Twelve Catalan Poets: Teresa d’Arenys, Sílvia Aymerich-Lemos, August Bover, Enric Casasses, Josep Checa, Joan Maragall, Maria-Mercè Marçal, Miquel Martí i Pol, Tònia Passola, Marc Rovira, Lluís Solà, and Blanca Llum Vidal

Introduction

Poetry has played, and continues to play, a remarkable role in unleashing the literary potential of a peripheral language—Catalan—whose medieval heyday lapsed into a three-century vernacular hiatus, only to jump-start with the nineteenth-century burst of vitality throwing open Catalan’s road to recovery. The small but mighty language community (which comprises Catalonia proper, Valencia, the Balearic Islands, the French region of Roussillon, and of course, Andorra) is one of uncanny resilience, uplifted by the Catalan people’s love of the word (I had never seen a poster saying Estima la teva llengua / Love your language before visiting Barcelona) and its indissoluble link to life, and add to this an unending shared delight, and pain, in struggling to safeguard both—the word and the common life—against all historical odds. Today Catalan thrives, but goes on with the struggle, like any peripheral language amid the pandemic cultural daltonism that screens so many peoples from global view.

This selection of twelve Catalan poets is but a tiny spray of breaking surf, a bantam sampling from over a century’s span, culled in a way that is unique and unmatchable: gleaned from the working projects of present-day translators, whose searching beams sweep the poetic seascapes of the past, or spotlight swelling waves of today.

Joan Maragall wrote the hard-hitting poem “Fatherhood” after a small but deadly bomb was tossed into the orchestra seats during the performance of Gioacchino Rossini’s William Tell in Barcelona’s Liceu Opera House on November 7, 1893. Maragall himself attended the performance, accompanied by his wife, parents and sisters; he composed the poem that same evening at home. Departing from tradition in form and content, the poem signals Mr. Maragall’s enthusiasm for Nietzschean vitalism, and the child’s “barbaric laugh” (laughter often earmarks ingenious rebellion in Maragall) in the final image suggests the thin line between destruction and regeneration.

Miquel Martí i Pol’s early poems “You have discovered that just one instant…” and “One day I will die…” appeared in his prize-winning collection Paraules al vent (Words on the Wind) (1954), and coincide with the spiritual crisis and ensuing break with conventional religious faith that comes through in many of his poems dating from the early and mid-1950s. A threefold reconversion, interpellation–faith–gesture, shifts his poetic aim from the deity to his readers, whom he interpellates as peers, redirecting his faith that his voice might live in theirs, giving completion and fruition to the cycle of the poetic act of poet–poem–reader. The Wayne Cox–Lourdes Manyé translations give proof of the tandem’s expertise as translators and scholars of Martí i Pol.

Lluís Solà’s “At a standstill…” is an example of what he calls “lightning poems” (poemes llampec), which in contrast to his “river poems” (poemes riu), condense and minimize the elements to produce a maximized burst of expressive energy. The poem invites various readings of exile, where the grain of sand’s solitude augments, as Mr. Solà has remarked, with having lost also the respective solitudes of all the grains surrounding. Composed circa 2000, the poem, in this reader’s eyes, lends itself—strikingly—to the alarming current situation of stranded Mediterranean-area refugees.

The two tanka by August Bover are fragments of longer tanka compositions published in Terres de llicorella (Slatelands) (2008) in collaboration with photographer Toni Vidal. Mr. Bover has commented on how he seeks to lyricize the landscapes of Catalonia’s “South” and its distinctive geography—including the well-known wine country, El Priorat—following other Catalan geographies of literary fame such as Jacint Verdaguer’s Pyrenees and Joan Alcover’s Serra de Tramuntana on the island of Mallorca; serving up, as he puts it, southern Catalan “life in draughts of thirty-one syllables,” which are precisely and adroitly recreated in English tanka by poet and translator Kristine Doll.

The Enric Casasses poem alludes in its title to a popular sardana by prolific composer Pep Ventura (1817–1875), “La donzella de la costa” (“The Damsel On the Shore”), which was in turn spun from the older traditional tune “A la vora de la mar” (“At the Seashore”) in which a damsel boards a ship at a mariner’s behest, not aware that he is the king of England. The poem’s incisive repetition follows the structure of Ventura’s sardana (hence, “To the Tune of…”), and Casasses’ own performance of the poem delights and penetrates in a Sekou Sundiata sort of way. The crossroads theme of this “Road Not Taken” update is autobiographical.

Tònia Passola has remarked that what is most important about the road are the steps, and her steps in the summer of 1981 to the Galtaji Temple, with Octavio Paz’s The Monkey Grammarian as her guide, are imprinted indelibly in her poem “Galta”—the poem giving new life to the journey giving new life. More than a visit, “in the company not only of a watching sun,” writes Passola, “but also the warm silence of the pilgrims, the sparkling mischievousness of the monkeys, the running of the children, the joy,” all this, Passola’s answer to Prufrock is masterfully rendered into English by poet and translator Anna Crowe.

The poem “Twelfth Sonnet” is the concluding sonnet in Hores (Hours), written by Teresa d’Arenys at Can Ruti Hospital between December 18, 2005 and May 7, 2006. Her poetry on the death of loved ones goes back to her early youth, when she wrote her first serious poem following the passing at age twelve of a childhood friend; and her translations of Rilke (1997) were prompted by the passing of her adolescent mentors, writers Fèlix Cucurull and Lluís Ferran de Pol, both natives of her home town Arenys de Mar; to Cucurull, the poet would also dedicate another of the Hores sonnets. Ms. D’Arenys first wrote sonnets while she was studying at university and in contact with poet J. V. Foix. In a sonnet dedicated to her mother, we read the poignant words: “It was an ecstasy and a bursting, and we were the landscape, mother.” Poet and translator Kristine Doll brilliantly recreates the subtle, loving pathos of “Twelfth Sonnet.”

The short Maria-Mercè Marçal poems from the section “Turning” (Bruixa de dol, 1979) (Witch in Mourning) evince the poet’s prodigious art of compacting powerful, playful, verbal melody and imagery, striking an alchemist’s balance between the mundane and the magical, the cerebral and the sensual. Alluding to the feminist clarion call of the seventies, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” Marçal sings the bittersweet solitude of swimming uncharted waters, often against mainstream currents. “Nothing will be taken from you…” appeared in Raó del cos (The Body’s Reason) (2000), a posthumous collection edited by writer and literary activist Lluïsa Julià. Maria-Mercè Marçal is widely regarded as one of contemporary Catalonia’s most outstanding poetic voices. Translator Kathleen McNerney captures and releases on target the full force of Marçal.

Sílvia Aymerich-Lemos, in “Alnus glutinosa” and “Arnica montana,” from her prize-winning collection Balsàmiques (forthcoming) (Balms), couples an intriguing floral taxonomy with engaging, first, Wisława Szymborska, then Bob Marley and Maya Angelou in soul-searching dialogue. Both the rich imagery and the lyricism of her original Catalan are exquisitely rendered into English in her translations accomplished with friend and collaborator Kathleen McNerney, who disavows significant complicity. Ms. Aymerich-Lemos’s French translations of these same poems appeared in the Ottawa literary magazine Mot Dit 8, 2016:10–11.

Josep Checa’s “Awkwardly, you try some nights…” appears in his collection La barberia (The Barber’s) (2016). Alone while others sleep, the poet fathoms his calling and craft, and with a trace of a wink to Seamus Heaney’s “Digging,” both breaks and bonds with the family past, at once like and unlike Grandpa before—and the pinches of tobacco are now the skins of words. On the urgency of the poet’s task Checa writes: “The configuring of today’s world, on the whole, works against poetry, but there are always fissures, and there is a backdrop of emptiness and disquiet that poetry can put right.”

Blanca Llum Vidal’s “Home” appeared in her collection of prose poems, Homes i ocells (Men and Birds) (2012). Critic Sebastià Perelló has remarked how in her poetry “darkness is at work, wagoning in the light that is to lift it,” and this she does starkly, disturbingly, and lovingly. In her more recent collection Punyetera flor (Damn Flower) (2014), poems are fruits of evil that heal and nourish, seeding complacency with fruitful intrusion. She notes how her job as a social worker, dealing with the mentally challenged, provides the needed human contact that compels her to write. Blanca Llum Vidal’s rhythmic layering and cunning wordplay are artfully recreated by translator Megan Berkobien.

Marc Rovira’s “Family Tree,” from his prize-winning collection Els ocells de la llum (Birds of Light) (2015), features an epigraph from the work of pre-Renaissance humanist writer and translator Bernat Metge (c. 1340–1413). The epigraph apparently alludes to Mr. Rovira’s debt to, but departure from, influential poet Gabriel Ferrater (1922–1972), from whom the collection’s title is taken. Rovira has also spoken of his debt to literary giant Josep Carner (1884–1970) and the Mallorcan Spanish-language poet Miguel Ángel Velasco (1963–2010). On translating Rovira, poet and translator María Cristina Hall notes: “Rovira breaks words apart to create polysemy and disjoint verses,” whereby “the broken words force the reader to interpretation, as the words’ components have been revitalized.” Hall’s recreation of these breaks is poetry translation at its best.

Yes, Catalan poetry thrives, against all odds, in delight and in pain, giving voice, in living word, to all of this, all this and more. . .

Ronald Puppo
Co-Coordinator for Catalan translations

 

Joan Maragall
Translated from Catalan by Ronald Puppo

Fatherhood

     On coming home from the Liceu Opera House the night of 7 November 1893.

Furious, hate breaks out on the earth,
from heads on twisted necks blood pours,
     and nerves of steel are advised
when off to soirées or to war.

With each fatal attack — we turn and shudder:
cruelty advances — fear moves back:
     dividing the world between them…
Eyeing the suckling child — and sighing mother,
     the father knits a brow.

     But the innocent child,
now sated, releases the drained breast,
     gazes at him — then at her,
     and lets go a barbaric laugh.

 

Paternal

     Tornant del Liceu en la nit del 7 de novembre de 1893.

Furient va esclatant l’odi per la terra,
regalen sang les coll-torçades testes,
     i cal anar a les festes
amb pit ben esforçat, com a la guerra.

A cada esclat mortal — la gent trèmola es gira:
la crueltat que avança, — la por que s’enretira,
     se van partint el món…
Mirant al fill que mama, — a la mare que sospira,
     el pare arruga el front.

     Pro l’infant innocent,
que deixa, satisfet, la buidada mamella,
     se mira an ell, se mira an ella,
     i riu bàrbarament.

 

Miquel Martí i Pol
Translated from Catalan by Wayne Cox & Lourdes Manyé

You have discovered that just one instant…

You have discovered that just one instant
can hold as much love as an entire life.
You have discovered that delight is like
an unfamiliar island that appears
off the bow of the ship that carries you,
through some distant morning,
along an ancient route.
And so you launch yourself headlong
into the madness of loving, now
that your body is still agile, and smash
the amphora that held the ancient scent
to inhale all at once
its overwhelming intensity.

And who knows after this test
whether to live or to die.

 

Heu esbrinat que en un instant només…

Heu esbrinat que en un instant només
pot estimar-se tant com en tota una vida.
Heu esbrinat que el goig és com una illa
inconeguda, que pot concretar-se
davant la proa de la nau que us mena,
algun matí ignorat,
per una ruta antiga.
I per això us llanceu ardidament
a la follia d’estimar-vos, ara
que el vostre cos és àgil, i feu miques
l’àmfora que servava el vell perfum
per aspirar-ne d’un sol cop
tota la intensitat dominadora.

I qui sap si morir després de la prova.

 

 

One day I will die…

One day I will die
and the afternoon will still shine
on the peaceful roads,
on the rich green of the crops,
on the birds and in the air,
friendly and calm,
and on the gait of those men
I don’t recognize yet love.
One day I will die,
and the afternoon will still shine
in the eyes of the woman
who leans over to kiss me,
in the timeless music
of any old tune,
or even in the most distinct
and personal of objects,
or perhaps in my verses.
Tell me what miracle
makes the afternoon so sweet
and at the same time so intense,
and to what meadow or cloud
do I owe this delight,
because I feel so alive
in the things that surround me
and know that someone, in time,
will honor my memory.

 

Un dia seré mort…

Un dia seré mort
i encara serà tarda
en la pau dels camins,
en els sembrats verdíssims,
en els ocells i en l’aire
quietament amic,
i en el pas d’aquells homes
que desconec i estimo.
Un dia seré mort
i encara serà tarda
en els ulls de la dona
que s’apropa i em besa,
en la música antiga
de qualsevol tonada,
o, encara, en un objecte,
el més íntim i clar,
o potser en els meus versos.
Digueu-me quin prodigi
fa la tarda tan dolça
i tan intensa alhora,
i a quin prat o quin núvol
he d’adscriure el meu goig,
perquè em sé perdurable
en les coses que em volten,
i sé que algú, en el temps,
servarà el meu record.

 

Lluís Solà
Translated from Catalan by Ronald Puppo

At a standstill…

At a standstill,
in motion.

No wings,
no roots.

Ingrained
in the sand,
waves rolling
no end.

Darkness
all facing.

Turning
from instant
to instant.

Living
in the light
postponed.

Immòbil…

Immòbil
en la mobilitat.

Sense ales,
sense arrels.

Amb la sorra
engrunat,
amb l’onada
sense pausa.

Davant l’ombra
incessant.

Girant
d’instant
en instant.

Vivint
en la llum
ajornada.

 

 

August Bover
Translated from Catalan by Kristine Doll

Spring

               Each new flower
               that blooms on the plum tree
               announces better weather
                            —Hattori Ransetsu (1654–1707)

We follow along
the paths of oaks and heroes,
chasing our freedom.
Flowering thyme underfoot,
rises up to perfume us!

 

Primavera

               Cada flor nova
               que es bada a la prunera
               fa més bonança
                            —Hattori Ransetsu (1654–1707)

Seguim la petja
dels camins de carrasca,
la sobirana.
Timoneda florida,
regala els nostres passos!

 

 

Summer

     When all is silent
     the cry of the cicadas
     pierces even stone
    —Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694)

A large pine tree shades
the shepherd dreaming about
a host of angels:
coming and going up and
down the heavenly ladder.

 

Estiu

     Si feu silenci
    el crit de les cigales
    rosca les roques
    —Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694)

Un gran pi ombreja
el pastor que somia
en tots els àngels:
veu com pugen i baixen
per la divina escala.

 

 

Enric Casasses
Translated from Catalan by Ronald Puppo

To the Tune of the Damsel On the Shore
     Faith moves clouds.
               —Jaume Sisterna, Nowhere man

Stretched beneath the motors
my back to the floor
my back to the floor
I earned my ve-
ry first peseta
ry first peseta
one summer in a mechanic’s
trying to learn
trying to learn
where they put the carburetor
and other gems
and other gems
and one day a man a customer
comes and tells me
comes and tells me
out at the entrance in the street
ditch the job
ditch the job
don’t throw away your youth
miserably
miserably
it’ll chain you
a rotten deal
a rotten deal
I didn’t tell him yes or no
since you don’t really think
since you don’t really think
but another day after a time
there came
there came
another man who knew
the boss lady
the boss lady
a body repair worker from around
says to me
says to me
you shouldn’t be working
it chains you
it chains you
if you can hightail it
ditch the job
ditch the job
so now there were two
and that Friday
and that Friday
I picked up my last paycheck
and sayonara
and sayonara.
Ever since that day not once
no sirree
no sirree
have I worked at a regular job
I do what I know I gotta do
I do what I know I gotta do
and doing what I gotta do
if you must know
if you must know
living without a job
is a whole lotta work
is a whole lotta work.
As for my two tipsters, I haven’t
seen them since
seen them since
nor do I recall ex-
actly their faces
actly their faces.
Now I give them huge thanks
for the little push.
for the little push.

 

Al so de la donzella de la costa
     
La fe mou núvols.
—Jaume Sisterna, Home enlloc

Estirat sota els motors
d’esquena a terra
d’esquena a terra
vaig guanyar la meva pri-
mera pesseta
mera pesseta
un estiu en un taller
mirant d’aprendre
mirant d’aprendre
on cau el carburador
i altres perles
i altres perles
i un dia un home un client
ve i m’aconsella
ve i m’aconsella
fora a la porta al carrer
deixa la feina
deixa la feina
no llencis la joventut
a la misèria
a la misèria
que hi quedes encadenat
i és una merda
i és una merda
no li vaig fer sí ni no
perquè un no pensa
perquè un no pensa
però un dia al cap d’un temps
coincidència
coincidència
un altre home un conegut
de la mestressa
de la mestressa
un planxista mig veí
va i m’interpel·la
va i m’interpel·la
que no et convé treballar
que són cadenes
que són cadenes
si te’n pots escapolir
deixa la feina
deixa la feina
i amb això doncs ja eren dos
i aquell divendres
i aquell divendres
vaig cobrar l’últim meu sou
i au a reveure
i au a reveure.
D’ençà d’aquell dia mai
ni per sorpresa
ni per sorpresa
no he tingut un treball fix
faig el que em sembla que haig de fer
faig el que em sembla que haig de fer
i el que em sembla que haig de fer
i si ho vols sebre
i si ho vols sebre
viure sense treballar
vol molta feina
vol molta feina.
Els dos consellers no els he
tornats a veure
tornats a veure
i no recordo ni qui-
na cara feien
na cara feien.
Aquí els dono grans mercès
d’aquella empenta
d’aquella empenta.

 

 

Tònia Passola
Translated from Catalan by Anna Crowe

Galta

     The best thing will be to choose the road to Galta,
           walk it again (inventing it all the while you
           walk it)…
                    —Octavio Paz, The Monkey Grammarian

Pathways of initiation
can smash locks,
slam a wrong door.
“Santiago Pilgrims’ Way,”
so many labyrinths! A Mandala.
And with Indian blood, Galta.

Caravan of light,
high fever’s hour,
and in the air’s embers
devils in every flame.
The road, the road to Galta,
one evening it carried us there.

The bare truth
of the spirit that lives
alone with a jug of water.
And the clamour of children,
footsteps and rags
in endless dance.

Hanuman, the poet,
spirit and word
of the ascetic Valmiki,
sanctified devil,
makes fecund the Ramayana
in the shadow of those steps.

Imprisoning domes
in the smoky whiteness.
Galta, burning the light,
ablaze on every side:
and in her midst, you and I,
delighting in our capture.

 

Galta
     Lo mejor será escoger el camino de Galta,
          recorrerlo de nuevo (inventarlo a medida
          que lo recorro)…
                            —Octavio Paz, El mono gramático

Camins iniciàtics
poden esbotzar baldes,
cloure una porta falsa.
El camí de Sant Jaume,
tants laberints!, un Mandala.
I amb sang índia: Galta.

Caravana de llum,
hora amb febre molt alta,
i en la brasa de l’aire
micos en cada flama.
Camí, camí de Galta,
ens hi dugué una tarda.

La nua veritat
de l’ànima que viu
sola amb la gerra d’aigua.
I el xivarri dels nens,
vestigis i parracs
en contínua dansa.

Hanuman, el poeta,
esperit i paraula
de l’asceta Valmiki,
mico divinitzat,
fecunda el Ramaiana
a l’ombra de les passes.

Cúpules presoneres
de la fumera blanca.
Galta, cremant la llum,
encesa en cada marge:
I enmig d’ella tu i jo,
contents del nostre rapte.

 

 

Teresa d’Arenys
Translated from Catalan by Kristine Doll

Twelfth Sonnet

How cruel to awaken, how cruel to be born,
the beginning is as cruel as the end… Look
how the recently born, helpless, turns into
the old man. One takes the light; the other

leaves it. The two are, following the same
law of transformation,
                        on a journey that leads
to the uncertain. Between sighs, he who

arrives barely understands, and gasping, he who must leave, forgets.
So, one would say, in every moment there are
two ages always crossing each other

giving the present a balanced chiaroscuro,
a dance step
that includes the past and the future.

Sonet dotzè

Cruel és despertar, cruel és néixer,
el començ és cruel com la fi… Mira
si no el nounat que, desvalgut, retira
a l’ancià. L’un pren la llum; la deixa

l’altre. Tots dos estan, per la mateixa
llei del mudar,
              en un revolt que gira
cap a l’incert. Entre sanglots respira
el qui arribant tot just n’aprèn, i bleixa

qui n’ha de desaprendre per marxar.
Així, diria, en cada instant hi ha
dues edats que sempre entrecreuant-se

li donen un present de clarobscur
equilibrat, un moviment de dansa
que enclou el seu passat i el seu futur.

 

 

Maria-Mercè Marçal
Translated from Catalan by Kathleen McNerney

Turning

               III
Like a fish without a bicycle
I look for my heart among the waves.
I raise the glass where the moon dies
in wine so sweet.

I’ve gotten drunk on solitude.

 

Tombant

                III
Com un peix sense bicicleta
cerco el meu cor entre les ones.
Alço la copa on mor la lluna
en vi molt dolç.

M’he emborratxat de solitud.

 

                VII
My eyes are of wood.
From time to time, a worm cries out of them.

                 VII
Tinc els ulls de fusta.
De tant en tant, un cuc hi plora.

 

 

Nothing will be taken from you…

Nothing will be taken from you:
the moment will come on its own
to open your hand softly
to liberate the memory of water
to return to the water of the high sea.

 

Res no et serà pres: vindrà tan sols…

Res no et serà pres: vindrà tan sols
l’instant d’obrir
dòcilment la mà
i alliberar
la memòria de l’aigua
d’alta mar.

 

 

Sílvia Aymerich-Lemos
Translated from Catalan by the poet in collaboration with Kathleen McNerney

Alnus glutinosa
                  It doesn’t cause me pain,
                  that clumps of alder above the waters
                  have something to rustle with again.
                  I accept that—as though you were still alive.
                                      —Wisława Szymborska

When the squeal of a whimsical wind
capriciously wrenches out
of one’s inner shrub
kinfolk, lovers, newborns,
sweeping them away
           like rolling fallen leaves,

who is so numb
as to acquit the alder grove
of covering it up?

And still,
within the unswallowable moment
the bark that soothes sore throats
could hardly be uncoveted.
Woefully, Wisława,
I’m telling you nothing
you don’t already know…    

 

Alnus glutinosa

                  It doesn’t cause me pain,
                  that clumps of alder above the waters
                  have something to rustle with again.
                  I accept that—as though you were still alive.
                                      —Wisława Szymborska

Quan l’esgüell d’un vent rampellut
inopinadament, s’enduu
del més íntim arbust
propis, amants, nadons
talment rulls
            de fullaraca,

com exculpar-ne
l’infame verneda
que li dóna empara?

I tanmateix,
dins l’instant que no s’empassa,
l’escorça que alleuja goles
no pot sinó anhelar-se.
Tristament, Wisława,
què t’he d’explicar jo,
que tu no sàpigues…

 

Arnica montana
               Every time I hear the crack of a whip,
               My blood runs cold.
               I remember on the slave ship,
               How they brutalize the very souls.
                                   —Bob Marley

               Out of the huts of history’s shame
                          I rise
               Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
                          I rise
               I’m a black ocean leaping wide,
               Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
                                   —Maya Angelou

In the sealed file of crimes
that never lapse,
the shouting of vowels,
bluntly, denounce:
                     wailing a’s,
                     howling o’s
                     crying i’s.

(To the whips of memory
no skin is numb, Bob.)

Even though you bear in the tide,
I beg you, Maya, from the arnicas
let’s choose the rubefacient,
the analgesic, the montana,
the only one capable of soothing
so many souls skinned alive.

 

Arnica montana

               Every time I hear the crack of a whip,
               My blood runs cold.
               I remember on the slave ship,
              How they brutalize the very souls.
                                   —Bob Marley

               Out of the huts of history’s shame
                          I rise
               Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
                          I rise
               I’m a black ocean leaping wide,
               Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
                                   —Maya Angelou

En la plica dels crims
que mai prescriuen,
els crits, dins les vocals
allerats, denuncien:
                     as que bramen
                     us que udolen,
                     is que xisclen.

(Per als fuets del record,
no hi ha pells adormides, Bob.)

A desgrat que en la marea t’alcis,
t’ho prego, Maya, de les àrniques,
triem la rubefaent,
l’analgèsica, la montana,
l’única a poder assuaujar,
tanta ànima escorxada.

 

 

Josep Checa
Translated from Catalan by Ronald Puppo

Awkwardly, you try some nights…

Awkwardly, you try some nights
to sketch the skins of words.
It’s like the easing ritual of wrapping
pinches of tobacco, like Grandpa before.
Time will tailor-make the past
and you write like you’re tidying drawers.
The unyielding moths bounce
off the light bulb that makes you a seer.
They smash onto the paper with a crack,
leaving on your verses
the faintest scattering of wing dust.

 

Maldestre, algunes nits proves…

Maldestre, algunes nits proves
de dibuixar la pell de les paraules.
És com el calmós ritual d’embolicar
pessics de tabac, com l’avi ho feia.
El temps vesteix el passat a mida
i tu escrius com aquell que endreça calaixos.
Les arnes reboten, obstinades,
contra la bombeta que et fa vident.
S’encasten al paper amb un cop rotund
i deixen, damunt els versos,
un mínim escampall de polsim d’ales.

 

 

Blanca Llum Vidal
Translated from Catalan by Megan Berkobien

Home

A staircase with steps and a building staircased and a staircase in the building and some steps where one sits, it’s a house of breaking down to suffer, a suffering that longs to low, to row at love, to row the sea of swollen sea and love tomorrow, a space knotted to time, making space of time in knots, and the cutting knot where one fights who fights with every fight, an abyss that bottoms out in an abyss that’s shoring up the next abyss and a post where one…

 

Casa

Una escala amb els graons i un edifici amb una escala i una escala a l’edifici i uns graons on hi ha qui seu, és una casa amb el trencar-se per patir i un patiment que vol remor, remar l’amor, remar la mar de mala mar i amar demà, que és un espai nuat al temps que fa del temps l’espai amb nus i el nus tallant on hi ha qui lluita i qui s’hi lluita amb cada lluita, que és un abisme al capdavall d’un altre abisme amb un abisme apuntalant-lo i un puntal on hi ha qui…

 

 

Marc Rovira
Translated from Catalan by María Cristina Hall

Family Tree
          “Break the bridge whence thou camest,
          that thou mayest not return.”
                                              —Tireseas in The Dream

You, unwilling pre-
cedent of a branch’s eye-
less duty,
blind for another, looking out
through time. I’m a cloud
and you, coveting my shadow,
dredge for the light that begot me.
No earth, no root, ai-
rien.
And I cannot freely wander
without rousing, faithfully, that impertinent
plaint you now moan: names,
                                   like the dead.

 

Arbre genealògic
         
—Trenca lo pont per on ést passat,
          en manera que no et sia possible retornar.
                                              —Tirèsies a Lo Somni

Tu, el qui pre-
cedeix forçós del deu-
re borni d’una branca,
cec de l’altra, mirant enllà
a través del temps. Sóc un núvol
i tu, gelós de la meva ombra,
busques la llum que m’ha engendrat.
Ni terra ni arrel, ai-
res.
I no puc, lliure, voltar cap enlloc
sense causar, fidel, la impertinent
queixa que ja gemegues: noms,
com morts.

 

© Poets: Teresa d’Arenys, Sílvia Aymerich-Lemos, August Bover, Enric Casasses, Josep Checa, Joan Maragall, Maria-Mercè Marçal, Miquel Martí i Pol, Tònia Passola, Marc Rovira, Lluís Solà, and Blanca Llum Vidal; Translators: Sílvia Aymerich-Lemos, Megan Berkobien, Wayne Cox, Anna Crowe, Kristine Doll, María Cristina Hall, Lourdes Manyé, Kathleen McNerney, and Ronald Puppo.

POETS

Teresa d’Arenys is the pen name of poet and novelist Maria Teresa Bertran Rossell, born in 1952 in Arenys de Mar. She is the author of several books of poetry: Aor (winner of the Amadeu Oller Prize in 1976), Onada (1980), Murmuris (1986), Tuareg: Cants d’amor i de guerra de l’Ahaggar (winner of the Premi Cadaqués a Quima Jaume in 2000), Hores (2008) and Versos de vi novell (awarded the Premi de Poesia La Selva del Camp in 2009). Reflected in the Saharan poems are her extensive travels in North Africa, especially among the Amazighs, whose struggle she voices. Her novel, El quadern d’Agnès Solà (2001), explores alternative religious encounters and the quest for self and place. Bertran’s translations include Rèquiems (1997) by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Sílvia Aymerich-Lemos, born in Barcelona, trained in several languages and literatures, with a degree in biology, brings a diversified background to her writing. Her prize-winning poetry has appeared in several anthologies and she has contributed self-translations into French in Forum des Écrivaines et des Écrivains (1995), Le Pan del Muses (2012), and Mot Dit (2016); and into English in Malpaís Review (2013) and The Tree of Peace Turns Green (2016). Her early poetic work, La meva Europa, won the Amadeu Oller Prize in 1985, and her prose narrative Berlin Zoo the Cassà de la Selva Prize in 1990. A tireless cross-cultural literary activist and researcher, Aymerich conducted a study on LabLit and gender in Catalan literature under the patronage of the Department of Culture (2012–13), and is the founder of Multiple Versions, a multi-language project of cooperative translations among contemporary authors.

August Bover, born in 1949 in Barcelona, is Emeritus Professor of Catalan Literature at the Universitat de Barcelona, and has been visiting professor at several European universities and the University of California at Berkeley. He has also served as co-director (1995–2009) of Catalan Review. As a poet, Bover often works with painters, plastic artists, photographers and musicians. Along with soprano and cellist Eulàlia Ara, Bover created El Taller Vora Mar (2013), a production of poetry-music programs such as Cloc! i altres sons. His poems—translated into English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Spanish—appear in several anthologies, and he is the author of En pèlag d’amor (1999), L’hivern sota el Cadí (2001), Mojave (2006), Terres de llicorella (2008), and Cloc! (2011). In prose, he published the diary Dotze llunes a Saskatchewan (2013).

Enric Casasses, born in 1951 in Barcelona, renowned self-styled performance poet and troubadour, has published more than twenty-five collections of poetry, as well as translations from English, French and Italian (notably, William Blake, Max Jacob and Giordano Bruno), essays, plays, and fresh-take anthologies. Drawing from an uncanny spectrum of sources ranging from medieval and surrealist to Baroque and Beat, his works distill a savvy blend of colloquial and canonic. Translated into Galician, English, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish and Ukrainian, Casasses’ poetry has enjoyed wide popularity and garnered numerous awards, including Catalonia’s 2012 Premi Nacional de Literatura.

Josep Checa, born in 1962 in Caldes de Montbui, began working in a textile factory at age sixteen while attending evening classes to earn his high school degree. He won his first poetry prize in his hometown at age fifteen. He has since published a dozen poetry collections and won several prestigious awards, counterpointing his bread-and-butter job as a farmer with fathering two children and engaging in his vocation as poet and steadfast literary activist. His wife, Esther Obradors, collaborates as his prepublication critic and illustrator. Checa’s poems frequently depict and explore the power of the commonplace in rural and small-town settings, striking and spotlighting hidden niches of self and world, past and present.

Joan Maragall (1860–1911), born in Barcelona, holds an eminent place in the pantheon of Catalan letters not only for his groundbreaking mix of tradition and innovation in poetic theme and form, but also for his prominent role as intellectuel engagé penning bold inquiry into the manifold social and spiritual dislocation that shook the foundations of turn-of-the-century Catalan and Spanish society; not surprisingly, his poetry and essays have wielded enormous influence on subsequent generations. Tangentially, his essays on language and poetry open a critical window on an intriguing particular–universal synthesis from the perspective of Catalan, the peripheral language and culture, from and to which, he has given resounding voice.

Maria-Mercè Marçal (1952–1998), born in Barcelona, studied philology at the Universitat de Barcelona and taught Catalan and literature at the Institut Rubió i Ors in Barcelona.  She co-founded the publishing house Llibres del Mall in 1973, and in 1976 she won the Carles Riba prize for her book of poetry, Cau de llunes. Published in numerous poetry journals, her verses have been sung by leading voices of the Nova Cançó such as Marina Rossell, Ramon Muntaner, and Maria del Mar Bonet. Marçal sat on juries of poetry prizes and penned critical articles on other poets, including Felícia Fuster, Clementina Arderiu, and Rosa Leveroni. The epigraph from Cau de llunes points to her sociopolitical stance: A l’atzar agraeixo tres dons: haver nascut dona / de classe baixa i nació oprimida / i el tèrbol atzur de ser tres voltes rebel (I owe three gifts to hazard: to be born woman / of working class and oppressed nation / and the turbid azure of being thrice rebel). She also wrote short stories and a novel, La passió segons Renée Vivien, based on the biography and work of Pauline Mary Tarn (1877–1909).

Miquel Martí i Pol (1929–2003) of Roda de Ter is the most widely read poet in contemporary Catalan literature. His collected works contain over 1,600 pages of poetry, twenty-four volumes of translations, nine books of essays and stories, and several books for children. He collaborated with renowned painter Joan Miró (1893–1983), and before the onset of multiple sclerosis, performed as a folk singer who wrote lyrics and poetry recorded on over forty CDs by leading Spanish and Catalan musicians. Martí i Pol was awarded the Premi d’Honor de les Lletres Catalanes in 1991, the most prestigious literary prize in Catalan literature, and in 1992 was awarded Spain’s highest literary honor: the Medalla de Oro al Mérito en las Bellas Artes. In 2000, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Tònia Passola, born in Barcelona in 1952, took her degree in Art History at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and teaches Catalan language and literature in secondary school. She is the author of Cel rebel (winner of the Premi Cadaqués a Rosa Leveroni in 2000), La sensualitat del silenci (winner of the Premi Vicent Andrés Estellés in 2001), Bressol (2005), L´horitzó que no hi és (2009) and Margelle d´étoiles (2013, bilingual French-Catalan edition published by L’Harmattan). Passola’s work takes the form of a personal diary. Using memory, imagination and dream, she transcends the limitations of language and creates an extraordinary poetic world. Her poems have been translated into Albanian, Dutch, English, French, Greek, Italian and Spanish. In 2014 she was honored with the Nënë Terezë award in the city of Gjakova in the Republic of Kosovo, and in 2015, the Alexander the Great award on the Greek island of Salamis.

Marc Rovira, born in Barcelona in 1989, studied Catalan and Hispanic literatures and literary theory at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and spent a year abroad at the Université Paris–Sorbonne. He was only twenty years old when awarded the Amadeu Oller Prize in 2009 for his first book of poems, and his subsequent collection Els ocells de la llum won the 2014 Premi de Poesia Les Talúries. As a translator, Rovira has published more than a dozen of Stéphane Mallarmé’s poems into Catalan, part of a larger project of his devoted to translating into Catalan the complete poetic works of Mallarmé.

Lluís Solà, born in Vic in 1940, is a poet, playwright, essayist, stage director, editor, and translator. He is founding director of the Centre d’Osona de l’Institut del Teatre and has directed works by Joan Brossa, August Strindberg, Aeschylus, Zeami and others, as well as stage performances of poetry. Solà’s award-winning poetry is collected in the one-thousand-page volume Poesia completa (2016), and his recently published Llibertat i sentit: reflexions sobre la condició humana (2017) serves up rich inquiry into the indispensable place of the arts in the quest for human freedom. As a translator, Solà has published among others works by Franz Kafka, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Peter Handke, Fernando Pessoa, Samuel Beckett, Giuseppe Ungaretti, and Arthur Rimbaud.

Blanca Llum Vidal, despite her Barcelonan roots, grew up in Casserres. Her work—dizzying, voracious, animal-like—incorporates the vocabulary of Catalan mountains and Mallorcan seascapes. She has published several poetry collections, including La cabra que hi havia (Documenta Balear, 2009), Nosaltres i tu (Lleonard Muntaner, 2011), Homes i ocells (Club Editor, 2012), Punyetera flor (LaBreu 2014), and Maripasoula: Crònica d’un viatge a la Guaiana Francesa (Tushita Edicions, 2015). 

TRANSLATORS

Sílvia Aymerich-Lemos is a poet, novelist, translator, and cross-cultural literary activist. Ms. Aymerich-Lemos self-translated her poems in this selection in collaboration with Kathleen McNerney. See her poet biography above.

Megan Berkobien is pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature at the University of Michigan. She earned her B.A. from the same university, where she studied women’s writing in Latin America. Her prose has appeared in Poets & Writers and The Offing, and her translations from Spanish, Catalan and Galician have been published or are forthcoming in Words without Borders, Asymptote, and A Public Space, to name a few. When she’s not translating or teaching, she’s working on a dissertation about the politics of reproduction in nineteenth-century Catalan periodicals and museums. Her translation of Ariana Harwicz’s Matate, amor will be published by Charco Press in late 2017.

Wayne Cox teaches classes in poetry and film studies at Anderson University, where he currently serves as Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. A recipient of Fulbright and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, his work has appeared in Poetry, Shenandoah and elsewhere. With his wife, Lourdes Manyé, he published Vacation Notebook, a translation of Quadern de vacances, by Catalan poet Miquel Martí i Pol. His second book, The Things We Leave Behind, was published by Ninety-Six Press. He lives in Greenville with his wife and two daughters.

Anna Crowe is Honorary President of StAnza, Scotland’s Poetry Festival. Among her publications are Skating Out of the House (Peterloo, 1997), Punk with Dulcimer (Peterloo, 2006), Figure in a Landscape (Mariscat, 2010; winner of the 2011 Callum MacDonald Memorial Award, PBS Pamphlet Choice), published in Catalan/English as Paisatge amb figura (Ensiola, 2011); Finding My Grandparents in the Peloponnese (Mariscat, 2013). As a translator, she has published Tugs in the fog (Bloodaxe, 2006), a collection of poems by Catalan poet Joan Margarit (PBS Recommendation); Strangely Happy (Bloodaxe, 2011), also by Joan Margarit; Six Catalan Poets (Arc, 2013, bilingual edition); also with Joan Margarit, poems by R.S. Thomas (Proa, 2013; Catalan/English); Peatlands, poems by Mexican poet Pedro Serrano (Arc, 2014; bilingual edition); Lunarium, poems by Josep Lluís Aguiló (Arc, 2016; bilingual edition); and Love Is a Place (Bloodaxe, 2016), poems by Joan Margarit. Anna Crowe was awarded a Travelling Scholarship by the Society of Authors, 2005.

Kristine Doll is a poet and translator specializing in literary translation and works in Catalan, English, and Spanish. Her translations and poetry have been published internationally. She is the editor and one of the translators included in the recent The Seventh Quarry Poetry Magazine: Six Catalan Poets (The Seventh Quarry Press, Wales, UK, 2015). “My Friends” from her recent book of poetry Speak to Me Again (Feral Press, 2014) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in Poetry. Doll is a Professor of Spanish language, literature and culture at Salem State University, Salem, Massachusetts.

María Cristina Hall, born in New York in 1991, is a Mexican-American poet with a Bachelor’s degree in creative writing and political science from Columbia University and a Master’s degree in translation studies from Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. A translator of Catalan and Spanish, she currently teaches English with a focus on Chicano literature at the Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico City. Her work can be found in Apogee Journal, New Poetry, Surgam and Registro MX.

Lourdes Manyé, born in Barcelona, graduated from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. She earned her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of South Carolina and is currently Professor of Spanish at Furman University. Her research interests are: twentieth– and twenty-first century Spanish literature, exile literature, historical memory of the Spanish Civil War, Catalan literature, and translation studies. In 2005 she received a National Endowment for the Arts Literary Fellowship in collaboration with Wayne Cox for the translation from Catalan into English of a volume of Selected poems by Miquel Martí i Pol, having previously published Vacation Notebook, a translation of his Quadern de vacances. She has served as president of the North American Catalan Society since 2013.

Kathleen McNerney is Professor Emerita of Hispanic Literature and Culture, as well as Womens’ Studies; Benedum Distinguished Scholar, and Singer Professor of the Humanities at West Virginia University.  Her publications embrace Latin American, Castilian, and French literature, but most focus on Catalan women writers. Co-editor of Double Minorities of Spain (MLA, 1994), she has also edited two collections of articles on Mercè Rodoreda, and co-authored the textbook España y su civilización (McGraw Hill, 2008). Professor McNerney’s most recent books are Voices and Visions: Women’s Narrative in Twentieth-Century Spain, with Kathleen Glenn (Rodopi, 2008), and Mercè Rodoreda: An Annotated Bibliography 2002-2011 (Institut d’Estudis Catalans, 2015). She contributed a “Mini-Anthology of Catalan Poetry” with an introduction, “A Short Survey of Catalan Poetry,” to Malpaís Review (Spring 2013). She has translated several novels, short stories, poems, and essays, and continues writing in her new/old home in Albuquerque.

Ronald Puppo, born in 1954 in San Francisco, California, is a research fellow at the Universitat de Vic (Catalonia), where he has taught translation and English studies since 1994. He has authored articles and reviews appearing in Babel, Catalan Review, Translation Review and other journals, and book chapters for Reichenberger and Routledge. Translator of several Catalan poets, notably Jacint Verdaguer (1845-1902) and Joan Maragall (1860-1911), his full-length, annotated translation of Verdaguer’s foundational epic, Mount Canigó: A tale of Catalonia, was awarded the 2016 “Serra d’Or” Critics Prize for Research in Catalan Studies.

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