More rich taints yer!
This week we were translating a poet from Mauritania, Mamoudou Lamine Kane, with the help of translator Delaina Haslam. Admitting that few of us in the room knew very much about Mauritania, we chose this poem because it seemed to capture a real flavour of a distinct place. Delaina told us a little about her conversations with Mamoudou, who is also an economist and journalist - he described how slavery is still endemic and there is a lot of ostentatious fake faith. This poem captures the inequalities and hypocrisies brilliantly - starting in a traffic jam with ‘arrogance behind each wheel’, we find a city that’s sumptuous and arid, sat in a haze of ‘parp-parps’, prayers and blasphemies intermingled. With its urban atmosphere and merciless gaze, one of our students observed that it reminded them of Baudelaire or Rimbaud.
It’s a rich poem and we had many fascinating discussions, but perhaps the most fun was had with the title. The original French is ‘Mots ris, tant niés!’, which means something like ‘Laughed words, such denial!’ but is also – very obviously – a play on the name Mauritania. Although we considered calling this ‘Laughed words, such denial!’ it sounds awkward in English and we felt the pun was most of the point. This is, after all, a poem of place, and the place name should be in the title. So, we started punning! We hope you like our work. It made us laugh anyway, and we hope it captures some of the poet’s wit.
Clare Pollard, Poet Facilitator