We begin our special issue on progressive translation with this series of translations from Claudia Keelan of the trobairitz, female troubadours who wrote at the end of the eleventh century and beginning of the twelfth. In Keelan's own words, the trobairitz "wrote a poetry that spoke truth to power, calling the bluff on a system that alternately worshipped and enslaved them." The style of language Keelan uses in these translations diverges from the usual elaborate, court-stylings of the more common troubadour translations. Rather than the elevated language of Ezra Pound's troubadours ("Though this measure quaint confine me, / And I chip out words and plane them, / They shall yet be true and clear"), the trobairitz spit lines like:
We are all familiar with John Keats' reaction to reading George Chapman's translations of Homer: "Yet did I never breathe its pure serene / Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold." What Keats saw in Chapman's translation was something created entirely new that he had technically read before in other versions. A question that inevitably must be confronted when translating an already-translated work is what the new version will add or reveal about the source text. How can the translator make the experience of that text, distanced through the otherness of a foreign language, vibrant, new, and purposeful? Polly Duff Bresnick, in the translations below, sees Homer's Odyssey new by literally looking at Homer's Ancient Greek words and asking: what do I see in these words, these characters? The result is the eye-rhyme translation Old Gus Eats, an English version visually mined from the Ancient Greek letters. Bresnick's approach takes the etymology of "translate" seriously: "to carry across." And she faithfully carries her own image of each word across from Ancient Greek to contemporary English, and "Ἑρμείας" becomes "Empanada," "Κρονίδη" becomes "Klonopin," and "ὠδύσαο, Ζεῦ" becomes a "windowed zoo." Come into these poems, look at the physical words, and see what you can see.
In Sixty Morning Wlaks (and, yes, it's Wlaks not Walks), Andy Fitch asks us to consider every action and event of our lives as a moment of translation. Rather than simply being an act of a scholar in a university office turning one language into another, translation here becomes the act of seeing, of recording, of remembering, and of communicating. The below pieces began as a walk taken by Fitch. On these walks, he made an audio recording of his thoughts and observations. Then, he uploaded the audio files to a low-cost, error-prone transcription service in India. The resulting transcriptions below are filled with errors and gaps. We can see the walk Fitch took, but what we see is shrouded by a haze produced by each subsequent step of the creative process. What began as an actual, objective act of walking becomes the confusing, disjunctive: "0:04:52 S1: This lovely old brewery we live [04:56] ____ not so bad. They're white and cinnamon white roof seagulls you know, fleet above calling." Fitch's process reminds us that every memory we recall and story we tell is similarly mis-transcribed with gaps and errors, filtered through our subsequent experiences, our subsequent retellings, finally emerging eerily similar yet different from its origin: its own, new, unique event, warts and all.
Jack Spicer, in his book After Lorca, developed a process of creation/translation that he referred to as "poetry as dictation." The resulting poems were part-translation and part-channeling of Federico Garcia Lorca, a process that went beyond faithful translations to bring Lorca back to life, to create new words emanating from the voice of his ghost. In the poems below, Jordan Reynolds continues that tradition of poetry as dictation and seeks to expand Spicer's belief of the poet as "radio" to incorporate new technologies: computers, audio speech-to-text programs, and translation engines. Reynolds' four-step process (see the postscript note) returns Spicer's words to the Spanish through speech-to-text dictation, then sends them through Google translate back into English that gets crafted into a poetic continuation of Spicer's project. What gets produced in Reynolds' computerized séance with Spicer is a new poem, born out of the digital that finds new words from Spicer as channeled through the magic of programmed algorithms, bits of data floating through the cyberspace cloud.