Monday, January 04, 2016

Translations: Paulo Leminski

Paulo Leminski (photo Julio Covello)
It has been eons since I've posted translations; the last, I think, were several poems by Sunjata, from French. Over the last few days, as the new year rolls in, I've been reviewing old translations I'd completed but never published, and I found a trove of translated short poems by Paulo Leminski (1944-1989), whom I've featured several times on this blog. He remains a favorite of mine. My first led to a lively conversation in the comments section with Kai hingeing on the sonorities of vowel sounds in Spanish and Portuguese and the word "dezenas" (close but distinct from "dozenas"), which led me to think even more carefully not just about Leminski's work but about translating poetry in general. I find translating poetry considerably harder but more rewarding than translating most prose (though writers deeply rooted in their native languages, like Guimarães Rosa, are more difficult or even impossible to render into another language, though people still do so).

As I wrote about Leminski before--and here I'm going to be lazy and collage parts of my previous postings--he is mostly unknown in the United States, though he is acclaimed as one of the important 20th century poets in his native Brazil. (You can scan a thorough bibliographic timeline here.) A native of Curitiba, Paraná State, he was incredibly prodigious in his brief 45 years, producing "poetry, fiction, biographies, criticism, journalistic pieces, translations, children's literature, performance scores, song lyrics, and photographs" before suffering the effects of cirrhosis of the liver. As I also wrote, "He also found time to become a martial arts master!" He apparently did not sleep.

I also wrote:

A good deal of Leminski's best known poetry is brief and linguistically playful, almost defying translation; a poem like "Ali," which turns on the Portuguese word for "there" and homonyms formed through verb juxtaposition while also referring to and riffing off the name of his second wife, "Alice," loses most of its zip in English. He also like forms such as the hakai and Leminski's work also shows affinities with the Concrete work of his good friends Haroldo (1929-2003) andAugusto de Campos (1931-). One of the best sites for translations is Edson Froes's Kamiquase: p. leminski, which features translations by Michael Palmer, Chris Daniels, and others.

Here are several of those short, linguistically playful poems, all taken from Leminskianas: antologia variada, by Paulo Leminski, with the collaboration of Maria Esther Maciel; Célia Pedrosa y André Dick and with a prologue by Mario Cámara (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Corregidor, 2005).

soprando esse bambu
só tiro
o que lhe deu o vento

breathing in this bamboo
I get only
what the wind lets through


mês s/ fim
vem de fora
ou de dentro
esse cheiro de jasmin?

month w/out end
it is coming from outside
or from within
this scent of jasmine?


a hora do tigre

um tigre
que se entigre
não é flor
que se cheire
não é tigre
que se queira
ser tigre
dura a vida

The Hour of the Tiger

a tiger
which entigers
is not a flower
it has no odor
is not a tiger
that can be desired
being tiger
lasts an entire


And a slightly longer poem, about Leon and Natalia Trotsky:

El viejo León y Natalia en Coyoacán

desta vez não vai ter neve como en Petrogrado aquele dia
o céu vai estar limpo e o sol brilhando
você dormindo e eu sonhando

nem casacos nem cossacos como en Petrogrado aquele dia
apenas você nu e eu como nasci
eu dormido e você sonhando

não vai mais ter multidões gritando como en Petrogrado aquele dia
silêncio nós dois murmúrios azuis
eu e você dormindo e sonhando

nunca mais vais ter un dia como en Petrogrado aquele dia
nada como un dia indo atrás de outro vindo
você e eu sonhando e dormindo

Old Leon and Natalia in Coyoacán

this time there was going to be no snow as in Petrograd that day
the sky would be clear and the sun shining
you sleeping and I dreaming

Neither overcoats nor Cossacks like in Petrograd that day
only you and I just as I was born
Me sleeping and you dreaming

there would not be screaming multitudes as in Petrograd that day
silence we two blue murmurs
I and you asleep and dreaming

there would never be a day like those in Petrograd that day
nothing like a day departing behind another arriving
you and I in dreams and sleeping

All poems copyright © the estate of Paulo Leminski Filho, from Leminskianas: antologia variada, by Paulo Leminski, with the collaboration of Maria Esther Maciel; Célia Pedrosa y André Dick and with a prologue by Mario Cámara (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Corregidor, 2005). All translations copyright © John Keene, 2015.

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