Julia Pelosi-Thorpe on translating Stella N’Djoku

Julia Pelosi-Thorpe

on translating Stella N’Djoku

The second two of these three poems by Stella N’Djoku can be found in her debut collection Il tempo di una cometa (Edizioni Ensemble, 2019). The first poem forms part of the new book she is assembling.

N’Djoku’s modern elegies traverse cycles of intergenerational grief and rebirth. In these three texts, her poetic speakers question their relationships with other humans as well as with the ever-changing seasons of the natural and animal worlds. Here, flux and stasis, memory and forgetfulness, life and death, entwine.

Caresses can be eternal. Someone only seen in photographs can live on through being articulated. Our organs can be composed of shells and stars.

From my very first encounter with N’Djoku’s verse — in an anthology of poems responding to the pandemic (Dal sottovuoto: poesie assetate d’aria, Samuele Editore, April 2020) — I was enchanted. In interpreting her beautiful, elusive rhythm, I hope to match N’Djoku’s movements as closely as I can while accepting their ultimate untranslatability. It is inspiring to watch my English reach a place of such elegance through correspondence with N’Djoku’s words.

For me, each translation is an approximation, and I carve out many paths initially. I find it so difficult to then choose some above others. This is one of the reasons I engage in retranslations, revisiting the same poems with different approaches over the years. I hope to retranslate these poems one day too.

about the author

Stella N’Djoku is a Swiss poet, journalist, and educator of Italian and Congolese heritage. Her poems are widely published in online literary journals and anthologies. Il tempo di una cometa (Ensemble, 2019) is her debut collection. Currently completing her PhD in philosophy, N’Djoku teaches secondary school students, organizes cultural events, and works with the Italian-language Swiss public broadcasting organization RSI and the Italian WebRadioGiardino. After speaking at the Swiss Literary Festival of Babel, Switzerland in 2021, N’Djoku taught creative writing in the L’altraLingua initiative this February. She is currently at work on her second collection.

about the translator

Julia Pelosi-Thorpe’s translations of Latin, Italian, and Parmesan dialect poetry appear in the Journal of Italian Translation, Asymptote, Modern Poetry in Translation, the Poetry Review, and more.

photo by Ryan Hardy