Christine Marendon’s debut collection Heroines from Abroad are poems written in her native German. She has been published online, in magazines, and anthologies.
This bi-lingual collection is about reflecting on life. The poems are not always straightforward and take some time to process. Since they are never longer than a single page, one has time to read a poem and think about them carefully. The poems don’t follow a certain rhyme scheme, but they all have their own rhythm; sometimes fast-paced, other times slow. Whenever possible, I try to read the original works; they just have something special, which a translation cannot completely grasp.
I still know exactly how the world fetched me, My head was squashed, turned blue, and forceps pulled me. There was no milk for me, a mare’s [.]
The above lines are from `Middle´, where the poet tells about her dramatic birth (and afterwards), has story-like elements. We don’t remember our own birth, but sometimes, when we hear a story often enough, it can turn into something like a memory. The tone of the poem is not accusing or emotional, but matter-of-fact. Sentences are broken up; the original does the same, creating an interesting flow. Enjambment also appears in every poem of the collection; in these lines taken from ‘Tongue.Sedan’,
I didn’t know this corner of the country. I was sent a letter[,]
there is no rest at the end of a line for your eyes, as the next sentence has already started. Yet if this was done to put an emphasis on the last word of each line, the effect is lost in translation, on account of different sentence structures in German and English. Nevertheless the translator, Ken Cockburn, has tried to stay as close to the original patterns as possible.
The German poem is printed on the page facing the English version. For someone speaking both languages, this is a nice opportunity to do a side-by-side comparison; however, one does not necessarily need to know both languages to enjoy the poetry collection.
Nacht Gebrüll: 'Ich brauche einen…' Ist ja night a commotion: ‘I need a …’. OK, OK. gut. Komm Come her du Tier. Will dich ein wenig drücken und here, beast. I want to give your goose-flesh a zupfen an stroke
While Cockburn has put considerable effort into translating the meaning, staying as close to the original as possible, in this poem, he has exchanged the original word ‘animal’ with ‘beast.’ The German version conjures up the image of a harmless creature, but the English translation turns it into something more dangerous. This might only be a minor alteration, but it changes how the Dodo bird is perceived; ‘Dodo’ ends with the lines,
and so easy. Not even a pile of ashes left. Let’s sleep a while. And dream. Once upon a time. The ocean blue.
In the English translation, the first ten lines of ‘Dodo’ are very short and fast-paced, creating a staccato effect. The rhythm of these lines is broken-up, reinforcing the use of enjambment. This indicates that something ominous will happen. Just like the poem will come to an end quickly, the bird’s life will too. The last two lines quoted above create a beautiful imagery of the Dodo’s fate. It is not like a phoenix; it will not be reborn out of ashes; it has disappeared completely. The only way we can bring it back now is in our dreams or in fairy tales. The tone in the poem is wistful, longing for a past that exists only in the poet’s imagination, when the grass was greener and the ocean bluer.
Translating a text can be rather difficult as no matter how good the translator some of what makes the original text great is bound to get lost in translation. But here both the original and the translated version are beautiful and definitely worth reading.