Flower and Butterfly…


It was a pleasure to work with the Poetry Translation Workshop and Assiya to help translate Yerlan Junis' dreamy, surreal, reflective poem of lost love. Before we began, Assiya introduced Yerlan Junis to us as one of the most talented young poets of his generation, a postmodernist widely praised for the freshness and elegance of his verse, his exquisite use of the Kazakh language and his willingness to embrace complexity and contradiction. . 

Working with Assiya's bridge translation and her guidance, we strove to echo a little of the original music of the poem. Assiya advised us that the Kazakh language is agglutinative and its poetry full of complex beautiful rhymes, something almost impossible to recreate in English, so we sought opportunities to draw out alliteration and assonance, creating some musicality. For example, one small pleasing swap was stencil for model; and later dullness and duty took the place of boredom and submission. 

There was a knotty section in the middle (from "Having started..." to  "...their corners") where the poet delightfully drives the poem off the road into surrealist territory. We spent a long time discussing and unpicking this long complex sentence, trying to draw out the subject and rejigging the lines slightly to bring the subject (the photographs) more clearly to the fore. We finally settled on: "Setting off from a semi-secret spot/ and vanishing somewhere unknown,/a thread of dullness and duty pegged/with old photos..."

From this point on, the poem moves to such a beautiful and melancholy place, reflected simply and elegantly in Assiya's bridge translation, that we changed very little. 

Liz Berry, workshop facilitator

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