Modern Poetry in Translation (MTP)

Volume 15, Issue 1  | 
Published 11/07/2018

One Thousand Suns: Focus on the Languages of Africa (Issue No 2. 2016)

Publ: Modern Poetry in Translation Limited

Reviewer: Njuki Githethwa

The Magazine Modern Poetry in Translation (MTP) was founded in 1965 in London by Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort. They both shared a belief in the power of translation and of poetry to improve the world and bring its peoples to a closer understanding of each other. MPT sprang into being during the Cold War. Its main imperative was to publish the poetry of the Eastern European poets, poets who were in some cases suffering exile and prison for their writing. The Magazine has been in print ever since, more than 50 years, bringing new ways of writing and  thinking into the English language, and changing how we see the world.

From 2013, the magazine has been issued three times a year. Besides continuing to publish the very best of world poetry in translation, each issue has a short focus or a ‘thread’ around the poetry from similar cultures. The issue under review is the first in the history of this magazine to have a focus on the poetry from the languages of Africa.

The lead title of this issue – One Thousand Suns – is from the poem Maro by Mama Seck Mbacke, a poet from Senegal:

One Thousand suns, sleeping with the smile of the Beloved!

Ten Thousand sighs upon the mouth of the Beloved!

My melodious flute your voice, take my hand

Maro! Guide me beyond the pathways of horns.

There are various other Poets originating in Africa who are featured in this issue, including Gitahi Gititi, a poet from Kenya currently based at the University of Rhode Island. Gitahi has two poems in this collection: Where I was born and Chief Crocodile. The poems have been translated from Gikuyu by a fellow Kenyan, Chege Githiora from the University of London SOAS.  In Where I was born, Gitahi vividly captures nostalgia and the yearning for ‘home’. But Gitahi is not just longing for a lost past, his masterly use of language through deployment of metaphor, word play and humour links his work to traditional oral artistry of the Agikuyu people, such as the dialogic poetry form known as Gicandi. Chief Crocodile captures the resentment of the people to chiefs whose roles have not changed much in the neo-colony as agents and enforcers of colonial rule, oppressive authority, exploitation and corruption.

Inua Ellams, the poet from Nigeria, points in this issue to Sheng, the language in Kenya which is a mixture of Swahili, English, Gujarati and other local languages. He compares Sheng to Nigeria’s Pidgin English, spoken by over 50 million Nigerians, as the lingua franca of ‘immediate vicinity’, of the lower and working classes and for those exploring alternative frontiers of expression.

Translating poetry from African languages, observes Recaredo Silebo Boturu, the poet from Equatorial Guinea, removes the stumbling block that have ‘made us feel that we are small’ – the lie we have bought. He argues that ‘we must believe and truly demonstrate that we are immense and grand’.  

But this issue is not only focused on poetry from African languages. There are poets from other parts of the world such as Jane Draycott with a poem titled The Occupant, drawn from scenes proposed but left unwritten in Awater, the great modernist poem by Martinus Nijihoff. Other poets from the rest of the world translated in this collection include Anna Loisa Amaral, Admiel Kosman, Joyce Mansour. From Africa there are Recaredo Silebo Boturu, Agnes Agboton, Inua Ellams, Bedilu Wakjira, among others.

Geet Chaturvedi, the renowned Hindi poet and Novelist, in a poem translated for this collection by Anita Gopalan writes fondly about the sea:

The sea is a lover, most forgiving. Every moment he forgives the waves receding from behind him and includes them again into him. Love is to let go. Love is also to accept the ones who have returned.

The translated poems in this collection continue to affirm the importance of poetry in the modern world or as Fergal Keane puts it, the ‘civilizing power of poetry’. The collection brings the best new translations, essays and reviews that address such characteristic signs of our times as exile, the movement of peoples, the search for asylum, and the speaking of languages outside their native home.

As observed by the outgoing editor of MTP, Sasha Dugdale, the magazine continues to provide a new impetus to the ‘understanding of poetry as a means of both withstanding and transcending the horrors of our times’. Incoming Editor of MTP, Clare Pollard, puts this even better: ‘Without translation, we are muting most of the world. This matters for our politics, our planet, but also our poetry, which becomes formulaic and complacent.’ Ultimately, the struggle to forget is ironically another way of remembering.

Last modified on Wednesday, 11 July 2018 19:05

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