Poem of the Hammer and Sickle


This poem is informed by a great deal of history, politics and personal pain, and it was a challenge for all of us to work out how that could be cleanly conveyed in English, especially given the form, with its brisk lines and staccato rhythm. We had animated discussions over everything from the title ('Song of'? 'Poem of'? Just 'Hammer and Sickle'?) to the semantic implications of 'tools' vs. 'instruments', 'toil' vs. 'labour'. The liveliest exchanges concerned the lines about pulverised bones. Assiya explained that the Kazakh words Medetbek uses for these bones evolved within a particular nomadic dialect, so that this choice of terminology reflects very pointedly whose bones were broken by the state. About half the group were convinced that Latinate words ('vertebrae', 'tibia') would at least suggest either a level of precision or an appropriate oddness of terminology, while the other half felt these choices would be misleading. In the end, we settled for 'spinal column' and 'shinbones', in part for the sonic effect, which subtly echoes the sound of smashing and splintering.

Jon Stone, Workshop Facilitator

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