This past weekend, Larry Rubin (a southern poet) and I conducted two poetry workshops at The College English Association (CEA).
One of the participants (who I plan to invite to this forum) presented us with a dilemma: the translated version of a 14th century poem written (I believe) in a Germanic language.
My question to those who translate poems into English (or other languages): how does one "workshop" a poem not an original work by the translator?
I must admit, I was at a loss, but here's my take on what should happen in a translation (but tell me if I'm wrong, please):
1. As much as possible, the translated version should retain the original cadence, structure, and form.
2. The meaning of the translated poem ought to be accessible to the target reader.
Unfortunately, numbers 1 and 2 may often seem to contradict each other.
For example, a word-for-word and exact syntactical translation would accomplish number 1; however, number 1 does not take into consideration linguistic, syntactical, and even cultural differences. Thus, number 2 would suggest that the translator should aim for a poetic structure and syntax accessible to the English reader.
For example, in Macedonia, "leblebija," a favorite snack among the Turkish population, is a dry-roasted chick pea that is sugar-coated with a hard crust. If a Macedonian writes a poem about leblebija, how can that be translated into English so that the reader "understands" the gustatory experience of eating leblebija, or should the reader make an effort to "feel" what the poet feels, even without a good point of reference? For one thing, there is no English word for leblebija, so would the translator keep the original word and footnote it? Or would the translator find a comparable snack, such as those candy coated peanuts called Burnt Peanuts, a.k.a. Baked Boston Peanuts. Or would either be okay?
Larry and I had to tell the translator that we did not feel qualified to critique her translation, and pretty much had to turn her away--not in the spirit of CEA, which is typically the antithesis of, say, the MLA.
I do believe that there is a place for work shopping translated poetry, but it seems that such a workshop should be very specialized, facilitated by actual translators of poetry who could have helped this person re-envision her translation-in-progress.
Any suggestions from translators?