Over the last year or so, I’ve been organising a series of bilingual poetry readings in Madrid, in the bookshop Desperate Literature (Calle Campomanes, 13). The impulse behind this was, as always, twofold, both selfish and altruistic. I wanted to translate more Spanish poems, and having a monthly deadline meant that I was forced to do the work; I knew lots of poets whom I thought were good and who deserved to be translated into English. Although that word ‘deserved’ is in itself worth looking at in more detail: maybe being translated into English isn’t really such a wonderful goal in and of itself.
Since last January I have translated work by Sofía Rhei, Hasier Larretxea, Sonia Bueno, Ignacio Vleming and Alejandro Fernández-Osorio. I have read, in public, poems in previously-existing translations by Mercedes Cebrián, Pilar Adón, Ana Gorría, Eduardo Moga and Jordi Doce. Thanks are due to the translators Terrence Dooley, Yvette Siegert, Lawrence Schimel and Reginald Gibbons for letting me use their work. It has been, for me, an education in learning how to deal with different types of writing, different voices: a translation school where one month I had to translate direct personal narrative, and the next I was looking at how to translate a series of tiny, single-word puns.
There have been poems about dancing, the Prado, making cider, cowbells (more cowbell!), Alice in Wonderland, the Aral Sea, rural malfeasance, carpets, wasps and the sad little streets of London. In a variant on the duck-sized horse / horse-sized duck problem, readers have read between three very long poems and thirty-five very short poems. We have heard poems in the classical forms of the Spanish tradition; we have heard poems in Basque and Asturian; poems in prose and poems in skinny lines that run down the page. The format has never changed: we fit as best we can into the back half of the bookshop, the audience seated, the poet standing, and we read, for about thirty minutes (and then drink for slightly longer).