As an avid reader of literary magazines, I am embarrassed to say that I just learned about Five Dials a few weeks ago. Perhaps it’s one of those subtle, colonial snubs that folks in the U.S. don’t talk much about this phenomenal British mag, but I realized nearly as soon as I stumbled upon it that I was dealing with a very prestigious magazine, and that somehow it had escaped my attention for all these years. As a kind of apology for being such a dope, I subscribed to the magazine, as if that would serve as suitable penance for this gaping hole in my lit mag knowledge. Regardless: mea culpa.
What struck me most about Five Dials was its focus on translation – something that is lacking in U.S. based lit mags. Both of the poems I selected for this column were translations – from Greek and German, respectively; perhaps because Five Dials is an imprint of Penguin, there’s an ease of access to original publication rights. The magazine covers everything from lists to “reportage” to poetry and fiction, and leaves a pleasant amount of space for “experiments.” It was almost as fun to explore the site as it was to read the work, which is always an added bonus.
Though there’s no shortage of interesting work in this magazine, I narrowed it down to two poems. The first, “Variations on Anne” from Greek translator and poet Eftychia Panayiotou, discusses the experience of translating Anne Carson into Greek as a series of “ifs;”
“If you must choose, you will choose to be a woman.
If he must choose, he will choose to be a man (though not a husband).
If you are a woman (then surely he’ll never see you as wife).
If he can choose, he will surely choose mistress (but where then is the wife?).
If dialogue demands roles, then you are the killer, I am the victim.
If he has given the key to the wrong woman.
If he says something witty, such as ‘Desire doubled is love and love doubled is madness.’
If she replies even more brilliantly: ‘Madness doubled is marriage.’”
I loved that this piece is a hybrid – part essay, part poem, all doubling back and turning around. It depicts in its writing the complicated nature of translation, and the simultaneous distance and connection the translator feels to the author. It’s both a process piece and a poem, simple and yet complicated. I love its twists and turns.
The second poem is by German author Marion Poschmann, a piece called “Self-Portrait as a White Lady.” It was the pacing and the lyricism of this poem that struck me. Poschmann writes:
an igloo lit from within, in the spray zone
of star clusters, the cold extracts
of former community centres,
streets soused in alcohol, slow, gentle:
I made halls,
phantasms of origin”
This poem flows and flows and never stops until it’s last, breathless ending. The translation is intricate and beautiful, and I read the poem over and over, trying to navigate the rapid-firing of disparate images. It was a lovely, intriguing piece.
Write a poem where each line begins with the same conjunction, as in “Variations on Anne.” For inspiration, reference this list. Try to be comfortable with the incompleteness of each line.