Manchester Writing presents: An Evening of Poetry in Georgian and English

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By Pierangelly Del Rio

Manchester Writing School continues celebrating its special International Literature Week, which aims to support creativity in Manchester’s diverse and multilingual community in the wake of its designation as a city of literature by UNESCO. The Manchester Writing School welcomed acclaimed Georgian poets Diana Anphimiadi and Salome Benidze this week, in partnership with the Poetry Translation Centre. The authors offered a reading of their work and engaged in a discussion on the delicate art of translation alongside award-winning British poets Jean Sprackland and Helen Mort, and their bridge translator Natalia Bukia-Peters.

Attendees were welcomed at the Anthony Burgess Foundation and were soon introduced to the work of the Poetry Translation Centre by chief executive officer Erica Hesketh. Established in 2004 by poet Sarah Maguire, the centre has been introducing new audiences to leading poets from around the world since its foundation. Focusing on poetry from beyond Europe –Africa, Asia and Latin America – the Poetry Translation Centre brings new work to English-speaking audiences in the UK.

Celebrating Georgian women, the Georgian language and poetry, the centre embarked in its Georgian Poets Tour, marking the publication of the new chapbooks: Beginning to Sleep by Diana Anphimiadi and I Wanted to Ask You by Salome Benidze. The evening started with the reading of several poems from the chapbooks, first in English followed by the Georgian version.

Jean Sprackland, who worked on the translation of Beginning to Sleep alongside Natalia Bukia-Peters, introduced Diana Anphimiadi and read the poem with the same title of the anthology. The piece set the mood, as it showed Diana’s interest in language, evoking the emergence of language with powerful lines such as, “I cover my ears with my hands and I listen for the birth of the world, Who I am”, while rich images were conjured with “I stand like a lamb beside the bed/And at the violent touch of warm hands/ Or the blazer sharp glance of loving eyes.” Making connections to her writing on cooking, Diana often makes allusions to food in her creative work. The poem ‘Prayer’ referenced people with not enough food, and made subtle references to Georgian history and politics. As a half-Georgian, half-Greek national, Diana also incorporated Greek mythology and figures like Helen of Troy, while speaking about women and what being a woman represents in society.

Helen Mort also introduced I Wanted to Ask You by Salome Benidze and read the poem sharing the same title. Similarly, the poem explored language, particularly the process and difficulty of articulating things with delicate lines such as: “I wanted to say I never knew how to find a simple sentence that could hold my love for you, my pains and fears, my shut eyes secret wishes…” Poems like ‘The Story of Those Without Mother Land’, were personal and told a narrative in several lines, exploring topics of migration and silence. In ‘The Story Of Flames’, Salome incorporated overheard conversations, while drawing links to Helen of Troy.

After the reading, the panel spoke about the process of translating from Georgian to English and the journey towards the publication of both chapbooks, which lasted several months. Natalia Bukia-Peters spoke in depth about her role as a translator and being the bridge between the Georgian and the English poets. She recognised the major difference between the languages, as she called Georgian a “left-hand” language, in which the main meaning of a sentence can be found at the end. She described making meaning in English as “quite the task”. When asked whether she felt tempted to change things while translated, Natalia answered: “I try to stick to the original text to deliver to the British poet, but sometimes I get carried away and I’m tempted to do my own thing… But it’s a very interesting project.”

Helen Mort opened about the process and spoke about Natalia’s work, saying: “It was useful that Natalia added notes and gave different, parallel ways of saying something, which it makes it clearer and gives you more freedom.”

For Jean Sparckland, it Natalia’s notes were incredibly helpful but also complicated things at times. “An example is the poem ‘Prayer Before Taking Nourishment’, in there, the word ‘mouth’ also means promise,” she commented. “It was deliberate, which of course doesn’t work in English. But I pick on the word ‘oath’ instead of promise, which at least makes some kind of chime with mouth. There is some connection then for the person reading or hearing the poem, even though it wasn’t actually the same connection.”

Salome commented on the risk of losing the meaning of her work during translation. “You always take the risk when you’re doing the translation,” she said. She then went on to praise the work of Natalia and Helen in her collection. “I was concerned if the things that were most important for me where in the poem or not, but they were kept. I think this collaboration went really well.” For Salome, the key aspects while translating from one language to another were the translators’ attitude and enthusiasm.

Towards the end of the evening, Diana took the opportunity to thank the Poetry Translation Centre and the Manchester Writing School for giving them the opportunity to share poetry and the Georgian language.

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