Thursday, October 20, 2011
Tomas Transtromer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature this month. In recognition of the event, the editors of the Times Literary Supplement dredged out of their archives an interesting dispute which followed their publication (in 2007) of a review by Alan Brownjohn of Robin Robertson's versions of Transtromer's poems. Two weeks after the review appeared, a the Scottish poet Robin Fulton accused Robinson of doing a manqué job, and what's worse, of borrowing "excessively" from his own translations: "An excessively large number of Robertson's lines are identical to mine in my Transtromer translations... His versions are neither dependable translations nor independent imitations: they show a cavalier disregard for Transtromer's texts and I have yet to see a reviewer able or willing to say so." The exchange which ensued touches on many touchy topics -- whether a poet should translate work from a language she or he does not know, or know well; whether the use of another's work constitutes allusion, appropriation or theft; and so on.