Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Spider Curtains

Recently I got involved with a filmmaker who is doing a project on the translation of poetry. I've long been interested in the interplay between poetry and film, since both as an art form rest so heavily on expression of image. Her project is examining the aspects of poetry that are able to be translated, and will consist of several translations of the same poem being read over sequences of images. I'm thrilled to be involved - especially since the poet is Enrique Molina, a brilliant 20th century Argentinian poet.

So I started working on my translation today, and was humbled by the language in this poem. Much of what I've translated has been prose-poetry, or more generally approachable lyrical poetry. This piece, besides the modismos (word usages specific to the author's country) and elevated diction, is mostly lacking in punctuation. It makes it difficult in some cases to determine the grammar of each phrase, and if I happen to find myself moving too quickly I end up with delightful neologisms like "spider curtains." The phrase, properly punctuated (or prosaically punctuated) would be "...spiders, curtains..." But as I've always found when working through someone else's language, these mistranslations that are often as rich as the intended meaning.

Spider curtains: webs in an abandonded house grown so thick that they diffuse the light; finely wroght lace curtains with a web-like pattern; the image is layered with potential. It is only by suspending my own voice, my own sense of logic and structure and image that I can genuinely translate, and it leaves me open to words and pairings I wouldn't have come to on my own. That, perhaps moreso than any other reason, is the joy in translation - the being rendered open by language, and to language.

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