Lost and found in translation: Christopher North

danube 6

If you missed yesterday’ post, this may not make sense, and you’ll be better off reading that first. And if you didn’t miss it, this is just a reminder that I’m reflecting on the business of translating/interpreting/adapting poems from other languages; in this case with the built in advantage of being to workshop the poems with the poet him/herself.

Today’s interpreter is Christopher North.His poetry has won many prizes. His first pamphlet collection A Mesh of Wires was short-listed for the Forward Prize in 1999. His first full collection Explaining the Circumstances was published in 2010, followed by a bilingual joint collection Al Otro Lado del Aguilar in 2011 and a second full collection The Night Surveyor in 2014 (all Oversteps Books). Wolves Recently Sighted  was a winner in the 2014 Templar Pamphlet & Collection Awards. He facilitates poetry retreats at the Almassera Vella in Relleu, Alicante and chairs Stanza Alacant for The Poetry Society.


Chris said this about the process..

“The workshop began a process for Gyula and for us.

I would say our first drafts were interpretations, hence versions rather than translations.

I attempted to pare down somewhat, seeking the core. A fascinating workshop.”

I have say, I really like the notion of ‘interpretations’. I’m comfortable with that.


Musical Box

(Translation from ‘Lejárt zenélödoboz)


Found on the Street yesterday,

the fat women sprawled

but clutching her ‘Mental Disability Card’.


Husband vanished long ago,

she sinks down and through the hours,

her breath rasps and snags.


After all those years, scarcely alive

and filled of strangling arguments

with the force of law,


all she can do with this ‘season ticket’

is enter their henbane ‘Garden of Welfare’

with its fake scent of flowers and parsley.


But concealed within her

there is music – inside

she is Ophelia screaming.


In this hard edged mechanism of wire,

she croons and hums her melody

locked inside her catatonia


They try to calm her with hypnosis.

They tranquillize her,

calm her defiance, her psychosis.


Step into pension-free retirement!

Drop into its embroidered TV fakerie

and the pit of daily alcohol.


The gum-chewing politician

feeding his crap,

his explanations simple as a border fence;


his doctrines create a stupor.

They beggar remorse

with lofty arrogance.


This ‘Respected Parliament’,

this Gothic delirium-quarry,

this spell bound electorate of pawns.



The next poem really interested me because it was Chris who finally unpicked the connection between the craft of the nine carpenters and the ‘severered hands’ that stood for the breaking of families. Hands as craftsmen and hands as employees. Hands as the makers and shapers of things. Hands that can touch lovingly and hands that can strike, can curl into fists. I like the way the title draws attention to this, now


The Hands

The green mountains of Budapest

smiled in the distance.

Hope had planted whispering trees

and the hands of my carpenter forefathers

raised from them the lofted roof

that covered the cradle of my emerging life.


Then rafters of the collapsing years

fell down to nodding daffodils

beside the garden steps

where I waited

for my ash-grey father

cloaked in his immortality.


Yes, on the green and muddy Danube

I couched beside a backwater

to gaze on sleeping dragons

and later on an ant hill circus.

I slowly forgot the last grasping tugs

of my severed family’s hands.


Thank you so much for these, Chris. I’ll wait until all three sets of interpretations/adaptations are posted and then try to draw some conclusions. Tomorrow’s post will feature Hilary Elfick. See you then






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