In my study of Finnish, I have learned that the Finnish word for translation is related to the word "to carry." Yet, it is nearly impossible to carry all the meanings of any one word into a new language. There are cultural associations and literary references that a reader in another context, not in the original language or landscape, will not get.
Between languages, between literary translations, is a gap, an electric space. This gap contains silence, things unable to be said, misunderstandings, and longings. In the carrying, meanings have been dropped by one side or the other. In this between space, as a poet, I sense the ambiguities of meanings and linger with the possibilities. In my book Surface Displacements, I have a sequence of poems that have titles in Finnish although the body of each poem is in English. The titles reflected my day-to-day experience while I was staying in Finland and memories of the Finnish language and family in Minnesota.
Translation is much more than transcription. Intuition is necessary. Priorities are made. Mira Rosenthal said translating poetry is a "process of discovery, which may sound strange, given that the original has already laid it all out for me. But the translation still has to discover it’s own form." This highlights the way that translation is similar to creating one's own poem. Another translator, flash fiction writer Lydia Davis says, "you are a ventriloquist as well as a chameleon." Book reviewer Elizabeth Bryeron describes the act of translation as entering the "fruitful darkness" in her review of the novel, Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrara. The phrase fruitful darkness rings true. The image of the word translate in the photograph here is next to the "Shift" key. There are several changes, or to use a more accurate word, shifts that one must make.
When I was in Helsinki, I met a woman who did translation for a company, or as she clarified, she did not so much do translations but trans-creations. This term might be a better word for the business of translating poetry. Often translators must re-invent the meaning using different images or metaphors than the original writer, and this of course, creates controversy at times. Let's just say that if one really needs to experience the original in full, one must know the original language and live in the landscape. Failing that, reading several translations of the same work might get you closer to the source.
The Book Club for Poets has had a fascinating sequence of books this year. In February, we read Emily Dickinson.
In March, the book selection was Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red. This novel in poems, based on ancient Greek myth of Geryon, the red winged monster. Carson used a complete poem by Emily Dickinson (no. 1748) "The reticent volcano keeps/ His never slumbering plan--/ Confided are his projects pink/ To no precarious man.// .... Carson's translation of the ancient myth gives us a contemporary tale. Geryon negotiates a complicated family life, develops a passion for photography, and when he becomes a young man, takes a gay lover named Herakles). After Herakles leaves him, they meet again while at a conference in Buenos Aires.
In April, the book selection is A Life Replaced: Poems with Translations from Anna Akhmatova and Vladimir Gandelsman by Olga Livshin (Poets & Traitors Press, c2019). In this book, Livshin creates a conversation between her translated poems of Akmatova and Gandelsman and her own poetry. This creates a unique experience for the reader. New versions of the literary greats' poems are presented. I enjoyed reading the echos and response in the narrative poems by Livshin about her contemporary experience of being a Russian-Jewish immigrant in the United States.
In May, the book selection is How to Communicate by David Lee Clark (Norton Press, 2022). Clark is a deaf/blind person, and his poems reflect the intense experience of touch. ASL uses a different grammar structure than English or American English. Interpreters of ASL translate on the fly, and often use analogy and repetition to reinforce the meaning of the original communication. Interpreters for deaf/blind people receive and give translation by physical touch with the deaf/blind. As you can imagine, this makes for some very interesting poems.
I recommend that you read more about translation and more interviews with translators. It's fascinating:
Review by Elizabeth Bryeron: "In This Fruitful Darkness: Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera": https://sydneyreviewofbooks.com/review/signs-preceding-the-end-of-the-world-yuri-herrera/
Lydia Davis' essay: https://lithub.com/lydia-davis-on-how-translation-opens-a-writers-mind/
Interview with Mira Rosenthal, translator of poetry: https://www.catranslation.org/journal-post/poet-to-poet-an-interview-with-mira-rosenthal/
Interview with translator Samantha Schnee: https://bookblast.com/blog/interview-samantha-schnee-translator-of-the-week/