Poetry Practise

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This article contains amateur poetry written in verse (barring the two short ones at the end). I’ve wished to write poetry for quite a long while now, and being part of the BTSB crew gives me the opportunity to actually publish it, as well as the chance to review it at a later date.

Of writing poetry, I have the following to say. Firstly, it is surprisingly difficult. I had four major points to consider; rhythm, metre, rhymes, and general expression of what I wanted to say. For me, I feel as the rhythm was the most difficult aspect (it remains far from natural in what I present in this article) – perhaps this is felt by other ESL speakers and writers as well. Secondly, writing poetry feels weird. I constantly felt like I was, in an indescribable way, pitting myself against someone or something. Lastly, whilst I thought trying my hand at poetry was extremely enjoyable, sometimes I felt like abandoning it all and writing an article about something easier and, more importantly, less personal.

The short verse-snippets in this article tell of the lives (usually in a mocking tone) of the Nine Worthies, a set of heroes named by 14th century French author Jacques de Longuyon. The Nine Worthies include the following characters, listed in order of appearance in this article; Hector of Troy, Julius Caesar, Joshua, King David, Judas Maccabeus, King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon. Alexander the Great is, of course, the 9th Worthy, but I opted not to write about him at this time.

In my poetry, I thought it wise to allude to the KJB and Shakespeare’s works to show off what I had read before. Likewise I found it difficult to resist the opportunity to include puns and wordplay. Unfortunately, these factors might make understanding what I aimed to say difficult – and therefore ruin the poetry. This is somewhat ironic, as I have always thought that reading amateur poetry was annoying specifically for this reason. With that being said, I had fun in trying out poetry, and hopefully you, the reader, might be inspired to give it a go one day.

 

Here we lay our scene, played by writer lone,

accompan’d by nine Princes of ages lost.

Set betwixt mind and map, in realms unknown;

wherein man meets Human, at an untold cost.

Should thou seeketh sorry savoury purpose

for wit-working writ in this-like domain,

know thus: it is jealousy of sweet corpus

given life by Poets born nevermore again.

Righteous removal of hatred and hope

mine noble effort doth aim to achieve,

purposing to will a will: graciously cope

with thine deficits, and thyself not deceive.

An unjoyous task be an unsightly view,

howbeit combined, us ten may our sins subdue.

 

 

Down in the deep darks of Underworld dwelleth thou now, paragon.

Once-worsted warrior, won by Worthy wrath, answer I: wert thou war’s pawn?

Virtue or Vice, venture we to weigh, be Man’s grim glory-greed by nature:

opinions oppos’d ought to cull, ere culling come their feature?

Heracles-hatched held thou not, as title; heroic deeds were-

thy toil to Troy’s tale. Thus, live in legend, lacking mine rage to incur.

 

 

Follow we hence an Ancient with another,

driven to decimate this well-Worthy rank

with cruelty akin to that conferr’d by brother

and heavy heir, whose heart in happy jealousy sank.

Then fall, res publica! no father, mother,

no dictator can truly-taught treachery thank;

bloody betrayal will any bond-breath smother,

right-rooted trust from former-friends’ souls yank.

 

Thy death promis’d propagators prosperity,

power war-won, and Divinity dismal:

most bounteous boons by bandit-business.

Follow’d annihilation of austerity;

th’estate of august Athens’ heirs, turned abysmal-

thy life and reign tainted, by want of wiseness.

 

 

Now after the death of Kaiser, our words spin

backwards in time, speaking of asp y Nun-son,

whose deceitful deeds Worthy-worth, held by his kin-

worth the while, deems only I, of being justly undone:

the tribes of th’Twelve would without thou have won.

O Clandestine conqueror; ill cit-servant;

thy victories aptly amount to Cain and one.

In viperous Vices wert thou fervent,

epithets of these Worthy, bestowed by the observant.

 

 

Comes next not Nero, but an other

of his kind; a sonorous song-writing King,

whose fiery feud with fiendish Foe slayed tother.

A Man hosting Heavenly heart, with offspring

of Greatness well-deserving; to this cling,

since thy sovereign sling better never brought.

Saviour-spawning for, honour thy memory we ought.

 

 

Writ or sang, may be songs of gallant heroes

which here world hath witnessed manifold-

many ascrib’d fame, some reduced to zeroes;

thy name thine ruin foretold, fair friar of old.

Holofernes himself hesitated,

in revealing thy nature and natural-name.

Designated traitor, art thou ill-fated

to suffer the slings and arrows of defame?

Revolting as thine atrocious acts are,

take in this: from Iscariot’s vile will art thou far.

 

 

Dragon-descendant boast thee thy title, bear king;

Lord of the castle, Protector of a table-

grandeur and chagrin both did thy knights thou bring.

Lo! of their fearsome feats tell many a fable.

In stories, yea, unmatched remains thy glory,

as testament to power of the auditory.

Without contest, likewise was fair thy Queen,

whose affairs arduous were deemed obscene.

Fine a match in matrimony; thou and her!

save there a sea of spears had between thee been.

Myth equal the merits of eager exertion, Sir.

 

Tedious tales of warlocks, and Knights Green

may – perchance – fail to entertain those keen.

What is fiction? but display of smoke and air;

as Revels are ended, what remains on Scene?

Myth equal the merits of eager exertion, Sir.

 

 

Emperor.

mannered King

conquering, uniting, governing.

Inviolable, untouchable a ruler.

Father.

 

 

Of Bouillon hail thou, good God-Fear,

King of Jerusalem! oh dear!

Renouncing the title,

thought our man vital;

but he died after a single year.

 

La Mer

BTSB la mer

She was brought up by the sea

her mind was the ocean, easily upset

fierce now, calm in an hour

her hair was made of the salt

straws, shadowing her complexion

raw, like the little rocks on the coast

not yet softened by the waves.

 

She found her core in the sea

her spine was the breakwater

her heart the shipwreck far out

her arms the eternal to and fro

her meaning on the crest of waves

her wisdom the salted blow of cold

that whistles in brave boys’ ears

on the coast

her heart, in wooden pieces.

 

She found her love in the sea

she saw it in the black mirrors that

she threw away, back, away, back

she felt it in the white froth

she smashed apart, back, apart, back

she heard it in the deep waters

she wept afraid, not – afraid, not.

 

She grew up in the ocean

her breath the blasting of tidal waves

her joy bright colours in the shallow waters

her pain caught in the drops wind delivers

to the hardened shoulders of the coast

her feet, tangled in a lock of seaweed.

 

There she was

drowning, but there was home

in the lightless freeze of the ocean,

in the sinking grip of the sand,

in the everlasting tie of the algae;

there were wild whispers of the salt

there were stories sung by the whales

there were rhymes cracked by the pebbles

there were taming beats of the seagull;

there lived she her eyes locked,

lit up

like the lighthouse on the coast.

I’ve Caught A Case Of The Feels

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My hands are sweaty,

My heart beats too fast (not fluttering like the wings of a bird but

thumping like stones being thrown into water).

My chest is tightening,

The breath being sucked out (a rude interruption to such a familiar

rhythm but it wakes me).

My skin is sizzling,

Something moves under the surface (a rush of warm

floods as something spiky).

My eyes are open,

Everything is precise ( but I can’t see a thing because I’m

looking through a window of smoke).

I’m afraid, he says, You’ve caught a case of the Feels

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[untitled]

1 Green leaves were gilded by the waning day
   The Titan falling from his crimson spire
   The road seemed strange, I couldn’t see the way
   Dim whispers in the air: ”You’ll taste my ire.
   You will find your self aflame in a pyre.”
   The trees around murmured, branches all scythes:
   ”Be this your last wind and for you to tire.
   See him all weary, see him as he writhes?”
   Trees all over enclosing, barren of light’s blithes.

2 Then I saw a light of bright white colour
   It became many as my mind grew grim.
   I watched them float having lost my valor,
   Heard high voices flying, singing their hymn
   Moving so swiftly, taken by a whim.
   I tried to flank the source of light and flee,
   My head being hazed, my faint light falling dim.
   What be this night, what are these beings I see?
   Are these lights my pestilence, a sanction to me?

3 The air grew heavy with sound’s gleeful paint
   I could see colourful sparks beneath clouds
   Darkened night sky, all the stars fallen faint
   Feeling wond’rous dolours wrapped in your shrouds
   Your memories coming to me in crowds.
   A choir singing, escaping from my wounds
   That swell swirl of colourful silent louds,
   This fanfare of stark monotonous sounds!
   From afar I could hear the moaning of the mounds

4 Spark came to me and said ’twas a fairie
   A revenant from the days of old passion
   My eyes too dark and my heart too dreary
   And my soul devoid of life’s compassion
   The faeries around falling down ashen.
   In frail twilight there were dreams to borrow
   Things the Titan couldn’t start to ration:
   Such swirling pillars of scarlet sorrow,
   Your primrose sunrise waking to see tomorrow!

Scribbles from a Leather-Bound Notebook

 

Inka Vappula (c)

Inka Vappula (c)

1.

Come up for air (you said)

the world’s brighter here.

Dive to the depths (I said)

the world’s a mystery there.

 

And so we lived, diving off

cliffs in exhilaration

Climbing back up to feel

the sun kiss our shoulders,

caress our cheeks.

 

2.

Forty-two beats each

And every minute

 

Sixty-six million

a few thousand more

 

passed us by,

 

but now, but now

my head, your chest

 

low chuckles

and I count

 

them.

 

 

3.

In haunting, unwalked paths

lies the burden of choice.

If’s and rather’s

accompany the night.

Taunt is their pleasure

stagnation their aim,

menaces, determined

but unskilled

 

To live is to choose

And I tie balloons

 

To burdens.

 

 

 

4.

At the sight of the distant mountains

I want to run away.

Too high, too new, too big,

I thought I

Won’t face today.

 

Then a gush of wind blew

A soft and soothing song it sang

With a shift, sway and tiny swirl

The dance of reeds began.

 

Mountains faded into a blur,

Future conquests, distant toils

Today I’ll learn from smaller things

Lessons the dance uncoils.

 

I’ll reach the mountain’s aging roots

Pockets filled with many a thing

Of lessons heard and lessons learned

In the tiny detailing.

 

 

A Cheerful Note on Literary Translation

St Jerome wasn't the most prolific with Latin-to-Finnish.

Seven Finnish housewives wave paperbacks at each other. The mood in this little house in a forested suburb of Seattle is elevated, as are voices. We’re discussing the hottest new literature out of Finland. My Finnish teacher has invited me to her book club to meet Lola Rogers, my favorite Finnish to English literary translator. She’s translates Sofi Oksanen and Riikka Pulkkinen’s work. I kinda idolize her. Even if I’m dreaming of the day I won’t need her work to access the literature I love. Even if I’m scheming about having her job.

“You want to translate?” she asks. “Oh good. There’s a little boom in Finnish literature right now. And there are only, uh let’s see… maybe five of us translating to English. I think we got three Finnish novels published in America this year, and that’s on top of the Leena Lehtolainens. But if we have more translators, maybe we can keep this going.”

St Jerome wasn't the most prolific with Finnish-to-Latin.

St Jerome wasn’t the most prolific with Finnish-to-Latin translations.

Rogers doesn’t seem overexcitable by nature, but even my beginners interest in translation has her in the grips of enthusiasm. She says it took her ten years of constant study before she felt she could translate. Don’t give up, she says.

Now, after five years of intensive study and a stack of Finnish novels half navigated, I begin to suspect that tens years is an optimistic estimate. But I won’t give up. How could I, faced with the plethora of freaky, awesome novels published in Finnish every year? When I read a Finnish novel, how can I not engage in the submarine process that is reconciling the expressive quirks of my mother tongue with an aesthetic code shaped by a wildly different grammar? How can I resist something so mind expandingly fun?

Every literary translator I’ve spoken with emphasizes joy, if not expressly then by simply overflowing with it whenever the topic of translation comes up. So what’s with the tendency to write about literary translation within the rhetoric of the hopeless battle?

Books from Finland, an English language blog of Finnish literature, has run articles asking “Why translate?” and “A thankless task?” Over at The Finnish-English Literary Translation Cooperative a headline retorts “Translation, Pleasure and Responsibility.

The rejoinder is familiar, but expected as it is, literary translation is often negatively framed. As a rhetorical move, it’s just too easy. It’s a shitty, swiftly encountered fact that you will make a substantially heftier paycheck mopping floors than translating literature. Just as swiftly you will encounter a small but rabid pack of moonlighters and hobbyists, who like nothing better than to pour hours of their free time into transiting meaning, transposing voice, and transforming style.

“It’s just a hobby project,” my friend assures me. She’s translating a Finnish fantasy novel into German. Working and attending university full time, she translates a couple of paragraphs each day in the wee hours before bed. “After all, I’m not being paid,” she tempers her excitement with modesty. The novel is something interesting she found, the work of an acquaintance that she feels ought to be read more widely. Its translation rights have yet to be sold. In the end, her work will be a gift to the author. Still, she describes the novel to me happily, noting cultural sticking points and proposing then rejecting a string of solutions with outright pleasure.

Her joy echoes the happiness I’ve experienced nitpicking with ten other translators-in-training whether “chunks,” “sheets,” or perhaps poetically “tattered scraps” best describes how the sleet slips over a the windshield of a moving car in Leena Krohn’s clause “rännän riekaleet liukuivat pitkin tuulilasia.”

A challenge is fun. Translation requires the translator to distill meaning and aesthetic along as many dimensions as she can access in order to reformulate them in a way that is clear and true in the target language. But every language opens dimensions all its own.

After four years of studying Japanese as well as the language’s history and literature, I felt I had immersed myself sufficiently in this very different ethos and aesthetic to translate a collection of ten deathbed haikus. Just 30 lines — I was at it for two months. I produced an essay’s worth of notes. Because Japanese is written in kanji, each character containing or recalling multiple other characters, tiny poems unfold suggestively on a visual dimension that the roman alphabet simply does not access. For example, adding one stroke to the character for ‘painful, tough’ gives the character for ‘happy, lucky.’ Though in a sentence a word might clearly read “lucky,” on the visual dimension there will be pain lurking.

“Translating poetry is natural, claims Tarja Roinila; it is a continuation of writing it, for works of poetry are not finished, self-sufficient products.” So opens another Books from Finland Article, this one pondering the conflict of sound and meaning that arises when trying to translate Finnish poetry that embraces the synthetic nature of the language with words like valokupolikiihko, “light-cupola-ecstasy” perhaps or “éxtasis-cúpula de luz” as the author settles, into an analytic language like Spanish.

Nothing written is really ever finished. To read is to interpret, to spool new meanings out of yourself on the wheel of language. For a close reader, as translators inevitably are, an engaging work practically cries out that you continue writing it. The voice of a good author can inspire you to improvise on their tune. It can make you long to share it with others. They say a foreign language opens new vistas, but more vast and beautiful are the vistas that open in the congruence of two tongues.

Freshman Haikus

BTSB has received leaked information on the results of the SUBlympics this orientation week! The freshmen were asked to compose double haikus, summing up their feelings of their first days as university students. Without further ado, here they are, these autumnal buds of poetic genius:

Everything is new
What the fuck is happening
The hell should I know

So many people
I can’t remember their names
Nothing more to say

We are so confused
Tired after the day’s walks
We just want to rest

Pants moist from the grass
The mighty Norpat rises
To a new challenge”

I am not yet drunk
Therefore asking me to write
A haiku is wrong

Confused as I was
I am sure our tutors will
Help me get wasted

Where the fuck am I
Is there anyone who cares
The tutors perhaps

The teachers perhaps
No, they just want to get drunk
But hey, so do I

Poem: Winter’s approach

Winter’s approach

Autumn is finally here
the leaves are falling off trees
the birds are fleeing the country
her shivering morning breeze
feels cold on your nose and cheeks
the red color on your face
is the first sign of Winter
the approaching white figure
the gloomy one of the two sisters
Soon she will come from the North
she shall step down from her throne
to bring the snow to our land
she shall freeze the rivers and the sea
and take as captive
all nature’s bright colors
to be replaced
with different shades of white
she will put a spell on all the land
and we will slumber a hundred years
until once again we shall be awaken
when the sons of Spring
shall question her rule
and the ageless Sun
will warm us again.