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Review: Shape of Time, by Doris Kareva

Many translated collections, even where there is dual text, are unsatisfactory. The English version not only does not have the original word music and subtle associations, but frequently has very little music and is more like prose and can seem banal or oddly phrased. Shape of Time by Doris Kareva is an exception. It is translated from Estonian by Tiina Aleman. In her introduction she explains that her fluency in Estonian and the fact that she is a native English speaker made a good idiomatic translation possible. In addition, Doris Kareva speaks English and was able to judge the translation and be a sounding board. Doris, she says, conceives her poems as musical compositions and Tiina worked line by line trying to hold to the shape and form of the originals, while staying true to the meaning. She found she had sometimes to let go of word play and alliteration as these were literally lost in translation. As she points out, whatever the shortcomings of translation, without it we would have Dickinson but not Akhmatova; Dickens but not Dante; Shakespeare but not Moliere. Doris Kareva deals in philosophical and exploratory themes. She is playful on the cliche of the effects of a butterfly's wing:

A butterfly, the beat of whose wings
unleashed a tornado,
woke the philosopher
shattered the universe's dream
rose into the air from an empty page in front of me
just like a
poem.

The poems are not titled but numbered in sections. There is beautiful and resonant imagery in

the morning unfurls like the Japanese flat -
in the midst of the frosty landscape
there glows a disc of rayless sun.

Yesterday's greening faded like a dream.

White,
silent all trees and ground.

Everything is lost
Everything is remembered.