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Guest Blogger Idra Novey on Translation Myths

[caption id="attachment_323" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="The Clean Shirt of It. Poems by Paulo Henriques Britto, translated by Idra Novey."]The Clean Shirt of It. Poems by Paulo Henriques Britto, translated by Idra Novey.[/caption] Thanks to Idra Novey for this next installment of her guest blog series on poetry and translation!

Five Poetry Translation Myths and Five Splendid Quotes to Counter Them

For this week’s post on poetry translation, I thought it might be fun to pair some of the most persistent myths about translation with some quotes from my favorite writers and translators and see what they had to say to each other. Here are the results: Myth Number Five: Translation is a passive undertaking. It’s all about invisibility and deference. An answer from Anne Carson: And if there is a silence that falls inside certain words, when, how, with what violence does that take place, and what difference does it make to who you are? “Variations on the Right to Remain Silent,” in the journal A Public Space, issue 7. Myth Number Four: Poetry is all about language use, so shouldn’t poets writing in English concentrate on poetry written in English? Won’t that teach them the most about language and poetry? An answer from Jane Hirshfield: When I read, as one still can, some spirited defense of English iambic meter as a basic expression of human nature, I despair. How can the authors of such essays not acknowledge that great literatures have been made of other meters than our binary or triple ones? That not all languages are stressed? “The World is Large and Full of Noises,” in Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (Harper Perennial, 1998). Myth Number Three (thanks to Robert Frost): Poetry is what is lost in translation. An answer from Charles Simic and Mark Strand: Poetry is what is retained in translation… All the poems in (this anthology Another Republic) are translations, yet have the authority of very good poems written in English…which says something about the poem’s ability to exist powerfully in a language other than the one in which it was written. How else are we to explain that there are young poets in the United States, say, whose work seems more influenced by poems of Popa or Amichai than by those of Stevens, Eliot, or any other of their American forebearers? Intro to Another Republic: 17 European and South American Writers (Ecco Press, 1976) Myth Number Two: There are so many great collections coming out now by immigrant poets writing in English about the countries they’ve left for America. Their books speak for Russia as much as any contemporary Russian poet writing in Russian, right? Why read a translation when we can read of those countries from great immigrant poets who also understand American poetry? An answer from Andre Dubus II: "We are, of course, a country of immigrants. We come from the very cultures we no longer seem to know…We have never been less isolationist in the variety of goods and services we consume from around the world, and never have we been more ignorant of the people who produce them. This is, if nothing else, fertile territory for misunderstanding, unresolved conflict, and yes, war. Intro to the anthology Words Without Borders (Anchor, 2007). Number One Myth about Translation: Some books just can’t be translated. An answer from Eliot Weinberg: There is no text that cannot be translated; there are only texts that have not yet found their translators. “Anonymous Sources,” Oranges and Peanuts for Sale (New Directions, 2009.)

1 comment


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