Once a year, I am told, all of the storks in Spain gather on the Roman aqueduct in Segovia before they fly to Africa. It seems a magical realist idea, entirely in tune with the times.
Segovia is a great choice for a temporary base. Storks, like Hay Festival, have impeccable taste. A little research reveals that the birds do come. They arrive in January and leave at the end of summer. So we have missed them. The knowledge brings with it a strange, profound melancholy.
How can you miss something you have never seen? Like the signage for the Jewish Quarter, sometimes the knowledge of a fact is enough; somehow, the storks, like the Sephardic Jews, expelled in 1492, have left a trace.
In Segovia this evening, the gathering is of poets rather than storks. Writers from across the continent of Europe have arrived in the Plaza de San Martin armed with one-minute texts, poems and fragments that we will read to an audience gathered on the steps leading down to a statue of Juan Bravo, rebel leader in the Revolt of the Comuneros. The text I plan to read is a contribution to the Hiraeth-Erzolizoli anthology edited by Eric Ngalle Charles, a volume that is in itself a gathering of storks, a migration of words and worlds, between Wales and Cameroon. I will read ‘Dark Mirror’, a poem in the voice of my first daughter.
As we await our turns, I fall into conversation with Livia, an Italian poet who lives in London. Above us on the platform, a bricolage of language is held together by Spanish. Some of the poets have been paired up in advance, acting as translators for each other. I have no such arrangement in place, and wonder whether I might do a quick translation myself.
My Spanish is not nearly up to the task, but I am nothing if not an essayist (literally: a trier). I find myself scribbling words with a hotel biro alongside the printed original, changing words, phrases, emphasis, bending the poem to the limitations of my vocabulary and grammar, but partly also making the kind of choices that real translators have to make.
There is a line about my daughter’s ‘sing-song syllables’ inherited from her ‘mother’s lilt’. The words I choose to illustrate this polysyllabic Welshiness fail to chime so readily in Spanish. I leave them out. I change ‘yet’ for ‘but’. I change place names the audience won’t recognise – ‘Portmanmoor Road and Porth’ – into universalised calles and pueblos. Halfway through, I enlist the help of an unsuspecting nearby poet, Corina, a Romanian who speaks perfect Spanish. She corrects my grammar, points out opportunities to echo the parallelism of the original.
And suddenly, the poem begins to breathe. Like the evening itself, it is alive with possibility.
Dylan Moore is Creative Wales Hay Festival International Fellow 2018/19, travelling to each Hay Festival edition, exploring issues of displacement and exile. His debut collection, Driving Home Both Ways, is out now.