Sunday, February 24, 2013

DOLWYDDELAN: PEDWAR CERDDI

With St. David's Day just around the corner (March 1), I thought it might be fun to translate my four Dolwyddelan poems into Welsh.  The poems are, after all, inspired and set in Wales, and in the part of Wales in which Welsh is more likely to be heard on the streets.  Given that my Welsh is extremely rusty and, well, almost non-existent except for the most basic phrases, these translations relied heavily on my Welsh-English dictionary, Y Geiriadur Mawr (The Big Dictionary) and the University of Wales Trinity St. David's on-line Welsh-English dictionary, available at http://www.geiriadur.net/.  I checked the accuracy of my translations using IM Translator's on-line translator, running the English-to-Welsh translations and then the Welsh-to-English translations through the tool.  The translator is available at http://imtranslator.net/translation/welsh/to-english/translation/.  Any inaccuracies in translation are, of course, my own.  The English versions were posted on February 18.

As with any translation process, some textual changes were necessary to render the original English words and phrases into Welsh.  For instance, in the first poem the phrase "weekenders from England" didn't translate very well into Welsh mainly because I couldn't find any Welsh word similar to "weekender" (perhaps there's also no British-English equivalent).  In the Welsh version of the poem, the line becomes "Saeson ar wyliau/English on holiday."  Given the context, those words convey the same meaning.  The translation process also made me think about specific words used in the English originals.  I used the word "brood" in reference to the mountain, Moel Siabod, that overlooks Dolwyddelan. In the process of trying to translate that phrase and the scene, I could not find an appropriate word in Welsh-- all possible choices referred to more to worrying, stubbornness, and hatching (as in chicks).  This made me rethink the use of the word "brood"-- can a mountain actually "brood?"  Mountains don't actually do anything, but I did want to convey some feeling of the mountain overlooking the village in more than merely a static sense.  So, I changed the word to "watches"-- not perfect, but better (for the moment).  Also, the word "dour" in the fourth poem didn't translate well, which was a bit of a surprise since it is particularly apt for describing just about everything Welsh.  I couldn't find a direct English-to-Welsh translation for "dour" perhaps because the word is Scottish.  As it turns out, finding a Welsh word for "dour" is kind of like trying to find a good Inuit word for "snow," and so the Welsh version of the poem loses the repetition of the word "dour," but gains descriptive depth (maybe I should revise the English version).  In this same sequence of lines, "brooding people" in the fourth poem becomes (in Welsh) "stubborn (or obdurate) people."


DOLWYDDELAN

Mae'r pentref hynafol
yn y ddol y sant Gwyddelig,
unwaith yn gartref i dywysogion Gwynedd--
y brig o hesb o Moel Siabod
gwylio dros dai carreg lwyd
lliw yr awyr Cymru,
yn awr cartref i gymudwyr
a Saeson ar wyliau.


YN YR ARDD BWTHYN GWENALLT

Mae'r haul y prynhawn
drwy dwll byr
yn y cymylau llwyd llechi.
Yr wyf yn rhoi i lawr fy llyfr
ac yn amsugno pob molecwl
o olau a des.

Yn yr ardd y tu ol bwythyn
gwrando ar y nant,
dal i fod yn llawn o'r bore glaw,
rwy'n wylio'r haul noswaith
goleuo'r y cymylau dros Moel Siabod.


MOEL SIABOD

Rydyn ni'n dysgu ychydig o bethau
am ei gilydd
ar y daith cerdded i fyny Moel Siabod.
Er y gall fy mod yn swnio awdurdol,
nid wyf bob amser yn gwybod y ffordd i fynd.
Zach, er ar adegau
rydych yn ymddangos ar goll yn eich byd,
eich bod yn gallu arwain.
A Dylan, yn eich modd tawel,
byddwch yn dawel gwylio drosom ni
ac yn cadw ni ar ein llwybr.


YR AWYR O GYMRU

Cymylau lwyd eto-- ble mae'r haul?
wybren tywyll am twydd pruddaidd,
tir duraidd am pobl cyndyn.
Does ryfedd fod yr hwyliau o'r pregethwyr
eu llenwi â thân a brwmstan.

Monday, February 18, 2013

DOLWYDDELAN: FOUR POEMS

DOLWYDDELAN

This ancient village
in the meadow of the Irish saint,
once home to Gwynedd’s princes—
Moel Siabod’s barren peak
broods over stone houses
the color of the Welsh sky,
now homes for commuters,
and weekenders from England.


IN THE GARDEN BEHIND GWENALLT COTTAGE

The afternoon sun
through a brief hole
in the slate grey clouds.
I put down my book
and absorb each molecule
of light and warmth.

In the garden behind the cottage,
listening to the stream,
still full from the morning’s rain,
I watch the evening sun
light the clouds gathered over Moel Siabod.


MOEL SIABOD

We learned a few things
about each other
on the hike up Moel Siabod.
Although I may sound authoritative,
I do not always know the way to go.
Zach, although at times
you seem lost in your own world,
you are capable of leading.
And Dylan, in your calm way,
you quietly watch over both of us
and keep us on our path.


THE WELSH SKY

Slate grey clouds again—where is the sun?
A dour sky, for a dour climate,
a dour land, and a brooding people.
No wonder the preachers’ hwyl
was filled with hellfire and brimstone.

AFTER STERLING


A revision to my previous post, "Searching for Sterling."  This is recast as something more like an address to Sterling Brown.  The poem has now gone in the direction I initially planned, but hadn't drafted.  Still not sure, though, if this is basically the final form, or if substantive changes are still needed.

AFTER STERLING


(With acknowledgement to Sterling Brown’s After Winter)



Somewhere in these North Laurel woods
I imagine there are butter beans,
radishes and lettuce, eggplant and beets,
growing and reseeding year after year,
an anthology of vegetables appearing after each winter
to remind us of you, Sterling Brown,
and the words that you found in the streets and the fields,
giving voice to the lives of hardworking folks.

So many winters have passed,
and with them the rural community you knew,
paved over and consumed by suburban sprawl.
There are offices now where your family farmed;
parking lots cover the fields where you ran.

If you were here, who would you write about?
The single mother struggling to make ends meet.
The young men in prison just up the road,
men without prospects when they are released.
The immigrant working to send money home.

The small shopping center where folks congregate,
teens hanging outside the dollar store;
the black professional woman rushing home late
and the older white man who holds open the door
of the restaurant as she carries Chinese food out.

In the motels along Route 1, the suburban poor,
and middle class families just blocks away.
And, those in the shadows looking to score
something to help them get through the day.

Would you write about the kids who grew up in this place
and think nothing about their friends’ creed or race?
Would you write about all that has changed,
while noticing that much has still stayed the same?

Ah, Sterling, this community needs poets
to give voice to the people and bring life into view,
more than merely your name on the road
that leads to where the butter beans grew.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

More "found" poetry in the words of Mildred Ratcliff

Last year I delved into various family history-related documents from the 18th and 19th centuries to "find" poems in the wonderful words and phrases contained within them.  Correspondence was much more of an art form in the past, it seems, and even legal documents and Quaker meeting minutes have a certain rhythm and poetic feel to them.  The Memoranda and Correspondence of Mildred Ratcliff is a particularly good trove; it is no wonder that Mildred was respected as a minister and prophetess among Quakers.  The following poem is based on her words, contained on pages 36-37 of her Memoranda and Correspondence.  I have added line breaks, edited and revised a bit to improve the rhythm and flow, but for the most part left the words as Mildred wrote them.



THE WONDERFUL GOODNESS OF MY GOD

Mildred Ratcliff; based on text from her Memoranda and Correspondence, pp. 36-37
First Month 1st, 1805


Oh! the wonderful goodness of my God!
Oh! the overflowing of thy love that I have felt this day.
The new found songs of praise that I have been favored to sing!
Yea, I will say hallelujah to thee.
Teach me, and I will declare of thy wonderful works,
whilst my hands are employed about the business of the day.

How thou hast arisen in my heart.
Thy animating love overcomes and reigns above all,
raising in my inward life new found praises,
adoration, thanksgiving, and supplications
unto thee, who liveth and abideth forever.
I have said in my heart, I am lost in love and praise;
for thou art holy! holy! holy!

Thy goodness extends to the smallest work from thy hands;
thy gracious care is to the sparrow upon the house-top.

Thou art worthy of all my affections.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Evolution of a Poem: Reaching the summit of revisions to "La Cumbre"

On Saturday, February 2, I posted a poem, "La Cumbre/The Summit," based on a postcard from La Cumbre restaurant in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  I thought the poem was finished, and in fact felt pretty good about it.  That is, until a friend wrote and said it was too sappy.  I read it again, realized she was right, and began revising.

Here's the postcard:


This was the original version that I posted:

LA CUMBRE/THE SUMMIT


We bask on the restaurant's sunwashed veranda,
the aroma of pine trees and grilled meats
mingling at the summit of our imaginations.
We are here, in our future favorite place,
savoring each other,
feasting on the chance to be together.
Oh, I know that this dinner eventually will end;
that we will come down from the heights
and return to the crowded city that is life.
But, for now, let me savor a dream
and get lost in a vista that is only you.

Okay, yes, sappy.  So, what to change?  The first lines to go were the fifth and sixth:  "savoring each other/feasting on the chance to be together."  It didn't take long to also realize that the last two lines were pretty sappy.  These two changes left the following:

LA CUMBRE/THE SUMMIT


We bask on the restaurant's sunwashed veranda,
the aroma of pine trees and grilled meats
mingling at the summit of our imaginations.
We are here, in our future favorite place.
Oh, I know that this dinner eventually will end;
that we will come down from the heights
and return to the crowded city that is life.

The poem was now free from its sappiest lines, but it didn't seem to flow very well.  The fourth line, "We are here, in our future favorite place" didn't seem to fit well.  But, I really liked the phrase "our future favorite place" since it tied in with the caption on the back of the postcard.  I tried it at the beginning of the poem:

Here, in our future favorite place,
we bask on the restaurant's sunwashed veranda....

I tried an alternative opening:   "On the sunwashed veranda of our future favorite place..."

Neither of these felt right.  But, I really liked "future favorite place."  What to do?  There comes a time in the evolution of a poem when tough decisions must be made.  I realized the line had to go.  I also deleted the word "restaurant's" simply to reduce by a few syllables.  This left the following:

LA CUMBRE/THE SUMMIT


We bask on the sunwashed veranda,
the aroma of pine trees and grilled meats
mingling at the summit of our imaginations.
Oh, I know that this dinner eventually will end;
that we will come down from the heights
and return to the crowded city that is life.

Six lines forming two tidy sections to the poem.  But, now it seemed to end too abruptly.  The poem didn't feel balanced.  I got rid of the "Oh, I know that" in the fourth line, then added "I know that" back to the line.  I tried different approaches to the line:

I know, though, that this dinner eventually will end...

Eventually, though, this dinner will end....

But, I know this dinner eventually will end...

You get the drift.  Nothing was working.  At this point, the only line I felt confident about was the third:  "mingling at the summit of our imaginations."  I really liked that line, and had received positve comments about it from others.  After staring at the poem a while, it became clear that "mingling at the summit of our imaginations" needed to be the final line in the poem.  It was the best line in the poem and it conveyed the essence of the poem-- the day-dreamy, imagined scene.  The last three lines conveyed reality.  At the end of the poem, they were like a brick wall that we slam into.  But, if placed at the beginning, they give the poem a different feel-- a feeling of resignation and acknowledgement of reality.  So, I flipped the two sections, and to help transition between the two sections, split the original first line into two lines:  "But for now we bask/on the restaurant's sunwashed veranda" ("restaurant came back into the poem to establish locational context).  Also, I dropped "The Summit" from the title since it really wasn't necessary to translate the restaurant's name.  A few final changes-- trading "let us bask" for "we bask" and replacing "grilled meats" with "savories"-- and I arrived at the final version, which was deemed "no longer sappy" by my friend:

LA CUMBRE

Oh, I know this dinner eventually must end;

that we will come down from the heights
and return to the crowded city that is life.
But, for now, let us bask
on the restaurant’s sunwashed veranda,
the aroma of pine trees and savories
mingling at the summit of our imaginations.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

SEARCHING FOR STERLING

Somewhere in these woods
I imagine there are butter beans,
radishes and lettuce, eggplants and beets
growing and reseeding themselves year after year,
an anthology of vegetables
appearing after each winter
to remind us of the poet
who found words among the fields
and in the lives of those who worked them.

So many winters have passed,
and with them the farms,
the old schoolhouse, the church,
an entire community,
the people about whose lives he wrote,
subsumed and replaced by suburbia,
forgotten, except in his poems
and in the name of a road
that leads to where the butter beans grew,
and about which folks here ask:
“who was Sterling?”

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Postcard Poem: THE SUMMIT

At the February 1 Spiral Staircase Poetry evening, Maryland poet Laura Shovan read a few of her postcard poems and then engaged the rest of us in a postcard poem audience participation exercise.  We each took a postcard from the collection she brought.  She then led us through a series of prompts to help us form a poem based on the image on the postcard.

The postcard I drew from the stack was from La Cumbre restaurant in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  The front of the card has the name of the restaurant, its address, and phone number.  The restaurant is perched at the top of a rather steep hillside overlooking the city (the name "La Cumbre" is Spanish for "The Summit").  In the photo, you can see the restaurant's patio and a bit of the roof on the right hand side.  The foreground of the photo is mostly vegetation, some flowering bushes, but mostly pine trees.  Tegucigalpa is in the distance.  The back of the postcard contains the following:  "Enmedio de Bellos Pinos/con un ambiente fresco/con una vista panoramica/Su futuro lugar favorito!"  Over the years I've picked up enough Spanish (or rather learned how to recognize words that are similar in English and Spanish) that I was able to understand this caption.  I love the audacity of the last line:  "Your future favorite place!"  That line essentially became the entry point for me in thinking about this poem.  Rather than grounding it in reality, it would describe something imagined.

I looked up the restaurant on-line and found its facebook page and a number of reviews.  The reviews were all good.  The restaurant offers a variety of meat and seafood dishes; apparently one of their specialties is jagerschnitzel!  That was a surprise-- a typically German entree in a Honduran restaurant.

So, without further ado, here is my poem:

LA CUMBRE/THE SUMMIT

We bask on the restaurant's sunwashed veranda,
the aroma of pine trees and grilled meats
mingling at the summit of our imaginations.
We are here, in our future favorite place,
savoring each other,
feasting on the chance to be together.
Oh, I know that this dinner eventually will end;
that we will come down from the heights
and return to the crowded city that is life.
But, for now, let me savor a dream
and get lost in a vista that is only you.