Translating Part 2

Description begins with visualization of what you want the reader to experience. It ends with you translating what you see in your mind into words on the page. It’s far from easy…If you want to be writer you must be able to describe it, and in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition. Stephen King / ‘On Writing’

Good bone structure – is that the secret? I’ve been thinking a lot about translation. The most recent thinking came while listening to Handel’s Laudate Pueri and Dixit Dominus. I didn’t learn Latin and as I watched the choir completely caught up in words that I guessed were psalms of praise – I wondered about our need for languages that have a special brethern to translate them. The grand illusion of looking up for answers. The beauty in the sound of words beyond our comprehension might be expressing exactly the nature of, the cure for our yearning. 

This sound is incredibly stirring but the poet still kicks back with clean, sharp lines in everyday language and there is a sense of relief. The truth is out. There are no answers, things are as they are.

I go back to the imagist, the modernist, the haikuist, the early century Irish monastic writers, the objectivist, and the book which I am currently reading. It’s not a new book. The Faber Book of Modern European Poetry (ed A Alvarez) was published in 1992.  There is a mighty range of poets from Paul Celan to Miroslav Holub but I’m still seeing the strong, clear lines as if the images were caught on a cold clear day.  Like faces which are not especially beautfiul except when sketched because the skin is closer to the bone.

And Alvarez says in his introduction that what I suspect is true – there is a certain culling in the collecting process. Some wonderful works in their own language are not here because the specificity of sound-quality and of context. ‘Similarly’ he writes ‘Miroslav Holub’s poems are idiomatic, translucent and sane in a way that makes you feel they would work powerfully in any language’.

I don’t think, of course, that it is essential for poems to be translatable. To be honest it’s greed on my part as a reader to want to be able to get at other poetic delights in ordinary languages. I want to be close to as many poets as I can – and I want to get close to the readers of my poetry – and those poems that seem to survive radical changes of style and adornment that come with all kinds of translation seem to be ones that have good bone structure.

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