Empty wine bottle…


It was a pleasure to work with the Poetry Translation Workshop and Assiya to translate Tanagoz Tolkynkyzy's bold, emotive poem about ill-fated lovers drinking and parting into the night. Before we began, Assiya gave us an insight into the poetry of the Kazakh language and its literature - its musicality, vowel harmony and the strong oral poetic tradition which still thrives in Kazakhstan.  She introduced Tanagoz Tolkynkyzy as a fresh and important new female voice in Kazakh poetry, one of the first poets to write boldly and truthfully about the interior lives and passions of Kazakh women.  


Working with Assiya's bridge translation and her guidance, we enjoyed discussing the fourth line - Can you be referred to as my friend? - as in the original Kazakh poem this stanza carries the implication that the lovers are already committed to others, rather than the English version which suggests the classic break-up line -"Can we be friends?"

We loved the image My soul is smoked like a cigarette and wondered whether we might change this to You smoked my soul like a cigarette. A lovely bold line but Assiya thought it a touch too far from Tolkynkyzy's original so we kept the bridge translation.

A line that we really puzzled over was Don’t be so sullen, saw it off like a log. After trying many versions of this image (saws/chopping/branches/firewood/burning) we settled on cut it off for the fire; still not quite right perhaps but hopefully capturing something of the original image. 

The last two lines proved tricky as the word reeling holds crucial meaning in the Kazakh original but unfortunately in English that phrase rocking and reeling sounds rather too close to the playful, joyful rocking and rolling, not at all the right mood. To counter this we decided to flip the line around so that the phrase comes first and then swapped rocking for rocked to help bring the tone closer to Tolkynkyzy's Kazakh.


Liz Berry, Workshop Facilitator

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