Tag Archives: Modern Poetry in Translation

Heroines from Abroad

HfA front hires   HfA back

Heroines from Abroad, newly published by Carcanet, is a bilingual (German / English) edition of poems by Christine Marendon, alongside my translations.

Heroines-from-abroad

Christine will be in Scotland this summer, and we are launching the book on 13 July at 8pm at Lighthouse in Edinburgh.

I discovered Christine’s poems via a mutual friend, the poet Arne Rautenberg. Christine had been invited to a festival in Slovenia, and needed English versions of six poems – could I make the translations? I enjoyed their enigmatic imagery and shifts in tone, and made the translations, helped by a correspondence with her.

Several years elapsed, when I always had in the back of my mind that I’d like to return to her work. I came across poems online, and have been translating her slowly but steadily since 2011; translations have appeared in Shearsman, Modern Poetry in Translation, New Books in German, and online at www.no-mans-land.org.

We met for the first time in March 2014, in Hamburg where she lives; shortly afterwards we were invited to read together in London by Sasha Dugdale, then the editor of Modern Poetry in Translation, and it was a pleasure to hear her measured reading voice.

From Bavaria, she grew up speaking both German and Italian, and only began writing in her poetry in her thirties, after attending a reading by the poet Hilde Domin (1909–2006). In Germany her work is published online, and in magazines and anthologies, but she still awaits a first collection. As a translator, she has made German versions of poems by James Wright.

Marendon’s work may bridge for English-language readers the perceived chasm between avant-garde and mainstream poetry. It’s not obscure, it’s not banally ‘accessible’. The voice and the language of Cockburn’s translations feel freshly rinsed.’ Carol Rumens

Meeting Thomas Rosenlöcher

I met the poet Thomas Rosenlöcher in 2005, when he read at the Goethe Institut Glasgow, and have kept in touch intermittently since. But over the years I have translated a number of his poems – those published in the journal Modern Poetry in Translation can be read here.

Hirngefunkel

He got in touch at the end of last year to let me know of a new collection, Hirngefunkel (Mindspark).

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He also invited me to visit him, and I travelled to Dresden earlier this summer. I met him and his wife Birgit at their house in the countryside nearby.

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I also had a chance to hear him give a reading of his work, in the odd but fitting setting of the Stasi-Behörde, that is, the building where all the Stasi files are kept and where they can be consulted by members of the public. – Fitting in the sense that he had his own problems with the Stasi in the old GDR; at the reading he joked that, at readings back then, he always tried to work out which member of the audience was the informer.

I came away with new insights into his work, and with an appetite to translate more of his work.

With thanks to Creative Scotland for their financial support towards the trip.

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Autumn leaves

Autumn seems to be the time translations appear – a smaller crop than last year’s, but there are two publications to mention. No Man’s Land, the online journal for German writing in English, has published my translations of Arne Rautenberg – several haiku, and ‘gingko leaf fairy tale’, about coming across a pressed leaf in a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Those poems, and many more, are included in Snapdragon.

The recent issue (3:18) of Modern Poetry in Translation is on the theme of Transitions. It’s the last to be edited by David and Helen Constantine, who share this issue with their successor, Sasha Dugdale. I’ll be sad to see them go – they have consistently published work of interest from a generous range of poets and translators, and have been very supportive of my work, taking versions of Thomas Brasch, Thomas Rosenlöcher and Heiner Müller. This issue features translations of three poems by Heinz Czechowski (1935–2009), a writer I’ve just discovered this year, and who skillfully interweaves his private and public selves, the historical and the contemporary, the literary and the mundane. You can read one of the poems here.

Beside them are other translations of Czechowski by Ian Hilton, a former professor of Germany at Bangor University, who has known his work for much longer than I have, and who many years ago met the poet on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall.

From the German

I’ve had translations of German-language poems published in several magazines this autumn.


Banipal describes itself as a ‘magazine of modern Arabic literature’. Some years ago I translated for it poems by Adel Karasholi, a Syrian Kurd long exiled in Germany, who now writes in German. The magazine has now started to feature a ‘Guest Literature’ in each issue, and Banipal 42 features Germany. The editors asked me to translate six poems by Ulf Stolterfoht. He’s not an easy writer to translate – he himself has translated J.H. Prynne and Tom Raworth into German, and his work is similar to theirs in its slipperiness. I approached task with some trepidation, but was helped by Ulf’s patient responses to my questions, and I came to enjoy their unexpected twists and turns, their extravagant playfulness. There’s a good interview with him (in English) here.


Modern Poetry in Translation has published a poem each by Thomas Brasch, Thomas Rosenlöcher and Heiner Müller. It’s taken my translations of poems by Brasch and Rosenlöcher previously (issues 3/6 and 3/11 respectively). Heiner Müller I knew of as a playwright, until I discovered a volume of his poems when visiting Berlin in 2009. ’Napoleon at Wagram’ uses the dialectical method – like musical counterpoint – two very different narratives, about Napoleon and Lenin, are juxtaposed, and the reader is invited to make the connection.


Poems by Christine Marendon are in Feathers & Lime (2007); earlier this year I began working on her poems again, and four have just been published in Shearsman 89/90, and another two in the on-line journal no man’s land. I like the enigmatic imagery of her work: tantalising hints and glimpses of characters, situations and narratives.