And like Bill Herbert, I too didn’t get to read the Times of India Crest Edition article on the translation workshop. So, here are my answers to Joeanna Rebello’s questions:
Q: Translation in literature has always invited debate and scrutiny; but surely the argument rises in pitch when it comes to verse – being more nuanced, visceral and tightly emotive. Can you outline some of these concerns, when met by cultural, and gender differences?
Poetry has even been labelled that which cannot be translated, so I know what it means when one speaks of the difficulty. With poetry translation is a little more difficult because the entire construction operates not only on the level of ideas, but also on the level of language. So it is quite impossible to achieve the same wordplay, or nuances in another language–but perhaps, as translators we can find similar, if not identical modes of expression. Contexts of culture and historicity are also embedded in poems, so a reference to a Kilvenmani or Chemmani (like Auschwitz) requires one to learn about another people. I’ve translated Dalit poets and Tamil Eelam poets and in their poems one discovers enormous rage and angst and a spirit of liberation. One has to convey the same in English without making it sound like slogans, and that is quite a challenge.
Q: The old trope of authors and poets writing in solitude is confronted with the new model of globe-trotting, workshopping, networking folk who seem competent as creators of both hybrid as well as ‘mono’ cultures. What new poetic energy is born of this?
A poet is a product of the time in which she lives–which in our case is the world of wikileaks! So, to impose this old-age definition of being a person who operates in solitude is limiting, and could even be an oppressive experience. Solitude is always at hand for me, I can shut out the world at a moment’s notice. I think this globe-trotting, networking is great because of what you share and what you learn. In Durban, I recently met the Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan and the Jamaican poet Mutabaruka, and it is brilliant to listen to their work which is about resistance and identity and war and victimhood. One comes away more sharpened, more militant, and with a more precise sense of the political and the poetic.
How is poetry faring in India – both, regional and English language? Are Tamil poets anxious to be translated in English, perhaps because of a perceived larger readership?
I think poetry was and will never be celebrated in the same manner as story-telling.
I do NOT want to pander to the popular view and say, oh, the poets are hungry to be translated into English. Tamil has a huge audience of its own, both within India and in the Diaspora. However, the nature of some of the writing–poetry from Tamil Eelam which deals with genocide and war-crimes and oppression, or Dalit poetry which talks of the everyday violence and discrimination that people undergo for being Untouchable in India–make me eager to translate these works because I want to put it before a global audience. Sometimes, international opinion can make states clean up their act.