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This poem is taken from PN Review 212, Volume 39 Number 6, July - August 2013.

Dante's Inferno, Canto XXXIII Philip Terry
Translating Dante again, especially the Inferno, given the wealth of recent translations from C.H. Sisson, Mark Musa and Ciaran Carson among a host of others, calls for some explanation. When that translation involves shifting the action from the twelfth to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and relocating it to the University of Essex, some explanation is all the more urgent. One starting point was architectural: the walled cities of the Italian city-states in the Middle Ages (typified by Montereggione, with its fourteen high towers that stood on its perimeter like giant sentries, to which Dante makes allusion in Canto XXXI), which underpin the iconography of the Inferno, also underpin the architecture of Essex University, where a number of towers surround a central campus, divided up into squares modelled on Italian campi (the origin of our modern word 'campus'). Another was psychogeographical, taking its cue from the revisioning mappings of the situationists and of writers and artists such as Rebecca Solnit and Jorge Macchi, and involved the palimpsestic strategy of superimposing a map of one place (here Dante's Inferno) onto another (Essex University and its environs). As the work proceeded, the two maps, by twists and turns, sometimes guided by instinct, sometimes by unpredictable coincidences, began to converge more and more: Dante's Phlegethon, the river of blood, became the river Colne; his popes were replaced by vice-chancellors and, at the suggestion of Robert Sheppard, David Willetts; his suicides, whose souls are reborn as the seeds of trees, later to be preyed on by harpies, became the trees planted to commemorate untimely student deaths on the Essex campus; the warring Guelfs and Ghibellines of Dante's Florence were replaced by the sectarians of Belfast, my home city; and Virgil, finally, was replaced by one-time Essex writer-in-residence Ted Berrigan, who, like the Latin poet, had imagined the underworld in his poem 'Memorial Day': 'I heard the dead, the city dead / The devils that surround us'. By replacing the historical figures in Dante with our contemporaries I hope to have dispensed with the need for extensive footnotes, one of the unavoidable burdens of a more traditional translation, while remaining faithful to the spirit and integrity of Dante's text. Canto XXXIII, in which Dante's Count Ugolino is replaced by Bobby Sands, is printed below.

Raising his mouth from that horrible snack,
This blood-soaked shade wiped his lips clean on the
Squashed thatch of that head he had chewed up behind

Then spoke: 'You've got a cheek, wee man, asking
Me to rake over the coals of a grief so desperate
That the very thought of it freezes my bones;

But if my words are to be a seed, that may
Bear the fruit of infamy for this traitor
That I gnaw, then prick up your ears,

For you shall hear me weep and gas at once.
I've no idea who you are, nor what business
Brings you traipsing around down here, but something

In your voice tells me that you were once from Belfast.
Know then, that I was Bobby Sands, and this
...


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