Poets in Translation

While you might already be celebrating Nonfiction November, as a few bloggers are, author and editor Molly Spencer has declared November Translated Poetry Month. As she explained on Twitter, the idea is simply to “Read & share the work of poets who’ve been translated into the language(s) you read. The goal is for all of us to read more widely than if left to our usual tendencies.” So who should you read for Translated Poetry Month? I have a few suggestions.

Yehuda Amichai (Hebrew, 1924 – 2000) – One of Israel’s foremost modern poets, Amichai is concision and understatement together with deep lyricism. Favorites are “Near the Wall of a House,”My Father Was God,” and “A Pity, We Were Such a Good Invention.”

C. P. Cavafy (Greek, 1863 – 1933) – Lively, lucid, passionate. A Greek poet with a fondness for personae and ancient civilizations. Favorites are “Ithaca,” “Craftsman of Wine Bowls,” and “’The rest I’ll speak of to the ones below in Hades.’”

Paul Celan (German, 1920 – 1970) – A Romanian poet writing in German. Though his poems are often very dark, drawing upon his experiences as a Holocaust survivor, they also have a kaleidoscopic beauty to them that’s seldom matched. Favorites are “Line the wordcaves,” “Flower,” “An Eye, Open,” “Threadsuns,” and “Corona.”

Robert Desnos (French, 1900 – 1945) – Known as one of the founders of Surrealism, Desnos alternates between funny and breathtakingly beautiful. Favorites of his include “The Landscape” (a “version” by Scottish poet Don Paterson), “Like a Hand at the Moment of Death,” and “The Pelican.”

Czesław Miłosz (Polish, 1911 – 2004) – Of course. He’s one of my favorite poets, translated or not. Some especially good poems of his are “Winter,”A Song on the End of the World,” “Veni Creator,” “Esse,” and “The Separate Notebooks” (a very long poem; there’s an excerpt of it here and more here).

Rainer Maria Rilke (German, 1875 – 1926) – A veritable poetry god, and very mystical; read “The Panther,” Sonnets to Orpheus, and “The Archaic Torso of Apollo.”

Anna Swir (a.k.a. Anna Świrszczyńska) (Polish, 1909 – 1984) – Underrated in her own day and overshadowed in ours, Anna Swir was writing about specifically feminine experiences long before such writing was common. Her poems tend to be short and understated, but with tremendous power behind them. Try “The Greatest Love,” “Thank You, My Fate,” “I Wash the Shirt,” and “There Is Light in Me.”

Adam Zagajewski (Polish, 1945 – ) – Sort of a mystic; being a student of Miłosz, he sees spiritual depth in practically everything. Favorites are “Autumn,” “Mysticism for Beginners,“Do Not Allow the Lucid Moment to Dissolve,” and “Try to Praise the Mutilated World.”

Have you read any of these poets? Which translated poets do you recommend? Let me know in the comments.

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