On Discovering My Voice


I am at a thing.

Canals are there. Sunlight on them, the last tourists, a shifting of the seasons. ‘Soon it will be autumn…’

Hellos are happening, old ones, catching up on five year’s of news; and goodbyes, too. Kissing ‘take care’ in a foreign land. A test for all of us, of trust, of hope, of what will happen to a child when we are no longer there.

It does not get easier.

Softening the blow is the view. I mean, maybe the view, all of humanity passing below us, others’ lives fluidly within reach, beautiful, passing, never the same twice.

Into this rich space we drag our tired bodies and minds. We have buried a friend. We have sat in silence. And now we are here.

At which precise point, there on the coffee table, from out of the corner, my eye catches this, a fat and handsome volume I feel I should know but Don’t. On its pale cover buzz transparent scripts from languages I (mostly) do not recognise. My Voice. Edited by Sarah Maguire. ‘A Decade of Poems from the Poetry Translation Centre’.

Ignoring the blurb (always ignore the blurb), I plunge in randomly and find this waiting for me, its pulse leaping to greet me:

Before You The Rain

Before you the ancient rain

warmth on your back, you stand and think

how few the words

a man needs in life

You think of him who sees all this, and him

whose face is the wind, and the falling of the leaves, and rain

tapping the glass

Tuvya Ruebner, Israel

Translated from the Hebrew by Oded Manor and the Poetry Translation Centre Workshop

That’s it. Everything I need to know, in one seven line lyric poem by a man I have not heard of, from a country I have not visited.

Later I discover he was 90 in 2014. But I do not know this now. All I have before me is my grief, my hunger, my tired limbs, the prospect of another goodbye, the rain at the window.


I turn the page and before I know what is happening another poet is reading me:

Time lets it subtle depths

half-open. (Doors

shielding one another; pushing open, one to another; the spoors

and traces of the sea.) This autumn

of kindling wood, drifts of leaves…

[from ‘In the Heart of Time’ by Coral Bracho, Translated from the Spanish by Katherine Pierpoint and Tom Boll]

Gratitude swells in my veins. Not the forced, remember-to-say-thank-you of my training when I was six, but the devouring teenage gratitude of coming home and being given sausage casserole, or finding a pile of laundry pressed on my bed. Grace, unlooked for, in these tiny bombshell poems, their fragments exploding and mending sense in my fractured mind.

How many years since you were a girl

flat out on the grass

superfluous poetry books in your hand

observing their miracle in the sky…

[from ‘On Time’ by Karin Karakasli, Translated form the Turkish by Canan Marasligil and The Poetry Translation Centre Workshop]


Maybe it is to do with tiredness.

Maybe with travel.

(Or goodbye.)

Maybe there is such a thing as the right book at the right time (for all time?).

Whatever, whoever, you say thank you, to it, to her, to him.

A voice you do recognise (not well, but still) seals the deal:


Gripping wires like clothes pegs,

small seagulls made of wood,

agile and tiny against the brutal blue,

bound to midday, they fall, one then another,

moving clothes, arms, smiles,

white breasts, black hoods,

pointed wings aligned, minimal agitation,

until they all fly off but one –

[from ‘Swallows’ by Pedro Serrano, Translated from the Spanish by Sarah Maguire and Gwen MacKeith]


I know what to do.


  1. The Poetry Translation Centre is a wonderful institution – I’ve participated in their translation workshops and several of my friends are in that anthology – will forward your blog to them.

    Liked by 1 person

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