Terence Dooley: Translations

Over the last year or so The High Window has published various translation features which were curated by specialists in the field. The current feature, however, was put together from a large volume of unsolicited translations from Spanish, which we had to sit on for quite a while until a slot became available. Unfortunately, we received far more submissions than we could fit into one issue, so that recently we published Glenn Hubbard’s version of  ‘The Old Men’ by Miguel Hernández in one of our  weekly posts. Today we are featuring the work of two more Iberian poets translated by Terence Dooley.

Readers may also be interested to know that in our  autumn issue the translation section will  be devoteded to poetry originally written in Catalan. It will be curated by that fine translator and poet Anna Crowe. It seems appropriate therefore to publish today the Catalan poet Melcion Mateu in versions by Terence Dooley.

Finally, Mateu’s poems are followed by three more from Ignacio Vleming, a young Spanish poet who is particularly admired by Terence.

Before you read the poems here are some of Terence’s thoughts on what started his career as a translator:

‘My  Spanish translation began, in part, and has continued as a reciprocal activity, connected with my other work as Penelope Fitzgerald’s literary executor. Her Spanish publisher (and sometime translator) is Pilar Adón also a well-known poet and novelist. I began by translating her poems and stories, and she introduced me, through the London Spain Now festival, to several other poets, among them Eduardo Moga whose Selected Poems I translated for Shearsman Books. Eduardo has been instrumental in my translating Mariano Peyrou’s In the year of the crab, a book-length poem, for the same publisher, and I am now working on his anthology of Spanish poets in exile in the UK. Both Eduardo and Mariano have also translated Penelope Fitzgerald’s novels into Spanish. I have been fortunate to work with them, and other excellent current poets, particularly because I enjoy the to-and-fro-ing and discussions over idioms and points of detail which help me to produce a polished and accurate final English version.’


Melcion Mateu: Three Poems translated by Terence Dooley


I do what poor people do: on Mondays
I eat liver; on Tuesdays lentils;
on Wednesdays I make tea with lemon,
I walk through El Born and pick up samples
of chitin, sperm and venom,
I read Kant in some library –
there is nothing so sublime –
I talk to myself on park benches,
they are green and know me:
I have a love, we sleep
on the same pallet.

But some day none of this will be the case,
I will be endlessly wealthy:
the seas, the sky and the mountains will be mine,
kangaroos will live in my garden,
I shall be dreamt of by many, the Three Kings of Orient will be green
with envy, and my heirs will fight bitterly –
with wind, with fire –
over the huge royalties from these poems.


Love is a terrible thing.
It’s hard to think of anything that hurts as bad.
If someone stuck a corkscrew in your sternum
you’d know what I’m talking about, but first
they’d have to tug at it, push it deeper, and leave some of it inside.
It’s agony, really horrid.
Like a girl who wakes up in stained sheets
and doesn’t know what to do. Diners in bistros
make the same face sometimes
when they’re wiping their lips. When I scream
my mouth opens to infinity with a raging hunger.
There are cats dying from feline AIDS,
doves with rotting feathers and when I go out on the balcony
I hear, like crows, the seagulls shriek
I’m in love, I’m in love.


I can melt ice with my eyes,
if I blink I wipe out multitudes.
If you asked me to,
I could make the loftiest palm-tree
sprout from the middle of the square.
I can grasp a fistful of water, press
and squeeze it till it becomes a stone.
Police stop me in the street
to ask where I’m going,
I point them in the wrong direction every time.
When I wake up in the morning,
my sheets are almost always on the ceiling.
I can see planets that have ceased to exist
and stars that aren’t out yet.
My horoscope always comes true,
my fate is the immortals’ fate.
I can decide between life and death
between dream and what I don’t dare think.
I can make you suffer
or make you the happiest creature on Earth.

My name is ancient,
I am the king of light.
When it’s cold or rainy I become a chrysalis.
Beside me always there are quivering butterflies,
there isn’t a thing I can do about it:
what all the other poets write,
what all the other poets say in their poems is just
a part –
and a very small part – of what I can say and do.

Melcion Mateu (Barcelona, Spain, 1971) is the author of four books of poetry, among them Vida evident, which won the 1998 Octavio Paz Prize, and Illes lligades, which was awarded the 2014 Jocs Florals de Barcelona Prize. Several of the poems from Illes Illigades are featured, along with those of Rowan Ricardo Phillips, in bassist and composer Alexis Cuadrado’s forthcoming CD, Poètica. Mateu has translated into Catalan works by John Ashbery, Siri Hustvedt, and Michael Ondaatje, among others. He holds an MA in comparative literature from Cornell University and a PhD in Spanish and Portuguese from New York University. He teaches at the University of Florianopolis in Brazil.


Ignacio Vleming: Three Poems translated by Terence Dooley


The harsh light of the metro makes of the passengers
xxxxxxxxa fizzing uniformity.
Dressed for the morning, in vain they count
xxxxxxxxfor nothing the time spent blindly on
xxxxxxxxthe platform waiting.
The hurried breakfast and the day ahead.
Dawn flickers on their foreheads,
the carriage shakes
and all is boredom, tumultuous and slow.

The violinist is playing his concerto far
xxxxxxxxxtoo early. His wife beside him sways,
xxxxxxxxholds down the music-sheet he plays from,
and shelters him from terror and tedium.

Watching them, I picture the landscapes they traversed
xxxxxxxxon their way here. And also I imagine
xxxxxxxxtheir dying breath.
A violin-case their coffin.

Maybe a third of our lives is over.
xxxxxxxxI don’t know if that had struck you
xxxxxxxxyet, or how terribly sad it is.

The carriage powers on through the tunnel
and in the distance you can see the station
xxxxxxxxwaiting for us.


He could be terribly painfully ill
xxxxxxxxit doesn’t matter
because he looks magnificent under
xxxxxxxxthe UVA and we all
xxxxxxxxthink so:
his iron muscles, his skin of silk.
Let’s say he has the appearance of the body
xxxxxxxxbeautiful, so beautiful.

If when he wakes he swallows
xxxxxxxxa handful of blue pills,
xxxxxxxxif his mouth contains
xxxxxxxxulcerous eruptions,
xxxxxxxxif a swarm of rusty bees
xxxxxxxxswim through his bloodstream
xxxxxxxxwe don’t really care because
his heroic body represents for us
xxxxxxxxthe promise of happiness.


The cruise-ship’s as deceptive as
xxxxxxxxa watermelon. On the outside cold metal;
a wild party adrift on the ocean

In dock she rests her thousand feet.
xxxxxxxxWhen she sets sail, dancing feet.
xxxxxxxxWithin the dance a canned orgy:
two thousand singletons looking for love. They hunt it
xxxxxxxxdown with arrows, then sacrifice it
xxxxxxxxon the mixing-desk inbetween diamonds and
the free buffet. Summer itch: The Caribbean
and the Straits of Gibraltar touch.
Whatever happens, they believe in love, for one night or
xxxxxxxxforever, and the rest doesn’t matter.

Ignacio Vleming was born in Madrid in 1981. His first book, which these poems are from, Artificial Spring, won the Pablo García Baena prize for young poets, and in 2016 he published Cartón fossil/Fossil cardboard. Poets he has translated from the Italian include Michelangelo, Sannazaro and Pagliarini. He writes on history, architecture and theatre in the Spanish media, and also writes for the choreographer Avatara Ayuso (AVA Dance Company).



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