Further Away

A couple of weeks after having participated in the workshop of 22nd October 14, painter and photographer Pietro Reviglio presented me with a tripartite drawing he had made as a translation of Vasko Popa’s ‘Far Away Within Us No. 22’. While he had used the English translation as the source text for his drawing, Pietro was, of course, also influenced by the original poem, Danka’s photograph and the various translations and retranslations produced during the workshop.

I then asked the poets Anna Mace and Matt Cooper to retranslate Pietro’s drawing into poetry. Neither Anna nor Matt knew the original poem (or its English translation), neither was present at the workshop and neither visited the webpage presenting the workshop. Scroll down to see their retranslations.


Pietro Reviglio’s translation of Danka Dimitrijevic and Vasko Popa



A note on blueness:

Pietro’s drawings are in fact black and white. The hue of blue, I imagine, is the effect of photographing them in the dark of winter. When Pietro sent me those blue jpegs, my first instinct was to exercise my editorial privilege and lighten them up in photoshop. However, when we projected Danka’s photograph at the  workshop, the projector’s not entirely optimised colour-setting meant that it was also veiled in blue. Hence, I thought we should embrace the blueness as an additional layer of translation – translation into the digital perhaps.

Translation of Pietro’s image
by Anna Mace:

Shepard’s Scale

Shy of the sound of the Kijimuna’s ancient song,
Mars conversed inaudibly with the moon.
You could feel past darkening deep,
the light criss-crossing, encoding
the shadows, in whispers.  On,
on and up, so high, it was
an endless ladder
to the sky, and I

step forward, witnessing worlds there, halfway
down.  Watch old man Hiro, grey and black,
bent double, a question mark
against the earth, refract
the perfect symmetry of
yin and yang.  His trembling
hand, in static time, feeds the park wild cats,
whilst the crows seem to float, like musical notes

on telephone
wires; caw prophetically.
You stole answers from prints
on pages, pivoting our rose-tinted
memories between the staves.  Fingers
smear possibility into fact, the way we read
these lines like tea leaves.  Or track flight patterns
of migratory birds, so sure we can compose this all ourselves.

Translation of Pietro’s image
by Matt Cooper:

Far away

We walk you and I
under a far-away sky
Through knee-length grass
With pinpricks of dew
Dappling our boots
Past the carcasses of trees
Reclined and spent
Hedgerows distressed and bent
riven with the first shards of sun
like scratches on glass
Our laughter Staccato
Like the beat of a drum
Until we stop. Stare in silence
At a landscape cussed and bare
The only sound wind
Like an undulating sigh
Hidden away, entombed, you and I

Vasko Popa’s poem for comparison

Far Within Us
Translated by Lazar Pašćanović

Our day is a green apple
Cut in half
I look at you
You don’t see me
There’s a blind sun between us
On the stairway
Our torn-apart hug
You call me
I don’t hear you
There’s deaf air between us
In the shop-windows
My lips seek
Your smile
On the crossroads
Our run-over kiss
I’ve given you a hand
You don’t feel it
The void has given you a hug
On the city squares
Your tear seeks
My eyes
In the evening my dead day
Meets your dead day
Only in a dream
Do we walk in the same fields

An excerpt from an email by Anna talking about her translation:

“It was a challenging image to translate, as the piece was so abstract but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  As I was travelling around Okinawa for the last week or so, this did have some influence on the poem (i.e. the Kijimuna spirits who live in the Banyan trees on the island).  I was also keen to create a very symmetrical form for the poem as this was so distinctive in the images for me – I think the black and white imagery and the balance of form was also strongly evident and lent itself to symbolic ideas like the ‘yin and yang’ and metaphorical imagery such as the ‘crows’ as well as abstract imagery including; musical notation (staves), patterns and flight, amongst others.”

Some fragmentary thoughts on Anna Mace’s poem as a translation:

Where does Anna Mace’s beautiful poem leave me in my search for ‘essence’ as a retranslation of a drawing into the original medium of poetry? Given my lack of Serbian language skills I can only compare Mace’s poem to the English translation of Popa’s original, but at least it is a comparison of one poem with another rather than across media. The differences are obvious, but, I would argue, so are the similarities, or perhaps the continuities which can be traced along the poem’s journey though the different media: words, photography, drawing, words again. What is trans-lated, carried over, or, perhaps a touch more dramatic, in German ‘hinübergerettet’, is a certain melancholy mood, the idea of looking back on ‘rose-tinted memories’, dreams that have come to pass or not, a past that we (re)construct with a hope of understanding the present, albeit in vain. Where Popa’s poem looks for answers in the mystery of a lost or failed relationship, Mace looks at the patterns of nature. Popa’s two halves of a green apple become Mace’s yin and yang – a lost harmony or the possibility of completion. The blind sun becomes a moon, the staircase a ladder, now leading upwards to the sky instead of down towards the street. Popa’s cross-road still echoes in the criss-crossing of shadows and whispers… Mace’s poem clearly comes after Popa’s, after Reviglio’s, after Dimitrijević’s. And in coming after it ensures what Benjamin calls their ‘Fortleben’, their survival, their continuity.

Some initial thoughts on Matt Cooper’s poem as a translation:

When I first received this poem I was amazed how much it resonates with Popa’s original. The relationship, the direct address, ‘you and I’, the memory of happier times, the silence… it’s all there, transposed from the cold grey city into a stark wind-torn landscape. A landscape, which also echoes Mace’s more benign moonlit landscape. The mood of Cooper’s poem is fresher, wilder; the silence comes abruptly as a sudden stop rather than the slow process of quietly slipping away, which seems to have occurred to the couple in Popa’s poem.
If I said earlier that Mace’s poem clearly comes after Popa’s, we can come to the same conclusion here. In fact, beginning with a couple walking through knee-length grass, Cooper’s poem quite literally picks up where Popa’s leaves off: ‘Only in a dream do we walk in the same fields.’ Of course, this might just be coincidence.