A Review of Koh’s Pillow Book and a Translation of Nala Arung’s Poetry

Two newish publications to report! My review of Jee Leong Koh’s The Pillow Book came out in Mascara last month. (Click here to read it.) And my translation of some poems by the Indonesian poet Nala Arung was published on Asymptote‘s blog a little under a week ago as their Translation Tuesday feature! (You can find it here.) Efpei I'm in LoveThe collection from which these poems (and part of the preface) are excerpted proclaims itself to be a kitab puisi norak – a book of “tasteless” poetry. The most enjoyable part about translating these pieces was finding a way to replicate the clever wordplay and the *wink wink nudge nudge* moments that peppered the poems. I never thought I’d ever get to use the word “willy” in anything I wrote (it really should be trotted out more often…literarily, not necessarily literally), but “willy” and “will” captured the closeness of the original kemaluan (genitals) and kemauan (desire) in the poem, “The Lamentation of a Single Poet.”

 

Kumpul kebo from the preface also proved tricky to translate: this phrase means “living together without being married,” and while the kebo actually originates from the Dutch word gebouw (“building”), it also is the Javanese word for “water buffalo.” The preface mock-innocently plays on both possible meanings of kumpul kebo: “living together” and “a group of water buffaloes.” The challenge was finding an English phrase for living together that also seemed to make reference to water buffaloes, but that ideally wasn’t actually a reference to water buffaloes at all. To do this, I ended up substituting water buffaloes with cows. Hence the following translation: “Even cows need company. That’s probably where that phrase for lovers shacking up together came from—’moo-ving in together.'”

 

 

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