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Jo Balmer: a translation

Here, translated directly from Martial, is Jo Balmer's alternative editorial.

Martial's Final Editorial

for Alan Humm

Corruptus writes 200 poems daily. He recites few.

The first is utter folly. The second? Wise move.


Why don't I send you, fellow poets, my latest lines?

There's a danger, fellow poets, you'll respond in kind.


At readings you sport a muffler, 10% cashmere.

If only cotton wool could muffle our own ears.


To what trade, Alanus, should the young incline?

(I know you've been debating this for some time.)

If dull, maybe estate agent or buildings engineer.

Not politics. Nor scholarship. And one thing's clear:

keep them well away from all the works of poets –

if they start to scan or rhyme Do Not Encourage.

Those dreary literati could dull any rising star.

For fame, for fortune, better stick to the guitar.

Between 86-103 CE, Martial wrote 14 books of epigrams, around 1500 poems in all, satirising life in ancient Rome, including the foibles of its poets. The poems translated above are 8.20, 7.3, 4.41 & 5.56.

Josephine Balmer is a poet and classical translator. Her translations of Sappho have been continuously in print since 1984 and in 1989 were shortlisted for the inaugural US Lambda Literary Awards. In 2018, they were reissued in an expanded edition to include newly-discovered fragments (Bloodaxe Books). Her recent collection, The Paths of Survival (Shearsman), was shortlisted for the 2017 London Hellenic Prize. Other works include Letting Go (Agenda Editions, 2017), The Word for Sorrow (Salt, 2007), Chasing Catullus (Bloodaxe, 2004), Catullus: Poems of Love and Hate (Bloodaxe, 2004) and Classical Women Poets (Bloodaxe, 1996). She has also published a study of classical translation and versioning, Piecing Together the Fragments (OUP, 2013).

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