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Lost in Poetry

Lost in Poetry

The CONCIERGE and several eager HOTEL MANAGERS greet Bob. He just wants to sleep, but more STAFF continue to greet him, ask him about his fright.
(from the movie script for Lost in Translation on the LA Screenwriter website)

Yeah, scary how bad that flight was, huh? ;) ... I am assuming that is indeed a typo because it is not directly quoted dialogue, rather reported dialogue, but that is the difficulty of scanned documents — where a sighted person can read the text in an image, a blind person like myself needs to run the image through optical character recognition software to turn it into text that my computer software can read aloud for me. The words flight and fright could easily be a typo, could be the OCR software deciding that the l looked like an r, or it could intentionally be the word fright; more on this later.

I had a lovely email this week, asking if I'd like to be interviewed in English for a French literary magazine, and for it to be translated into Romanian for a Romanian literary magazine. As far as I'm aware this will be the first time my words have appeared in French, alors! or Romanian, foarte buna (very good!)

The French exclamation ça alors can express a whole range of reactions, from delight to surprise to indignation. It's used to mean "how about that" or "my goodness" and literally translates to "that then.

This always makes me wonder about translating poetry. Exactly how fluently does somebody need to speak a language in order to translate poetry from that language into another? How poetic does the translator need to be? From what I read on the subject matter the best poetic translations are by people who understand the nuance of the language as well as what makes a poem poetic.

Your language is not my language
I break in always a little too soon, and you come to the point so late
I make an appointment for thirty o’clock and we shake on it
I’ll be there and you’ll be there – right?
We point, gesture some more, laugh, and part
His language is not their language
The wind takes his words way up over the wires and his accent is
         hopping about like a bird
The labourers he is briefing are from Glasgow, Shanghai and Lodz,
The lines will be life from 3 to 3 10, OK?
He mimes electrocution and sudden death, and they all cheer, funny guy
(from My language is not your language by Rebecca Hughes)

For me that is a perfect illustration of why knowing the words does not always impart the poetic meaning. I'd love to speak a language well enough to translate into English but the most advanced level of study I reached was GCSE French (passed with grade C ). In the course of studying for that I did learn a French poem by memory, as recollected back in July 2016, I Lost my Head to Poetry, but the fact I could read French well enough to read a French poem didn't mean I could write a poem in French ... I was still a year or two away from starting to write poetry in English at that stage!

The gym is empty except for an old man vacuuming. Bob passes piles of little towels and bottles of water. He takes a water for his workout.

He approaches an exercise machine and puts the water in the drink holder of the machine. He looks at the lit-up instruction panel- it is all in Japanese.
He pushes a button, and the machine starts beeping, then a soothing woman's voice recites instructions in Japanese.
He gets on it, and sinks. He tries to make the arms and foot peddles coordinate. He pushes a button and it starts moving too fast. In an upward rotation he tries to reach the control panel, but is not fast enough. The soothing woman's voice continues instruction.(she occasionally includes an English word- gently, gently...vigorous) He tries to keep up with it, and tries again to push the right button to slow it down, but the machine steps starts going swiftly backwards instead.
(from the movie script of Lost in Translation, ibid)

Tomorrow (Monday 7 May 2018) I will be starting a poetry course with the Poetry School. Titled Transreading the Baltics, led by Elzbieta Wójcik-Leese, it will look at and respond to poetry in translation from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. I don't speak a single word of any of those languages but the thought of getting to know the poetry thrills me the way a TV travel show can whet your appetite for visiting a country.

we’re lucky to be guided by three anthologies prepared by Arc Publications, the UK press indomitable in promoting poetry in English translation. We’ll sample the indispensible series ‘New Voices from Europe and Beyond’, looking at the volumes Six Latvian Poets, Six Lithuanian Poets and Six Estonian Poets, thus getting to know more poems by one poet. Arc Publications have also promised to show us the poets whose collections will be ready for the London Book Fair in April, which hosts Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as its guests of honour. Inside our classroom, we’ll become more familiar with these poetries, engaging with translation as creative writing, rewriting as reading, and sharing our varied experiences of encounters with other cultures and languages.
(from the Poetry School information on the course Transreading the Baltics)

Picture That

As a blind person I frequently need to translate English into English. I personally do not understand the reason why some poets post their work as images rather than ordinary text. A picture of text is not the same as text that can be copied and pasted into an email, for example. Maybe that is the reason for doing it but, as Google Books proves, scanned copies of whole books can still be shared. As mentioned at the top of this post, I was a little puzzled by the phrase, ‘about his fright’ ... whether it was an intentional Japanesification of the English, or an unintended typo of either human or computer origin. It is, in essence, the very basis behind Chinese Whispers, where one person whispers something to the person standing next to them, they in turn pass it on to the person standing next to them, and so on until the story has passed through numerous people, by which time it may bear very little resemblance to that initial message.

BOB: Does he want me to, to turn from the right or turn from the left?
INTERPRETER (in very formal Japanese to the director): He has prepared and is ready. And he wants to know, when the camera rolls, would you prefer that he turn to the left, or would you prefer that he turn to the right? And that is the kind of thing he would like to know, if you don't mind.
DIRECTOR (very brusquely, and in much more colloquial Japanese): Either way is fine. That kind of thing doesn't matter. We don't have time, Bob-san, O.K.? You need to hurry. Raise the tension. Look at the camera. Slowly, with passion. It's passion that we want. Do you understand?
INTERPRETER (In English, to Bob): Right side. And, uh, with intensity.
BOB: Is that everything? It seemed like he said quite a bit more than that.
(from the movie script of Lost in Translation, ibid)

There is a funny coincidence here because I sent in a poem to an anthology invitation and I responded with two poems, one of which uses homophones — words that sound the same but mean entirely different things; it concludes with it all being down to a Friday afternoon transcription error! I'll leave you with an advert on UK television at the moment, Specsavers promoting their hearing tests which can be very similar to how it feels when I let Optical Character Recognition loose on a photo of text to turn it into w0rd5 ;)

#Translation #Transcription #Language

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