Tuesday, October 24, 2006


I came back last night, sick as a dog. I still am. I spent an interesting 6 days and nights in at my translators' conference and came away with a lot of new ideas and new names to pursue.

In a panel entitled, "Poets translating poets" which was one of the highlights of the conference for me, I made the acquaintance of Ralph Angel. I had never heard of him before. I was totally blown away when, in charting the layering and topography of his own complex identity, he echoed with eerie familiarity, all the influences and currents that directed, still direct, my own identity. And here I was, thinking I was so unique! From the Ladino musicality of the Sephardim to the Turkish and Greek fertilizers of the culture of Jewish-Spanish diaspora, 600 years after the expelled had no longer any congress with their mother-ship, to the irresistible pull of the Flamenco staccato longing, inevitably leading to falling eternally in love with the poetry of Lorca and his duende, to the lifelong involvement with English literature, it is all there, in this poet, translator and teacher of English Literature! Quite amazing.

But he says it better himself:

I am convinced that some languages, languages we neither speak nor understand, are familiar to the ear. For myself, the romance and Semitic languages, the languages of the Mediterranean and the Middle East are familiar to my ear, as opposed, letÂ’s say, to Slavic and Asian languages.

I come from a household of three languages—Ladino, Hebrew, and English—one that I could understand but not speak, one that I could sing but not understand, and one that is the language of my country, at some distance, always, from my own home.

So I understand Spanish, can speak it somewhat, and am still studying its nuances. I can read the poetry of Federico García Lorca in the original. And I was drawn to one particular book of his, Poema del Cante Jondo / Poem of the Deep Song, in part because I was drawn to the music it pays homage to, which also, strangely and surprisingly, was familiar to my ear. It resembled the incantatory medieval singing of the Sephardic synagogue that I grew up in.


I had originally planned on attending the Saturday services in one of the Sephardic synagogues in Seattle. Seattle, it appears, is home to one of the largest Sephardic communities in the world, probably only second to Israel's. By "sephardic" I mean the direct descendants of the Jews explelled from Spain in 1492, and who preserved their special language, the Ladino, and culture throughtout the ages, mostly in Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Italy. They also preserved their musical heritage in both their romancero and lithurgical renditions. These sounds I miss terribly. I have not heard a truly Sephardic prayer since my grandfather passed away. He had the most beautiful voice and could easily outsing the cantor. So I wanted very much to seize this rare opportunity of actually being in Seattle to re-capture some of that childhood magic. But other duties called and I had to make a choice. And I did not go.

More on the conference, when I feel a little better. Until then, I'll leave you with this translation of "La Solea", which, if you recall, I tried to translate a few posts earlier, before I ever heard of Ralph Angel.

SOLEà by Federico García Lorca

Wearing black mantillas,
she thinks the world is tiny
and the heart immense.

Wearing black mantillas.

She thinks that tender sighs
and cries disappear
into currents of wind.

Wearing black mantillas.

The door was left open,
and at dawn the entire sky
emptied onto her balcony.

Ay yayayayay,

wearing black mantillas!

Translated from the Spanish by Ralph Angel

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