Tired of bad translations? Put the poetry back into translation yourself!
At the Modern Poetry in Translation website, you can read submit your own English translation of a poem, based on a literal translation and sound recording in the original language, if you don’t speak it. There are 21 English versions of the current Portuguese poem, XLIV, by Alberto Caeiro.
If you are more ambitious, for this autumn’s issue the magazine is currently looking for translations of WWI poetry, especially from less obvious combatant countries like Poland.
Modern Poetry in Translation was founded by Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort in the sixties, to bring poetry across the Iron Curtain and into English circulation. Their first edition included three of my favourites: Zbigniew Herbert, Miroslav Holub, and Czesław Miłosz.
The magazine includes lots of interesting reflections on language poetry and translation including this one by Romanian-born author Carmen Bugan: “People ask me so often why I do not write in Romanian that I think about it long and hard. First, I do not want to write in the language in which my family suffered interrogations, prison visits, threats of all kinds. I certainly do not want to remember all the times when we wrote to each other and burned our words.”
Here’s a poem from the current issue, by Christine Marendon, who was born a year before the magazine was founded, in 1964. It’s translated from the German by Ken Cockburn.
In each person there exists a sheer
drop. Darker than campion
which during the day turns inwards
it likes to spread gold
over broad expanses.
So we, animals and humans,
are also vegetation, layers
of the coal age. We are
offshoots, belonging to the species
which pays with pollen
and honey and still awaits the new age.
The flowers, whose language
lacks a word for ‘garden’,
bend forwards into
the newly flighted scar.
Everything is connected
to not belonging.
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