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Kerry Shawn Keys: Because my knowledge of Lithuanian is very limited, I always rely on texts prepared for me by students of the language and literature who also are fluent in English. I would not translate at all from Lithuanian if I did not feel I had a deep sense of the culture and an ear for the rhythms of the languageI have lived in Vilnius since 1998. Also, I translate my contemporaries and can ask them questions, as I did with Sigitas Geda's poems. And dictionaries and grammar books, and in Geda's case books of fish and fowl. Literal cribs prevent me from following the mistakes or "poetic innovations" that one translator might providea frequent occurrence. When I think I am finished, I send my copies to those who assisted me, and in the case of Geda also to a third party who was the publisher's English-language editor. As for "Moment of Awakening," included in the forthcoming Selected Poems of Geda, I just remember how delicate the imagery was, the feeling on my first reading, and I tried to preserve that. It vaguely reminded me of a poem of my own written in Appalachia in the early nineties"Bluebird"though Geda's poem is grander in its aspiration.
Leonard Kress: "Treny (Threnodies or Laments)" by the Polish Renaissance poet Jan Kochanowski are probably the best known Polish poems besides the Romantic epic, Pan Tadeusz, of Adam Mickiewicz. "Treny" consists of a cycle of 19 short lyrical poems written by Kochanowski on the death of his eighteen-month-old daughter, Urszula or Ula. Translating these poems involved a multi-stage process, beginning with the Polish text, dictionaries, and literary histories, hoping to replicate or at least approximate Kochanowski's rhyme schemes and stanzaic patterns while remaining true to his imagery and tone. Following the various stages of translation (or is that grief I'm thinking of?), I produced what I might term successful pseudo-historical imitation artifacts, and that's where the real "translation" began. Most of what I present here would, I'm sure, pass an interpreter's scrutiny. However, I also opted for less obtrusive ways of capturing the rhyme and musickeeping in mind that rhyme is always a tricky issue in English, where it is not in Polish, a highly inflected language with seven case endings, similar to Latin.
Lynn Levin: Because Besnik Mustafaj does not know English, he was never able to vet or fault my work. But since his French is perfecthe was the Albanian ambassador to France from 1992 until 1997I am confident that he had approved Christiane Montecot's version, and that I had the gift of working off of an accurate French translation. "Imaginary Game" (in free verse, so I had no rhyme schemes or forms to preserve) was one of several poems that Mustafaj sent me after we met at a P.E.N. conference in Bled, Slovenia in 1999. In this enchanting and teasing love poem, a couple plays a "guess who?" game in which the man realizes that his lover's identity is like that of a sly fox. As the lyric progresses, he finds her slightly disturbing and unsettling nature to be more alluring than that of the milder dove. Strangely, Mustafaj is mostly unknown in America, although in France he has had several bestsellers and major literary awards as a novelist. It is exciting to translate a writer whose work has never before appeared in English.
Marilyn Nelson: Inge Pedersen and I became friends some thirty years ago when I lived down the street from her family for a year in a village in Denmark. Over the years she has published book after book, and racked up a lot of literary fellowships and prizes. In summer 2000 I visited Inge. Her first copies of her new book arrived at her house on the day I arrived. A few glasses of champagne later, I'd offered to translate it. I put my hand to it as soon as I got back to the States, with the growing and humbling realization that both my Danish and my two-volume Danish/English dictionary were woefully inadequate. But Inge and I spent an exhilarating week together in Ireland in summer 2001, talking our way through some of our poems. I came home with notes which, aided by several e-mail exchanges, have become finished translations of 19 of Inge's poems.
Lia Purpura: In many ways, translation is an intensification of the poetic process at largeall the to-ing and fro-ing from draft to draft is ratcheted up tenfold as one sets out to find what it is, in this case, someone else is saying. When translating, one has, of course, a map to work with: the poem in its original language, which is, alas, for members of the translators' clan, either best left alone or wholly illegible. As translator, one both hangs onto the map for dear life and strays from it, trusting instinct, the ear, the shape of one's own way of saying. Translating, then, requires a kind of nomadic fidelity to the poem. I like to think of translators as double-jointed, high-wire, Janus-faced explorers working backward from finish-line toward origin, instilling (distilling?) along the way, a kind of confidence in the myriad trade routes within a singular wild land.
Rebecca Seiferle: Vallejo's poems are like quipus, Incaic devices of many colored strings on which knots were tied in a proto-written language. Both of these poems have a word or two which functions as a nexus or knot. In "Unity," several threads of meaning are knotted together in manzanathe "chamber" of a revolver, but, also, more commonly, "apple" and "Adam's apple," and one cannot help but hear the echo of mañana, "tomorrow," as well. Without an "apple" in the third line, the "bright red" quality of the bullet in line eight would seem merely decorative, and the poem's critique of a conventional God would be muted. In "Rain," several threads come together in me hueso from ahuesarse"to remain useless or valueless" or to "be a merchant with nothing to sell." The word has a strong echo of hueso"bone" (with some sexual innuendo as well)--r "tomb," particularly following as it does the "coffin" in the preceding line. The translation depends upon how these knots are unraveled.
David Slavitt: My object in this sonnet, as well as all the others in the series, was to approximate the voice, and to follow, as closely as the constraints of a rhyme-poor language allow, the figuration of the original poem. The idea of the poem is cleardu Bellay is unhappy in Rome and longs for his home in Franceso that one feels a certain freedom in the way one supplies the equivalent details. I was delighted with the cavalryman hanging up his tack, which was nicely horse-y, and comes to the same self-congratulatory full stop as the original "chevalier." It would have been even nicer if I could have contrived to end the octave with it, but one can't have everything. In the sestet, I fear I've had to depart farther than I'd have liked from the easy, breezy note on which du Bellay ends, chiming je suis on ennui, but if I couldn't do his gesture exactly, I managed at least some small flourish, the best I could come up with to suggest the suave sardonic tone I so much admire in the poem.
Adam Sorkin: The process of translation can be as humbling as the taunt in the first line of Elena Stefoi's poem, "The Starting Line." Every translation has its own starting line (mine's usually in double focus in that I begin with a collaborator's "raw" English version and the Romanian original side by side), and the race course is never the same. In Stefoi's poem, translation problems are so to speak fairly straightforwardno allusive style, for instance, no baroque verbal filigree, nothing archaic or highly technological or esoteric in diction, no culturally opaque metaphor. Beyond the intangible of tone, as difficult to pin down as human consciousness, I found myself aware of making natural word order in the English within the constraints of a sinewy poetic line and echoing the variety in the fragmented stanzaic presentation, from irony and self-irony to the journalistic or sociological, from disturbing image (darkness in the boiling eye) and hortatory self-address to dry questioning.
J. C. Todd's most recent chapbook, Nightshade, was published by Pine Press in 1995. Poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, The Paris Review and Prairie Schooner. Her feature on contemporary Lithuanian poets in translation and riverviews, her column on poetry, appear in The Drunken Boat, where she is a contributing editor. Awards include a Leeway Award, a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship, and a VCCA international artist-exchange fellowship.
Eleanor Wilner: "Recurrence in Another Tongue" is as much a posthumous collaboration as it is a translation. It began with a literal translation of Osip Mandelstam's "Tristia" from the Russian by Vadim Erent. Almost from the first I decided to do a variation, rather than a faithful translationand soon it seemed as if Mandelstam himself had taken up the poem again, and was bringing it to the present. For it is he who is speaking throughout (until the final quatrain); while some images are from "Tristia," others speak of things that happened after his murder by Stalin's regimeso he is borrowing my eyes, and I his voice. When he says "Nadezdha, who had me by heart," he refers to his wife (her name means hope in Russian), who memorized his poems and later was able to get them out of the Soviet Union. Delia is a traditional poetic object of desire; I borrowed the image that follows her name from a poem by Vadim. When I confessed it to him, he said, "Oh, that's all right. I stole it from Pushkin." Thus are traditions made.
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