are dotted with intertextual references from two previous important translations of the myth, John Dryden’s ‘Pygmalion and the Statue  and the more recent version by Ted Hughes. By bearing in mind both texts, we paid attention to the sounds of language, and tried to keep  or create alliterations (pulse pounding, precipitating prefect paleness, warm wax, for example), and repetitions of the act of change, such as ‘moulded’, ‘softened’, ‘flesh’. These nods to past translations of the same myth (for example Hughes’ ‘elastic of life’ becomes ‘springing with life’) allow our own contemporary translation to establish a dialogue with translations from the past, maintaining a continuum, by means of a further rewriting in the infinite desire of the text to be written again and again.

Here’s our first verbal draft:

The metamorphosis of Galatea

Pygmalion rushed home to his statue

and took possession of his ivory obsession

precipitating onto the perfect paleness

He kissed her lips. Reddened they felt warm

Could this be an illusion?

He kissed her again and touched her breast

Like under the sun her ivory hardness softened

Warm soft wax moulded under his incredulous thumb

It was flesh springing with life.

His head spinning

her pulse pounding

under his persistent tearful touch.

He kissed her pressing his lips

on her lips full of life kissing back

With a blush her hesitant eyes filled

With the blue light of the sky and her lover.

Our response to the themes and ideas arising from the Pygmalion’s myth, and the way metamorphosis and translation are two related terms, needed to take a visual shape, so that the verbal medium, poetry, could blend with the actual statue depicted in the poem. Choosing a sculpture would also add two important layers in our translation: first, the intertextual web already formed in our verbal drafts, second, the intersemiotic level, by having a retelling of the myth in a different form and different medium, visual and tactile at the same time.We selected Auguste Rodin’s re-reading of the myth, a pale sculpture depicting both Galatea and Pygmalion, in the moment of Galatea’s awakening and transformation.The body of the statue becomes the new structure of the myth, a white form to be sculpted with words, words stretched onto it, in the same way as Pygmalion’s hands have worked the statue, and now, mesmerised, they touch it becoming alive. Words show their plasticity and follow the contours of the body, alive in the same way Galatea is alive. The background to the statue is blue-sky, such is the bright sky Galatea sees at her awakening. The words which refer to her own transformation are in red and inscribed in the statue on the right. Pygmalion’s actions toward Galatea are in blue on the statue on the left, while Pygmalion’s own questions, his amazement, his own emotions are placed around the statue.

By inscribing words on the statues, the reader-viewer can make a creative use of the spatially arranged written medium, reading the poem from different directions generating new combinations, making new transformations.

Here’s our visual translation:

Written on her ivory skin

Pygmailion pastiche 8

© (Eugenia Loffredo & Manuela Perteghella) 2013


Ovidio, Le metamorfosi, in ID., Opere II, traduzione di G. Paduano, introduzione di A. Perutelli, Einaudi, Torino, 2000 («Biblioteca della Pléiade»).

Ted Hughes ‘Pygmalion’ from Tales from Ovid, London: Faber and Faber, 1997

Dryden John, ‘Pygmalion and the Statue, out of the Tenth Book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses’ The Poems of John Dryden.  Oxford University Press, 1913.


The three poems that follow have been offered by Josephine Balmer. Two poems are from ‘Chasing Catullus’’, versions of the myths of Proserpina and Niobe from Claudian’s Latin and Sophocles’ Greek. The notes that originally went with each have been added. As these are both centred around the grief of mothers for their children, Jo Balmer has been looking for another text on the theme of a daughter’s loss of her mother to complete them. It was proving very hard to find an example in classical literature, therefore she has added in a version of Cavafy’s ‘The Afternoon Sun’, which she wrote after the death of her own mother.

De Raptu Proserpinae

Now she came to the hills wound round and round

in grass. At first light she picked her flowers:

the earth shivered with dew, violets slaked

their new-born thirst. But as the Sun advanced

on its high noon sky, night fell like a thief

and our land trembled to the touch, trampled,

dust-blown, under four sets of cloven hooves.

Their horseman we didn’t know – harbinger,

camp-follower, or even Death Himself –

but now our soft meadows bruised, rivers stopped

mid-flow, fields rusted like forgotten ploughs.

To breathe was suicide: trees drained of green,

roses shed their petals, lilies shrivelled

before our eyes. And then He turned away,

swinging round the reins like the gates of Hell

grating to a close. Night scuttled after

as the light seeped back into our black world

– everywhere was light

sun and sky and light –

and your small daughter nowhere to be seen.

(Claudian, 3.231-44)

[Claudian’s unfinished epic poem of c.400 AD describes how Proserpina (the Latin form of Persephone), daughter of the corn-goddess Ceres or Demeter, was abducted by Pluto, god of the Underworld.]

(From Chasing Catullus: Poems, Translations & Transgressions, Bloodaxe, 2004)



Like a cloud-burst on a Penwith day

that had to come yet still startles, shocks;

think of granite veined with pale-rose quartz,

a fret of stone where the bracken’s frayed

by aching, flint-pierced, moorland streams;

the bind of ivy, the prick of gorse,

hedged in with comfrey, helleborine;

sob of rain, scar of hail, snow shrinking

to sigh, the sound of words you can’t say.

(Antigone  824- 31).

[Niobe, who had seven sons and seven daughters, boasted that she was therefore superior to Leto, mother of  Apollo and Artemis. When the twin gods killed all her children in punishment, Niobe’s grief turned her to stone. The poem is based on a Chorus from Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone.]

(From Chasing Catullus: Poems, Translations & Transgressions, Bloodaxe, 2004)


Cavafy’s Things

       (after The Afternoon Sun & i.m. Darlene Balmer)

We knew it at once: the faded grooves

touched by the afternoon sun.

The crack where we’d left it too long

in the window, splitting the wood in two.

The candle wax we’d scrubbed but not removed.

Ah,  yes, this table, it was our family.

We’d seen it last in the collection van,

shrouded by its matching chairs.

Now here it was in the newly-opened cafe

(had it been an office for commercial affairs?

Or maybe a solicitors? No, the bakers…),

lined round in pine, tarnished, second-hand;

a resting-place for dust-blanched builders

slumped over strong tea, the full English,

as dark and heady as funeral incense.

They must always have been around somewhere,

those worn-out old things…

On the other side, the place where she laughed

every birthday, all those festive lunches;

in the centre, the faint circle of a wine glass

set down to carry in warmed plates or dishes,

indelible now, an ever-bleeding blemish.

That afternoon, at 4 o’clock, we said goodbye

for one week only….. I thought I’d see her.

And then that week became forever.


(Forthcoming, Agenda, Vol. 47.1.)

Josephine Balmer is a poet, classical translator, scholar and literary critic. She studied Classics and Ancient History at University College, London, and completed a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.

You can follow her blog ‘The Paths of Survival‘.


This is our first contribution is by Alex Valente from the University of East Anglia, who has translated into English one of the Cesare Pavese’s Dialoghi con Leucò (1947).

From Dialogues with Leucò (source text: Dialoghi con Leucò by Cesare Pavese [1947])

‘The Fires’

The Greeks also practiced human sacrifices. Every agricultural civilisation has done this. And all civilisations have been agricultural.

(Two shepherds speak)

Son – The whole mountain burns.

Father – We only do it for the sake of it. But tonight Kithairon is something else. This year we’re pasturing too high. Have you gathered the flock?

Son – No one will see our fire.

Father – We’re doing it anyway, it doesn’t matter.

Son – There are more fires than stars.

Father – Sort out the embers.

Son – Done.

Father – O Zeus, accept this offer of milk and sweet honey; we are simple shepherds and cannot sacrifice of the flock, which isn’t ours. May this burning fire keep illnesses away and, as it covers with coils of smoke, may it cover us with The Clouds… Wet and spray, kid. As long as they kill a calf on the big farms, we’re fine. If it rains, it rains everywhere.

Son – Father, are those over there fires or stars?

Father – Stop looking over there. Spray towards the sea. The rains come from the sea.

Son – Father, does rain travel far? Does it really rain everywhere when it rains? Even in Thespiae? Even in Thebes? They don’t have the sea there.

Father – But they have pastures, idiot. They need wells. They’ve lit the fires tonight too.

Son – But after Thespiae? After that? Where people walking day and night are always in the mountains? They told me it never rains there.

Father – There are fires everywhere tonight.

Son – Why isn’t it raining now? The fires are lit.

Father – It’s the celebration, boy. If it rained it’d put out the fires. What’s the point of that? It’ll rain tomorrow.

Son – And hasn’t it ever rained on fires while they were burning?

Father – Who knows? You weren’t born and neither was I, and fires were already being lit. Always on this night. They say it rained once, on a fire.

Son – Did it?

Father – But it was when people lived more just than now, and even the king’s children were shepherds. All this land was like a farmyard, back then, clean and beaten, and it obeyed king Athamas. People worked and lived and they didn’t have to hide the lambs from the master. They say there was an awful heatwave and the pastures and wells dried up and people died. The fires were useless. So Athamas looked for advice. But he was old, and had just brought a wife into his house, young and bossy, who started filling his head with ideas that it wasn’t time to show any weakness, to lose his reputation. Had they prayed and sprayed? Yes. Had they killed calves and bulls? Yes. What had happened? Nothing. So they should sacrifice the children. Get it? But not her children, she had none, no sir; she meant the two grown sons of his first wife, two young men who worked in the fields all day. And Athamas, dazed, decided: sends for his sons. They knew, of course, the children of kings ain’t stupid, and ran. With them, the first The Clouds disappeared, that a god had sent over the fields as soon as they heard what was happening. So the witch says: “See? The idea was right, the clouds were already coming; we need to kill someone.” And she manages to convince the people to take Athamas and burn him. They ready the fire, light it; they carry Athamas tied up and decorated like an ox, and just as they’re about to throw him onto the pyre the weather changes. Thunder, lightning and the rain comes down in bucketfuls. The countryside is reborn. The water puts out the fire and Athamas, bless him, forgives everyone, even his wife. Beware women, kid. It’s easier to tell serpent from serpent.

Son – And the king’s sons?

Father – We never found out. But two lads like that must have found some good to do.

Son – But if they were more just back then, why did they want to burn two lads?

Father – Idiot, you don’t know what a heatwave is. I’ve seen them, yer grandfather’s seen them. Winter’s nothing. Winter’s horrible, but we know it’s good for the harvest. A heatwave, no. The heat burns. Everything dies, and hunger and thirst change people. Take one who ain’t eaten: they’re always looking for fights. And think of them people what were used to all get along and all had their land, used to do good and be good. Wells dry up, the fields burn, they’re thirsty and hungry. But they become wild animals.

Son – They were bad people.

Father – Not worse than us. Our masters are our heatwave. And no rain can free us.

Son – I don’t like these fires anymore. Why do the gods need them? Did they really use to burn people on them?

Father – Slowly. They burned cripples, no-gooders and the mad ones. They burned who wasn’t useful. Who stole from the fields. The gods ain’t fussed anyway. One way or another, it would rain.

Son – I don’t understand why the gods liked it. If it rained anyway. Even Athamas. They put out the fire.

Father – See, the gods are the masters. They’re like our masters. Do you think they’d let one of them burn? They help each other. But no one helps us. Rain or sunshine, what do the gods care? Now we light fires, and say that they make the rain come. What do the masters care? Have you ever seen ‘em on the fields?

Son – No.

Father – There you go. If one fire were enough once to make it rain, burn a tramp to save the harvest, how many of our masters’ houses must we set fire to, how many must we kill in the streets and squares, before the world becomes fair again and we can speak our mind?

Son – And the gods?

Father – What’ve they got to do with it?

Son – But you said gods and masters help each other! They’re the masters.

Father – We’ll kill a lamb. What do you want to do? We’ll burn tramps and them what steal. We’ll burn a fire.

Son – I wish it was morning. I’m scared of the gods.

Father – Good. We need to keep ‘em on our side. At your age ye can’t not think about it.

Son – I don’t want to think about it. The gods are not fair. Why do we need to burn people alive for them?

Father – They wouldn’t be gods otherwise. If you don’t work, how’re you going to spend your time? When there were no masters and we lived in fairness, we had to kill someone once in a while to keep them quiet. It’s how they are. But they don’t need that now. We’re so miserable they just have to look at us.

Son – They’re also tramps.

Father – Tramps. Good one.

Son – What did the cripples say when they were burning on the fires? Did they shout a lot?

Father – It’s not the shouting. It’s who shouts it what matters. A cripple or a bad person ain’t doing no good. But it’s worse when a man with kids sees lazy people get fat. That ain’t fair.

Son – I can’t stay still thinking about those old fires. Look down there, how many!

Father – They didn’t burn a boy for each fire! It’s like with goats nowadays. Imagine that! If one makes it rain, it rains for everyone. One person per mountain, per village were enough.

Son – I don’t want to, don’t want to. The masters are right to eat our marrow, if we were so cruel to each other. The gods are right to watch us suffer. We’re all bad people.

Father – Now wet the leaves and spray. You’re still ignorant, and you talk of fair and not fair. Towards the sea, stupid… O Zeus, accept this offer…

© (Alex Valente) 2012


For my MA dissertation I chose to focus on the translation of myths, basing my discussion on Cesare Pavese’s Dialoghi con Leucò (1947). I translated a selection from the book’s twenty-seven short dialogues , and discussed the issues surrounding both my translation and the field of mythology-as-fiction and its translation. My main argument, based on work by critics such as Italo Calvino, Marina Warner, and Pavese himself, is that myths should not be seen as sacred, untouchable entities; on the contrary, it is in their nature to adapt and be adapted to their new audiences, in order to survive. One of these adaptations is, of course, translation.
The dialogue I have included is an example of how a text can be translated more creatively, playing with its stylistic features, in order to bring out the voice of the characters (e.g. giving the father’s lines a dialectal tinge), remove gender-bias (e.g. using ‘people’ instead of ‘men’, when speaking in general terms) and generally increase its appeal to a modern audience.
In manipulating the text in such as way, the hope was to both jazz it up, aiming it at a more popular release (myths-as-fiction feature heavily across other media, such as TV series, films and comics), and to increase the translator’s voice, making it obvious that the resulting text is not the original 1947 Italian one, but a 2012 English version. The interpretations and subsequent renditions of the characters, their relations and power-games are entirely my own, based on my reading of the text.

Alex Valente is a half-Tuscan, half-Yorkshire PhD student at the University of East Anglia, researching translation strategies for Italian and other European comics into English. He is also a freelance translator from Italian and French into English and English and French into Italian. Whenever he finds some extra time, he attempts to write poetry and short stories, some of which can be found at


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