Translation as an in-between in the poetry of Currently & Emotion

, 7 December 2016

Currently & Emotion: Translations is an anthology of poetry in translation, edited by poet Sophie Collins and published by London’s Test Centre in October. The somewhat jarring words of the title embody the ethos behind the collection: all texts are less than 5 years old (though source texts are occasionally much older) and deal directly with current cultural and political issues. Emotion, writes the editor, “is intended to underline the advocacy of a feminist approach to knowledge.” It is this way of reading that influences the selection of poems collected here.

The twenty-nine texts are each briefly and insightfully introduced by Collins, making transparent some of the research behind their inclusion, as well as deftly contextualising the role of the original and the translator. Occasionally Collins cross-references poems and authors in introductions, creating an intertextual weave throughout, allowing for a non-linear reading between them. A bold overview of poetry from languages including Vietnamese, Greek, German, Japanese, Catalan, Slovenian, French, and South Korean, the book also brings to our attention different forms of translation. These include intralingual (versions within the same language) and intersemiotic (from sound or image into poetry in the form of ekphrasis). Lesser-known international poets and translators brush up against heavyweights Anne Carson (translating from Ancient Greek) and Lisa Robertson (studies of Lucretius), mixed with contemporary English-language poets Holly Pester and Rachael Allen, who take the concept of digitally compressed amateur radio transmissions in the wake of hurricane Katrina and the forums of 4Chan as their subject matter, respectively.

Currently & Emotion: Translations, ed. Sophie Collins (2016). Published by Test Centre, London.
Currently & Emotion: Translations, ed. Sophie Collins (2016). Published by Test Centre, London.

The intensely rigorous study is distilled into short and varied sections, from Caroline Bergvall’s ‘Meddle English’ (2011) playing with the ubiquity of modern English spelling: “a new ideology of yvele evil evil evil menaces society,” to Don Mee Choi’s translations of Kim Hyesoon’s ‘I’m OK, I’m Pig!’(2014), an exposition of the disparity between languages and bodies in South Korea as a neocolony of the United States. Anxiety and sorrow are recast as powers, the repetition of ‘pig’ as a verb and noun, subject and object, absurdity giving over to solemnity, squeals; laughter and crying all tumbling over each other. The tone is set. Poetry, here, is not polite or flowery. To confuse an attention to sensuality with a rose-tinted view of the world would be a mistake.

The question with translation, as Zoë Skoulding highlights in the afterword, is often tangled with the problem of the translator’s invisibility. The cultural ‘ between’, as much as the linguistic ‘between’, is at the root, and it merits a lateral reading. Perhaps one of the more obvious examples is in Chantal Wright’s experimental translation of Yōko Tawada’s ‘Portrait of a Tongue’ (2013), in which two columns side-by-side separate the translated poem and the translator’s notes. They are impossible to read separately, one must traverse the space between them. For example, Wright draws the reader’s attention to the bodily act of hooking one’s arm through another’s, but leaves the word ‘Haken’ [hook] in German in the original, expanding it into its various related meanings in her commentary, such as the German word for swastika, or the act of persistently pursuing an answer.

Currently & Emotion: Translations, ed. Sophie Collins (2016). Published by Test Centre, London.
Currently & Emotion: Translations, ed. Sophie Collins (2016). Published by Test Centre, London.

The collection merits a slow read, with many pauses, for to rush it would be to risk not allowing yourself to plunge headfirst into another language, and culture. In one of the opening essays ‘but do we need a second language to translate?’ by Erín Moure, she notes that, “we must give our own linguistic borders a porosity that lets the works of other cultures into our own.” It is encouraging to those amongst us who may feel acutely the lack of knowledge of another language, reminding us of an innate first language that precedes our mother tongue: “the silence before speaking,” that inner world of feeling, presence and sensory arousal.

Collins’ research has manifested into a powerful collection of contemporary writing that brings our attention to a host of new poets, and also begins a conversation about translation, and its relation to feminism, always constantly questioning the idea of ‘secondariness’ in its varied forms. Yet even without delving too closely into the methodology behind each translation, the poems carry their own weight, allowing the reader to press up against the fragile borders that language places upon interaction with other cultures, it speaks directly to a more inherent human nature, currently figuring out ways of existing amongst mobile phones and fluorescent screens, as much as smells, sights and sounds, and oppressive forces of capitalism and colonialism.**

Currently & Emotion: Translations, edited by Sophie Collins, was published by London’s Test Centre in October, 2016.

Header image: Currently & Emotion: Translations, ed. Sophie Collins (2016). Published by Test Centre, London.