Monday, June 20, 2016

not the It that you think about

"Eleven Definitions"

came from somewhere or other
(don't remember the starting point)
must arrive
(forget where)
and now just travels around

is not the It that you think about
is the nothing in the room that
makes you turn abruptly around

is so small with a small "i"
with soft ears and warm paws
no one has seen it yet
and that is the proof
of its existence

is the force with which
the leaf falls from the tree
into the water pail

and muddies the heavens

is also the repose
in which the force collects itself
and clears up the heavens

between two leaves

there is something in common
between beetles and roses
and that is

is in the turning of the "t"
or between the "i" and the "t"
or the devil knows where

but the devil doesn't know either

you believe it is God
yet God
would be written immensely

you say it is death
yet have your words been heard
by death?
once I tasted him
he was hard and sour
had to spend the whole evening spitting

it is dwindling and brittle
you name it and it dies
you catch it and it goes away
and melts into emptiness

(the successful attempt)
From Kleines morgentliches Verbrechen by Georgi Gospodinov, in my translation from the German. This is the first poem in the book, which I assume is a sort of "setting the tone" piece, a claim being staked, a flag planted on the beach, etc. A Modernist declaration about Modernist poetry, maybe. Anyway, Gospodinov's book of poems is full of things like that, in contemporary language. Some of the poems are very short:
God is altogether
red and plump
God is a tomato.

There's nothing offensive in that
to either party.
That one was a little harder to push into English, because German sentence-building rules are not the same as English sentence-building rules. Syntax, that's the word I was looking for. Different syntaxes, what fun. Anyway, I'm reading Bulgarian poems in a German edition as part of Bulgarian Literature Month. I don't know from poetry, but I am certainly enjoying Gospodinov's poems. Make of that what you will. I think I'll translate some more of them in the coming days. We'll see. Time is short, work is busy, I am lazy, et your own cetera.


  1. I don't have anything to add except that this is strange and lovely and neat, and I'm so glad you translated it. The sentiments themselves are clearly more Slavic than German, so I find it rather fun that German was the intermediary language.

    1. I'm glad you like it! And it's good to hear that from an actual poet. Translating poems is interesting work; I tried to retain the line lengths and rhythms and spirit, which I realize involves the translator's own interpretation of the poem as much as it involves what's on the page, so a translator always interposes himself between the reader and the poet's possible meaning. Which is itself pretty fascinating. Anyway, I have no idea what the Bulgarian original looks like, how much license the German translators took, etc.

      It does seem Slavic, doesn't it? Especially the invocation of the devil. Here's another one (the line spacing won't work in a comment, alas):


      My mother
      boiled summer down
      behind the house
      into canning jars

  2. This reminds me of one of my own poems, a thing titled, "Praise to an Object That I Refuse to Name." It is not a bit like Gospodinov's poem, but of course in spirit it is very much like this poem, the subject being both visible and invisible.