So it is that the first day of spring this year corresponds with World Poetry Day, a designation made by UNESCO in 1999 — a more fortuitous collision of days.
The declaration states that, “Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings. Poetry is the mainstay of oral tradition and, over centuries, can communicate the innermost values of diverse cultures.”
According to UNESCO, “one of the main objectives of the Day is to support linguistic diversity through poetic expression and to offer endangered languages the opportunity to be heard within their communities.”
With this in mind I’d like to share a few lines from poets the world over whom I turn to often.
We all know and love Bashō, but few have heard of the extraordinary woman poet who went by the name of Rengetsu (Lotus Moon) and who wrote unforgettable poems in classical Japanese waka style. The translation here is by John Stevens.
And loneliness trouble me
But I am soothed by the
Anticipation of cherry blossoms
And spring rain falling on my hut.
Here is a short excerpt from the poem Stage 8 form the Danish poet Inger Christensen – translated into English by Susanna Nied.
Time: dregs of words
like nubbly slugs.
Place: solidarity of things
like random stones.
This past summer I did a reading in Barcelona and was chastised for not knowing the Peruvian writer Carmen Ollé. Below are a few lines in Spanish from her powerful book, “Noches de Adrenalina” (Adrenaline Nights)
“Tener 30 años no cambia nada salvo aproximarse al ataque
Cardiaco o al vaciado uterino. Dolencias al margen
nuestros intestinos fluyen y cambian del ser a la nada.”
From Chile, a poem by the Mapuche poet Elicura Chihuailaf. The Mapuche territory encompassed most of Chile and a big part of Western Argentina. Mr. Chihuailaf writes in Mapuche. The poem below was translated from Mapuche into Spanish the into English by John Bierhost.
THINGS TURN OUT ASTOUNDINGLY IN THE COUNTRY SIDE
And at times there is nothing, I tell them. Nothing
The uneventful days pass by
My brother says to me
Listen to the song of the stream
(Come, let’s lean over and drink from its banks)
Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill is an Irish poet who writes exclusively in Irish and has played a big role in fomenting a renaissance of the Irish language in modern poetry. The English translation of A postcard home can be found here: https://wfupress.wfu.edu/poem-of-the-week/poem-week-postcard-home-nuala-ni-dhomhnaill/
Cárta Poist Abhaile
Tá earraí ana-dhaor san áit seo.
bhíos ar mo shlí síos feadh na gcéibheanna
nuair a chonac i bhfuinneog siopa
scata éanlaithe stuáilte.
Do chuimhníos láithreach ortsa, a chroí,
nuair a chonac an t-éan is mó is ansa leat,
an bonnán buí,
ina sheasamh suas cruinn díreach,
a mhuineál leata is cuma na scríbe air.
Cheapas go bpriocfainn suas é
is go dtabharfainn mar fhéirín abhaile chugat é.
Ach nuair a d’fhiafraíos díobh cé mhéid é
gheit mo chroí.
Bhí sé i bhfad i bhfad
thar raon m’acmhainne.
Ko Un has written 135 books and been shortlisted for the Nobel Prize for Literature. His book Songs of Tomorrow was published by Green Integer and translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Gary Gach.
I’ve never been an individual entity.
Sixty trillion cells!
I’m a living collectivity
staggering zigzag along.
Sixty trillion cells! All drunk.
Hailing from South Africa, Vuyelwa Maluleke’s chapbook, Things We Lost In The Fire, appears in the collection Eight New-Generation African Poets (Akashic Books) edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani.
Black girl, loan me your lonely,
don’t bother washing it or giving it a pretty press,
let me have it at its worst
and I will keep it for you,
till there are more hands to share it.
Because I can go on and on, I will end now with a poem by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish translated here by our local, most talented poet Lena Khalaf Touffaha.
From: And We Have Homelands
“and we have homelands without borders,
like our idea of the unknown, narrow and wide
– countries whose maps narrow to a gray tunnel
as we walk in them and cry out
in their labyrinths: “And still we love you.”
Our love is an inherited disease.
Countries that grow
by casting us into the unknown.”