By Inga Pizāne
In September 2017, four Latvian Poets (Eduards Aivars, Henriks Eliass Zēgners, Katrīna Rudzīte, Inga Pizāne) and four British Poets (Llŷr Gwyn Lewis, Kathrine Sowerby, William Letford, and MacGillivray) came together in Riga, Latvia to translate each others’ poems. We worked for five business days in pairs, collaborating with a different poet each day. The work mainly consisted of talking over the chosen poem/s, explaining it/them to the translator, clarifying words, meanings, metaphors. Because we were explaining the emotional experiences of the poem, our talks sometimes almost turned into therapy sessions.
Our main goal was to translate at least one poem from each poet but most of the pairs managed to do more. The workshop concluded with a public poetry reading in the book café “Nice Place”, in Riga but the project went on with another two readings in May 2018, in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Referring to the previously used word translator, I want to add that most of us didn’t have very much experience of translating poetry before. At least to me it was a unique experience – sitting by the poet and trying to ask as many questions as possible to get the idea of the poem and to live it and sense it almost as my own. And also the other way round – explaining my own poems to the translator-poet I was working with.
Oxford Handbooks online dictionary says that “Poetry translation may be defined as relaying poetry into another language”. In Latvian, there is a word atdzejot which stands precisely for poetic translation and is different from the world tulkot meaning “to translate”. I think ‘to relay’ is a good concept but the process is more than that. The soul of the person translating the poem has to enter the translation to make the poem real and alive.
There are so many decisions being made in the process that I would rather call the translator an author of the translation. I think by cutting the work into pieces (words) and afterwards trying to build the same poem in another language is a process of creation. And the one who creates is an author. Every word put in the poem is a choice and most of the time is a very difficult one because sometimes it is not possible to find an equivalent for the word used. Then the whole sentence (or even a paragraph) needs to be reconstructed.
Explaining my poems too was a really challenging process because I just don’t know or don’t remember sometimes why I used this or that word in the poem or what was on my mind. To me poetry writing is a very impulsive process; and when explanations are needed I get confused. Besides, when trying to explain a poem which was written a while ago my own views on it might have already been changed.
However, this was a magnificent experience to all of us. We learned a lot about translation process, crossed language barriers and met not only in life but in poetry as well. What I love about reading translations of my poems is the new perspective I get on my own poetry and the new light that shines on it.