Production: a more ample process than writing, writing
perhaps precedes language, a bodily writing?
Interpretation: a critical act of assigning meaning. One of
my mentors Susan Sontag changed the world of critical
theory with her “Against Interpretation.”
Semantic and textual analysis: the research and science of
coming to understand the relation between the poem and
the language and history to which it belongs. The
translation now gains the power to transform the receiving
language.
For me translation is not easy. I don’t know Spanish or any of my
languages with a native feel. As a poet, I always see more than what
is actually there. That’s not a special gift. I will go over some
examples of Antonio Gamoneda’s poems, obsessively and attempt
to illustrate my main points.
Letter to Eppes
The earth belongs to the living, not the dead, he hummed as he drove from the hills into the valley
Daily the round
The gray limbs of early flowering maple tinged with the pink of life
The earth belongs, he copied the words into his book, to the living
The field of circulating medium
filched
by private individuals
He sat up in bed, awakened by the pounding in his chest
A presence there like a wooden arrow pierced more deeply
The earth belongs. He took as precept, not natural 4law. When he died he saw that he would die
completely. All zeroes. He looked down through the glass floor of the elevator
Continuance preceding as if having had a right to eat up the whole soil
If tracks fill with water, cease your digging
Frogs spawn where the bulldozer cut
Change in application, material, or design do not warrant patent
Limits to extend, not the dead
to bind
will and power
Earth free from all
burthen
Carta a Eppes
La tierra pertenece a los vivos, no a los muertos, tarareaba al bajar de las colinas al valle
La ronda diaria
Las ramas grises del tierno arce floreciente teñidos del rosado de la vida
La tierra pertenece, apuntó las palabras en su cuaderno, a los vivos
El campo del medio circulante
birlado
por individuos particulares
Se incorporó en la cama, despertado por un golpeo en el pecho
Una presencia como una flecha de madera traspasaba más profundamente
La tierra pertenece. Lo consideraba precepto, no ley natural. Supo que al morir moriría
completamente. Ceros, nada más. Miró a través del suelo de cristal del ascensor
La permanencia precediendo como si tuviera derecho de comerse la tierra vegetal toda
Si las huellas se llenan de agua, dejen de cavar
Las ranas se reproducen donde surcó la excavadora
Un cambio de aplicación, material o diseño no requiere patente.
Los límites se extienden, los muertos no
unen
voluntad y poder
La tierra libre de toda
carga.
Trad. Francisca González Arias
1. producción o la creación de poemas
I am not the poet, Antonio Gamoneda, I am only his voice in
English. I cannot speak to his process of creation. I am a poet
Here perforce I should speak to how I write and why I found an
immediate sympathy between his work and mine.
Here are several factors that my poetry shares with that of
Gamoneda:
Some common qualities:
naturaleza
Wellman: Las ramas grises del tierno arce floreciente
Gamoneda: pájaros, jaramago (más in otros poemas)
a conversation with the dead:
Wellman: When he died he saw that he / would die completely.
Gamoneda: los ojos de los muertos
cryptic images:
Wellman: Una presencia como una flecha de madera
Gamoneda: el llanto de hijos asidos al delantal sangriento.
proper names: Eppes, Juan Galea
political, economic and moral precepts:
Wellman: los muertos no / unen / voluntad y poder
Gamoneda: líbrame de quien se oculta entre palomas
The qualities of imagination that we share (and maybe only in my opinion) has
produced a tendency on my part to project, to assume that Gamoneda and myself
share similar thoughts and feelings. And although in some senses we do. This
sympathy can be conductive to unwarranted interpretations in my translations.
Gamoneda has specifically warned me against interpretation instead of direct
translation.
IT WAS a confused time full of birds. There was no other light than that of
a great sheet whose weave we did not recognize. The lye simmered,
menaced by shadow, and passageways led to the great hall of fear. Some
mothers bent forward to hear the crying of children who clutched the
bloody apron.
Bitter cress was inside my mouth. Envy advances like oil on yellow
cardboard and Juan Galea, with heavy panniers of anger, slowly
succumbs to compassion.
Today is the day of steel; its brightness gleams in the eyes of the dead.
Invisible mother, deliver me from one who hides among doves, cover
my face, save me from Friday.
ERA un tiempo equivocado de pájaros. No existía otra luz que la de
una gran sábana cuya urdimbre desconocíamos. La cal hervía
amenazada por la sombra y los pasillos conducían al zaguán del
miedo. Algunas madres se inclinaban para escuchar el llanto de hijos
asidos al delantal sangriento.
El jaramago estuvo dentro de mi boca. La envidia avanza como el
aceite sobre cartones amarillos y Juan Galea, con una espuerta de ira,
baja despacio a la misericordia.
Hoy es el día del acero; su resplandor entra en los ojos de los
muertos. Madre indistinta, líbrame de quien se oculta entre palomas,
cubre mi rostro, sálvame del viernes.
2. interpretación o la lectura sencillo
Here are some instances with n the same poem where I have added meaning, which is an effect
of interpretation
ERA un tiempo equivocado de pájaros
IT WAS a confused time full of birds\
I have no sense of a literal meaning for “tiempo equivocado.” There is no license for my
introducing “full” into the context. I have an image of birds falling from the sky. That influenced
my reading.
There are other images of confused birds in Gamoneda’s poetry, that have influenced me too.
PÁJAROS. Atraviesan lluvias y países en el error de los imanes y los vientos, pájaros
que volaban entre la ira y la luz.
Vuelven incomprensibles bajo leyes de vértigo y olvido.
BIRDS. They cross rain storms and countries in a misreading of magnets and winds,
birds that were flying between anger and light.
They return stunned by the laws of vertigo and forgetfulness.
(Libro del frío)
This discussion of birds may be an instance where analysis comes in and supports
‘interpretation.” It is still “interpretation instead of the quality of “translation to which I aspire.
Here is another problem passage from the text, “ERA un tiempo equivocado.” that part of
the first sentence rings so true for me with out the “de pájaros.”
Juan Galea, con una espuerta de ira, baja despacio a la misericordia.
Juan Galea, with heavy panniers of anger, slowly succumbs to compassion.
espuertas in the plural can be idiomatic for “lots of,” “plenty of. I tried to convey that sense with
“heavy” and also kept to the literal; “basket” or “panier” and I pluralized the term. Today I might
write:
Juan Galea, with a loaded pannier of anger, slowly succumbs to compassion.
I remain unresolved as to options. All express a dissatisfaction possibly with Gamoneda’s
original. Do I have that right?
“baja” also presents interesting problems. I might have used “sink” to go along with “heavy” but
“heavy” is my invented term. I like “succumb.” It is a moral term and here I think my sense of
morality rhymes with Gamoneda’s.
3. análisis semántica y textual
Semantic and textual analysis: the research and science of coming to understand the
relation between the poem and the language and history to which it belongs. The
translation now gains the power to transform the receiving language. In this sense all poetry
is an act of translation, a language act. This understanding of the relation between poetry
and language has one of its sources in the theories of Walter Benjamin. Here is an extract
from his “The Work of the Translator”
One can extract from a translation as much communicable content as one wishes, and this much
can be translated; but the element toward which the genuine translator's efforts are directed
remains out of reach. It is not translatable, like the literary language of the original, because the
relation between content and language in the original is entirely different from that in the translation.
In the original, content and language constitute a certain unity, like that between a fruit and its skin,
whereas a translation surrounds its content as if with the broad folds of a royal mantle. For
translation indicates a higher language than its own, and thereby remains inappropriate, violent,
and alien with respect to its content. In the translation, there is a fracture between the content and
language that constituted a unity in the original (158).
Por importante que sea la parte de comunicación que se extraiga de ella y se traduzca, siempre
permanecerá intangible la parte que persigue el trabajo del auténtico traductor. Ésta no es
transmisible, como sucede con la palabra del autor en el original, porque la relación entre su
esencia y el lenguaje es totalmente distinta en el original y en la traducción. Si en el primer caso
constituyen éstos cierta unidad, como la de una fruta con su corteza, en cambio el lenguaje de la
traducción envuelve este contenido como si lo ocultara entre los amplios pliegues de un manto
soberano, porque representa un lenguaje más elevado que lo que en realidad es y, por tal razón,
resulta desproporcionado, vehemente y extraño a su propia esencia. Esta incongruencia impide
toda ulterior transposición y, al mismo tiempo, la hace superflua, (135)
•The language of the translation is always inadequate or broken with respect to the content of
the translation.
•I am about to posit an eternal inadequacy of language with respect to content.
The object of the translator is the language that he faces. The object of the poet is
something spontaneous. However, there are English language schools of poetry that since
Derrida have taken language not sentiment as their object.
The object of translation has become not the essence of the original but a relationship to
the language of the original, seeking some essence or reverberation between the two
languages, during the act of translation.
Charles Bernstein, poet and theorist of the language-poetry movement in the USA, in
his Artifice of Absorption a versified poetics, has written:
A dense or unfamiliar vocabulary
can make a poem hard to absorb, not only by calling
attention to the sound qualities of its lexicon
but also by preventing any immediate processing
of the individual word’s meaning. At some point,
the appropriate reference sources may be consulted—
but this is by no means the only way to hear
or understand the work.
Un vocabulario denso o no familiar
puede hacer que un poema sea difícil de absorber, no solamente
al llamar la atención sobre las cualidades sonoras de su léxico
sino también por impedir el procesamiento inmediato
de cualquiera de los significados de los vocablos. En algún punto,
la apropiada fuente de refencias puede ser consultada.
Pero esta, de ningún modo, es la única manera
o entender la obra. (tr. Heribierto Yepez).
I will explore this topic of language and poetry, poetry and translation tomorrow. I
do want here to insist as Bernstein does on the importance of ears and hearing.
Orality and musicality are crucial aspects of what has led me to translation. It is
where the poetics of one language transforms the poetics of a second language.
For now I ask you to consider another example of my work with Gamoneda that
reaches this level where one text transforms its own language and the translation
transform the second language. At this level there is meaning to be found in
language that either poet or translator or both may not be fully aware.
FROM the balconies, above the darkened doorway, I
used to watch with my face glued to the cold bars; hidden
behind the begonias; I saw the movement of gaunt men.
Some had faces gouged by firedamp, etched with terrible
blue threads; others sang to lull a hidden orphanity. They
were slow men, exasperated by prohibition and the odor
of death.
(My mother, with her eyes very open, fearful of the
creaking of the wooden tiles under her feet, approached
my shoulder and, with stealthy violence, pulled me back
into the interior of the rooms. She placed the index finger
of her right hand over her lips and slowly closed the
shutters of the balcony.)
DESDE los balcones, sobre el portal oscuro, yo miraba
con el rostro pegado a las barras frías; oculto tras las
begonias, espiaba el movimiento de hombres cenceños.
Algunos tenían las mejillas labradas por el grisú, dibujadas
con terribles tramas azules; otros cantaban acunando una
orfandad oculta. Eran hombres lentos, exasperados por la
prohibición y el olor de la muerte.
(Mi madre, con los ojos muy abiertos, temerosa del crujido
de las tarimas bajo sus pies, se acercó a mi espalda y, con
violencia silenciosa, me retrajo hasta el interior de las
habitaciones. Puso el dedo índice de la mano derecha
sobre sus labios y cerró las hojas del balcón lentamente.)
I call attention to these lines:
Some had faces gouged by firedamp, etched with terrible
blue threads; others sang to lull a hidden orphanity.
Algunos tenían las mejillas labradas por el grisú, dibujadas
con terribles tramas azules; otros cantaban acunando una
orfandad oculta.
There is historical material with reference to “el grisú” – which Gamoneda situates in
realtion to forced labor in the earliest days after the victory of Franco’s troops in the
Spanish Civil War. That historical information is transformative. More transformative
in my reading is the idea of “orfandad.” It seemed to me, although there is an
entomological precedent, that I had to invent the word “orphanity” in order to get at
that precise sense of identification with unhoused and unloved entrapment which is
crucial to Gamoneda’s poem. My notion is that here, the words and their sounds are
crucial to history and language and pose therefore demand for translation. Consider
also my choice of the English word “lull” and how its sounds find resonance in the
Spanish.
Algunos tenían las mejillas labradas por el grisú, dibujadas
con terribles tramas azules; otros cantaban acunando una
orfandad oculta.
I will leave you here to contemplate how each of us stand before the realities of the
languages that we know and how they pose the essential matter of translatability.
Paul Klee, The Angel of History
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