Home > poetry > A Salute to SPANISH POETRY, by John Howard Reid

A Salute to SPANISH POETRY, by John Howard Reid

A Salute to SPANISH POETRY

100 Masterpieces from Spain & Latin America

rendered into English verse by John Howard Reid

[This book has no back cover copy]

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 A Salute to Spanish Poetry: 100 Masterpieces from Spain & Latin America Rendered Into English Verse is an anthology of various Spanish poems: some hundreds of years old, others much more contemporary, and they’ve all been translated into English by John Howard Reid. I am a great lover of poetry: it provides an intense literary experience and at its best, poetry can inspire and enthral, but sadly this collection does neither.

Mr. Reid might well be a good speaker of Spanish; he might even be a good, if literal, translator. But he’s either no good at translating poetry; or he has picked some really bad stuff to translate.

The versions of the poems in this anthology are stodgy and dull; they’re full of clichés; they’re free from assonance, alliteration and rhythm; their meanings are often unclear, and despite each one being written by a different author there is little variation of voice or tone across the collection. This translator has neither a light nor a sensitive hand.

You have probably worked out by now that I am not terribly impressed by this book. These poems, read in this English form, lack all sense of grace and significance. But my main concern, when reading this collection, was one of copyright. While the bulk of the poems it contains are out of copyright a few of them were written more recently, which means that when this volume was published they were still protected by copyright and the permission of the authors, or their literary estates, would have been required to use them in this way. And yet there are no acknowledgements in this book; there is no attribution of where the poems were first published. But there is statement which reads “text and photographs copyright 2010 by John Howard Reid”.

Mr. Reid does not have the right to claim that copyright as the work is not primarily his: what he’s done, in putting his own copyright onto this edition in this way, is to imply that he not only translated these poems from the Spanish but that he also wrote those first Spanish texts.

As I see it, Mr. Reid has very few options open to him. He must seek written permission from the literary estates which he has exploited in publishing this book, and if such permissions are not forthcoming he must remove the appropriate pieces from his next edition; and while he’s waiting for such permissions to be granted he must withdraw this edition from sale.

If he does have the permissions required to use these works in this way then he must indicate that in all further copies of this book, and ensure that he acknowledges the authors of these poems appropriately in all future editions of this work, and in all other translations he has published.

Of course, I could be wrong: Mr. Reid might well have reached an agreement with the authors and literary estates concerned that it was fine for him to claim copyright and to use these works without proper attribution: if that’s the case then I apologise unreservedly to him for the comments I’ve made regarding copyright in this review. But I do not apologise for my comments regarding the flat and uninspiring nature of his translations. I read five of this book’s one hundred and forty eight pages, skimmed through a few more, and felt extremely reluctant to read any more of it.

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  1. March 8, 2012 at 10:37 am

    I think poetry and music celebrates the richness of the original language and it’s a difficult job anyway. I’ve got a couple of books with the original language on one side and an English translation on the other and although I’m not a fluent speaker, you can see that you have to alter significantly the text in order to get something in English that works which requires a great deal of skill.
    I do hope Mr Reid has reached all the agreements necessary (and full but to not credit the original authors does seem unusual.

  2. March 8, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Thanks for banging the drum about copyright on behalf of authors – when you’re struggling to make ends meet as a writer, even the the royalties from photocopying can help to eke things out.

  3. March 8, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    Jane, I wonder if, due to the nature of poetry itself, that it is indeed possible to translate it with any sense of its original beauty when present?

  4. March 8, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    I have, in fact, read excellent translations of Spanish poetry, which captured a lot of the feel of the original without being slavish imitators of it. It’ll never be precisely the same, and it’s harder with some types of poetry than others, but it can certainly be done. It just…doesn’t sound like it was done here.

    (Heck, I’ve done translation of Spanish poetry. I once spent several days and critique sessions revising a single translation of a ten-line poem, until I was reasonably happy with the result, and I still think a pro could do a better job of it.)

  5. March 8, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    I haven’t read this book so cannot comment on it specifically. However, prose translation is a hugely difficult task, let alone tackling poetry. (I know. I used to translate police reports and even that was difficult enough to get the right nuance of meaning.) The finished product has to be a subtle blend of accurately conveying the original poets’ intentions–and word for word never ever works–as well as making the language, imagery and overall mood work in the new language. I would suggest that only someone with a deep knowledge and feel for Spanish poetry and the ability to write English poetry as well can bring it off successfully. I do not know what Mr Reid’s qualifications and background are but a venture like this is pretty much doomed to failure, unless it’s done for one’s own personal satisfaction. (But in that case why send it to Jane for review?) The audience for it will be very small and if the poems are well-known, then presumably someone else well qualified has already done it.

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