Transcreating - John Rowlands
BREAKING THE SHELL
My haiku/senryu are mostly in English as there are very few Welsh language outlets. However, I translate some back and forth between languages and the fracturing process can sometimes be revealing.
they talk of heaven
I fill my eyes
with skies and stars
llenwaf fy llygaid
â sylwedd y sêr
The Welsh version has with the substance of the stars as the last line because the literal translation lacked rhythm. It is,hopefully, more meaningful.
Il faut casser le noya pour avoir l’amande.
It is necessary to break the shell to have the almond.
Lately I have been following up on the fracturing process, with mixed results. Translating is challenging but I prefer Gabriel Rosenstock’s term, transcreating and I am in the process of creating a collection comprising of a Welsh haiku on the same page as its counterpart, leaving the reader to wonder which was the chicken and which was the egg.
After my collection (1) appeared (which included a few transcreations) I was invited to read my poems at Welsh Language gatherings in 2018, involving musical performances by Gwyneth Glyn and Twm Morys (2). Thus began my journey to transcreate more of my English haiku.
I had, thanks to Beate Conrad, editor of chrysanthemum-haiku, been fortunate to see bilingual submissions (also translated into German by their editorial team) published online. I was then inspired further to submit Welsh language haiku with a transcreation to Blithe Spirit, The British Haiku Society’s magazine, edited at that time by Shrikaanth Krishnamurthy. Malcolm Williams, a Welsh haijin living in Cheltenham, was the first, as far as I know to have a Welsh haiku published in that magazine. I have subsequently exchanged letters and books with him. He is a humble poet who has won awards but, in his Foreword to his Collected Short Poems/Storm Whispers, he quotes Coleridge: ‘poetry is its own exceeding great reward.’
Also, Marc Evans, a haijin from Cardiff whose work appears in another country (3) inspired me further by letter, noting that certain characteristics of the Welsh language enable one to sometimes be rather more succinct than in some other languages. Further to this, Aled Jones Williams, the renowned author, poet and dramatist, referred me to the minimalist poetry of Samuel Menache which is captivating, to say the least. All these experiences led me to think of a bilingual collection and it is also pleasing that Bruce Ross, editor of Autumn Moon Haiku Journal will ask for a Welsh transcreation if he accepts a poem for publication. Here is one example:
a sudden chill
I’m still unsure as to whether I’ve finished the following transcreation. I’ve been trying to write a haiku about this memorial for some time. I see it every time I embark on the famous T2 bus down south from Eifionydd.
another burst of sunlight
traw arall haul
yn tanio’r efydd
Bronze Memorial - Trawsfynydd - Cofeb Efydd (4)
I began with Welsh versions but not one seemed satisfactory. Then I worked on English hybrids , with battle connotations, which gave rise to - a burst of sunlight hits home.
I was going to leave it at that but, with such poignant subject matter, I attempted Welsh hybrids which then developed along different lines leading to traw (hit) and tanio’r (ignites/to fire). Sometime, with the constant global menace of firearms in mind, arall (another) became a keyword and seemed more relevant. Also, because hits home is an idiom I kept the last line in Welsh as concrete as possible - tanio’r efydd (ignites the bronze). I have a feeling that I’m still not finished with this version.
Not every transcreation is as surgically approached as it may appear from what I’ve written above. Some are short(er) and sweet(er) . Some don’t bear fruit at all. I often wander up a convoluted garden path and one line that appeared was - a burst of sunfire. All very clever (poetic) but not for a haiku . Also, with some haiku, one returns to them searching for something more but therein lies the danger of losing that haiku moment.
I have been asked how the poetics of the Welsh language influence my haiku and I think that my first attempts came about because I found the genre so different in character from Welsh poetics, especially cynghanedd. The late Nigel Jenkins in his excellent Afterword in another country defines cynghanedd thus:
Literally, ‘harmony’: an ancient and complex system of sound-chiming within a line of verse, which has been described by the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (1993) as ‘the most sophisticated system of sound-patterning practised in any poetry of the world.’
I never managed to cope with the intricacies of this strict system, although my father was a practitioner. All Welsh language poets and many Anglo Welsh poets are aware of its complexity, beauty and importance in our culture. However, haiku appealed to me immediately during a haiku workshop in Cardiff in 1991 (5) because of its refreshing directness and (apparent) simplicity. In a conversation with Nigel I remember him saying that he admired haiku’s lack of ‘poetic pyrotechnics’ especially in comparison with cynghanedd’s 24 forms of metrical complexity, though he was a great admirer of the traditional art.
Alliteration is a ploy some of us Welsh speakers seem to enjoy, often playfully, and use as naturally as the Japanese use the 5-7-5 rhythm (not syllables but simpler sounds) in everyday life. This leads one to musicality of expression. I don’t know how musical haiku are in Japanese as I don’t speak the language though I am aware that Japanese haijin revere a degree of alliteration and I have always been led to believe that classical haiku don’t have intentional rhyme. Cynghanedd is constructed on foundations of accents, rhythms, consonance, end-rhyme and internal rhyme and these elements pop up regularly, subconsciously, when I am writing - parts of a Welsh language poet’s psyche I presume. I invariably have to surpress these tendencies unless they are of use in short poems as opposed to haiku and senryu.
In the 80’s I had been writing free verse in Welsh then, later, rhyming verse and experimenting more with Welsh prosody until my haiku epiphany. Subsequently, my aim has been to concentrate on a simple purity, which is obviously the quest of all poets.
Regarding haiku, I have always leaned towards sparse, direct expression. Objects become poems and poems become objects. However, looking back at my recent attempts, especially with senryu, if musicality might enhance a haiku I do consider it more than I used to do when I would have deliberately removed any hint of it. I now realise that this is because of the poetic environment in which I live and this musicality is prevalent, especially in this part of North Wales which is at least seventy percent Welsh speaking. Musicality is embedded in the language.
Also, Welsh is one of many languages which have consonant mutations.(If one delves further into Consonant Mutation, languages such as the other Celtic languages are noted as well as Russian, Hebrew, Japanese and many more.) The beginning of a word changes depending on the word that precedes it or depending on its specific role in a sentence. These are obviously variables which a writer can use creatively.
Another factor is an eisteddfod. (One of the few Welsh words in any English dictionary.) It is a festival of literature, music, drama, art and performance which dates back to the 12th Century. Cerdd Dant is a prominent feature in any eisteddfod and it is the art of vocalising poetry to musical accompaniment, usually a harp or harps. The use of counter melody is a key factor in this particular art.
It may be difficult for some readers to envisage reciting, from memory, poetry or prose in front of a large audience, sometimes a packed pavillion. This is very much to do with public performance and with suitable subject matter that lends itself to a stage atmosphere. It, also, only suits people of a certain temperament. Not everyone wants to be a top-class singer or tip-top actor.
Haiku is usually presented in an intimate atmosphere. It is low-profile as opposed to high-profile. And quieter! More private perhaps.Many haijin think of haiku as being primarily for the page, one-to-one with the reader.
I find creating haiku a natural part of my days. I enjoy being on the fulcrum of a see-saw between my cultural background and another culture’s interpretation of life on this floating world. I am well aware that only Japanese speaking poets write pure haiku and only Welsh speaking poets write pure cynghanedd. I’m not sure how that defines me!
My instinct is still to write haiku as it has developed in the Western world and to express as much as possible with few words without thinking of poetic constructs but, unnervingly, this natural, accidental onomatopoeia occurred in the following Welsh transcreation...
llonyddwch y llif
yn llechi’n llawr
the stilled flows
in our slate floor
cylymau tywod/knots of sand
I considered not trying to publish it because, in Welsh, the repetition of the ‘ll’ sound is so horribly evocative of the slurping sound of mud or slurry and this worried me because of such a distressing subject. In retrospect I came to the conclusion that I had to be true to my experience of 1966 when I was in college with a friend whose home was in that area of South Wales. It obviously affected him enormously, coming from a place where the local coal tip was in the centre of his village.
For our generation, the 50th anniversary programmes were harrowing and the music of Karl Jenkins overwhelmingly moving. Also, in that context, I re-read the moving tribute by Leslie Norris to his friend who perished in the tragedy: Elegy for David Beynon.(6)
In attempting to cobble together a collection I have realised that a bilingual reader could combine different elements of each haiku and create a better hybrid than mine. Perhaps this is taking the phrase leave some space for the reader a bit too far!
I hope that I haven’t over-analysed the pair of Hedd Wyn haiku because I do have many reservations about the constant defining and re-defining of haiku and senryu in magazines. Over emphasis on process is a malaise in contemporary visual art as well. Writing haiku is difficult enough as it is and with all this in mind I shall insert an insurance term on any future collection, namely - haiku, senryu and short poems.
A few more examples:-
buwch ar ei hyd
yng nghysgod hanes
a lone cow lies
in ancient shade
Blithe Spirit. Vol 28 #3
y bwced gwag
yn llawn goleuni
the empty bucket
full of light
Blithe Spirit. Vol 28 #4
Meanwhile, like every haijin, I’m forever open to that rare moment when a tiny poem arrives complete and unbidden from somewhere, nowhere and everywhere.
Sometimes it is salutary to set poetics aside.
(1) cylymau tywod/knots of sand Alba Publishing. 2017
(2) Twm Morys. Poet, singer/songwriter, Editor of Barddas. Gwyneth Glyn. Poet, dramatist, singer/songwriter.
(3) another country:haiku poetry from wales Gwasg Gomer. 2011. Editors Nigel Jenkins, Ken Jones, Lynne Rees.
(4) This sculpture is the greenest bronze I have seen in this area. Verdigris, the Green of Greece, is the result of acid rain on copper..............
(5) The Welsh Academy’s Japan Festival. Cardiff. 1991.
(6) Leslie Norris - The Complete Poems. Seren Books. 2008.