Process, language, resonance and literary ping-pong


Reflections on the literary translation of the collaborative poetry collection ‘In Defence of Cherries’

In the late spring of 2015 I was fortunate to be invited to visit Martisor, the cherry orchard and estate of romanian poet Tudor Arghezi. Following the visit, my collaborator Peter Sragher and I were so inspired by Arghezi’s life and work, the surroundings and the cherries of the orchard, that we started writing poems about it. This collaboration became the collection ‘In Defence of Cherries’. In march 2017, – invited by the Bucharest Department-Literary Translations at ”The Romanian Writers’ Union” – Peter and I worked on translating the poems in close collaboration with translators Irina Bojin and Andreea Daniela Petcu. We worked in pairs in seperate rooms of a Bucharest city library and in three highly intensive sessions the collection was translated into Romanian.

I had the great pleasure of teaming up with the seasoned translator Irina Bojin, and as it was her first literary translation of poetry and my first têteà-tête translation session with a translator that was rendering my material in Romanian, we were both in somewhat unknown territory. And fortunately, we quickly established an excellent communication, found resonance in each other, both in the languages and in the poetry.

For me, as a writer, I place tremendous trust in my translator, trusting her judgement and connoisseurship of the national readership, in this case the romanian readership.

Flow is of utmost importance. The translated language of the poem needs to flow effortlessly, the song of one lingua transformed into another. Meanings have to be true to the original poem, while rhymes and idiomatics need to be tailored and chosen to lift the task of creating one set of complex metaphorical interplay between eternity and now into another, similar set in another language.

Really, an ardous – almost impossible task – but, I believe, crowned with some success in this case. It is no wonder that translating poetry is said to be the hardest subdiscipline of literary translation, but Irina and I shared great family resemblance in our shared curiosity about linguistics, semantics, etymology and culture. About feeling and moods and motives, life experience and, well… light. After each three hour session we were absolutely spent, carefully working through every facet of meaning, factchecking and discussing as we went along, making neccesary choices, sacrifying ever so many darlings and cutting heels and toes. Picking which cherries we preferred over others, and which to leave hanging.

‘In Defence of Cherries’ will be published by Editura frACTalia later this year and thanks to the great chemistry and collaboration with the translators, I am confident that the collection will do justice to the legacy of our late poet colleague Tudor Arghezi and make sense to a contemporary Romanian readership.

My only wish is that I would be able to read the language and experience the poems in their new Romanian avatars. Alas. It is never to late to learn.

The intensity of the têteà-tête literary translation session is unparallelled and probably my most rewarding collaborative translation experience to date. I have previously worked with translators via mail and chat communication and over the phone, but the importance of sharing physical space in my opinion cannot be overestimated.

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