Today I have invited David Bleiman to drop in to reflect upon a poem from his unique collection, This Kilt of Many Colours, (Dempsey and Windle, 2021).
Have you noticed how, long after a people have been cleared by war, migration and the wash of history, the name of their place persists? Why do we, hundreds of years later, still call the place by the name which was given by the people we have replaced?
My poem Place markers looks at examples from different countries. The USA is full of places which retain their native American names, or some distorted version thereof. I take Manhattan and Chicago as prominent examples. Nearer my Scottish home, the mysterious Picts, who left no writing and little language, hang on in carved stones and the names of places.
Like many of the poems in this collection, I come back to my own Jewish heritage. Jews have been expelled from many places over the millennia – from England in 1290 and Spain in 1492, for example. Yet the place names persist: Old Jewry in the City of London, the Judería of Córdoba and countless small towns in Germany which retain a Judengasse. But, for me, Granada is the most fascinating. The Jewish inhabitants grew pomegranates, from which the city took its name. A name which it retains 500 years after the conquest of Granada from the Moors and the expulsion or compulsory conversion of the Jews of Spain.
My son now lives in Madrid and I am learning Spanish. Granada popped up again in another poem in this collection, The ballad of Fuente Grande, which concerns the murder of the poet Lorca. I first wrote this in Spanish but it is my translation into English which appears here. I imagine the Jews hurrying to rescue Lorca carrying pomegranates – of course the Jews were long gone from the city. In Spanish granada means both pomegranate and grenade, so that my imaginary Jews may have been rushing to the scene carrying hand grenades. This was untranslatable.
I am not sure that this poem is typical of the collection but it gives some of the flavour of my writing and my own sticky preoccupations with heritage and identity, for which languages are often the glue. And maybe the clue?
Thank you, David.
Next week read my review of this remarkable collection.
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