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Friday, June 22, 2012

Sacred (ii): translation as therapy

I have been doing some translation work this summer. Almost by accident, I picked up a book by Andrés Sánchez Robayna (a poet from the Canary Islands) that I had lying around. I memorized a few poems, then realized that some might be good candidates for translation. I posted one or two on my blog, and a friend of mine who happens to be poetry editor for The Nation wrote me that he liked it and wanted to see more. About the same time, another internet friend, Matt, asked me for translations for another journal that he is involved in. I translated some more from this book.

Then I decided to send some more of these translations to The New Yorker and Poetry, as my friend from The Nation suggested. Now I have a good number of poems translated and am thinking about a Selected Poems in English by this poet. I'll be presenting some of this material in a reading at The Raven next Thursday.

What I find therapeutic about translation is the lack of ego. I can be the medium for the work of another poet. Unlike criticism, the point is not how smart I am. I do think I have considerable "chops" as translator, in all [lack of] modesty, but nothing really depends on this talent. In some sense, it is the missing piece of my scholarly career.

I consider the act of translation to be sacred, in the sense that the poetry itself is. The other poet speaks through me. In the [relative] egolessness of translation there is a kind of purity that I find attractive, in days in which the scholarly enterprise seems to be lagging behind. I'll always do scholarship, but I could see myself being mostly a translator for the next 20 years.


Andrew Shields said...

You want to finish your current book before becoming "mostly a translator," don't you? :-)

Jonathan said...

Yes. I will do that.

Clarissa said...

Unbelievable! I also translate for therapeutic purposes.

The Blue Elephant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Blue Elephant said...

I, too, stumbled into translating, and always feel the person who reads the translation misses out on the most wonderful part -- the process where you go into the forest of a poem in another language and have to find your way out again, through translation, and experience so many things in the process, moving through another and very enriching experience. When I read someone my translation of some Baudelaire poems, they directed me to a place I love now, where, almost every month a different translator talks about their process of translating from yet another language -- at The Center for the Art of Translation in San Francisco. I have done other translating since then, one poem published in Subtropics (University of Florida), several others in the online InTranslation -- I hope to get back from working on my own poetry and do more translating. it is wonderful to hear others who have discovered that same thrill of wandering in the strange forest of another language and by the many paths taken coming out found, with the translated poem. (I think I almost won the approval for a poem submitted to the Poetry Editor of The Nation -- a worthy place to be published -- and I hope you are published -- I will look for you there.)