“Pomegranate” and other poems by Kim Myeong-sun translated by Sean Jido Ahn

Pomegranate

In autumn, even a tree sheds jewels on the street.
A deeply buried heart may be fetching like this.
Around this time,
A bird shall pilot the life of a fragrant tree,
Crossing the river with a seed in its beak,
Passing the field of silvergrass on a mountain.
My shallow roots,
Which were swayed by no more than rain and wind,
Have you ever borne a piece of ruby hot as blood?
Without a jewel to pass on to a bird or a wind,
I pass in front of a pomegranate tree.
Whether I love or hate,
Life merely flows.
Toward where is life—an initiation ceremony—leading to?
The heart too red to believe in an afterlife,
The heart pecked by the bird!

A Will

Joseon*, when I part from you,
Whether you knock me down by a creek
Or yank my blood in the field,
Abuse me more, even my dead corpse.
If this is still not enough,
Then abuse her as much as you can
When someone like me is born henceforth.
Then we, who despise each other, will be parted forever.
Oh, you ferocious place, you ferocious place.

*Joseon (1392-1897) was a dynasty in Korea that preceded the Korean Empire (1897-1910). Even after the fall of the dynasty, its name was frequently used to refer to Korean peninsula.

Battle

There was an old soldier
Who plowed a field with his weapon
For he was injured all over from long battles
And thus hated fighting in battles.

But the furrows were unyielding
And the landlord was vicious,
So there was no harvest
Even after sowing and weeding.

So, one day, the old soldier,
Was paralyzed in sleep like a shooting rifle,
Stifled by heavy thoughts.

Oh, how strange—this soldier,
While sleeping after dumping his weapon,
Died with bruises all over his body
As if he fought in his dream.

People turned their heads.
There are battles whether you are awake or asleep,
So being alive and dead must be the same.
Saying so, each of them tensed both arms.

In the Glass Coffin

Today, I withstood agony again,
Because my life is still lingering,
Trapped in scarcely visible sorrow.
If my body is trapped
Like the life of a dinky, dinky thing,
What is with all this sorrow, this pain?
Like the bygone prince,
Who had loved the forbidden woman,
I believed I would live if I danced in the glass coffin;
I heard I would live with joy
Even in this dim sorrow,
If I worked, studied, and loved.
And so I have lived in this untrustworthy world.
Now, what shall I do with this suffocating feeling
That is burgeoning in this scarcely visible sorrow?
Stupid I! Stupid I!

Pomegranate & other poems are © Kim Myeong-sun, these translations are © Sean Jido Ahn

2016102000105_0Kim Myeong-sun was born in 1896 in Pyongyang, Korea. She debuted in 1917 when her short story A Girl in Doubt appeared in Youth [Chungchun]. In 1919, while she was studying abroad in Tokyo, she joined Korea’s first literary circle Creation [Changjo], which is reputed as the harbinger of modern Korean literary style. She published her first book of poems The Fruit of Life in 1925, which is also the first book of poems published by a Korean woman. Kim was known as quinti-lingual, and she introduced works of Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Baudelaire to Korean readers for the first time.

Along with a literary movement, Kim was also a central figure in feminism movement of her time. She argued that the world would achieve peace rather than war if women could play a major role in sociopolitics. Moreover, she openly supported free love, and her practice of free love subjected Kim to severe criticism. The fact she was a date rape victim and a daughter of a courtesan hardened the criticism, even among the writers who were close to her. After she fled to Tokyo in 1939, her mental health exacerbated due to extreme financial hardship, failed relationship, and ongoing criticism, and Kim spent rest of her life in Aoyama psychiatric hospital in Tokyo. While her year of death is known to be 1951, this date is not officially verified.

A note about the translator

Sean Jido Ahn is a literature student and a translator residing in Massachusetts, USA. His main focus is Korean to English translation, and he has translated a documentary, interviews, journal articles, and literary pieces. Currently, he runs a poetry translation blog AhnTranslation  and plans to publish the first edition of a literary translation quarterly for Korean literature in fall 2017.

“Pair Bond” and other poems by Barbara Smith

Gwion’s Birthday

 
Today I bought your birthday presents:
what you wanted and what I wanted
for you: new clothes and an Xbox game.
Back across the stretch of thirteen years
I reach for the time you nearly didn’t make it
past your first: listless, sleeping on the sofa,
an infection deep within your bronchioles,
a third visit to the doctor for a letter
to admit you, a sweating wait outside the room
while they tried to insert a cannulae – twice –
and put in a drip before your isolation
on the fifth floor with a window-whistling view
of the graveyard and our home beyond. It was
two days before your hands reached up to mine.
 
The Angels’ Share (Doghouse Books, 2012)

Achieving the Lotus Gait

 
In winter, the uphill path to Madame Xing’s
is treacherous. I watch for loose
stones among the grey brown gravel
 
and the birds are almost silent
as each step quarries me,
wincing on wooden pattens.
 
Madame unravels yards of stinking cotton
from my feet and her thorough thumbs
knead them from numbness,
 
She honours my feet with warmed water
loosening shedding skin,
trims each bruised nail to the quick.
 
She rebinds each foot in cotton lengths
soaked in herbs and animal blood.
A neat figure-of-eight turns
 
over instep, gathers toes, under foot
and round the heel, each pass tighter
than the last. And then my thoughts
 
cringe homewards, as I totter out under
a brittle moon; my own weight
crushing each foot into the correct shape.
 
Shortlisted Basil Bunting Poetry Competition, 2009
The Angels’ Share (Doghouse Books, 2012)
 

Pair Bond

dedicated to Dolly Parton
 
The talk in the bar lulls a half-time fill:
as I knife scrape the head from another pint,
he hovers, pocket-foothering his change.
 
Steadying for the ask, he addresses
my full frontals, my baby buggy bumpers,
my Brad Pitts, my boulders, my billabongs,
 
my squashy cushions, my soft-focus bristols,
my motherly bosoms, my matronly bulk,
my Mickey and Minnie, my Monica
 
Lewinskis, my Isaac Newtons,
my snow tyres, my speed bumps, my Tweedle Twins,
my milk-makers, my Mobutus, my num-nums,
 
my Pia Zadoras, my Pointer Sisters,
my honkers, my hooters, my hubcaps, my hummers,
my Eartha Kitts, my Eisenhowers,
 
my Gods milk bottles, my Picasso cubes,
my chesticles, my cha-chas, my coconuts,
my dairy pillows, my devil’s dumplings,
 
my objectified orbs, my über-boobs,
my one-parts Lara, my two-parts globe,
my skywards pips, my lift and separate,
 
my airbags, my feeders, my mammy glands,
my Bob and Ray, my big bouncing Buddhas,
my sweater stretchers, my sweet potatoes,
 
my rosaceous rotors, my trusty rivets,
my melliferous melons, my mau-maus,
my tarty, my taut, my pert palookas,
 
my jahoobies, my kicking kawangas,
my agravic gobstoppers, my immodest maids,
my Scooby Snacks, my squished-in shlobes,
 
my cupcakes, my soda breads, my bloomin’ baps,
my brilliant bangers, my brash bazookas,
my windscreen wipers, my Winnebagos,
 
my wopbopaloubop, wopbopalous,
my yahoos, my yazoos and yipping yin-yangs,
my paps, my pips, my pommes-de-terres,
 
my pushed-up, plunged-down, paraded balcony,
my slow reveal, my instant appeal,
my décolletage, my fool’s mirage,
 
and I watch him pay up, steady up and leave.
 
The Angels’ Share (2012, Doghouse) also frequently performed with The Poetry Divas.
Published in Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot, 2012.
 

Summiting

 
You must know the end to be convinced
that you can win the end, cool and quiet:
the solemn dome, fine and firm above all
its chasms of ice, its towers and crags,
this thing that all your desire points up to.
Here experience distils the muscle ache
and crystal skies into a bleary memory
of how you gained the top in so many days.
The conquered enemy is but ourselves.
Success means nothing here. Kingdoms of rock,
air, snow, and ice, we hold for just the time
it takes to survey in a slow circle,
soberly astonished by our struggle
to master mountains with our own flesh.
 
Mallory Sonnets, The Angels’ Share, 2012. Doghouse books.
Southword Issue 18, 2010.
 

 

barbara-smithBarbara Smith lives in County Louth, Ireland. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University, Belfast. Her achievements include being shortlisted for the UK Smith/Doorstop Poetry Pamphlet competition 2009, a prize-winner at Scotland’s 2009 Wigtown Poetry Competition, and recipient of the Annie Deeny 2009/10 bursary awarded by the Tyrone Guthrie Centre for Artists and Writers, Ireland. Her first collection, Kairos, was published by Doghouse Books in 2007 and a second followed in 2012, The Angels’ Share. She is a frequent reader with the Poetry Divas, a collective that read at festivals such as Electric Picnic.

‘Moving Like Anemones’ and other poems by Lorna Shaugnessy

Crystal

 
The blower adds breath to heat,
turns and blows within the mould
until he finds precise form.
Molten glass vibrates.
It takes ten years
to learn how deep you can cut
before the glass shatters,
how deep you have to go
to catch the light.
Mistakes pile up
waiting for the furnace,
a second chance,
instability anchored
by the weight of lead.
 

Río Tinto

 
We cannot enter the Roman graveyard.
The gates are padlocked and chained
so we press our faces to the wire,
squint at the skewed angles of mossed stones,
the departed minions of enterprise and empire.
Behind us the mines, where pulleys and sidings
punctuate strata of centuries-old endeavour.
Rock and mineral are bared in russets and ochres
too raw for peopled places. Their cratered wounds
fill with water so deep you could drown there.
Today is Sunday. In the high, hushed
absence of trucks to rumble up the hill
we try to hear beneath the wind,
listen for the sound of stone,
touch the injured past, its fissured heat.
 

Moving Like Anemones

(Belfast, 1975)
 
I
 
I cannot recall if you met me off the school bus
but it was winter, and dark in the Botanic Gardens
as we walked hand in hand to the museum.
Too young for the pub, in a city of few neutral spaces
this was safe, at least, and warm.
The stuffed wolfhound and polar-bear were no strangers,
nor the small turtles that swam across the shallow pool
where we tossed pennies that shattered our reflected faces.
We took the stairs to see the mummy
but I saw nothing, nothing at all, alive
only to the touch of your fingers seeking mine,
moving like anemones in the blind depths.
 
II
 
Disco-lights wheeled overhead,
we moved in the dark.
Samba pa ti, a birthday request,
the guitar sang pa mí, pa ti
and the world melted away:
the boys who stoned school buses,
the Head Nun’s raised eyebrow.
Neither ignorant nor wise,
we had no time to figure out
which caused more offence,
our religions or the four-year gap between us.
I was dizzy with high-altitude drowning,
that mixture of ether and salt,
fourteen and out of my depth.
 
III
 
The day was still hot when we stepped
into cool, velvet-draped darkness.
I wore a skirt of my sister’s from the year before
that swung inches above cork-wedged sandals.
You were all cheesecloth and love-beads.
I closed my eyes in surrender
to the weight of your arm on my shoulders,
the tentative brush of your fingers
that tingled on my arm, already flushed
by early summer sun.
Outside the cinema I squinted,
strained to adjust to the light
while you stretched your long limbs like a cat.
You were ripe for love and knew it;
I blushed and feared its burning touch.
 

Dogged

 
The injured past comes back like a mangy dog.
It hangs around, infecting my doorstep with its sores
and the smell of neglect, trips me up when I venture out,
circling my legs, ready for the next casual kick.
If I feed it, it’ll never go away.
If I ignore it, it’ll never leave
but press its scabby skin against the door-pane,
crouch in the corner of my eye, licking its paw,
or cower in the wing-mirror as I drive away
and limp out to meet me when I come back,
loyal and unwelcome as disease.
 

The Watched Phone

 
Her son is out there somewhere
the rain beats his jacket seeps through his jeans
runnels of water travel from nape to chin
 
somewhere out there her son in seeping jacket
beaten from nape to chin
travels through runnels of water
 
out there the rain seeps nape to chin
water runnels down jeans and jacket
her beaten son is travelling
 
he seeps through jeans and jacket
runnelling out somewhere
rain beats
 
water seeps and her son
travels rain-runnelled nape to chin
beaten out
 

Pain has a shaved head

 
and no eyebrows. It stands on one leg,
one foot, the side of one foot,
afraid to take up too much space,
knows the meaning of nothing
and the provisional nature of everything,
knows in a split second it could plunge into something worse
but has no tongue to cry out, only a beak that opens
and closes without sound. The soles of its feet are charred,
toenails thick as claws and a grey-green mould
grows slowly up its legs to bloom in the moist places
of the groin and under arms. Spasms
contort the torso into impossible forms
but its eyes never leave the pitiless ground
that thrusts frangipani, oleander, passiflora,
bird of paradise, hibiscus and royal palm
up and up, relentless,
till the nerve-ends of fronds
touch blue sky.
 
Moving Like Anemones‘ and other poems is © Lorna Shaugnessy

t4_-491194348Lorna Shaughnessy was born in Belfast and lives in Co. Galway, Ireland. She has published three poetry collections, Torching the Brown River, Witness Trees, and Anchored (Salmon Poetry, 2008 and 2011 and 2015), and her work was selected for the Forward Book of Poetry, 2009. Her poems have been published in The Recorder, The North, La Jornada (Mexico) and Prometeo (Colombia), as well as Irish journals such as Poetry Ireland, The SHop and The Stinging Fly. She is also a translator of Spanish and South American Poetry. Her most recent translation was of poetry by Galician writer Manuel Rivas, The Disappearance of Snow (Shearsman Press, 2012), which was shortlisted for the UK Poetry Society’s 2013 Popescu Prize for translation.

“Ceathrúintí Mháire Ní Ógáin” and “A fhir dar fhulaingeas” by Máire Mhac an tSaoi

Máire Mhac an tSaoi poetry Original Irish versions followed by English translations

.

Ceathrúintí Mháire Ní Ógáin

I

Ach a mbead gafa as an líon so –
Is nár lige Dia gur fada san –
B’fhéidir go bhfónfaidh cuimhneamh
Ar a bhfuaireas de shuaimhneas id bhaclainn

Nuair a bheidh arm o chumas guíochtaint,
Comaoine is éiteacht Aifrinn,
Cé déarfaidh ansan nach cuí dhom
Ar ‘shonsa is arm o shon féin achaine?

Ach comhairle idir dhá linn duit,
Ná téir ródhílis in achrann,
Mar go bhfuilimse meáite ar scaoileadh
Pé cuibhreann a snaidhmfear eadrainn.

II

Beagbheann ar amhras daoine,
Beagbheann ar chros na sagart,
Ar gach ní ach bheith sínte
Idir tú agus falla –

Neamhshuim liom fuacht na hoíche,
Neamhshuim liom scríb is fearthainn,
Sa domhan cúng rúin teolaí seo
Ná téann thar fhaobhar na leapan –

Ar a bhfuil romhainn ní smaoinfeam,
Ar a bhfuil déanta cheana,
Linne an uain, a chroí istigh,
Is mairfidh sí go maidin.

III

Achar bliana atáim
Ag luí farat id chlúid,
Deacair anois a rá
Cad leis a raibh mo shúil!

Ghabhais de chosaibh i gcion
A tugadh go fial ar dtúis,
Gan aithint féin féd throigh
Fulaing na feola a bhrúigh!

Is fós tá an creat umhal
Ar mhaithe le seanagheallúint,
Ach ó thost cantain an chroí
Tránn áthas an phléisiúir.

IV

Tá naí an éada ag deol mo chíchse
Is mé ag tál air de ló is d’oíche;
An garlach gránna ag cur na bhfiacal,
Is de nimh a ghreama mo chuisle líonta.

A ghrá, ná maireadh an trú beag eadrainn,
Is a fholláine, shláine a bhí ár n-aithne;
Barántas cnis a chloígh lem chneas airsin,
Is séala láimhe a raibh gach cead aici.

Féach nach meáite mé ar chion a shéanadh,
Cé gur sháigh an t-amhras go doimhin a phréa’chas;
Ar lair dheá-tharraic ná déan éigean,
Is díolfaidh sí an comhar leat ina séasúr féinig.

V

Is éachtach an rud í an phian,
Mar chaitheann an cliabh,
Is ná tugann faoiseamh ná spás
Ná sánas de ló ná d’oíche’ –

An té atá i bpéin mar táim
Ní raibh uaigneach ná ina aonar riamh,
Ach ag iompar cuileachtan de shíor
Mar bhean gin féna coim.

VI

‘Ní chodlaím istoíche’ –
Beag an rá, ach an bhfionnfar choíche
Ar shúile oscailte
Ualach na hoíche?

VII

Fada liom anocht!
Do bhí ann oíche
Nárbh fhada faratsa –
Dá leomhfainn cuimhneamh.

Go deimhin níor dheacair san.
An ród a d’fhillfinn –
Dá mba cheadaithe
Tréis aithrí ann.

Luí chun suilt
Is éirí chun aoibhnis
Siúd ba cheachtadh dhúinn –
Dá bhfaigheann dul siar air.

Cathrúintí Mháire Ní Ógáin from, Margadh na Saoire. Dublin: Sairseal agus Dill, 1956, 1971.

Mary Hogan’s quatrains

I

O to be disentangled from this net –
And may God not let that be long –
Perhaps the memory will help
Of all the ease I had in your arms.

When I shall have the ability to pray,
Take communion and hear Mass,
Who will say then that it is not seemly
To intercede on yours and on my behalf?

But meanwhile my advice to you,
Don’t get too firmly enmeshed,
For I am determined to let loose
Whatever bond between us is tied.

II

I care little for people’s suspicions,
I care little for priests’ prohibitions,
For anything save to lie stretched
Between you and the wall –

I am indifferent to the night’s cold,
I am indifferent to the squall or rain,
When in this warm narrow secret world
Which does not go beyond the edge of the bed –

We shall not contemplate what lies before us,
What has already been done,
Time is on our side, my dearest,
And it will last til morning.

III

For the space of a year I have been
Lying with you in your embrace,
Hard to say now
What I was hoping for!

You trampled on love,
That was freely given at first,
Unaware of the suffering
Of the flesh you crushed under foot.

And yet the flesh is willing
For the sake of an old familiar pledge,
But since the heart’s singing has ceased
The joy of pleasure ebbs.

IV

The child of jealousy is sucking my breast,
While I nurse it day and night;
The ugly brat is cutting teeth,
My veins throb with the venom of its bite.

My love, may the little wretch not remain between us,
Seeing how healthy and full was our knowledge of each other;
It was a skin warranty that kept us together,
And a seal of hand that knew no bounds.

See how I am not determined to deny love,
Though doubt has plunged its roots deep;
Do not force a willing mare,
And she will recompense you in her own season.

V

Pain is a powerful thing,
How it consumes the breast,
It gives no respite day or night,
It gives no peace or rest –

Anyone who feels pain like me,
Has never been lonely or alone,
But is ever bearing company
Like a pregnant woman, in her womb.

VI

‘I do not sleep at night’ –
Of no account, but will we ever know
With open eyes
The burden of the night?

VII

Tonight seems never-ending!
There was once such a night
Which with you was not long –
Dare I call to mind.

That would not be hard, for sure,
The road on which I would return –
If it were permitted
After repentance.

Lying down for joy
And rising to pleasure
That is what we practised –
If only I could return to it.

Translation by James Gleasure.

Cathrúintí Mháire Ní Ógáin from, Margadh na Saoire. Dublin: Sairseal agus Dill, 1956, 1971.


A fhir dar fhulaingeas…

A fhir dar fhulaingeas grá fé rún,
Feasta fógraím an clabhsúr:
Dóthanach den damhsa táim,
Leor mo bhabhta mar bhantráill

Tuig gur toil liom éirí as,
Comhraím eadrainn an costas:
‘Fhaid atáim gan codladh oíche
Daorphráinn orchra mh’osnaíle

Goin mo chroí, gad mo gháire,
Cuimhnigh, a mhic mhínáire,
An phian, an phláigh, a chráigh mé,
Mo dhíol gan ádh gan áille.

Conas a d’agróinnse ort
Claochló gréine ach t’amharc,
Duí gach lae fé scailp dhaoirse –
Malairt bhaoth an bhréagshaoirse!

Cruaidh an cás mo bheith let ais,
Measa arís bheith it éagmais;
Margadh bocht ó thaobh ar bith
Mo chaidreamh ortsa, a óigfhir.

Man for whom I endured…

Man, for whom I suffered love
In secret, I now call a halt.
I’ll no longer dance in step.
Far too long I’ve been enthralled.

Know that I desire surcease,
Reckon up what love has cost
In racking sighs, in blighted nights
When every hope of sleep is lost.

Harrowed heart, strangled laughter;
Though you’re dead to shame, I charge you
With my luckless graceless plight
And pain that plagues me sorely.

Yet, can I blame you that the sun
Darkens when you are in sight?
Until I’m free each day is dark –
False freedom to swap day for night!

Cruel my fate, if by your side.
Crueller still, if set apart.
A bad bargain either way
To love you or to love you not.

Translated by Biddy Jenkinson.

maireMáire Mhac an tSaoi (born 4 April 1922) is one of the most acclaimed and respected Irish language scholars, poets, writers and academics of modern literature in Irish. Along with Seán Ó Ríordáin and Máirtín Ó Direáin she is, in the words of Louis de Paor, ‘one of a trinity of poets who revolutionised Irish language poetry in the 1940s and 50s. (Wiki)

These poems are published courtesy of Micheal O’Conghaile at Cló Iar-Chonnachta. My thanks to The O’Brien Press for dealing so swiftly with my queries regarding sharing some poetry and translations by Máire Mhac an tSaoi.

Thanks to Bridget Bhreathnach at Cló Iar-Chonnachta for providing the physical copies of Mhac an tSaoi’s poetry, and to translators  James Gleasure and Biddy Jenkinson.