On Poetry and Culture Shock

Why I like Alan Spence so much

Almost two years ago, I was living in Glasgow, Scotland, and feeling very much at home there. I kept postponing doing a one-day trip to Edinburgh, until I saw that John Irving was going to the Edinburgh Book Fair just a couple of weeks before my intended return to Spain. I thought he’d be signing books. So I went to Edinburgh to meet John Irving after having half-heartedly avoided the place for months.

John Irving wasn’t going to sign books. He was going to do a reading of extracts of his books, and the tickets were sold out. I had gone to Edinburgh for nothing. I might as well do the tourist thing and take a look at the books to sale.

And in the poetry section there was a book called GLASGOW ZEN. Genius. I leave Glasgow very reluctantly and I find a book that translates classic Japanese haiku into Glaswegian Scots.

Jist this,
Jist this,
And still –

It’s a world of dew,
Only that, a world of dew,
And even so…

Sólo un mundo de rocío,
Sólo somos rocío,
Y sin embargo....

I don’t dare translating it into any Southern Spanish dialect, although it would be easy for someone with a better ear to do so. This is a haiku that a master whose name I can’t remember (Issa?) wrote after the death of his only son. The first is Alan Spence’s version and the other two are my paraphrases of the original. “World of dew” is a common Buddhist metaphor about the brevity of things.

Oh, and I didn’t go to Edinburgh for nothing. A museum had the best temporary exhibition of Monet paintings ever done, gathering paintings from dozen of collections. Good things turn up when you least expect it, specially in Scotland.

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