Wednesday, 20 August 2008


Nick Laird wrote well about translation in Saturday's Guardian in the Author, Author slot; a piece I always love to read.

He is living in Italy (and Zadie too, presumably) for the last eighteen months. The part I especially liked was his version on 'versions', which is what those of us who translate are now calling the poems we have translated. True for him, it's the word I find I use most when trying to describe the new poem I have made of an Irish or English language one of my own. But, when translating others, I still call them translations.

Here are Nick's three basic approaches to translation:

a plain prose translation, a kind of paraphrase that tries to stick closely to the original idea

a version that tries to incorporate as many of the linguistic devices as possible from the original language, and adheres as closely as possible to form, rhythm and lexicon etc

a new poem, using the new tricks of the new language, but perhaps incorporating devices from the old poem

I'd have to say that the third kind - a new poem - is my favourite type of translation. I prefer to read or create something like a poem in the target language version, rather than something literal and clunky.

Countering Frost's famous quote, Russian poet Joseph Brodsky said, ‘Poetry is what is gained in translation’. Or at least it should be.


PJ Nolan said...

The whole issue is a Fierce Pancake! (Lordy, imagine having to translate Flann O'Brien!). I'm fully in favour of creative translation and greatly admire people like Peter Sirr in their focus on this area. But then I wonder, when reading Chekov for example, just who am I reading? Chekov or the translator? Do you think verse lends itself to the process more than prose?
BTW what do you think of Laird's poetry - I was a bit underwhelmed by To A Fault -but still prefer it to the 'Lad Lit' of Utterly Monkey.

BarbaraS said...

What a great description, PJ - a Fierce Pancake! I'm inclined to think that what is created is a hybrid of the original writer's style and the translator's style: it's hard not to be infected by the style of the orgininator as well as infusing your own work into it. I'd love to know what others think of it.

Women Rule Writer said...

@ PJ: it's thorny but I'd rather have access to Chekov et al in readable language than some awful translation. I remember reading a Primo Levi memoir - stunning and hard about Auschwitz - but the translation was distractingly bad.

I heard Laird read at Cúirt. Underwhelming is right. He read with Sasha Dugdale and she was quiet, dignified and wonderful. I do feel Laird probably gets a lot of stick because of jealousy and who he's married to etc. I admit I went to his reading out of curiosity rather than love of his work.

@Barbara: with my own work I have freedom. When translating others' work I train to be more faithful to the intention of the original in word choice, the physical shape of the poem, reproducing rhymes etc etc.

Women Rule Writer said...

I meant 'I TRY to be more faithful to the intention of the original in word choice, the physical shape of the poem, reproducing rhymes'