Ambalavan Pokkanai Street, May 2009


We had fun translating this poem by Nillanthan. The group enthusiastically discussed ambiguity of meaning and intent, and we spent most of the first session dissecting the opening verse of the poem. Of particular interest was how to translate the first line - what was the significance of ‘a small kingdom’ and how did it contrast and work against ‘a vast dream’.

Once we had a foothold on the poem, we picked up the pace in the second session, slightly worried that we had spent the whole of the first session on discussion, rather than writing a single word of translation! We talked about how to translate the list presented in line 5. Do we change the order? Do we retain ‘wounds’ or amalgamate it with ‘corpses’? The incongruity of the word ‘people’. We decided that it was important to retain the uncomfortable metre and word order of the line,
preserving the original note of discord.

The final verse flowed easily, probably because of all the thought the group had put into examining the opening verses of the poem. The enthusiasm of the group, along with the rich and spirited discussion, led to the lovely translation attached. It was an absolute pleasure to work with the participants who with thoughtful humour and respectful attention produced a most satisfying and collaborative final translation.

Shash Trevett, Co-Workshop Translator