I came across this poem, “A Small Elegy,” by the Czech writer Jiri Orten, for the first time years ago, in Ed Hirsch’s wonderful book, How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, and it knocked the wind out of me. I gasped at how intensely this terribly young Czech writer articulated a sense of isolation, outrage and disappointment in god’s failure to protect those we love from evil.
Then I discovered that the translator, Lyn Coffin, lives here in Seattle. And I was delighted to find out earlier this year that after 40 years of translating Orten, with the poems in and out of print, Night Publishing has brought out a full-length collection of her emotionally resonant translations. It’s called White Picture, and this week on KUOW I feature Lyn reading “A Small Elegy,” as well as a conversation with Lyn about the art of translation and about why she thinks Orten is such an important poet of the 20th century.