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Poem of the week: Cat by John Gallas

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In this modern take on Baudelaire, a moment of sensual connection with a pet resonates with a lover’s unknowability

The New Zealand-born poet John Gallas recently published an enticing and timely collection of translations, 52 Euros. The “Euros”, 26 male and 26 female poets, range from Akhmatova and Apukhtin (“the Russian Oscar Wilde”) to Zhadovskaya and Jens Zetlitz, the latter represented by a splendidly raucous drinking song, Grapes Were Made to Grin the World (“Fillerup! … Gedditdown!”) Gallas stamps his translations with the vitality and lexical daring exhibited in his own poetry. A quieter poem such as this week’s choice, Cat (Gallas’s version, with Kurt Ganzl, of Baudelaire’s sonnet, Le Chat) is no exception, although its technical interventions are subtle.

Unrhymed, the translation is rich in assonance, the relationship of its sounds emphasised by the rhythmic compression. The several coined words make their presence felt, but they also participate in the alliterative melody: they are audible but without jarring.

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