World Poets in Hebden Bridge: Brazil and The Punjab

Amarjit Chandan reads his poetry in Punjabi at Hebden Bridge Library*
Amarjit Chandan reads his poetry in Punjabi at Hebden Bridge Library

I love world poetry – and ancient poetry. I feel ancient poetry has the freshest taste, the most direct approach. The world poetry more so than English poetry does not shy away from “grand” questions – and answers – of life. It is not afraid to speak about life, Universe, and everything.

My last point was proved by Antônio Moura (Brazil) and Amarjit Chandan, who writes in Punjabi as well as English. I listened to their work, in original languages and the English translations, at an event at Hebden Bridge library, under its black wooden beams.

Captivated by foreign sounds*
Captivated by foreign sounds

Before the readings though we had this wonderful poetry translation workshop run by Amarjit Chandan. He presented his poem “Uncle Mohan Singh”, and first read it out in Punjabi, which sounded magical. Then I had a go at that.

Later we watched a Cuban film about people watching cinema for the first time – which is a theme related to that of the poem. The film can be found here.

The handout had the text of the poem printed out in Punjabi, and as we learnt, the first thing lost in translation has to be the script, as there are no capital letters in Punjabi.

One of the most fascinating things about the workshop was listening to the translation word-for-word (not literal translation), but having English words stand in the same places where they stand in Punjabi sentences. Those end in verbs, like in German or Japanese, and so the poems’ lines often end with “hai” or “hann” (is, are) in Punjabi.

Antônio Moura and Amarjit Chandan at the translation workshop*
Antônio Moura and Amarjit Chandan at the translation workshop

Amarjit Chandan told us about phonetics of Punjabi, and how even subtlest and most tender emotions can be expressed by harsh, glottal sounds lacking from English.

I decided to write a poem inspired by “Uncle Mohan Singh”, rather than a translation of it. I kept the length, the uneven lines, flowing rhythm of a hillside brook, rather than of the sea. I also concentrated on the play of sounds, whereby a poem starts with a concentration of a sound, and then ends with even more of it. I chose the sound “cr”, whereas in the original poem it’s the “ha” sound. The result is my poem “Translation workshop”.

*Photos by my 4 and a half-year old daughter

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