A poet-companion; Tess Gallagher translates Liliana Ursu.

There are two posts on this blog which link to short poems by Lilian Ursu.  The poems are from the Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation of The Sky Behind the Forest, by Liliana Ursu. The volume had two translators, Adam J Sorkin and Tess Gallagher. Interestingly, the volume does not initial the translators work beneath the text , so  it is very hard to identify which poems were translated by Gallagher. This blog is dedicated to the work of women writers, editors and translators, so I thought to examine Gallagher’s approach to the poet and to her work.  I am referring to  the  published notes on the translations throughout.

Liliana Ursu is Romanian, she was born in Sibiu in 1949 and  lived in Bucharest during the Ceaucescu regime. She graduated in English at Bucharest University and taught part-time there for ten years. Ursu has published two books of short stories, six books of translation and  books of poetry. She travelled as a  visiting professor to Pennsylvania State University on a Fulbright Grant in 1992-1993. I have decided to include here a Bloodaxe page about Ursu, as well as a link to Lightwall.
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 Tess Gallagher describes herself as “a poet-companion” in her preface to the Poetry Book Society edition of Ursu’s The Sky Behind the Forest. It is an apt description for a fellow-traveller in the arts.Bad translation has been a bugbear of mine for some years, given that  wide internet dissemination has  sometimes led to appalling and quite inflexible machine-spewed translation. The ability to translate  from an academic, collaborative or empathetic base is what wholly contributes to the poetry reader’s pleasure in coming as close as it is possible to the spirit of the poem and to the intent  of the author.

I chose The Gallagher translation of Ursu as an exemplar of collaborative translation, but I could just as easily point to Hugh Maxton’s wonderful  translations of Ágnes Nemes Nagy’s Between , or Marion Glascoe’s edition  of Julian of Norwich. Gallagher is a collaborator  both  as a poet and as a woman, and her ability to communicate the Ursu text , along with Sorkin, hinge on collaborations and on  poetic sympathy.

Her approach is not solely academic but  occurs at a  level of universality, which is indicated in her approach to the work here ,

In the Dusk.

In the dusk the statues smile more enigmatically.
Not a breath of wind troubles their gaze.
You look at me and know how autumn makes its way.
In the dusk, under our bodies the hill sinks to ruin –

weightless, at last.


from The Sky Behind the Forest. Publ. Bloodaxe ,  1997.