This list was initially compiled to mark International Women’s Day 2017. We picked a list of ten brilliant female poets with female translators, many of whom are also poets in their own right. All the featured poems are available to read online for free – click through the links beneath to see more of their work.
1. Kim Hyesoon and translator Don Mee Choi
The poems here are from Kim Hyesoon’s most recent book in Korean, Autobiography of Death (Munhaksileomsil, 2016), which consists of forty-nine poems. Each poem represents a day in the forty-nine days during which the spirit roams about after death, before it enters reincarnation. – Don Mee Choi
Grasshoppers, dragonflies, mosquitoes, and beetles hide
The sky slipslips away high up
The hills roll down to the bottom
The frogs leap into the grave
The phone rings
2. Kim Yideum and translator Don Mee Choi
Kim Yideum is a wildly original and politically volatile poet. Her poems interrogate, appropriate and detour myths and sensationalistic accounts of gender and gendered violence. Loaded with outrageous images and fantastical acts, her poems are sonic spaces in which voices erupt, interrupt and disrupt, her speakers changing at such a speed that it seems wrong to even call them speakers. – Don Mee Choi
Drag out the furniture and memorabilia,
tear open the curtains
and look at my body.
Read ‘I Believe In This World.‘ Co-translated by Ji yoon Lee, Don Mee Choi, and Johannes Göransson.
3. Ulrike Almut Sandig and translator Karen Leeder
Sandig was born in 1979 in Saxony in former East Germany, though one would not necessarily recognize that immediately from any outward aspect of her poetry. Rather it is present in occasional turns of phrase, and perhaps in a residue of longing for a disappeared world. Her poetry deals in the recognizably real: from the city, or landscapes of the South to the minutiae of the everyday. – Karen Leeder
where I am from,
a woman like me might go
under without a passport
and turn up again
to die in a homeland
with passports to burn.
4. Han Kang and translator Sophie Bowman
Han Kang is much better known for her novels than her poetry, but it was as a poet that she first made her debut onto the Korean literary scene in 1993. While spending time with these poems as a translator I have heard them echoing through my journeys and experiences. I believe the poems speak for themselves and hope my translations go some way to doing them justice. – Sophie Bowman
Before it grew dark,
I heard those words.
It’s going to get dark.
It’s going to get even darker.
5. Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska and translator Barbara Bogoczek
Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska (1891–1945) is one of Poland’s greatest poets. Czesław Miłosz called her ‘the Polish Sappho’ and she is best known for the wit and lyrical beauty of her love poetry. Her expression of female eroticism broke taboos, and she did this to the end, recording the realities of her own terminal illness. – Barbara Bogoczek and Tony Howard
Who will weep for you? Not John and not Mary.
Neither Percy nor William. Not Gladys – nor Sybil
Hardened by the cold and tough as the seagulls.
But a sad woman from Krakow will.
Read ‘To the Bombed, the Homeless, the Wounded…’. Co-translated by Barbara Bogoczek and Tony Howard.
6. Ana Luisa Amaral and translator Margaret Jull Costa
Ana Luísa’s poems are resolutely female, but she casts her net very wide in terms of subject matter: from tender poems about her daughter to thoughts provoked by finding a crumb lodged in the pages of a secondhand book to musings about Galileo, the theory of relativity and the larger themes of loneliness, loss, and death. – Margaret Jull Costa
7. Mame Seck Mbacké, translated by Georgina Collins
Only two of Mame Seck Mbacké’s poems have been published in translation before, and yet her poetry is not only stylistically innovative but is rich with references to Senegalese history and culture, tackling issues of war, immigration, initiation rites and the African landscape, for example. ‘Waltz for the Harmattan’ appears in the collection Les Alizés de la souffrance (2001). The Harmattan is a hot and dusty trade wind that blows in from the Sahara during the winter months. When it meets the cooler summer winds of the monsoon it has been known to create tornados, generating the historical, political and cultural chaos of the poem below. – Georgina Collins
The Place Concorde
Discord of the People
Snow in heat
Nostalgia for the Africa
Of my nights
Of Samba Creole
Along with Pigalle.
8. Caitlín Maude and translator Doireann Ní Ghríofa
A versatile artist, aside from her work in literature, theatre, and politics, Caitlín Maude is perhaps best known for her music. She was a gifted singer in the traditional sean-nós style, and in recordings, her voice lilts high as a lark. We are fortunate to be left with the legacy of Caitlín’s poems, this beautiful echo of her life. Across the decades, her words sing to us, still. – Doireann Ní Ghríofa
I am an animal
a wild animal
from the tropics
celebrated far and wide
for my beauty
9. Forugh Farrokhzad and translator Sholeh Wolpé
Forugh Farrokhzad is arguably one of the most significant Iranian poets of the twentieth century. Her poetry was the poetry of protest – protest through revelation – revelation of the innermost world of women (considered taboo until then), their intimate secrets and desires, their sorrows, longings, aspirations and at times even their articulation through silence. – Sholeh Wolpé
All night someone was panting
disappointed inside my chest.
Someone was rising.
Someone was lusting.
Two cold hands were pushing
her away once again.
Read ‘In Darkness’
10. Nge Nge and translators Olivia McCannon and Pandora
Nge Nge (Kyaukse, b.1984) still lives outside Yangon and the metropolis. Her poems are full of sensitivity to the natural environment. But a deeper more probing philosophy in her poems indicates a maturity beyond her years. In her poems about relationships we find strong feminist observations. – Pandora
We have known so many times like these.
Our ears pick up repeated sirens.
Warning lights flash continually in our eyes.
Read ‘State of Emergency’ .
Olivia McCannon translated Nge Nge with Burmese poet Pandora as part of an MPT Burmese women poets project.