21 jun 2012

The Nation

One of my translations of Andrés Sánchez Robayna has been accepted by The Nation. I have sent others to three other journals. If you have a journal and want to publish some of these fantastically great poems, let me know.

15 jun 2012

5 minutes ... or 5 hours

I might do a short translation in less than five minutes, or tinker with one for several hours. The quick translation might be virtually unimprovable. The long one, result of hours of tinkering, might never be satisfying, despite moving incrementally in the direction of being half-way acceptable.

14 jun 2012

Translation ... even more thoughts

Translation gives me access to poetic styles that I wouldn't use in my "own" work. That is, I can be more lushly romantic if I am translating that kind of work, work that I enjoy as a reader but wouldn't imitate in my own poetry.

That may or may not contradict the idea to allow no line into a translation that I haven't authored myself, that is not mine in voice, that I wouldn't accept in a poem of my own.

Not really, I hope, because it is an expansion of possibilities, not a transgression. That is, I know that that is how translations are sometimes errant, when the translator has allowed him/her self to expand the stylistic register, because of the demands of the task at hand, and written in a way that he/she wouldn't accept in an original poem. Some even justify this errancy as a legitimate expansion of range or register.

So the question would be one of acceptability? To whom? I don't quite know, but I do have an internal reader who would accept some things and not others.

Wood from a broken chair,

tossed away, unprotected.

It was fatigue and rest,

it was peaceful life in company.

It will take you to the sandy

shore of an abandoned

world. Look at it

and love what’s been destroyed.

Here is an example of what I mean. Nothing here is unacceptable to me, but some is on the border.

13 jun 2012

Resonance in Translation

You might want to think about translation as the place where two poetic traditions meet up. So to translate a certain line by a Spanish poet I remembered Kerouac's line "in the immemorial light of my dreams." The line in Spanish was "en los ojos del sueño inmemorable." I came up with a variation, "in the immemorial eyes of a dream." I am keeping all the content words but altering their order. When I see the word "coro" in Spanish I might think of "Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sing" or "Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn" or "a chorus of smiles, a winter morning." (That's Shakespeare, Keats, Ashbery, if you are keeping score at home.) For "convivir" I used "company," thinking of Creeley's use of that word. If I see the word "morada" (dwelling place) I might think of "Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, / And the round ocean and the living air, / And the blue sky" (Wordsworth).

Now this could be overdone, if the echoes are too blatant or shoe-horned in. One translator put in the phrase "from sea to shining sea" into a poem in a very arbitrary way, where nothing in the original seemed to give support to that. What I am suggesting is that the translator have ears pricked for a certain resonance in the poetic language of the target language, and not only to the contemporary spoken language or the language of contemporary poetry at its flattest.

It would follow that the most accomplished translator would have a certain level of poetic culture in her own medium of translation, as well as in the source language.

Grading Translations

I normally translate several poems by the same poet at once. I give each one a letter grade, based on my satisfaction with how good the poem is in English. It is good to do this cold, after a day or so, when no longer caught up in the excitement of the translation process. Now a lower grade might be because the poem is not as interesting in the first place, or because it simply doesn't "translate" well (in the intransitive sense of the verb), or because of my lack of skill, knowledge, or imagination. Or any combination of factors. It doesn't matter. A B- translation is just that, whatever the cause.

Of course, I could just give myself all A s, but I don't do that. I know the difference between an A and a B or C. If it is a C level translation, I try to work on it until it is a B. Then I have a group of poems that are on the A or A- level, good enough to publish. If I am committed to translate an entire book, I have to make sure that most of the translations are at B level or above. Naturally, there will be some variation in quality, because I'll never be totally convinced by my version of every single poem.

I have no way of imposing my grades on the reader, who is still free to think all of my work is mediocre. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that readers will consistently grade me higher than I grade myself, so I wouldn't expect work that I deplore myself to be accepted by the reader. (Actual readers might be far too indulgent for my taste, so I am talking about the reader who is a mirror image of myself, not an inferior reader whom I can easily deceive.)

12 jun 2012

Translation Notes

1. In the first place, I have to feel that the poem I want to translate it worth it. It has to be able to stand up to the process of translation without revealing any flimsiness. The questions you ask about a translation only make sense with a text of a certain solidity. You can ask if a translation of a weak poem is faithful, accurate, but it doesn't really matter too much.

2. Then, I have to feel that I, personally, am capable of translating this particular text. I could feel that it is simply beyond my powers, that the end result would not be an acceptable one. I wouldn't always know this in advance.

3. The results have to stand up on their own. I don't want to write any line in the translation that I wouldn't accept as a line in a poem of my own. (This simply rule would eliminate a lot of translations. Of course, many poets would accept poor lines in their own poems too, so that wouldn't work.) A translation that is a bad poem in the target language is a double betrayal: it tells the reader that the original poem might be bad, while also doing damage to the literary tradition of the target language.

4. The translated poem has to be my own. It has to have my voice, or a voice imaginable for me. It has to have a prosody that I accept, diction with which I am comfortable, etc...

5. Finally, the translation has to find an audience. Translation is for people who cannot read the original, so the translator cannot translate for himself alone. The translator does not belong to that group. Nor does the most expert judge of a translation belong to its intended audience.

6. One more point. I tend to be more literal with the "content words," while tinkering a lot with prepositions, conjunctions, and articles. If the translation is to be my own text, one that I can defend as a poem in its own right, I have to find elements to play with, or elements that have some "play" to them in the sense that they can "give" a little without breaking.

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.

If I was translating this poem to another language I would only care about way / crow / shook / down / me / dust / snow / hemlock tree / heart / mood / saved / part / day / rued. Maybe my target language doesn't have "the" or "a" or doesn't use "my" or "of" in the same way.

1 jun 2012

A Paradox

The movement I am studying, late modernism, is extremely significant, in my view. Yet it barely registers with my colleagues. This is a difficult paradox for me to manage. My own view is that of course the object of my study is the most significant possible. Yet I have to maintain a certain modesty, because my belief is not widely held.