I wanted to ask you, Salome Benidze,
translated by Helen Mort and Natalia Bukia-Peters
Poetry Translation Centre, 2018 £6.00
Anaphora is the technical term for a repeated verbal phrase, one that can hold a poem together with its rhythm as it re-appears throughout the poem. It’s particularly effective when the phrase allows for small shifts in nuance. However, I’d never considered how it might work in translated poems.
Salome Benidze is a Georgian poet, translated in this parallel text pamphlet of six poems by Nadia Bukia-Peters (a Georgian translator) and Helen Mort.
On the page, Georgian is visually strange, far from the familiarity of the Roman alphabet or even Cyrillic; the shapes of the letters loop and curl like silken knitting. I can only see it as a gently flowing pattern. I have no access point of sense — until in the final poem (‘My soldier husband’) where two of the four sections use repeated phrases, and look! I can see them in the Georgian text, in the same place in the line as in Mort’s translation. The poem is part lament and part prayer, part pleading and part private consolation; the husband is absent in a war that is ravaging the country:
Since you left, I’ve been drinking coffee from your cup.
[ … ]
Since you left, I’ve been driving your car
and like you, I beep the horn enthusiastically.
[ … ]
Since you left,
I sleep on your side of the bed
Since you left, I am two people
and the sum of the world’s simplicities.
‘Since’ shifts in meaning between time and ‘because’; it mirrors the distance between the soldier ‘drenched in the smell of massacre’ and the wife ‘always improbably ill’. Seeing this phrase on the facing page, picking it out from a language beyond my comprehension brings me closer to the emotional heart of the poem — and then to wondering what it would sound like. Could I listen and look at the same time?
Thank you, Poetry Translation Centre: the podcast of ‘My Soldier Husband’, read first by Helen Mort and then by Salome Benidze, is a wonderful discovery.
D A Prince