(Self)Translation and the Poetry of the ‘In-between’

By | 1 February 2016

Beyond the choice of words in each version, I was interested in the capacity of form / shape to create what the Italians might refer to as a simpatia (a kind of friendliness or understanding) between the two versions, which goes beyond the literal translation of one word and another. This is not achieved by an exacting visual match between the works: read side-by-side, the overall aesthetic of these poems is not based on mirror-like similarity of source and target text, but rather is characterised by two different sets of word-images that ‘shatter’ from the same initial idea.

Sound and syntax were also important considerations in the process of creating this poem / these poems. For example, in the Italian version, the sharp, almost serrated sound of words such as ‘frantumi’, ‘cristallo’, ‘brillava’ is contrasted with the more sibilant sounds of ‘shards’ and ‘glass’ in the English version. Readers will also note that the English version borrows the more reflexive ‘balances itself’ from the Italian version. Even more obviously, the differences in line-length I have noted above signal the desire to maintain a metrical harmony rather than a word-for-word, line-by-line verisimilitude – the placement of ‘di’ and ‘of’ in the final stanzas illustrates this point.

Interestingly, sound and form are two elements that may, for the reader who is not fluent in both English and Italian, go some way to transcending the linguistic divide. In this case, the reader might also be considered a viewer and sound-maker: one who may begin to see and hear connections between the poems even if the more literal meaning of certain words in one language or another elude them. For those who struggle to make such connections, the sheer presence or knowledge of the two poems as texts-in-translation still signals the potential inter-textual richness of the relationship between them.

In the case of the poem(s) above each of the considerations of syntax, sound and form, as well as the development of the deep story of this poem, took place over the course of several weeks. Reflecting Eco’s notion of translation as a process of negotiation, any change to one poem meant a revisiting and reconsideration of the other. Moreover, such a negotiation seems to exemplify Eco’s belief in the ‘losses and gains’ in all translation activities whereby, above and beyond the idea of equivalence, the author / translator must produce versions from an almost infinite set of possible texts / translations (Eco, 2003, pp. 32-61).

Importantly, the practical to-and-fro between the two versions as I create / translate them reflects my own subjective to-and-fro between identification with two places, histories and contexts. Indeed, returning to the poem itself, I note that the sensation of uncanniness I have tried to capture in the final stanza is reminiscent of the experiences I associate with being between cultures / languages, as someone who simultaneously does / does not belong in two places at once. In essence then, the poems themselves, and the process in which they were developed, are integrally linked to my sense of self, my identity – an idea that I will explore in greater depth below.

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