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Sally Evans (Editor, Poetry Scotland)

Contemporary Gaelic Poetry by Christopher Whyte: creating English language verse translations

Bho Leabhar-latha Maria Malibran [from the Diary of Maria Malibran] Christopher Whyte has a group of translators, among them linguists and poets. In the last few years CW has asked me to translate several poems about women, including Bho Leabhar-latha Maria Malibran, a long poem dealing with many of his regular themes. The complex story of this poem is outlined and it is shown why a woman might be most able to empathise with the troubled girl behind the great opera singer. At the same time, a poetic understanding is needed to control the motifs of the poem's underlying concerns, including Malibran's and the other musicians' artistic dedication. The structure of the long poem calls for understanding of the work both as a story and a work of art, and a work about art. The poem develops by weaving in flashbacks, as Maria is forced to confront the abuse by her father, which occurred while she was playing Desdemona to his Othello in Rossini's opera. Anecdotes about Rossini give scope for further reflections on music and art, and allow for some humour, as do the fashionable Parisian women who confront Malibran in her working life. In the envoi, Whyte uses a more direct register to discuss the alienation of the poet writing in Gaelic, and writing for the small audience who would understand him, an important passage which addresses the central theme in CW's work. If the willing reader is part of this small audience which crosses the chasm of Whyte's artistic alienation, so much more is the translator, who reinterprets the work in another language to retain the full message of his poems.

Sally Evans is a poet living locally near Stirling. She has published several books including Bewick Walks to Scotland, The Great North Road and The Bees, and she is the Editor of the well known broadsheet Poetry Scotland. She has studied Greek and Latin poetry which acclimatised her to translating poetry. Sorley Maclean's poetry introduced her to modern Gaelic, and she now counts several Scottish Gaelic poets among her friends.