Spikin’s Letter


The translation discussion was broken into two sessions. In the first, we introduced the poet and poem, and looked mainly at the first six lines. The other twenty-two lines were looked at in the second session. In the first, we spent a lot of time trying to unpick the ideas underlying the start of the poem, in particular the first line, where the euphemism for death in the Hausa refers to fulfillment; the idea of life having been “filled” rather than just “finished”. We tried out many different lines and ideas in its place, but, in the end, and running out of time, we came full circle and chose a very simple line, familiar to English readers, to communicate death. This was an attempt ultimately to try and capture the straightforward language and working naturalistic expression of the original poem, which guided us throughout. Another significant point was to use the word “compound” up top rather than “home” or “house”, to ensure that the African sense of home as an extended family’s collection of houses was retained, rather than translating this idea into a Western notion implying a nuclear family. We decided to work through the translation for meaning first, and to address the Ghazal structure at the end, deprioritizing form as the original is not in itself formally very strict. But, in the end, we ran out of time. The poem is deceptively simple. We could have discussed it for much longer.


Chrissy Williams

Workshop Facilitator

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