Current Issue

Winter 2018


VOLUME 12  number 1

If you’re near Ezra (Rhodes Island) you can see a translation—and some translation theory!— on stage: Uncle Vanya at the Gamm Theater. Curt Columbus addresses drama in translation this way: “Translation is a living art. It’s never really finished because the language is always changing so contemporary audiences can understand it [and Ezra has argued in this space that there are other reasons why it’s never finished]. There is no one-to-one way to translate things. You only know what the music is supposed to be if you can hear the original music.”

Of course, Columbus started in by not talking so much about linguistic (Russian-to-English) difficulties as the task of updating an older work. But you can see from his words (he’s the practicing translator of this Chekhov) that he has a full and dynamic understanding of the various translations that operate in culture. Updating is a kind of translation. Russian-to-English is another. Columbus, spending his life in theater, obviously knows another: translating the written play into physical action. This is no less interpretive, fraught, uncertain and exploratory than translating a Russian poem into English—or making a painting out of that poem. [In the same newspaper interview, Providence Journal, 1/14/18, he suggests Chekhov is “a painter.”] Look how idiosyncratic is his result in Uncle Vanya: he makes Chekhov “funnier and heartier,” and the central character less of a “forgettable sad-sack,” than usual.

You wonder if Curt Columbus is a better theater director for being a translator, or a better translator for being a director. At any rate, he is “hearing the original music.”

Please remember the Ezra Residency program (summers). Click on Residencies, above. This year we’ll print the work of last summer’s Resident, Jonathan Wlodarski.

Our Winter feature is Nancy Carlson. She, like our Board member David Ball, translates Abdourahman Waberi.

There is a review in this issue.





In addition to an NEA grant, Nancy Carlson has received grants from the Maryland State Arts Commission and the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County. Her most recent book, a translation of René Char’s Hammer with No Master (Tupelo Press), was a finalist for the 2017 CLMP Firecracker Award for poetry. Calazaza’s Delicious Dereliction, translations of Suzanne Dracius (from Martinique), was published by Tupelo Press in 2015. Her translations have appeared in such journals as AGNI, The American Poetry Review, Boulevard, FIELD, Kenyon Review Online, Massachusetts Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her non-translated poems have appeared in such journals as The Georgia Review, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, and Shenandoah. The collection of poetry, Kings Highway, won the Washington Writers’ Publishing House competition, and Complications of the Heart won the Texas Review Press’ Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize. Imperfect Seal of Lips was selected for the Tennessee Chapbook Prize. Ms. Carlson is a senior translation editor for Tupelo Quarterly.




O Mother


in my memory

my mother went to put on her white mourning dress

I’ve stashed this image away

in the drawer of timeworn things


my mouth on fire

like Jacob

I limped from a wrenched hip

for having crossed swords with the angel

elbowed my way through when I saw the ford

the sandglass is launched, course set for the motherwort sea,


mother, you’re no longer here

except in the yesterday and tears of my song

none will restore your life’s salt

your smile’s gold

your line’s blood

if not for my murmur’s touch






riddles written in sand

soaring syllables sprung from the oldest of times

imprinted on everyone’s lips


parable helping you see the present day’s texture

beyond the mob and its thousand backs of necks


the believer bent in half by prayer is infused

by the mineral signs of intoned words of praise

like the treasures brought to life

by the mighty Euphrates and Tigris rivers



words sprinkle down

into the ear’s retreat

impermanent poems


it’s true, to follow the winged steed

five times across the mountains


once you conquer your fear

you may catch in mid-air the prayers

that fervent pilgrims fling to the sky

for themselves but expressly for others


go pray with them

shoulder to shoulder

and not row by row

like comrades in arms in the muck


you’ll rid your mind of both the fay

and her brother the djinn

escaped from their flask

who feed on random effluvia




unite firebrand with eaglewood

the evil eye will keep away

trembling more than a reed

tormented more than the robber repenting at death’s door

when he doesn’t know if he’ll be swept away by the last sudden downpour

wild as can be

or struck down on the spot

bludgeoned to death from the judgment of peers


Translator’s note: Dikr refers to an Islamic form of devotion whereby the worshiper repeats short utterances glorifying God. The “winged steed,” associated with celestial ascension, refers to Buraq, the mythical horse of the Prophet Muhammad.






the color of water takes on the shade of its vessel

the shade of dawn is the same as the call

the first day of Lent the small forehead cross

invites us to fast on the Ember Days

want is not a lack but ineffable surfeit

poking big holes in consumption’s short coat

confining to bed

the totem tuckered out from a stroll in the mall


the color of water is not the same as the latest cosmetic trick

or the prod of my spoken words

approaching a stranger

on days of silence

to help evoke an absent One





Sidewalk Struggle


with my eagle eye open wide

I track the autumn or summer leaf

curled into itself

torn from its native tree

parading its solitude along the sidewalk across the street


teasing it rests a while then resumes its rush

a young woman carrying half a baguette under her arm

leaves the baker’s shop with small measured steps

drunk on wind

the leaf flings itself at her shinbone

blind to the passerby’s muscular strength


it appears, as my eagle eye makes known,

that all is settled on the spot

that the leaf is born into the world

to display its secret to you


but lo and behold it gives

the passerby’s leg the slip

with clear-cut determination, opens the path

for it’s sacrilege

counters my eagle eye

to keep to the beaten track

even when you’re a small leaf

engulfed by vacuity’s vast sea








Patrick Barron      (Gezim Hajdari)                            Will Cordeiro     (Fernando Pessoa)

Sophia Lecker     (Max Jacob)                                    James Richie     (Antonia Pozzi)

Ranald Barnicot     (Catullus)                                     Rafael Newman     (Horace)

Becca Menon     (Isolde Kurz)                                    John de Sa           (Giacomo Leopardi)

Ross Weissman       (Elhanan Nir)






~~translated by Patrick Barron


Skies closed by stones

where you reappear and fade out.


Sterile lands

where there germinates

the shadow of your body.





Over the threshed field,

enveloped in bloodstained autumn

rests the old ox.


On his curved horns sings a goldfinch.


He falls still, then moves his back,

gazing at the crest of the hill

where young bulls plow the dim earth.


Then he returns to ruminating

over the field threshed by goldfinches

scorched by strikes of autumn lighting.




Even in the afterlife I will hear

the ring of dawn’s curse:

“You will never be lucky—

may you die like a dog!”


I will remember with fear

my cruel god,

the pomegranate split open

under the full moon.


The duck that dove into the lake,

the bloodied bulls.

Like a grim sign

the call of the fox in the dark.


The starlings that dug into the rock

as if they were crazed,

the black spines that I hunted with a needle

in the feet of my mother.




Good morning Albania.

I am your singer

from dawn to dusk.

Be proud stony and fertile womb, Medea,

I am the poet who dreamed of you

in a single night of lunacy.

Good morning Albania:

black double-headed eagle

you devour me every day

in front of passersby,

eyes and liver.

(Oh, that god forgives your cruelty).

Good morning Albania,

I am








Fickleness, Uselessness, and a Classical Education


~~translated by Sophia Lecker


He plunked the thirty-year-old spoiled child down in a baby’s high chair.  The brother was making his speech:  “An employee in a trade shouldn’t have too much education because then he won’t take orders.  What have all of you done with Marcel?  I hear the relatives moaning and groaning and I hear plenty of others groaning too.  Do you know that Joseph Dumain knows a thousand poems by heart and even Bousset’s sermons?”  “Just the titles!” said the mother.  “Huh?  What’s that?  Just the titles?  Hmm, well, the name Joseph is another word for uselessness!”  The thirty-year-old spoiled child climbed up in his high chair, weeping for himself; the father was weeping too.  A moment later the spoiled child was in the hallway, saying as he laughed:  “What he says is half-true, but only half.”  The brother added:  “But you, just look at yourself!”—“After this war everything will change.”  “But why more after than during.”







The Demons Tricks to Recapture His Prey




The somber quay, at an angle from the dungeon, bristling with plane trees in winter, too-pretty skeletons against the serrated sky.   An attractive woman was staying at the inn with us but she was flat, she hid her hair beneath a wig or black satin.  One day on the shingled beach I saw her in full sunlight.  She was too tall—-like the nearby rocks—-she was putting on her shirt, I saw this was a man and I said so.  That night on a kind of London quay I was punished for it.  Dodging a knife thrust in the face!  Getting my thumb smashed!  Retaliating with a dagger in the chest, at the scapula.  The Hermaphrodite was not dead.  Help! Help!  They came…some men, and what do you know, my mother!  And again I saw the room at the inn without locks on the doors.  There were, thank God, hooks but such cruelty toward the hermaphrodite.  An opening in the attic, a white shutter moves and the hermaphrodite comes down from there.



True Poem


We were separating, my older brothers and I, near the ditches.  “Watch out!  Take your knife!”

We were underneath the pine trees; everything was grass and flowers.  “Ah, be careful near the water!”

Sometimes we approached one another, a plant in our hands:  “That’s pink hemlock!”

But when we had to go home and look for a pot to hold our harvest, that was another matter.

The naval officer was asleep in his bed, his back to the door.

The cousin was doing housework, the sheets draped over chairs.  My sisters were singing underneath the eaves, and as for me, I sat like a little child with my flowers in my hands on the steps of the staircase that leads nowhere.



MAX JACOB  (from Cornet à dès)



Saepe tibi studioso (CXVI)


~~translated by Ranald Barnicot


Often with studious, questing mind I sought some way

To turn Callimachus for you, and so deflect

The missiles of your spite, with verse allay

Your enmity. My pleas had no effect,

As I see now and all my toil was waste.

Your arrogance, Gellius, is misplaced.

To parry your missiles my cloak’s sufficient shield,

But you, pierced through by mine, will on the field

Lie punished, vanquished, abject and disgraced.









~~translated by Becca Menon



Day sinks down.  Dark gates above the earth

Open, giving star-eyed night its birth.


From levies of the land, now manumit,

Spirits hover through the infinite.


Blessed as souls redeemed from former plight,

Dream-thoughts welter in the skiff of night.


On a ship, an albatross, making itself a guest,

Spreads its snowy wings across the mast.


Are these traces of clouds the winds have caused to spume?

Or are they mountains fixed in Dreamland that loom?


Through broken haze there blinks a faint report

Of coral branches seeming wondrous port.


All sails are in, the breezes drop and stall.

Softly, softly now the sleepflakes fall.



ISOLDE KURZ  (1853-1944)



The Pear





~~ Three poems translated by Will Cordeiro



Like wax which by

a stroke of luck

chills on a glass

as it’s growing late,


this pear, this pome,

is a burnt sacrifice

to life—much like

a saggy breast


among appurtenant

bananas and ruddy

apples tickled pink.

Think, poor pear:

you understand-a?




after  VINICIUS DE MORAES (Portuguese)




Sonnet of Separation




As suddenly all laughter’s wiped to sobs,
And mouths united and became like spume

As silent and as white as fog—

The fingers interweaving past their doom,


As suddenly the calm before the storm

Undoes the eye and its last flame—all fate;

All passion’s omens are forlorn,

And that still moment turns a masquerade.


As suddenly—no more than suddenly!—

A sadness wavers in a lover’s plea,

And he who’d been content is now alone.


The friend most close becomes a distant foe,

And life was lost and tossed upon the seas,

As sudden was no more. —As suddenly!











The poet is a fake

Whose fakes are so complete

He nearly feigns the ache

Of pain he feels indeed.


Who undertakes the task

To read his writing won’t

Feel both the pains he has

But only one they don’t.


He’s strung along by words

And trains of thought—toy cart

With sympathetic cords

We’ve named the human heart.






“My New Face”


  ~~translated by James Richie


That I might someday have

A laugh

In the spring – it is certain;

Not only did you see it, you mirrored it

In your joy.

I, without seeing it, sensed

That laugh of mine

Like a warm light

On my face.


Then it was night,

And I had to be outside.

In the storm,

The light of my laugh



Dawn found me

Like a burnt out lamp.

Things amazed me


Among them,

My chilled face.


They wanted to give me

A new face.
As if in front of a church painting

That has mutated

No old woman wants

To kneel and pray anymore

Because she does not recognize

The dear appearances of the Virgin,

And it almost seems to her

A lost woman –

This is how my heart is today

Before my new




ANTONIA POZZI (Italy, 1912-38)




A Pyrrhic Defeat



  ~~translated by Rafael Newman



Who’s loving you now, Hot Pants: what slender-hipped

Boy drenched in aftershave is making googly eyes

Outside the latest club?

Who’d you do your golden hair up for tonight


In that meticulously artless quiff? Damn, but he’ll be cursing

Your faith and gasping goggle-eyed

As black winds whip the ocean wave

Engendered by a fickle deity!


He who now weighs your worth in bullion,

Who thinks you’ll always be available, always in the mood,

All ignorant of the fool’s gold

Under his hands. The more fools they


Who’ll fall for anything that glitters! As for myself,

I’ve hung my dripping glad rags up to dry

As an offering to the Mighty God of Storms

And in sacred token of my thanks.





Solitary Sparrow


   ~~translated by John de Sa


Atop the old tower, solitary sparrow,

You sing as long as day lasts to the land;

Harmony drifts through the valley, all around

Spring lights the air, swells through the fields,

And softens hearts to wonder.

To sounds of lowing, bleating, flocks and herds,

Happily other birds join in contention,

Wheeling a thousandfold in open sky,

Rejoice so in their own lives’ flourishing.

Thoughtfully apart and looking on,

You join with none, fly nowhere,

Nothing moved to exult, shy of delight;

You sing, so find your way

Through this, your days’ best sweetness and the year’s.


And see! How nearly like

Are my own ways to yours! Diversion, laughter,

The gentle company of first fresh youth,

And you, youth’s property and lifeblood, love,

Sharp regret of seasoned years,

Mean nothing to me, knowing nothing why;

As though I hid away from them,

As though a hermit, and a stranger here,

Here, where my life began,

I pass the spring days of my given time.

This day now turning evening

Our village custom marks for celebration.

Bells rung sound through the sky,

A thunder sounds of shot succeeding shot,

Echoing out from farm to distant farm.

And all here who are young,

All dressed for holiday,

Head out of doors, unfolding through the streets,

Quickened at heart in looking, drawing looks.

Withdrawing to the fields,

This solitary place,

I tell myself that this is not my time

For games and pleasures: meanwhile as I look

Across the lit-up sky

The sun beats through me, setting out of sight

Beyond the mountains, ending tranquil day,

And seems to tell, departing,

That youth and blessedness do not remain.


Lonely little bird, for that same twilight

Whose time must come to close your numbered days

The path you follow now

Can sow no bitterness; nature endows

Your smallest motion.

What if my dear prayer

Never to attain to hateful Age

Be never granted?

When no heart’s answer wakens to my eyes

Which see a world of nothing, a tomorrow

Still darker, still more heavy than today,

What can I hope to make of what I chose?

What of these years of mine, what of myself?

Oh, I will know remorse, ever again,

To where no comfort offers, looking back.



Feast-day Night


The night is fine and bright, no breezes stir;

The calm moon touches rooftops, fills the tracts

Of open tended gardens, softly lights

The still far-ranging mountains. Love of my life,

The ways are quiet now, the parapets

Show only here and there late-burning lights:

And now you rest, received by easy sleep

In your untroubled rooms; unpreyed upon

By any sorrow; no less unaware

How grievously you tore into my heart.

You rest, and I must turn to confrontation

With heaven’s face, that seems so sheltering,

And immemorial all-ordaining Nature,

Who made me to be racked. That you should hope

I will not grant, She said, Not even hope;

The brightness of your eyes must come from tears.

This was a holy day, now you relax

From entertainment; now, perhaps, in dreams

You see again whoever found your favour,

All those who favoured you: I cannot hope

That you might think of me. Meanwhile I wonder

How much of life remains me, topple down

And moan, cry out. Dire, unrelenting days

For my expectant years! And passing close

I hear the singing of a journeyman

Bound back from merriment to his bare home;

And savagely my heart shrinks from this world,

Conceiving motion in its every aspect,

Scarce traces left behind. Already finished,

This holiday, and after holiday

Another day, and time comes to dispose

Of all contingency. What now the rumour

Of ancient peoples? What now the report

Of our grand forbears, and the far command

Of Rome itself, the warriors, the thunder

Of their progression over land and sea?

All come to rest and silence, they are stilled,

Of no consideration in this world.

When life was new to me, the holiday

Anticipated longingly, this time,

When all was quieted, I lay awake

In melancholy; then, in the deep night,

To hear a song departing though the streets,

In its progression dwindling to nothing,

Already, just this way, clutched at my heart.





The Last Piousness


  ~~translated by Ross Weissman
During those nights, our blood bubbled up toward the Holy One

as we yelled with clenched fists

Show yourself, God,

please, appear.

They’ve since all been taken up by the wind—

some of them are busy

some feel betrayed,

most of them are exhausted.

(there are also a few engineer-philosopher types at the corner,

their fearful sweat drops into my throat and I can’t stop coughing).

Now I walk through these smoky nights,

into the great books, where the ox still gores the cow

then one or two, tired, knock at the door,

wanting to discuss despondency.

I seal the windows

cover the secret of the generations in one wrap, and then another,

shouting to them: Just a minute,

just a minute.










THE VORTEX, by José Eustasio Rivera. Translated by John Charles Chasteen. Duke University Press, 2018. 219 pp.


The first thing to say about this dense and explosive tale is that it is wonderful—and a bit of a wonder—that it finds itself translated. The sad story of its first publication is recounted in Chasteen’s very helpful preface. Some of the themes, vocabulary and geography are usefully backed up by Chasteen, who has an obvious admiration for Eustasio Rivera’s extensive research on the rubber trade. “In sum,” as Chasteen says, “beyond its famous poetic descriptions and its indubitable storytelling verve, The Vortex offers a sweeping and accurate view of dramatic events in the Colombian backlands (and beyond), circa 1900-1920.” Duke University Press has done well to honor the altruistic drive behind this book: an exposé of exploitation in the Amazon region.

This is the same subject that is treated in the second half of Vargas Llosa’s The Dream of The Celt (Edith Grossman, translator)—the story of Roger Casement’s life. Without having read Casement’s report to his government, but relying on Llosa’s account, we imagine that the official investigation of the rubber trade can hardly have been more exhaustive than Rivera’s book. The book is especially valuable (or was, or could have been if he had succeeded with an English-language publication) because Rivera, unlike Llosa, was writing contemporaneously with the Amazon rubber trade.

It is difficult to separate the reader’s stimulation by these horrors from the stimulation of  novelistic expertise. The modern reader will find some passages masterful, especially the rich physical descriptions. At times these will seem over-written. The level of detail in flora and fauna, indigenous languages and riverine geography is impressive. The plot is another story, as it were. Driven by passions, by love and jealousy, it failed to engage this reader, who found it difficult to follow. More important, the characters are more likely to show motive by posturing and expostulating than through extended psychological exposition. It is somewhat hard to care about them.

The theme of the jungle’s mystery, the idea that it is itself an evil force, is magnificent. In the end, though, this reviewer finds that it detracts from the obvious center of this book, man’s evil—and his role in destroying the jungle.

In the end, passages of background exposition may be the best material in the book. This one, perfectly rendered by Chasteen, is an example:

Even in the jungle, however, “civilized” man is the most destructive protagonist of all. There is a certain piratical magnificence in the struggle of a few renegade businessmen to exploit the Indians and bend the jungle to their will. Having failed to make their fortunes in the cities, they plunge into the wilderness seeking some kind, any kind, of denouement to their life stories. Delirious with malaria, they put aside whatever conscience they might have brought with them and, armed with only Winchesters and machetes, oriented toward only pleasure and abundance, confront physical privations so severe that their clothing rots away to nothing on their emaciated bodies. (154)

There are dramatic expressions which don’t work for this reviewer, and are not Chasteen’s fault: “I stood spasmodically, then collapsed with a howl, clawing my head bloody.” Then there are utterances that, in the translation, come off a little old-fashioned (though sometimes stilted only because of Rivera’s dramatic style): “Scat! Blasted birds won’t let anyone sleep.” The problem—the only real problem with this translation, which must have been arduous—is the opposite tendency to modernize with a jarring slang: “Total bullshit!” “Totally” used as a response meaning “I agree completely.” “Bottom line” used adverbially: “Bottom line, do you think Cayenne is coming back here?” The dialogue is neither consistently old-fashioned nor slangy-modern. As to the latter choice, Chasteen does well to use contractions (not available in Spanish) to make speech flow naturally, but the attempt to make speech 2018 United States seems misguided. This is often a legitimate choice in translating, but it is often jarring, and likely so for more than one reason. The main one should be mentioned here: some of the most recent slang is not likely to last. We will leave the Ezra reader to imagine the choices available, but they include ways to make the English roughly consonant with the historical period and yet still fluid and natural.

The cover art, map, notes and preface of the pre-publication printing are all excellent.


                                  ~~Peter Thompson