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This item is taken from PN Review 275, Volume 50 Number 3, January - February 2024.

Letters to the Editor
The French Connection
On Translating Miodrag Pavlović

James Sutherland-Smith writes: Chris Miller’s ‘Constructing Pavlović’ (PN Review 272) is an attempt to draw attention to the poetry of Miodrag Pavlović, one of the three great modernists of Serbian poetry, the other two being Vasko Popa and Ivan Lalić. However, despite my own pique at his dismissive comment on my and Nenad Aleksić’s translations, for me the article is based on what is a rather narrow selection from Pavlović’s range of poetry.

The first translation into English was the New Rivers Press chapbook of 1976 by the remarkable multilingual translator Joachim Neugroschel (1938–2011). It was called The Conqueror in Constantinople and featured translations of twenty-two poems from the collections Milk of Origins and Great Scythia. Versions of all of these appear in the larger selection by Barry Callaghan, A Voice Locked in Stone (Exile Editions, 1985). Bernard Johnson’s The Slavs Beneath Parnassus (Angel and New Rivers, 1985) has translations of twelve of Neugroschel’s selection. In addition, Callaghan and Johnson have versions of two further poems in common.

Now, either the three translators are to be congratulated on homing in on twelve or so essential poems, or there is a French connection lurking in the background. If so, this might well be a wholly benign individual, a French poet, Robert Marteau (1925–2011), who was a close friend of Pavlović and his translator into French. Neugroschel in his translator’s note indicates that he had no Serbian and translated from Marteau’s versions; ‘(they) were so startling that I proceeded to turn them into English’. The Callaghan versions have an afterword by Robert Marteau translated into English, and Callaghan doesn’t indicate how he arrived at his versions. Perhaps Miller would not have attempted his hybrid translations of extracts using Johnson and Marteau’s translations had he been aware of the reduplication of Neugroschel’s original translations.

Miller is wildly off target in his extract from ‘Svetovid Speaks’. It should be ‘Baltic’ not ‘Balkans’ and the idiom ‘kovati zaveru’ means ‘hatch a plot’. Neugroschel (and I assume Marteau in French) is spot on here. To twist the knife further, Callaghan’s version of ‘Putnik na odlasku’ (Traveller’s Departure) is at least faithful to Pavlović’s versification. Miller’s ‘The Traveller Departs’ is not.

Both Callaghan and Johnson produced further translations. In 1983 Callaghan had published Singing at the Whirlpool (Exile Editions) and in 1989 Johnson published Links, also with Exile editions, incidentally the imprint Callaghan founded. Both are translations from a much sparer style of poetry where Pavlović explores prehistory revealed by the results of archaeology on Neolithic sites in Serbia, long before either Greeks, Romans or Slavic people arrived. This change in style for a significant part of Pavlović’s poetry is not mentioned by
Miller and neither is his late religious poetry in prose forms.

Concentrating on a style of poetry, as Miller does, written in the late 1960s and early 1970s and fashionable in the Penguin Modern Poetry series does Miodrag Pavlović’s reputation little service.

Chris Miller replies: James has the privilege and authority of an acquaintance with Serbian. I know of the Neugroschel chapbook, but have never seen it; it is not in any Oxford library and was commercially unaffordable. Marteau’s versions have indeed proved inspiring! ‘Balkan’ for ‘Baltic’ is a grave error, for which I apologise; ‘weave a conspiracy’ for ‘hatch a plot’ less so. I have some examples of Pavlović’s shorter, sparer poems, but have not been persuaded by them even in Marteau’s translations. My object was to interest readers and, ideally, translators, in Pavlović and in the poems by him that I love. I eagerly await convincing translations of Pavlović’s other styles.


Beverley Bie Brahic writes: PNR 274 landed on my Paris doormat this week and leafing through it (am I the only person who reads magazines back to front?) I discovered Sinéad Morrissey’s tribute to Ciaran Carson. I keep copies of Morrissey’s On Balance on two continents; I carry a copy of Carson’s Still Life around with me so I was ready to be impressed by Morrissey’s thoughtful, as well as witty, enviably precise and deliciously personal comments about Carson’s ‘non-linearity’ and ‘rambling ambiguity’ in The Star Factory, a book I don’t know, but have just ordered through Paris’s Red Wheelbarrow bookstore.

May I add that reading Morrissey’s poems, it has more than once crossed my mind that she would be an excellent candidate for the Oxford Poetry Professorship. Her Carson lecture confirms that intuition. I am hoping that somewhere down the line she will be nominated and have the courage to accept.

Meanwhile I am very much looking forward to
A.E. Stallings’s turn in the chair.

This item is taken from PN Review 275, Volume 50 Number 3, January - February 2024.

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