The Memory of Kevin Ireland, the Translator of Botev into English, was Honoured in Sofia

10:49ч / 25.06.2023г
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On the photo from left to right. Vladimir Dvoretzky, Gergina Dvoretzka, Alexander Shurbanov, Snezhana Yoveva-Dimitrova. Photo: Dessislava Denkova

A literary evening in memory of the New Zealand poet Kevin Ireland (1933-2023), translator of Botev and other Bulgarian authors into English, took place on 22 June this year at The Mission Gallery. It was organized by the Europe and the World Foundation with the assistance of the State Cultural Institute under the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The poster for the event. Photo: Kadrinka Kadrinova

In her opening remarks, Snezhana Yoveva-Dimitrova, Director of the State Cultural Institute, recalled that this is the second event that the Institute has carried out together with the Europe and the World Foundation in a short period of time. The first was the literary recital “Francophone Muses” on 15 May, dedicated to the 30th anniversary of Bulgaria’s membership in the International Organisation of the Francophonie. Ms Yoveva-Dimitrova congratulated the Europe and the World Foundation for the initiative to promote Kevin Ireland’s contribution to Bulgarian culture.

Speaker Snezhana Yoveva-Dimitrova

Gergina Dvoretzka, President of the Foundation, thanked the State Cultural Institute for its support of this initiative, and said that it has a specific purpose: the New Zealand poet, who spent a part of his life in Bulgaria, to be posthumously awarded the Order of St. Cyril and Methodius for his contribution to the promotion of Bulgarian literature and culture around the world.

Arguments that Kevin Ireland is worthy of this award were presented by journalist Vladimir Dvoretzky in his presentation “Who is Kevin Ireland – the Translator of Botev and Bagryana into English”, which we will publish separately on our website.

Vladimir Dvoretzky

Vladimir Dvoretzky talked about his online correspondence with Kevin Ireland, which he did in the last months of his life, and the memories that the New Zealand poet shared about the Bulgarian literary circles of the 1960s and 1970s, when he was married to the Bulgarian Donna Marinova. Kevin Ireland’s translations of poems by Hristo Botev and Elissaveta Bagryana were read, as well as original poems by Kevin himself translated into Bulgarian by Tsvetan Stoyanov in 1969.

Gergina Dvoretzka reads Kevin Ireland’s poems in translation by Tsvetan Stoyanov, published in “Literary Front” in 1969.

Excerpts translated by Vladimir Dvoretzky were read from the unpublished in Bulgaria memoir of Kevin Ireland “Backwards to Forwards”, in which he tells about his two stays in this country – from 1959 to 1961 and in 1969.

Interest was aroused by the excerpt from the novel by the writer Vasil Popov “The Time of the Hero”, in which the prototype of the Irish poet Patrick is Kevin Ireland himself. The description, which the Bulgarian author gives him with a very warm feeling, is an authentic portrait of the New Zealander as a man and a poet. Attendees also had the opportunity to hear Kevin Ireland’s authentic voice in a video clip of the poet reading in 2019 his poem A Fine Morning At Passchendaele at the largest Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Tyne Cot, Belgium. The Battle of Passchendaele (or Pashiondale as it is pronounced by English speakers) in the autumn of 1917 saw thousands of soldiers killed, including many New Zealanders.

The 2019 video, featuring the authentic voice of Kevin Ireland

After his presentation, Vladimir Dvoretzky added that Kevin Ireland was not the only translator of Botev into English. His poems were translated by prof. Marko Minkov, as well as the prominent British translator Peter Tempest. After the democratic changes, the writer Christopher Buxton, who taught English at the language school in Burgas, took up the task. It is expected that in the future a seminar will be held with the participation of students from the NBU, who will not only be told about the life and works of Kevin Ireland, but also will compare the translations of Botev, which Kevin made, and the translations of the other translators mentioned above.

Despite the many literary and social events taking place at the same time, the evening in memory of Kevin Ireland was attended by prominent intellectuals such as Prof. Alexander Shurbanov, who personally knew him and his Bulgarian wife Donna, translators, teachers, friends and partners of the Europe and the World Foundation from the Association of Teachers of French in Bulgaria, chaired by Vyara Lyubenova, Sofia Shigayeva-Mitreska – Director of the Centre for Azerbaijani Language and Literature at Sofia University, the President of the Bulgarian-Finnish Friendship Society and career diplomat Vladimir Danchev, the representatives of the Union of Bulgarian Journalists Kadrinka Kadrinova and Maia Petkova-Konstantinova, Avgusta Manoleva from the Institute of Bulgarian Language at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, as well as others interested in the topic of the New Zealand poet, who was a friend of Bulgaria.

One of the first questions after Vladimir Dvoretzky’s presentation was about Kevin Ireland’s marriage to Bulgarian Donna Marinova.

The only photo of Donna (third from left) that Vladimir Dvoretzky managed to find on the internet

Vladimir Dvoretzky explained that their family life lasted about 13 years. In his book “Backwards to Forwards”, Kevin takes the blame for their separation. On the advice of a friend, he bought a moped, which he used to cruise around London and the surrounding area, and that’s how he met his future wife, the Englishwoman Caroline Gaunt. After their separation, Donna also remarried – to the Bulgarian sailor Chris Kolev. Both he and the translator Aglika Markova, who also knew Donna personally, claim that Donna always spoke with good feeling about her ex-husband. Neither had any children of their own from their marriages. Kevin subsequently adopted his second wife’s two sons. In 2012, he married for the third time to Prof. Janet Wilson of the University of Northampton in England.

Prof. Alexander Shurbanov shared his personal impressions of Kevin Ireland and his Bulgarian wife Donna: 

“I was lucky enough to see Kevin and Donna in London when I was working at the University of London between 1968 and 1971. I have a particularly vivid memory of Donna, who was burning with the desire that Bulgarian poetry enter the English mainstream, to prove itself in England, and she hoped, even though she and Kevin had separated, to continue his work on Bulgarian poems.”

Professor Alexander Shurbanov. Photo: Kadrinka Kadrinova

Further on, Prof. Shurbanov elaborated on the topic of translations:

“It seems to me that Botev is a poet who is untranslatable. I’m a translator myself and it’s very hard for me to say, but I think it’s untranslatable into English because it’s so connected to the specific Bulgarian spirituality of the Renaissance period, to Bulgarian folk song, that it’s difficult to re-arrange it into a different poetics with different expectations, as English poetics is. Prof. Marko Minkov had translated Botev together with his mother, who was English and was also a folklore specialist – she mainly dealt with this, but the translation is stillborn. It’s a pity I have to say it. And most of Kevin’s translations – they don’t have that living spirit of Botev that we Bulgarians all feel. I’m afraid it’s only for us. But he translated Bagryana with great desire, with great satisfaction. And if there is any sin in these translations, it is that there is a certain deviation from the original. But this is allowed in translation, as long as one does not get a false image in the poem. They are inspired translations. It seems to me that the poems of Bagryana were the ones he felt most strongly about, as well as Yavorov’s. He had a special affinity for these poems. It is very good that you entered, during the last days of this significant poet and friend of Bulgaria, into a direct relationship with him. What you have read to us today must at all costs be published, in my opinion. I very much hope that Bulgaria will give him his due, because he has done a great deal for Bulgarian poetry. Somehow this book, in which he tells about his experiences, Backwards to Forwards, should also be published in Bulgarian. We should know him. Thus, as he was affectionately interested in the Bulgarians and felt deeply their sufferings, their pains, we should respond, even if so late, even if after he has left this world, to preserve him in the cultural memory of Bulgaria.”

Vladimir Danchev asked a question about the origin of Kevin Ireland’s last name. Vladimir Dvoretzky said that the birth name of the New Zealand poet was Kevin Mark Jowsey. This surname apparently did not sound very poetic to him, so he changed it officially. In an interview on the website of the New Zealand Academy of Letters (he was one of its 15 lifetime members), Kevin explained that he chose his new surname from a street sign in downtown Auckland – Ireland Street, as he walked to the administrative office. “There are people who have given their names to streets, but I’m the opposite case: I named myself after a street in the Ponsonby (a neighbourhood in Auckland),” he states.

The sign on Ireland Street in Auckland, New Zealand, from which Kevin borrowed his surname. Photo courtesy of the New Zealand Academy of Letters

The literary evening in memory of Kevin Ireland was only the first step in popularizing in Bulgaria a talented New Zealand poet with his own contribution to Bulgarian culture, about whom almost nothing is known in Bulgaria. It is time for him to take his rightful place in the history of Bulgarian literature.

At the end of the literary evening in memory of Kevin Ireland at The Mission Gallery on 22 June 2023. From left to right. Snezhana Yoveva-Dimitrova, Gergina Dvoretzka, Kadrinka Kadrinova, Vladimir Dvoretzky, Alexander Shurbanov

For his part, Kevin Ireland’s widow, Prof. Janet Wilson, has announced that another event celebrating his life will be held in Auckland on Sunday, June 25. Relatives of the poet will be speaking and his colleagues will read their own poems written in his memory. A song based on his poem will also be performed. The event will be streamed live on Zoom, and the recording will later be uploaded to YouTube.

A detailed photo report from the event can be seen here.

Here is how other media covered the event:

BTA interview with Vladimir Dvoretzky on the occasion of the literary evening in memory of Kevin Ireland

Report of the event on the website of the UBJ

More on this topic on our website:

The English translator of Botev and Bagryana died quietly in the middle of a storm