Friday 19 February 2010

Translations as collaborations

A few months ago I mentioned how Jorge Luis Borges collaborated on many of the translations of his work into English. In fact, my reading of his work has always been informed by comparisons between the originals and the English-language versions that he wrote with Norman Thomas di Giovanni.

However, I was unaware of the legal dispute that ensued following Borges' death and which has led to those collaborative translations, new works in their own right and incredible perspectives on Borges' creative processes, being taken out of print. This article from The Guardian provides some more background to the story.

Translations normally have a pretty short shelf life, but di Giovanni's work with Borges falls into a completely different category. I view it as fundamental for all readers of the Argentinian's prose and poetry, even in the original Spanish, bearing in mind the extra angle and often provocative light that these specific translations provide. There seems to be a constant dialogue between the English and the Spanish if you read them in tandem.

At least they're still available on the second-hand market, which is where I got hold of my copies. I thoroughly recommend them above the current (albeit very competent) Penguin Borges, simply because they're superb examples of translations as collaborations.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Alistair Maclean

Dick Francis' death a few days ago has led to a number of reference in the press and blogs to Larkin's love of his work. However, my attention was drawn more to an article by John Crace in The Guardian, titled "How Dick Francis helped me through adolescence".

In my case the author in question was Alistair Maclean. I had sprinted through Blyton, etc, and started scavenging my parents' bookshelves for something even slightly more salacious yet not censored by them! I was already feeling the slow-building oppression of suburban Surrey and found an escape route in Maclean's thrillers.

I was pretty much immediately aware of the author's wonky attitude to women, paper-thin characterisation and clunky dialogue, but his overwhelming attribute for this teenage reader was pace. His books didn't let me switch off and drift, thus ensuring I didn't suspend my disbelief.

Even now, at times of stress, hangover or tiredness, I find myself turning to a Maclean novel, ready to read it through for the umpteenth time in the sure knowledge that it will lift me out of my immediate context. My writer's mindset finds it ever more difficult to read fiction, yet Maclean is still a refuge, a chance for me to rewind twenty years and shake off my acquired prejudices for a couple of hours.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Update to my Blog List

I've updated my blog list today to reflect recent developments. Here's some background to a couple of blogs that have caught my eye and thus been included.

It's always good to welcome a new poetry blog to the U.K. scene, especially when it's written by a poet whose work I admire. Dan Wyke's Other Lives is still in its infancy, but it's definitely worth keeping an eye on. Dan's first full collection is being brought out by Waterloo in the coming months and I've a firm feeling it's going to be one of this year's most intriguing debuts.

Michelle McGrane's Peony Moon, meanwhile, has become an excellent resource for readers of British poetry, including reviews, interviews and snippets from forthcoming collections. A number of poets have come onto my radar thanks to her work. All this and she's not even based on these shores!

Sunday 7 February 2010

Valle-Inclán and his esperpento

Ramón María del Valle-Inclán (1866-1936) was an exceptional playwright. In my opinion he surpassed Lorca in his theatrical craft and innovation.

So why isn't he renowned as such in the U.K.? A major reason is the difficulty involved in staging his plays: incredibly visual scenes are combined with stage directions that include everything from social comment to emotional and metaphysical reflections on characters! In other words, Valle-Inclán was bridging genres, creating works that lose something when read and something else when staged.

To the wider Spanish public, however, Valle-Inclán is synonymous with one word - el esperpento. What's more, he single-handedly changed its meaning. Originally an insult indicating a person or event's ridiculous nature, Valle-Inclán used the term to define a type of theatre and moreover a society, stating:

"El sentido trágico de la vida española sólo puede ofrecerse con una estética sistemáticamente deformada"

"The tragic sense of Spanish life can only be depicted with a systematically deformed aesthetic"

He developed el esperpento via plays such as Luces de Bohemia to such an extent that audiences and readers began to understand it as an interpretation (encompassed in a single word) of Spain's grotesque social structures and consequent tragic events. Its ramifications grew further following Valle-Inclán's death - the Civil War and Franco's dictatorship a tragic embodiment of el esperpento.

Even these days, my Spanish friends and colleagues bemoan el esperpento that's still played out on a regular basis in offices and homes all over the country. We all know what we mean when referring to the term. This is an incredible achievement on the part of Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, a playwright who deserves far greater recognition in the English-speaking world.

Thursday 4 February 2010


Sad news earlier this week that Rob Mackenzie is suspending activities on his Surroundings blog.

Surroundings has been one of the most interesting blogs on the U.K. poetry scene these past few years and is packed with reviews of collections and mags, comments on poetry news and links to lots of dodgy music videos such as the recent Neil Diamond season (I'm a closet fan too!). I thoroughly recommend a browse through its archive.

Monday 1 February 2010

The Plough Prize

My latest news is that one of my poems, Instructions For Coming Home, has won 2nd prize in The Plough Prize Short Category. I'm extremely chuffed!

This year's prize was judged by Alison Brackenbury, a poet I've long admired, so it's especially pleasing to have been selected by her. What's more, her remarks home in on exactly what I'm trying to achieve when I write. My poem and her comments can be found on the Plough Prize website here.