Poetry in Translation

A few years ago my Mom gave me a subscription to Poetry magazine and I always have an issue on my bedside table. It’s hard to keep up! My favorite month is usually April’s Translation Issue. Here are two favorite poems, one from the 2007 edition and one from 2009:

This poem New York is by Valzhyna Mort, a young Belarusian poet:

New York

new york, madame,
is a monument to a city

it is
TA-DA
a gigantic pike
whose scales
bristled up stunned
and what used to be just smoke
found a fire that gave it birth
champagne foam
melted into metal
glass rivers
flowing upwards
and things you won’t tell to a priest
you reveal to a cabdriver
even time is sold out
when to the public’s “wow” and “shhh”
out of a black top hat
a tailed magician
is pulling new york out
by the ears of skyscrapers

Translated from the Belarusian by Franz Wright and Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright
Source: Poetry (April 2007)

This poem Backside is by the Japanese modernist Chika Sagawa (1911-1936):

Backside

Night eats color,
Flower bouquets lose their fake ornaments.
Day falls into the leaves like sparkling fish
And struggles, like the lowly mud,
The shapeless dreams and trees
Nurtured outside this shriveled, deridable despair.
And the space that was chopped down
Tickles the weeds there by its feet.
Fingers stained with tar from cigarettes
Caress the writhing darkness.
And then the people move forward.
Translated from the Japanese by Sawako Nakayasu
Source: Poetry (April 2009)

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