| It's a complex one! || Apr 7 |
Philip Lees wrote:
Suppose that the target language has no equivalent to the genre of the source. Does that mean that it is impossible to produce a good and faithful translation?
So if Catalan, say, has no poetic tradition equivalent to slam (I'm not claiming it doesn't - I really have no idea - so just for the sake of argument), how should one approach the translation task? Write it off from the start as hopeless? Look for something halfway analogous? Attempt to "create" the genre in the target language?
And if a translation is attempted, by what criteria should it be judged, and by whom?
First of all, I should say that I would have had no problem with Rijneveld as the translator of Gorman's work into Dutch. I don't think the writer's lack of a track record in translation and poor English are major obstacles, given the conventions of poetry translation. (What's more, like Biden and Gorman, Rijneveld even suffered from a speech disorder growing up!)
Deul made two points, one regarding the one-off "opportunity-giving" aspect of the inaugural event (the spirit of which seems to have been extended to the translation of Gorman's work by her representatives). The second was regarding the spoken-word slam genre. I have to say that, agree 100% with her or not, the second argument has merit, specially given the fact that Deul was able to provide a list of suitable candidates.
However, I think you could broaden the suitability criteria. In theory spoken-word work might suit a translator with experience in the oral tradition of poetry, maybe from Old English, Old Irish or Ancient Greek. Like spoken word poetry, here the patterns of stress are all important, together with alliteration, internal rhyme, enjambment, caesura and other features also found in Gorman's work. Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg, who often wrote specifically for performance and gave formal importance to breathing patterns in speech, might also be relevant here.
But there would be the question of whether a translator with that sort of experience would be able to find the right equivalent contemporary idiom for slam. In a way, all, or a great deal of, oral poetry has inherent formal similarities, so Deul's argument that a practitioner of slam would be able to find the right patterns of rhythm and stress (even intuitively) AND the right idiom does hold some water. (It recalls Patti Smith's insistence that translators of her poetry collection "Auguries of Innocence" must have a connection with the world of music).
It's also worth noting that a similar approach to that suggested by Deul was taken in other countries: in Sweden the rapper Timbuktu and in France the rapper Marie-Pierra Kakoma (aka Lous and the Yakuza) were chosen to work on Gorman's collection (maybe in tandem with a translator), the French publisher involved explaining "I thought Lous’s writing skills, her sense of rhythm, her connection with spoken poetry would be tremendous assets." Again, this makes sense, since there is a degree of crossover between slam and hip-hop. Other countries found other solutions: in Germany three women from different backgrounds were chosen to work as a team.
I've noticed that there has been an amount of high-brow and sometimes even snooty comment on the quality of Gorman's poetry and the fact that it's accessible (although this was presumably also why Gorman was chosen, given the importance of making the event an occasion for communication and inclusion, echoing Obama's choice of Richard Blanco at his second inauguration). But this doesn't mean its translation would be an easy matter. There's the rap-recalling wordplay, repetition and juxtaposition (is/isn't) of "We've learned that quiet isn't always peace, / and the norms and notions / of what just is / isn't always just-ice." Then there's the repetition and play on "arm", extended into internal rhyme, in "We lay down our arms/ so we can reach out our arms / to one another. / We seek harm to none and harmony for all." Regardless of whether you regard the writing as facile/jejune, these lines pose undeniable issues.
All in all, I'd say that this was an opportunity to be inventive and rise to a challenge. Maybe the go-to solution could have been to have a translator and spoken word poet/rapper work in tandem to cover the needs of accurate translation and rhythmic re-creation.
Maybe one last comment that goes against Deul's argument. I haven't read the rest of Gorman's collection, but there's more to The Hill We Climb than slam. The Hill We Climb also seems to echo gospel preaching and more especially the neoclassical cadences of 18th century oratory (with its specific references to the US Constitution). But a constitutionalist evangelical spoken word poet might be too much of an ask!
On Catalan and slam, there is a slam scene in Catalonia, but its best-known exponent works in Spanish. Last I heard, a woman poet working in a contemporary urban Catalan idiom was re-assigned the job of translating Gorman (can't find her name off-hand).
[Edited at 2021-04-07 12:57 GMT]
[Edited at 2021-04-07 13:00 GMT]
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