from 52 Fragments for the Beloved [7 & 8]
Delaina, our guest translator, explained that these sections were taken from a book-length sequence of poems that Umar Timol has been working on. The ‘beloved’ who is (usually) addressed in the poems is, Delaina told us, hard to pin down. It might be that the sequence addresses a single person (in which case it is likely this would be a female lover) and yet, equally, it seems possible that the sequence is not addressing any one, particular person but, rather, a fluctuating concept of the ‘beloved’ in general.
We spent a great deal of time considering the nuance of register and the playful ambiguity of sense in Timol’s style. In ‘7’, a fragment of a single sentence could be rendered many ways. (“Your speech is now the clay that sculpts silence” or “Your language, turned into clay, sculpts silence” are two alternative approaches, for instance). Given the biblical imagery at work in the line we felt it worth using “words” over “speech” or “language”. But the address itself is not towards God (as God would typically be addressed in the informal ‘tu’ form in French) so opted for “words” over the explicitly theological “Word”. The idea of ‘clay’ as a metaphor for human flesh plays through several of the fragments (including ‘8’ immediately following) and the transformational quality of this line seems to anticipate and play against the active desire of the next fragment. We wanted to give the speaker a devotional quality towards the beloved whose words seem to determine and make possible his very utterance (if we take the speaker to be “this clay”).
This is in contrast to the more aggressive agency in the following fragment, ‘8’. As a group we found the fragment a little uncomfortable in its use of language. Here, the agency of the male speaker toward the female beloved seems almost colonising. The language of desire is violent and menacingly physical. But it is a desire that is, ultimately, frustrated by the inexplicable. We found ourselves arguing over the degree to which the poet might be consciously troubling or disturbing the patriarchal dynamics employed here. The poet’s use of language and the multiplicity of meanings reamined compelling throughout the discussion -- is the desire to mix into the beloved obliterating the other or the self, or both? -- and we felt the best way to understand the contradictory qualities in the poetry would be to translate more of the sequence.
Edward Doegar, Commissioning Editor