Friday, October 28, 2016

Poetry Friday: A Poem by Ekaterina Yosifova

Bulgarian journalist and poet Ekaterina Yosifova

I sorted through a big pile of random papers the other day, trying to get organized (ha!), and found a poem I tore out of a review discovered in a neighbor's free Little Library - didn't remember what review it was that I'd found it in, though I've now looked it up (Black Warrior Review, Fall/Winter 1991.) I re-read the poem and, after maybe a year or two of its being buried in one stack of papers and another, I continue to love it, so I'll share it here today. A small treasure, found, then lost, then found again. As autumn rains come down, and Novembrrrrrrrrr approaches, I begin to think of winter. So - "Beneath Winter's Roof" - what could be there? Here's what Ekaterina Yosifova found:
Beneath Winter's Roof

Let us honor the offerings,
let us cut quinces for the wine,
let us bring out memory's salty grapes.

Yes, it was wonderful,
we experienced all we could
(which wasn't so little, after all)
and pain is joy's companion.

The heart's eternal love song--
this priceless game that can rescind all verdicts.
We'd wake up ready for joy
since we were children, taught to forgive.

We tried out a scream and all kinds of silence,
all kinds of words-- the earth's big enough,
we won't weigh her down
--but we could even keep silent like old friends.

Wonderful world, where
the most important questions go unanswered,
where sweet wells don't run dry,

and the future
will be no less vast without us.

                   Ekaterina Yosifova  (translation by Lisa Sapinkopf)

Here is a link to a brief interview of the poet, who is Bulgarian. In it, she says two things that interest me. First this, about reading and writing poetry:

It doesn’t matter which readers, it doesn’t matter whose poetry – as long as it’s Poetry. It exists. Everywhere and at all times, since man (pre-literacy) felt excited by owning this peculiar sense of understanding, entering…We need it. The encounters are joyful." 

That's nice, isn't it, the feeling that poetry is a "peculiar sense of understanding" and that encountering it is "joyful"?

Later in the interview, she talks about being a young woman in Sofia in the late 60's, unable to find poetry translated from the English:  

American literature was starting to get published [in Bulgaria]; there were lines in front of the bookstores, more and more fiction was being translated, with “clarifying” forewords. But not poetry. Was it because poetry did not yield to “clarifications”?

Poetry not yielding to clarification. I like that idea.

Don't forget to vote on November 8th!!!

And don't forget right now to head over to the Poetry Friday round-up - it's being hosted by the wonderful Linda Baie over at Teacher Dance (and while you're there, you might just learn a thing or two about "stirdulation." And no, despite the sound of that word, it's not an activity baristas engage in.)


  1. Beautiful poem, but I like the comments even more. I think poetry must be the hardest to translate well.

  2. Love it, Julie. I'm saving it. Thanks.

  3. I've been reading the daily Issa translations by David Gerard, and wonder at his talent at bringing this joy to us in English. I do believe that he will never know if he's got it right, but appreciate that he brings it to us. Ekaterina Yosifova shows that frustration at not having the English poems translated, but then her thoughts about clarification do make sense. Wouldn't it be wonderful if poet to poet could talk in both languages to see if the translation works? Thanks for always telling the story behind your sharing, Julie, love that!

  4. Translation is such a complex dance, and I have such respect for talented translators who are able to capture the spirit and movement of a poem - it's no mean feat!

  5. So glad you found this poem again, and shared it with us, Julie. Especially the backstory - so interesting. =)

  6. and the future
    will be no less vast without us.

    Kind of puts us in our places, doesn't it? Thanks for sharing this poet and her work.

    1. Diane, I thought about those last two lines for quite a while. Finally I decided that it was even braver to love the world the way this poet loves it when what it offers (a future) is so fast. The future - never availble when we're alive, nor when we die, and yet there's the wonderful now, in which we live.

    2. I meant to say "...the future is so vast." On the other hands its also fast (as in, it comes at me faster and faster, no lingering....)

  7. I can see why you would tear out this poem and put it on top of a pile of papers to discover years later. The joy....the joy! Joy does accompany pain, doesn't it?
    Thank you for sharing. What a wonderful find and re-find. Won't forget to vote. I'm looking forward to election day being history!