Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kirsch & Kaminsky on Poetry in Translation

At The Poetry Foundation website, poet / critic Adam Kirsch and poet / translator Ilya Kaminsky discuss the nature of, problems with, and possibilities for poetry in translation. They raise the common questions: how can one effectively translate formal techniques? is translation more re-imagining than transmogrification? what role does the personality of the translator play? These questions are fairly banal — they exist more for the critics to opine than as real practical problems for a translator. This is not to say that translators don't encounter them in their work. They do. But if a translator's approach is as programmatic as any answer, then they've almost certainly failed. As Kaminsky writes, ‘what interests me is not only the genius of the poet translated but also the genius of what is possible in English as it bends to accommodate or digest various new forms. By translating, we learn how the limits of our minds can be stretched to absorb the foreign, and how thereby we are able to make our language beautiful in a new way.’

Post Script
I agree with this aside whole-heartedly: ‘A side note about irony, which is a very popular device in American poetry today: I think when someone like Herbert used it in Poland in the time of martial law, when saying something straightforwardly meant being killed, it was a powerful thing. But when I see a thirty-something in Manhattan writing poems that are so overtly ironic they remind me of Seinfeld, I wonder if there is an overuse of this device in the work of our contemporaries.’

-- Daniel Pritchard, cross-posted from The Wooden Spoon