Saturday, April 18, 2009

In Other Words

Flipping through my Moleskine yesterday, I came across a lexical translation of a poem I'd written last October. Or rather, I came across my lexical translation of a poem originally written in Tagalog (Filipino), rewritten in English. Lexical translations are challenging, as if writing in English isn't difficult enough. A lexical translation of a poem can be accomplished when the poet doing the translation of the original poem writes or translates the poem word for word in another language. Other useful translations of a poem can include a reworking while paraphrasing but keeping the original concept of what was trying to be conveyed, or lastly the words themselves (in the original language) can be reworked based off of sound alone, a simple homophonic translation.

Personally, I've written several poems with these translation styles and have come to find that it's just as, if not more than difficult as writing a poem in my first language, English. The only difference with a translatory reworking is that sometimes there are no words that express the original sentiment. For example, there are words or phrases in Tagalog that have no English equivalent and to rework a poem written in that language leaves you with gaps. In my last poetry workshop class as an undergrad, I once wrote a homophonic translation of a poem written in Polish. The original version was short, I think a little less than 10 lines and I rewrote it in the exact same form, line for line. Honestly, it was an amateur attempt on my behalf, but admittedly it was fun. The words were already there for me, but unfortunately my words for those words sounded forced and jagged, probably because I don't speak Polish and mispronounced the poem entirely. It's a great exercise though, I highly recommend it. The only thing I can caution you against is using too many proper names, a quick solution for rewriting any foreign language. Once my homophonic translation was complete, I translated the Polish poem word for word and discovered that my version of the poem had absolutely nothing to do with the original. Some people like to translate the original before rewriting it but I need to write blind, completely oblivious of its meaning otherwise I find my version loosely echoing the original.

I've been entertaining the idea of using another approach to translation poetry, one which would involve me writing a poem in Tagalog. I can fully comprehend Tagalog and can speak it fairly well (save for my "American" accent), but having picked up the entire language from my siblings who spoke it everyday around me nearly 17 years ago, my take on writing in the language is nothing but baffling to me. Obviously you don't know this, but I was the only one among my siblings born in the states. When we first met, I didn't speak Tagalog and they didn't speak English yet. The barriers of language allowed for little to no successful communication, but still we found a way. And that's what I hope to do if ever I get around to writing a poem in Tagalog.

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