Coming Back from the Hemp Plantation
This, this first of three poems we translated by the Afghan poet Mohammad Bagher Kolahi Ahari, perfectly encapsulates his strengths as a poet: concision and clarity, delivered in language that is both exact and understated. Poems such as these which seem, at first glance, to be very simple, are extraordinarily difficult to pull off. Their ‘simplicity is, of course, deceptive: these few lines are like a miniature short story in the way they manage to convey the hope and despair of an entire life, in this case an Iranian economic migrant forced into back-breaking labour in Pakistan.
As you’ll see, we altered very little of Alireza’s literal translation – in the first stanza changing ‘farm’ to ‘plantation’, clarifying the illness as ‘rheumatism’, etc. The second verse provoked a lot of discussion, particularly when we tried to find an equivalent for ‘peddling’ which, although accurate, sounds old fashioned. In the end we settled on ‘trinkets’ as a way of the life he might lead in Karachi. We also decided to take out ‘is so much easier’ in the last line, as we felt this was implicit in the poem – that, like many people who travel to cities in search of employment, he’s doing so because he imagines life will be less harsh.
Sarah Maguire, Workshop Facilitator