What Inspired Me to Write Poetry – Guest Post by Joe Lamport

I didn’t set out to become a poet nor did I sit down one day thinking I would try to write a poem.  For me it began more circuitously.  It began with a foreign tongue.  For me, reading and more importantly translating is the way I first discovered the stirrings of my own voice within.

Joe Lamport, goodbyedayjob.blogspot.com

Joe Lamport, goodbyedayjob.blogspot.com

I can trace the beginning back to a precise moment — when my wife gave me (for my 45th birthday) a book of poems by Anna Akhmatova.  It was a Penguin edition with translations by D. M. Thomas.  Quite simply I have never been so profoundly moved by a book.  While reading the first dozen poems, I felt myself in a writer’s immediate presence more so than I had ever felt before.  It was as if I could hear Akhmatova’s voice speaking to me directly.  It wasn’t so much the translations by Thomas – which I recall as being perfectly serviceable – but it was the poet herself who addressed me.  For the first time I understood what it means to write a poem.

In fact, even though I know no more than a few words of Russian, I soon found myself correcting Thomas’s translations, somehow intuiting where he had missed some nuance or inflection in the original work.  Possessed of this insight, it wasn’t too long before I decided to venture a translation of my own, or more precisely a re-translation of Thomas’s prior work.

So here is the first translation I ever ventured – a half-step on the way to writing my own poetry.  It is appropriately enough Akhmatova’s great poem in tribute to Boris Pasternak.

*  *  *  *  *

The Poet (for Boris Pasternak)

Who sees himself sidelong
Through eyes of the horse
By such divergent means
He recognizes instantly
How the puddles shine
Like melted diamonds
And the ice fractures
Intricate as lace

Or in lilac repose
By the station platform
Noticing the logs leaves
And clouds piled high
And the steam engine’s hiss
And the crunch of watermelon rind
How the lady holds scented glove
So delicately in hand

Or at thundering pace
Launching out
To beat against the surf
Then suddenly slowing
To let heartbeat subside
On entering the forest pavilion
Advancing cautiously so as
Not to disturb things sleeping
In such a sacred place

Mentally taking note
Of each stalk of grain
To the graveyard
He quietly returns
With hoof downward sloping
And gracefully paws the earth

And how once more
Amidst Moscow’s throngs
It ill behooves him
This burning
At the back of his throat
Yet he tries to find
A livable space
Hearing far off the peal
Of the deathly bell
Tolling for one
Who lost the way
Knee deep in snow
But only steps away
From the front door

And because he had
Presaged the rising
Plumes of smoke
That would emerge one day
From the belly of
The Wooden Horse
And likewise because
He celebrated
Cemetery thistles
And braved the void
With the sound
Of his thoroughly
Original verse
A very mirror to the

He found reward
In childhood eternal
With generosity aplenty
A shining heart displayed
As a constellation and nightly
Presented to the earth
As an inheritance
To be shared

* * * * *

Once you hear that voice there is no turning back.   Reading and translating and writing become a compulsory part of understanding existence.  It’s akin to a commandment, a call upon the generosity of spirit that we all carry within.  Indeed, as Akhmatova and Pasternak and so many others before have said – it is an inheritance to be shared indiscriminately … and joyfully whenever we can.

Recommended Article: The Life and Times of Richard Musto – a Review

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