Tuesday 28 October 2008
Triangles in the air
John Berger talks about translation. It’s triangular, he says, arms drawing giant triangles in the air. The process is a triangular, not a linear, one. We have to get behind the text, get to the pre-verbal, and bring it back in our own language.
It was a wrestling match, the Palestinian academic Rema Hammami says of their work together on an English translation of Mahmoud Darwish’s poem, Mural. She began with a set of aspirations all of which she ended by abandoning, began by trying to be technically faithful, thinking that was the best way to honour the Arabic language and the poet. She was scandalised by what he came up with – not translation, she thought, but re-writing. And so they struggled, back and forth, giving birth to the translation.
Wait till I pack my bag Death
my toothbrush soap after-shave and some clothes
Is the climate warm over there?
Do the seasons change in the eternal whiteness?
Or does the weather stay fixed in autumn or winter?
Will one book be enough to read in non-time?
Or should I take a library?
And what do they talk over there?
vernacular or classical?
At the Queen Elizabeth Hall last Friday, Berger and Hammami read their translation of Mural (a longer extract is here) and showed a film of Darwish, physically frail but verbally vigorous, at his last public reading not long before his death in August. In discussion with David Constantine, co-editor with his wife Helen of Modern Poetry in Translation, whose Palestine issue included the work, they talked in terms both modest and enormous about translating poetry today. The significance of poetry in dark times. How potentially global the audience now is. They talked about the autonomy, the truth, the transcendence of poetry amidst lies and chaos, in a world out of control. How poets are on the move all over the world, yet poetry only works if it is rooted in the particular. How poetry is the last resort, an ‘appeal to the sky’, but also heard by other people. How it can become a ‘nodule of energy’, shared energy, capable, in some unquantifiable way, of increasing endurance, building strength for action.
I made copious notes throughout – something I never do – wanting to remember, to capture that nodule of energy.
From the Resist Network (who have some other great stuff on their website):
John Berger reads from the translation of Mural.