Sunday, September 06, 2009

Point of Contact

Earlier this summer, I read Point of Contact, a journal/book from Syracuse University. This issue is about Saúl Yurkievich and his translator Cola Franzen and is a bilingual edition of their letters, as well as a few essays and art, with an introduction by and an interview with Franzen. The book also comes with a CD of a dual-language reading of Saúl’s work. And, it has some previously unpublished poems by Yurkievich but, oddly, they were not translated by Franzen.

It is fascinating to get to see how the translator and her writer correspond, how they discuss and negotiate, how they doubt, clarify, explain, how they work through the publishing process and receive awards, and how, over the years of their correspondence (1982-2003) they become closer, which ultimately helps the translation work.

Some messages are rows of corrections (such as pp. 96-97), while others are about who to submit to and when (41-43), and still others use metaphors to describe the translation process. For example, Cola writes “My feeling about the poem is that it is like a soap bubble, and that my task is to launch it, get it spinning, not let it land or break until the last word when it just blinks out.” (44) and “…the poems are yours, no matter what linguistic clothes they are wearing. It must be strange for you to see your poems turn up in new skins…” (49)

Most interesting of all are the explanations, from Saúl about what he meant in his originals and from Cola about how she has chosen certain translations. For example, she writes “for el gran ovillo se engalleta, I have decided on the enormous skein becomes knotted. We don’t use jamming, jam up for hair, or threads, or fiber. Those are tangled, snarled or knotted. A mechanical part that sticks is jammed; traffic is jammed, etc. I played with the idea of snarl, ensnarled, but it’s such an ugly sounding word, and engalleta is so nice, with the cookie embedded in it. And then animals snarl…it’s a sound-word as well. Knotted is in a way harsher than snarled, and the poem is turning more serious at that line…” (36-7)

The correspondence clearly reveals the attention paid to each poem, each word. I noticed some typos and errors in the book/journal issue, but if one can overlook that, it is worth reading to get insight into the translator-writer relationship.

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