Translation of poetry is an individual response to a poem or a series of poems, grounded in the time and place and experience of the translator: a version of the poem, one of many possible versions, and always an act of homage to the original poet.
The Lament for Arthur O’Leary
The last poem in Sí-Orphans of the Plaintive Air is a translation of the lament by Black Eileen O’Connell (Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill) for her murdered husband Art O’Leary. It is one of the great poems of the Gaelic eighteenth century, and probably the greatest by a woman poet in the Irish language before the twentieth century. I studied it for two years in secondary school and for a further year at university and eventually made a translation in the mid-nineties for a friend who is a distant relative of Eileen’s. I came back to it some years ago, aware that mine is one of several modern translations available, some by very distinguished poets.
Black Woman and Other Poems, by Nancy Morejon
The Grenadian playwright and poet Joan Anim-Addo asked me to translate a selection of the work of the internationally-renowned Cuban poet Nancy Morejón for her Mango Press series on Caribbean writers in translation. Nancy chose the poems herself, approved my translations and advised me as the work progressed. It was a very fruitful collaboration from my perspective, especially as Nancy and I did not meet face to face until the book launch in London.
While the Men Are Dying
I came across Carmen Conde’s collection of prose poems, written in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, when I was putting together a course on Spanish literature in 1993. They were all but forgotten in Spain. I published an edition of these poems with Manchester University Press in 2009, with notes on each of the poems, for university students. I felt, however, that this very important testimony needed to be introduced to a non-Spanish speaking readership.