Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Spoke 5

Spoke 5

ISBN 978-1-387-9803-8
Boston, MA 2018

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

One of the more fascinating entries in the latest issue of Spoke 5 are the translations of Cuban poet Jorge Olivero Castillo, whose poems are rendered accessible and enjoyable.   There are three translations of one poem, one entitled “Plea”, one titled “Supplication” and a third one called “Supplicant.”  Each translation was done by different writers.

The first, “Pleas,” is translated by P. Scott Cunningham and Oscar Rieveling:


the rain washing

autumn’s dead leaves

piled on the pavement.

to pass in silence down Linnaean Street.

hanging in the half-naked trees.

Night’s fists on the glass door

more and more visible.

And me in my apartment

intractable, on my back, determined

to find the word

the poem is asking for

on its knees

It is also translated by Cecilia Weddell in the follows:



The rain washing

autumn’s dried leaves

piled on the pavement.

A car that attempts

a silent drive down Linnaean Street.

spreading through the half-naked trees.

The night’s closed hands on the glass door

more visible every time.

And me in the apartment, unyielding,

flat on my back,

determined to discover the word

begged after by this kneeling


Daniel Evans Pritchard’s version is again slightly different from the other two:


piled on the sidewalk

autumn’s withered leaves

are washed by the rain.

A car strains for silence
on its way down Linnaean Street.

The fain murmuring breeze

scatters among half-naked branches.

The collar of night more and more

contracts around the glass.

And I in my apartment

dogged on my knees

begging am determined to extract

from myself the mot juste

Some of the differences are subtle. The first describes autumn’s leaves as “dead” and the second offers that they are “dried” and the third “withered”.  All three versions agree rain washes away the leaves.

Also note in the first translation “A car trying to pass in silence down Linnaean Street.” becomes in the second work, “A car that attempts a silent drive down Linnaean Street.” 
While the third states “A car strains for silence … “. These might be considered slight changes.
The Spanish original is “Un automovil que intenta/pasar en silencio por Linnaean Street.”
So the translation which comes closest is Ms. Weddell’s which uses “attempts”  and “silence” both literal takes on “intenta” and “silencio”.

Then we see another difference in the three translations where the first version reads, “The soft babble of air/hanging in the half-naked trees.” The second translator “The light murmur of air/spreading through the half-naked trees.” Finally, ‘The faint murmuring breeze/scatters among half-naked branches.”

Here again the difference is subtle but gives a different meaning  to whether the air was barely moving or was a breeze.

These examples are what makes translations so difficult. Often the reader sees the translator’s poetry, not the original, usually with different meanings.  In the above two versions there are differences, yet the poem remains more or less intact, rather than two considerably different poems. 

Once I did a review of Christian Wiman’s translation of an Osip Mandelstam poem and compared it with a translation of the same poem by W.S. Merwin. For a person who does not read Russian, placed side-by-side they were two completely different poems, albeit they were poems by the translators, and the original was lost forever.

Nonetheless, discovering Jorge Olivero Castillo’s poetry is a genuine pleasure and credit should go to his translators. In fact, Spoke 5 presents fine poetry by Audrey Mardavich, Maggie Dietz, Danielle Legros Georges, Patrick Sylvain, Guy Rotella and others. There are a number of other poets worth reading, as well as George Kalogeris’ commentary on Ben Mazer’s poetry which highlights the poet’s often overlooked talent. 

Danielle Legros Georges was Boston’s second Poet Laureate following the legendary Sam Cornish. In her poem “Bayou” she writes, ‘  “In response to Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence’s painting is:

red river

dark hanging

breeze silent



Spoke 5’s more than 300 pages is well worth reading the poetry and commentary on poetics including some 45 pages of letters by Larry Eigner entitled “ Swampscott [MA] to Mexico City: Larry Eigner and El Corno  Letters from Larry Eigner  to El Corno Emplumado (Edited by George Hart).   And finally kudos to Publisher & Editor Kevin Gallagher and Managing Editor Karin van Berkum for putting together this fine publication.

Zvi A. Sesling