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Niall O'Gallagher (University of Glasgow)


Reading over the Poet's Shoulder: Translating Christopher Whyte's 'Do Pier Paolo Pasolini'

Christopher Whyte's poem 'Do Pier Paolo Pasolini' begins with the speaker coming across a letter written by the Italian poet after the scandal that forced him to leave the region of Friuli for Rome. Whyte's speaker compares his own situation with that of Pasolini and, at the end of the poem, imagines sitting at his shoulder as Pasolini writes his letter and interrupting him, insisting that his doubts about the value and survival of his work are unfounded. He goes on to hope that his own doubts will also prove to be misplaced and that his poetry will find the audience that has eluded it. My translation of this poem was published in New Writing Scotland in 2006, with the original on the facing pages. In translating this poem into English verse, I found myself in a similar position as Whyte's speaker, reading over his shoulder as he writes his ostensibly private epistle to his fellow poet. However, in translating from Gaelic into English, I was also contributing, to a larger degree than is usual, to expanding the audience for the poem, in part responding to the concerns of the poem itself. This paper will use my own experience in making this translation to discuss the problems and the pleasures of translating poetry from a minority language into English in a context where language itself is one of the translated poet's main concerns.


Niall O'Gallagher is a reporter for the BBC's Gaelic service and an Honorary Research Associate in Glasgow University's Department of Celtic. He has written on Gaelic and Irish poetry for both the Herald and the Guardian while his own poetry has been shortlisted for the Gaelic Prize in the Wigtown Poetry Competition. Niall has published English verse-translations of two of Christopher Whyte's longer poems and worked with him on the anthology of Gaelic poetry in translation, Dreuchd an Fhigheadair / The Weaver's Task (Scottish Poetry Library, 2007).