Bridge to Global Literature

Let’s all remember that more and more poetry gets lost without earnest attempts at translation.Read poetry here to get a glimpse of the rhythms and resonances of languages you don’t know.

Of a Clandenstine Pen— Vahé Godel

Sep 29, 2022 | Poetry | 0 comments

It is an important occasion for all of us at The Antonym today. It is the International Translation Day ! To mark this occasion, we have been celebrating Translation Month throughout the month of September. As a part of that, a competition was announced wherein submissions were requested for translations of poems from one’s mother tongue to English. We received an overwhelming number of submissions and we are happy to announce that we have chosen the four best entries! This poem by Vahé Godel , originally written in French, and translated to English by Victor Pambucian, is one among the selected entries.

Translated from the French by Victor Pambuccian

To guide your pen in the dark, to walk your voice in the gardens of the wind, to introduce your tongue between the lips of silence—or rather leave it all to silence itself, perinde ac cadaver, to let yourself driven by a silence like a blind person, you don’t know where you go (and yet you know it all too well)… to write, thus, to go on writing as if nothing had happened, to wander without end in the belly of a huge city, distinctly memorable, which you deem to know like the back of your hand but of which you never end exploring the slums, discovering in them other buried cities, teeming tiny necropolises, endowed with such intensity, inscribed in one another in concentric circles (here, in the third basement of a shady disco, female hands of beauticians sharpen long knives… there, displaying their charms,
garbage collectors on strike jerk off furiously in front of an alabaster artemis… somewhere else, at nightfall, a faceless graffiti artist armed with a red spray can practices his stealth art on the forehead, on the throat of an evening’s passers-by, in whose gaze he fancies perceiving a touch of eternity…—but everywhere the same smell of fuel oil and frying, of musk and sweat, everywhere the same impatience…), trembling, shivering, seething micropolises, less and less readable, less and less nameable, under each other, like an immense palimpsest… to write oneself, thus, to read oneself, to reread oneself, to fade away, to get lost, to get out of sight, to retrace one’s steps, whatever one would do, to find oneself time and again at every street corner, a perpetual passerby, to pass, to smuggle, to go unnoticed to better recognize oneself, to free oneself to get better connected, to turn around and around, to foresee the worst at each turn, to turn badly, to hold firm, to drown in one’s ink, to lose with all hands and cargo, to cover oneself in black light, to sink in one’s own silence, to dissolve in one’s foam… to dissolve, yes, but to better take shape, to sink in order to reappear right away with renewed vigor, without any concern for the hour or the place, without noise, without breathing—holding only onto a single thread of a clandestine pen

Also, read the other winning entries for Translation Month, published in The Antonym:

Three poems from Martial (I:1, VI:60 and X:35)

Three Poems by Valerieo Grutt

English Translations of Three Poems by Jibanananda Das

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Born in 1931 in Geneva to an Armenian mother and a Romandy (Suisse Rromande) father, Vahé Godel has published a large number of poetry volumes, from the 1960s to the present, as well as more than a dozen volumes of prose and several volumes of French translations of Armenian poetry from classical, medieval, Western, and Eastern Armenian. He spent several months over the course of three stays in Soviet Armenia (the only Armenia there was at the time) in the 1970s. Neither the form nor the themes of his poetry fit into any of the fashions of its time and place of publication (often Paris or Brussels, as publishers in the Romandy initially showed little interest in his work), leaving him for many years isolated and, in retrospect, though hard to envisage for this discreet giant of the French language poetry of the second half of the 20th century, marginalized.

Victor Pambuccian is a professor of mathematics at Arizona State University. His poetry translations, from Romanian, French, and German, have appeared in Words Without Borders, Two Lines, International Poetry Review, Pleiades, and Black Sun Lit. A bilingual anthology of Romanian avant-garde poetry, with his translations, for which he received a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts translation grant, was published in 2018 as ‘Something is still present and isn’t, of what’s gone.’ Aracne editrice, Rome.


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