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A Rusty Needle

Ivan V. Lalic

Translated by Francis R. Jones

Imprint: Anvil Press Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Available as:
Paperback (200 pages)
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    Joanna from Ravenna


    A ship on the sea, a bird on the runway of wind,
    Joanna between petals of gold
    In the marshes, between rain, wind, sun,

    Joanna, sister of the years and the towers
    Heavy with wind, leaning into the mud;
    Joanna, sister of the star returning
    Over the gentle skin of melted snow,

    Joanna, sister of the will-o'-the-wisp –

    Joanna wrapped in the fish-scales of her gown,
    With a smile smouldering among the gold
    Amid the teeming of insects hard and shiny, buzzing
    Green like the ring on her finger;
    Her eyes are two immemorial midnight seas,
    All their depth distilled into two droplets.

    Joanna, a fixed star; and rain
    Cowing from the ocean to her window;
    A star fettered with the tongue of death,
    Joanna breathes, Joanna smiles.


    A ship on the sea, lightning in the year,
    A dam in the hills, the humming of a turbine;
    Joanna, sister of time, glitters on.

    These words remember her. This wind
    Lashing the window with late winter snow
    Last summer touched her eyes,
    Lips and hand, and her emerald ring.
    And now, as I write her name,
    Joanna listens to the pen, glitters on.

    Joanna between the petals of gold
    With a smile smouldering like phosphor
    Listens to the swell of the sea, the flash of a bird,
    The turning of a turbine before the dam bursts,
    And to these words which will touch her

    With the fingers of my fire, after me.

    Translated by Francis R. Jones

    Ivan V. Lalić was a major Serbo-Croat poet, and thanks to Francis R. Jones’s translations his work can be read as authentic poetry in English. A Rusty Needle traces his development over nearly twenty years, from his first published poems to the end of the sixties. It gives ‘an excellent overview of a remarkable poet’, as Edwin Morgan writes in the Poetry Book Society Bulletin. He continues: ‘Although he has many lyrical poems on themes of love and landscape, the most distinctive part of his work relates to the ebb and flow of historical conquest and change on the northern shores of the Mediterranean … He broods over darkly crucial events like the fall of Byzantium to the Turks, and delivers interesting questions about the ambiguities of memory.’

    Ivan V. Lalic
    Ivan V. Lalić (1931–1996) studied law in Zagreb, where he first began to publish poetry, and worked for the publishers Nolit in Belgrade. He was also a distinguished critic and translator, especially of English poetry. The Works of Love (1981) was the first of several English translations of his poetry by ... read more
    Francis R. Jones
    Francis R. Jones (b. 1955) studied Serbo-Croat and German at Cambridge and modern Serbo-Croat poetry at the University of Sarajevo. He has translated several volumes each of poetry by Serbian poet Ivan V. Lalić and Dutch poet Hans Faverey, as well as volumes by the poets Mak Dizdar and Skender Kulenović ... read more
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