Posts in Category: Musical settings

Los Pobres by Roberto Sosa

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Roberto Sosa is Honduras’ most famous living poet. This is one of several musical adaptations of his poems by the Honduran classic rock band Rajamadrex on YouTube. It’s a little unclear, but I’m guessing that the video itself was made by the band, or someone under their direction, and the captions were added much more recently by the YouTube poster, who goes by the handle Sanjeringas. Here’s the Spanish text along with my own translation.

Los Pobres

Los pobres son muchos
y por eso
es imposible olvidarlos.

Seguramente
ven
en los amaneceres
múltiples edificios
donde ellos
quisieran habitar con sus hijos.

Pueden
llevar en hombros
el féretro de una estrella.
Pueden
destruir el aire como aves furiosas,
nublar el sol.

Pero desconociendo sus tesoros
entran y salen por espejos de sangre;
caminan y mueren despacio.

Por eso
es imposible olvidarlos.

The Poor

The poor are many:
that’s why it’s impossible
to forget them.

Doubtless
they glimpse
in each new dawn
building upon building
where they’d like to make
a home for their children.

They’re able
to bear on their shoulders
the coffin of a star.
They can shatter the air
like maddened birds,
blotting out the sun.

But unaware of their gifts, they enter
and exit through mirrors of blood,
they walk slowly and are slow to die.

That’s why it’s impossible
to forget them.

I did this translation 14 years ago as part of a chapbook I put together after a six-week visit to the country. I was in Honduras not just as a tourist but to attend my brother Mark’s wedding to a Honduran, my sister-in-law Luz, who is from the same small city as the just-deposed president, Mel Zelaya. The Honduran coup is therefore somewhat personal for me. Since Zelaya was deposed for siding with the poor and alienating large segments of the ruling elite, Sosa’s poem seems — sadly — as relevant as ever.

Aaj Bazar Mein by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

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Poem and recitation by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Video by umer05, whose description is worth quoting in full:

Faiz Ahmed Faiz is amongst the most famous poets of last century. Faiz, who was hounoured by Lenin Peace Prize in 1963, was seldom subjected to arrests by the right-wing pro-imperialist military regimes of Pakistan. Once, during the dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq, he was arrested and taken to the police station in front of the public. In this context, he wrote ‘Aaj Bazar mein’.

The video starts with a ‘mushairah’ (public recitation), where Faiz presents the poem, and describes its context. Then the video, with the melodious voice of Nayyara Noor in the background singing the verses of Faiz, shows the sufi culture of Pakistan, which was suppressed by the religious fundamentalist government of Zia-ul-Haq. Then, there are some clips of public floggings and public hangings of political dissidents, which were employed to ingrain terror in the people of Pakistan. Public floggings were a norm during Zia’s time. The video, then, takes us on a trip to a well-known red-light area of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This red-light area is in the neighbourhood of a very famous mosque, a contradiction unresolved.

Umeed-e-Sahar (Hope of the Dawn) by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

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Poem by the great Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

Music and video by Laal.

Love the interplay between the text of the poem and the drama in the video. The Wikipedia article linked above says that Laal are

known for singing socialist political songs, especially those written by leftist Urdu poets such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Habib Jalib and Ahmed Faraz. The band received mainstream attention during the Lawyers’ Movement, in which it led support to the reinstatement of the then deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad. […] Laal has not only managed to reconnect the people of Pakistan to the forgotten revolutionary socialist poets, but also introduced them to the youth

—which should serve as a reminder that, in some cultures, poetry still retains considerable power.

Arte Poética by Vicente Huidobro

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Poem by Vicente Huidobro

Music by Iván Lizama, performed by Ensamble Transiente – Música Experimental Latinoamericana (see YouTube for personnel)

Arte poética

Que el verso sea como una llave
Que abra mil puertas.
Una hoja cae; algo pasa volando;
Cuanto miren los ojos creado sea,
Y el alma del oyente quede temblando.

Inventa mundos nuevos y cuida tu palabra;
El adjetivo, cuando no da vida, mata.

Estamos en el ciclo de los nervios.
El músculo cuelga,
Como recuerdo, en los museos;
Mas no por eso tenemos menos fuerza:
El vigor verdadero
Reside en la cabeza.

Por qué cantáis la rosa, ¡oh Poetas!
Hacedla florecer en el poema;

Sólo para nosotros
Viven todas las cosas bajo el Sol.

El Poeta es un pequeño Dios.

Let poetry become a key
That opens a thousand doors.
A leaf falls; something flies past;
Let everything the eyes see be created,
And the listener’s soul keep trembling.

Invent new worlds and guard your word;
Unless it gives new life, the adjective kills.

We dwell in a circle of nerves.
Muscle hangs,
Like a memory, in museums,
But that doesn’t mean we have less strength.
True vigor
Comes from the head.

Poets! Why eulogize the rose?
Through the poem you can make it bloom.

Everything under the sun
Lives only for us.

The Poet is a little God.

My attempt at a translation. The last line became the slogan of the literary movement Huidobro founded, Creacionismo (“Creationism”).

The Soup by Charles Simic

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Poem by Charles Simic

Musical composition by Alden Jenks

Performed by the San Francisco Conservatory New Music Ensemble, conducted by Nicole Paiement, with mezzo-soprano Raeeka Shehabi Yaghmai

A brief peek into Yaghmai’s rehearsal with Jenks for the premiere performance of The Soup may be seen in this documentary about her from Bebin TV, starting at the 4:30 minute mark.

Red Rose 1 & 2 by A.H. Afrasiabi

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Poems by A.H. Afrasiabi, translated by Niloufar Talebi

Video from The Translation Project — a scene from Icarus/Rise, “a multimedia theatrical piece based on new Iranian poetry, created, translated and narrated by Niloufar Talebi, in collaboration with choreographer and video artist Alex Ketley and composer Bobak Salehi” (text from YouTube).

The Translation Project’s page goes on to say:

Based on the poetry in BELONGING: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World, ICARUS/RISE is inspired by the Iranian spoken word tradition of Naghali, which is practiced in the streets, cafes, public rituals, or ‘art music’ stage. By giving this spoken word tradition new content (new poetry in BELONGING) — rather than its usual content of classical Persian poetry and myths — and fusing it with western theatrical elements, ICARUS/RISE gives voice to hybrid-Iranians, reflecting their experience in contemporary society.

Todesfuge by Paul Celan

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Poem by Paul Celan

English translations: Michael Hamburger; John Felstiner; Jerome Rothenberg

Video by Philipp Fröndt, Max Straßer and Martin Race

This perhaps overly literal interpretation of the poem is the only one on YouTube to employ moving images. The slideshows, however, use a recording by Celan himself. Here’s the one I found the most effective:

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To put Celan’s reading in context, Gail Holst-Warhaft writes,

The Todesfuge has acquired a unique status among poems about the death camps. To many of its readers, it seemed to contradict Adorno’s famous dictum about the impossibility of writing poetry after Auschwitz. Of all Celan’s poems, the Todesfuge has been the most discussed, anthologized, and translated. Celan’s own reading of the poem, preserved on record, emphasized its relentless rhythm, an effect achieved by repetition, alliteration, and a dance-like beat that reinforces the grotesque musical imagery of a poem originally published in Romanian and called “Tango of Death.” The title recalls the Jewish musicians forced to perform by the S.S. At the Janowska camp near Lvov (not far from Celan’s birthplace in Czernowitz) Jewish musicians were ordered to play a “Death Tango” during marches, grave-digging, tortures, and executions. Before liquidating the camp, the S.S. shot all the musicians. At Auschwitz, the term “Death Tango” was used for whatever music was played when groups of prisoners were executed. Without the lilt of this macabre dance music, the poem loses much of its effect.

Inevitably, then, the poem attracted the attention of composers. Here’s a video of a live performance of Elmir Mirzoev’s setting:

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