TRANSLATION World Poetry Day


21 March was World Poetry Day so our new Translation editor Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp takes us on a global tour through children’s poetry from around the world...




Beginning our lyrical world tour the first book I’d recommend is the only one on this list with poems written originally in English Under the Moon & Over the Sea: A Collection of Caribbean Poems edited by John Agard & Grace Nichols. Agard and Nichols were the winners of the first CLPE Poetry Award, (now known as the CLiPPA), in 2003 for this evocatively illustrated collection. Rich in the rhythm and dialect of Caribbean voices, these atmospheric poems from Valerie Bloom, Benjamin Zephaniah and many much loved poets span comic moments of everyday life to legends and folklore of the Caribbean islands.





Travelling now to Haiti I recommend a beautiful collection of poems by Haitian teenagers, accompanied by portraits of each of the contributors by Quebec-based illustrator Rogé. The young people’s very personal poems in Haiti My Country, translated from French into English by Solange Messier, tell of the landscape, the flora and the fauna but also of disappointments and difficulties, hopes and ambitions. The taste of fresh mango and the call of the songbird – all the imagery of a place these teens treasure as their home and invite us to come visit through their words.





In a similar vein the poems in Niños: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile each introduce us to a real person. The difference here is that these poems are each a tribute to the memory of a child. Under Pinochet's regime thousands of people were killed or disappeared, including thirty-four children under the age of fourteen. Beautifully translated by Lawrence Schimel, these poignant, short poems by María José Ferrada, each dedicated to one of those 34 children and each with a delicate and thought-provoking illustration by María Elena Valdez, capture the spirit and perspective of even the youngest, the babies and toddlers, with touching humour and the joy that all children deserve to be remembered for. Lighter and more accessible than you might imagine, these poems make a good route into talking with primary school children about the impact of conflict on young people.





In Super Guppy Edward van de Vendel introduces us to a curious pup experiencing the best life has to offer in charming poems brilliantly translated from Dutch by David Colmer, each with hilarious illustrations by Fleur van de Weel done in a sparse palette of black, white and green. Whether it’s ‘helping’ the mums cool down on the beach, having a tea party in the wardrobe or playing old-folks’ games at old-folks’ speed, this pup’s perspective on life is always refreshing and makes for a good poem. “Dad, I say, / it wasn’t me. / It was the puddle. / It liked me so much / it gave me a cuddle.” And, as with all good Emma Press books for children, the ‘bonus bits’ at the back include a guide to learning some Dutch words and tips to get started writing your own poems.





Indeed I have so much admiration for Birmingham’s most creative small indie press, The Emma Press, that I have to mention another of theirs – Everyone's The Smartest by Estonian poet Contra, with full-colour, quirky illustrations by Ulla Saar. These delightful, cheeky poems about school and the tiny details of life are translated by a team of translators – Charlotte Geater, Kätlin Kaldmaa and Richard O’Brien – and, like Super Guppy, this one is also bursting with facts about Estonia, the Estonian language and ideas to get your poetic juices flowing.





From Norway I absolutely adore Little Parsley by Inger Hagerup, (1905-1985), whose poems were translated into English in 2019 by Becky Lynn Crook and illustrated in the 1960s by René Gauguin, (grandson of Paul Gauguin), in a deliciously quirky style combining inky line drawing with block-printed splashes of colour. From hedgehogs and sweet peas to Little Miss Noseypants these poems offer a glimpse into the eclectic and playful mind of one of Norway’s best loved poets for children.





Heading over to Asia now, and back even further in the 20th century, no one’s poetic world tour is complete without a taste of Wordygurdyboom! The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray. Ingeniously translated from Bengali by Sampurna Chattarji, these rhymes and stories take you down the rabbit hole into the pun-filled, fun-filled gibberish world of Sukumar Ray, sometimes described as a Bengali Lewis Carroll with the surreal dimensions you’re drawn into and the mysterious creatures that accompany these wacky poems and tall tales.



If this little tour has given you a craving for more classic and contemporary poems from other countries and continents do have a look at the Children’s Poetry in Translation book list over at World Kid Lit.


Happy travels wherever poetry takes you!


*Header image Jess Stockham



Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp is a British literary translator from German, Russian and Arabic into English. She translates fiction, nonfiction, (especially history), and children's books. Recent translations include children’s books from Palestine, Syria, Russia and Germany. She also co-edits two blogs about diverse children’s publishing – World Kid Lit and ArabKidLitNow!.


Follow Ruth on Twitter! @RuthAhmedzai @worldkidlit

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