The physics of a tiny bead driven by a puff of air towards a miracle on airy wing guarantees that a kid plinking at dragonflies with his BB-gun will never bag one. That’s the comfort built into the action. So it goes with translating poetry — done because it can’t be done. The lost cause fallacy cushions the effrontery.
I’m not a poet but gravitate to poems for translation practice and vocabulary acquisition. A decent poem’s language is economical, concrete, precise and uninflated. If it’s flowery or obscure — and there’s plenty of that — it may suffer qua poetry but is still fit for purpose as long as it can be held in the mind and on the tongue, and interrogated at word level
Carmen Giménez, Graywolf Press’s new executive editor, has said she became a poet and not a fiction writer because she is “attracted to the granular level of language” Me too. My view of translation will be myopic in the sense of being literal-minded.
Here are the two poles of the dialog:
If I had to pick a side, heaven forbid, I’d have to call myself of the Nabokovian persuasion, but not as proud or thunderous.
With Arabic, I can’t profit from having rubbed elbows with the culture such as I’ve done with Spanish and, to some extent, French. Tant pis. I won’t be denied a gander at the sources in company with my dictionary and grammars. Most fascinating is when other translators depart from the literal sense of texts as I’m able to glean it. The how and why are paramount, with due respect to whatever “spirit” and authorial intention they presume to have captured floating outside the rude language matchups that can be established.
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