Leah Fritz discovers a 2010 anthology from Salmon Poetry which deserves to be better known

galicianTo the Winds Our Sails: Irish Writers Translate Galician Poets
edited by Mary O’Donnell and Manuela Palacios
Salmon Poetry, 2010
169 pp €15

Almost five years ago, when To the Winds Our Sails was first published, it was perhaps ahead of its time. No one reviewed it, perhaps because then it seemed too outré.

Recently, I picked up the anthology in a bookshop belonging to Salmon Poetry – my publisher, too – in Ennistymon, a village near the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, and found it odd but arresting: odd, because the Galician poems are translated not only into English but a few are rendered solely in Irish; arresting because many of the poems are a real find,

When I suggested reviewing the book to London Grip’s poetry editor, he said he’d like that, as London Grip is always on the ‘cutting edge’. I looked at him sideways because he has a dry sense of humour, but he wasn’t kidding.

So here’s the story:

The Irish novelist and poet, Mary O’Donnell, went to Galicia, an autonomous region of Spain, and discovered some major poetic activity in a dialect that looks a bit like Spanish but is apparently of Celtic origin, and thus related to the Irish language. She and the Galician scholar and translator, Manuela Palacios, co-edited To the Winds Our Sails and their explicative introductions are included. A note at the beginning reads ‘Remembering languages no longer spoken, and languages not yet born, this book is dedicated to those who attempt to keep the flow of words and experience alive.’

It should be mentioned that all of the poets – though not all the translators – are women, and there is definitely a feminist ring to these poems. Perhaps summing them up is this short prose-poem at the end of the book by Xiana Arias and translated by Paddy Bush, which I quote in its entirety:

This is not feminist literature, the author said, while writing a play for children.
There is a hero who snatches a beautiful woman from the arms of an evil man.
In the end she leaves, alone, scoring the asphalt with her toenails.

Many other poems are equally surprising, although not necessarily as terse. Among them is ‘Ophelia’, by Xohana Torres, translated by Celia De Freine. I quote parts of the fourth stanza:

Good Ophelia, love is never realised.
At times, like when God appears,
it grazes the skin of cherries,
crowns those walls with kisses.

and:

This is how love almost unites us.
And you, so innocent, weave
metaphors in its name.

Another of Torres’s poems, ‘Many’s the Time I’d Wind My Way through the Old Square…’ ends:

For we have drunk the years, bewitched,
as a skeleton to the sea
that returns not a single bone.

Hadn’t you realised?
The passing calm of the seaside counts for naught:
the sea borders the wind
and that is as good as saying Death.

As the first line of ‘The diary (3 surly)’, Marilar Aleixandre (translated by Mary O’Malley) has written ‘and I have a temper in me‘. (The italics are hers.) And at the end:

she has inherited my small bones
my moods…my forked tongue
the ink or poison that flows from her fingernails
comes from way back
and even if she won’t admit it
it was I who taught her
to string words.

Another of her poems is translated into Irish by Martin Nugent. Sadly, I couldn’t read it.

One by Ana Romani, translated into English by Maurice Harmon, ‘The Lizards Watched Her As She Passed’, goes (again quoted in its entirety):

The lizards watched her as she passed
and noted her gradual self-absorbed descent

What strange shapes pain inscribes
on wasted flesh

This is real poetry, original, confident and exciting. And if you google Salmon Poetry, I expect it can still be ordered from them.

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Since her arrival on these shores in 1985, New York born writer, Leah Fritz, has had four collections of her poems published in Britain. Her latest volume, Whatever Sends the Music into Time: New and Selected Poems, was published by Salmon in 2012.  She has recently co-translated two Romanian poetry books and one of these, by Liviu Ioan Stoiciu, is on the internet at http://editura.mttlc.ro/liviu-stoiciu-poems.html