Thursday, February 14, 2008

Forrest Gander's essay on translation

Read Forrest Gander's presentation on translation at the AWP here. It's a fascinating, wide-ranging, and knowledgeable essay that conveys how sparse translations in our culture really are--and also makes a case for mistranslations as still being valuable in opening our semi-closed tongue (or would that be mouth?). The need for translating, even given our history of linguistic colonization. Translation contaminates us--a necessary contamination (and contamination can be an excellent thing--just look at yogurt).

One caveat though: Forrest lists Haiti as part of the "Spanish-speaking Latin America" for which he could find nothing in print in English. That would be French or Creole, and I'm not sure Haiti should be defined as part of "Latin America" either. There are some Haitian poets and poetry translated--on a quick Internet search, I found interesting material, both in and out of print (including some Haitian poetry in an anthology of "Latin American poetry"--oh well!). I also found someone selling his collection of Haitian literature, if anyone's interested.

The Haitian poet I'm most familiar with is Rene Depestre. But here, we see the problem with paucity of translation again. His most famous poem, Un arc-en-ciel pour l'Occident Chr├ętien (Rainbow for the Christian West), has been translated, but is now out of print, which it should not be, as it's an amazingly powerful poem that should be read by anyone interested in a) poetry, b) issues of colonialism and c) world history, or d) life. Anyway, if we ever finish our French anthology, an excerpt from this poem will be included. Anyway, a recent and possibly unpublished translation does exist, as evidenced by this slightly out-of-date presentation announcement.

A more recent Haitian poet is Denize Lauture, whose children's books are more readily available than his books of poetry. He's read a few times at the Poetry Project, as well as at the Project's New Year's Day Marathon (although I don't recall seeing him this year...)

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