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The Brindled Cat and the Nightingale's Tongue

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Louis de Paor is one of Ireland's leading Irish-language poets, and was a key figure in the Irish language literary renaissance of the 1970s and 80s. At that time he didn't want his poetry to be translated into English, believing it should be judged solely on his own original words and 'not critically assessed through the distorting prism of English' (Pat Cotter). But living in Australia for ten years gave him a different perspective, and he began publishing his work in bilingual editions. Since his return to Ireland in 1996, he has worked closely with poets Kevin Anderson, Biddy Jenkinson and Mary O'Donoghue on English translations of his poetry, with his co-translators fully engaging with the original poem in Irish, but never publishing bilingually 'until the poems have reached their first audience among Irish speakers'. This new bilingual selection of his poetry takes its title from Gerry Murphy's haiku 'Translation and its discontents', a reminder of the more destructive aspects of translation: Stark moonlit silence the brindled cat is chewing the nightingale's tongue. Here 'the translator appropriates material from another language to sustain the appetite of his own, devouring the original in the process. The danger of suffocation has led to some unease among Irish language poets.' Keenly aware of that ever-present danger and related anxieties, he and his trio of translators have eschewed the modern fashion for so-called "versions", producing English translations which are as close as possible to the original Irish poems without sacrificing their tone, energy, clarity and lightness of touch.

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