To translate is also to write, to become the voice of that author and that novel or poem.
— B.J. Epstein, Working Backwards
This issue of The Chimaera echoes our tripartite nature: there is a section for unthemed prose and verse; a themed feature, this time encapsulated in the phrase Found in Translation, with a varied array of contributions by an assortment of authors; and a spotlight feature which focuses on one author, Tim Murphy, and one topic — addiction to alcohol.
So much of translation is compromise: but similarly, much of any writing is too. Translation demands tough decisions, as Debjani Chatterjee points out in “A Translator’s Note” on Basir Sultan Kazmis “Naat”. And my point, of course, is that writing well generally requires tough decisions: and, following from this, that reflection on the problems and methods of culture is useful for other reasons than the desire to enjoy literature from languages different from one’s own, or the wish to nourish one’s linguistic interests.
If thought derives from language, as structuralism tells us, then the act of translation represents an exercising of thought in ways of interest to poets and other writers. The various translations and meditations on translation included in our feature illuminate the way language works, and suggest a range of different perspectives on meaning, shades of meaning, verbal music and rhythm, word choice, connotation, conceptual equivalences (or the lack thereof), image, form, pattern, sequencing, emotional association, and so on: the very issues that poets and writers consciously and unconsciously engage with in the process of their art. To ponder these issues in relation to translation is also to reflect on the act of writing.
As always, the editors have interpreted the topic in a fairly broad way, so that the range of work we have included within the translation theme encompasses actual translations, meditations on translation, and poems relating to translation. Some of the essays are quite lengthy and represent a substantial investment of attention by the authors, editors and potential readers. For this we make no apology: amongst The Chimaera’s various intents is that of providing prose pieces which make a serious and workmanlike attempt to engage with their subjects.
We are particularly honoured to publish Tim Murphy’s group of poems “A Prayer for Sobriety” as our Spotlight Feature. These poems represent a record of a life-and-death struggle (relieved by some lighter moments) that will be of acute interest to many beyond the immediate poetry: but what gives them their place in this magazine is primarily their strength as poems.
If I have to pick a standout from the very fine work appearing in this issue of The Chimaera, it is Rhina Espaillat’s “Tropical Scene: Quarriers”, her translation of Manuel del Cabral’s “Trópico picapedrero”: a remarkable version of an outstanding original. It is a translation that creates a poem in one language from a poem in another: the metamorphosis that is the ideal goal of all translation.
About fifteen years ago I started work on a modern English translation of Heine’s “Die Lorelei”. All twenty-four lines of it. It’s still unfinished, probably because I’ve never promoted the project above priority level 6 or 7. And why is that? Angst. Fear. Avoidance behaviour. Translation is hard work — especially poetry translation, assuming you’re not content just to render the sense of the original, but properly aspire to replicate something of its spirit and verbal magic.
I salute all the poetry translators represented here — and there are some extraordinarily good ones — for actually completing their translations and producing competent, sometimes outstanding, English poems as the end result. I’m consumed with envy and have done my petulant best to wreck their layout and introduce ludicrous typos into their text... Just kidding.
It’s hard to single out special favourites while focusing on the translation itself rather than the original work. After all, the end result is a kind of joint work of the original author and the translator. Still, I suppose the weightiest, most significant work represented here would have to be the Beowulf of Alan Sullivan and Tim Murphy. To capture something of the alliterative feel, the rough, incantatory brio of a poetic saga in a long-dead West Saxon dialect: what a coup! I believe it succeeds better than other translations, including Seamus Heaney’s, largely because those other translators have shied away from the task of translating — “carrying across” — the rhythms and, as far as may be possible, the sound patterns of the original, or because, where the other translators did attempt it, they did so less wholeheartedly or less skilfully. I have a strong suspicion that a key factor was the Sullivan & Murphy decision to stick where possible with words of Germanic origin.
At the other end of the length scale, there’s Robert Bolick’s translation of Alberto Blanco’s short lyric, “Amor de Chichén-Itzá”. Even with my minimal grasp of Spanish, I can hear the poetry in the elegant brevity of the original — a quality Robert seems to have captured beautifully in his English version: an eight-line gem. Also among the poems translated from Spanish, I can’t go past Rhina Espaillat’s rendering of Manuel del Cabral’s “Trópico picapedrero”. Listen to the sonics here:
Black men are singing while they lift their axes,
as if to soften stone with voices ringing.
Hard are these stones to break and break forever;
sweat is the quarry where the picks are swinging.
We have two unusual items in the translation section, although they’re not really translations. Or are they? How do you make a Maltese cross? Hide his well-thumbed dictionaries of six languages! Antoine Cassar, an EC translator as well as a poet, writes multi-lingual sonnets, typically mixing five languages in the fourteen lines. See what you think, or, perhaps more important, listen to the audio. His are, also, the only contributions here to include the Maltese language. The other unusual translation-related item is Henry Quince’s “Babelfish and Chips”, a sly dig at machine translation and “artifical intelligence” complete with what I take to be (again, listen to the sound file) interventions from a cantankerous Robert Frost.
There’s plenty of interesting content in the general section too. To name just three writers... Mary Alexandra Agner makes her point powerfully in “The Right Word”. Neil Carpathios writes balanced free verse and isn’t afraid to tackle big themes in a small compass (see his “Message” for instance); and hey, he teaches at Wooster college, so he’s probably a great eater of fish, as Jeeves would say! And Peter Wyton, a seasoned performer on the UK slam scene, comes very well off the page too, especially, for me, in “Percussion Lover”.
The Chimaera is delighted to congratulate Dr Debjani Chatterjee on her award in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List of an MBE for services to Literature.
These are the poems nominated by The Chimaera for the Pushcart Prize. Congratulations to these poets, whose work may be found in The Chimaera’s October 2007 issue:
Alison Brackenbury: “In the gap”
Don Kimball: “Prayer for My Father”
Peter Richards: “An Adolescent Contemplates Leaving”
David Rosenthal: “Bechtle’s Alameda Gran Torino, 1974”
Salli Shepherd: “Homesick”
John Whitworth: “Not You”
The Chimaera’s third issue, due out in May, 2008, will have a General prose and verse section as usual, to which contributions are invited, but will also include a feature section for work which addresses in some way the theme of Belonging. It is up to the individual authors to determine how they approach this theme, but the perceptions of belonging might be addressed in personal, cultural, historical and social contexts, in a variety of poetic or prose forms and styles. Aspects of belonging might be seen in terms of experiences and notions of identity, relationships, acceptance and understanding in relation to people, places, groups, communities and the larger world. And the theme of belonging might also, of course, evoke its binary opposite, that of alienation. See our Submission page if you are interested in submitting work to The Chimaera.
Editors: Paul Stevens, Peter Bloxsom
Artist/Photographer: Patricia Wallace Jones
Paul Stevens was born in Yorkshire, but lives in Australia. He teaches Literature and Historiography. His recent poetry is in The Barefoot Muse, Worm, Lily, The Argotist, The New Formalist, The Centrifugal Eye, Shattercolors, Contemporary Sonnet, Sliptongue and Poemeleon. He is the Poetry Editor (with Angela France and Nigel Holt) of The Shit Creek Review, as well as of The Chimaera Literary Miscellany.
Peter Bloxsom has worked as a writer, editor, and publisher, and is now a freelance writer and web developer. His articles, fiction, reviews, essays, humour, poems and other writings have appeared in print and online. He makes affordable websites for writers and poets, among others. His own site is at www.netpublish.net.
Patricia Wallace Jones is an artist, poet, and retired disability advocate. More of her artwork can be seen at: http://imagineii.typepad.com/imagineii/.