‘Time’ by Dragana Tripković (tr. Peter Stonelake)

Dragana

a nutshell: exploring history and the present, this poem reflects on how nothing (and no one) lasts – not even the reader

a line: “Memories are the heaviest burden in that pigsty”

an image: rather than revolutionary and bloody, the pavements are concrete whores whose names change with the lust of rulers

a thought: I was thrilled to stumble on this poem through this Words Without Borders issue from March 2017 – a commendable effort to ensure Montenegrin women’s poetic voices are better heard

a fact: born in 1984 in Montenegro, Tripković is a poet and playwright who was one of the founders of the theatre group Alternative Theater Active Company (ATAK)

want to read ‘Time’? visit here

I Have Come Through Torments Within These Walls by Annasoltan Kekilova (tr. James Womack)

a nutshell: this devastating poem was written by Soviet-era poet & dissident Annasoltan Kekilova in a Turkmen psychiatric hospital, where she had been detained since 1973 after she advocated for women’s rights in Turkmenistan

a line: “I am tainted and would clean myself, but it is futile”

an image: it felt to me like the poet’s repetition of “within these walls” powerfully conveyed a sense of the suppression she had so long endured – walled off by both the institution and by the Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party

a thought: I found this poem completely heart-breaking, particularly with the knowledge that Kekilova died due to forcible medical treatment while still detained; she was only 41 years old at her death

a fact: Kekilova’s poems were smuggled out to her mother and son, though many were lost and a house fire destroyed much of her writing – I learned more about her life & work through this article

want to read more of Kekilova’s poetry? visit here

Selected Poems by Paula Erizanu

a nutshell: thanks to the Moldova Foundation in the US, I was thrilled to be put in touch with Moldovan poet, writer & journalist Paula Erizanu who generously shared some of her extraordinary poetry – I was particularly moved by her work-in-progress collection Poems for Mental Hygiene

a line: “the joy to discover that | you don’t have to be | any thought | that crosses | your head” – ‘Authenticity is overestimated’ (I may have to adopt this as my mantra…)

an image: I loved Erizanu’s portrayal of the ego as a popcorn kernel that jumps oily on the frying pan, before being sealed in a plastic bag for the working day in the poem ‘Monday to Friday, from nine til six’

a thought: through her use of the second person and intimately powerful imagery, the poems often gave me the sense that they were tuned into my own (pandemic-infused) psyche – very much a collection that struck a chord

a fact: Erizanu recommended Tatianta Țîbuleac’s novels (excerpts here) and, as an aside, mentioned that she also just finished her first novel, which she is translating from Romanian into English over the coming months – watch this space!

want to read more? follow here

‘Petty Tyrants’ by Conceição Lima (tr. Amanda Hopkinson)

Lima

a nutshell: first published in Lima’s collection Dolorosa raiz micondó (Painful root of Micondó), this poem is a short & stark impression of petty tyrants

a line: “They don’t know that clock hands are also blindly tyrannical”

an image: I was especially struck by the poet’s vivid description of petty tyrants blindfolding sparkling eyes, letting no light enter

a thought: I loved Lima’s repetitions throughout the poem, mirroring the ways in which petty tyrants themselves (meagre, narrow, slow) try to replicate what’s come before, rather than give space to progress – amplifying the echo of their perpetual childhood

a fact: born in Santana on the island of São Tomé in 1961, Lima studied journalism in Portugal and worked across radio, television & the press in São Tomé

want to read ‘Petty Tyrants’? visit here

Night by Sulochana Manandhar (tr. Muna Gurung)

Cover of Night - part of the Translating Feminisms series

a nutshell: first jotted in the lap of night, this Nepali poetry collection is a sublime expression of the collaborative power & beauty that can emerge from women translating women in Asia’s literary landscape

a (few) line(s): “Night is an expectant mother | If you are doubtful, just wait; | early tomorrow morning | it will give birth to the sun” *

an image: in the exquisite opening to the poem ‘Sieve’, we watch as the poet pours scattered pieces of her heart on night’s sieve and begin to sift

a thought: I was moved by so many of these poems, but one that’ll stay with me for some time is ‘Property’, in which night is portrayed as the land in which the poet feels free – where she no longer fears subjugation

a fact: to method-translate parts of this collection, Gurung set alarms for various odd hours of the night (which goes some way towards illustrating the devotion that she so clearly feels for Manandhar’s writing)

want to read Night? visit here

* in the Translator’s Note, Gurung mentions how Sulo refers to night as ‘ ऊ ‘ – the gender non-specific third person pronoun in the Nepali language

Translating Feminisms is an initiative to showcase intimate collaborations and conversations between some of Asia’s most exciting women writers and emerging-star translators.

My Urohs by Emelihter Kihleng

a nutshell: this is the first collection of poetry by a Pohnpeian poet, sharing lyrical insights into what it’s like to be a citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia

a line: “you think you’re so educated but haven’t a clue about what it means to be colonised when was the last time you planted something in the ground and felt like a real man? when was the last time you listened to the silence?” (‘Ngih Kohl’)

an image: mouth-watering descriptions of food & drink recur throughout the collection, for instance in ‘A meal fit for a soupeidi’ Kihleng describes a dish of canned mackerel, calamansi limes, salt, breadfruit cooked with coconut milk & sugar, washed down with a glug of coconut

a thought: I learned a lot from this collection e.g. in ‘Destiny Fulfilled?’, Kihleng is critical of how Micronesian soldiers were killed fighting in the US’s War on Terror (“she is a citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia “freely associated” with the United States of America she could die for America our friendly thug soldier … brown islanders signing away their freedom on islands seized by “liberation” 60 years before); also, in ‘Pohnpei Seringiring’, she writes of how apathy suffocates their lush, tropical island – with no one caring about the landslides killing people or the sediment pouring into oceans choking the reefs

a fact: Kihleng dedicates the titular poem to her mother, who conducted ethnographic research in Saladak, Pohnpeil, and wrote a doctoral dissertation about Pohnpeian women – she continues to inspire Kihleng’s writing (another fact: Pohnpei is matrilineal, in that one’s clan membership is earned through the mother)

want to read My Urohs? visit here

The Country Under My Skin by Gioconda Belli (tr. Kristina Cordero)

Blue spine of book with title and author, blank red cover, yellow brick wall in background

a nutshell: subtitled ‘A Memoir of Love and War’, this is a stunningly rich remembrance of an acclaimed Nicaraguan writer’s involvement in the Sandinista Revolution and how she came to age as a passionate feminist in & out of exile

a line: “I couldn’t go on living if I didn’t believe in the creative powers of the human imagination”

an image: on returning to Managua after a heart-rending medical procedure in NYC, Belli presses her forehead to the plane window and realises the runway is beautifully lit by oil lamps – since recent storms had wreaked havoc, they had relied on these with the hope it wouldn’t rain

a thought: Belli’s account certainly made me reflect on social responsibility & collective joy – esp. as my partner is currently reading Lynne Segal’s Radical Happiness – but I never quite pinpointed whether her primary source of joy is herself or collaboration (sometimes she singles out the former as the key to happiness, other times the latter)

a fact: Belli’s most well-known book, The Inhabited Woman, is a semi-autobiographical novel which raised gender issues for the first time in the Nicaraguan revolutionary narratives, yet she considers herself a poet before all else

want to read The Country Under My Skin? visit here