THE CHRONOTOPE || Yvette Siegert on poetry + translation

Disconcerted, by Efraín Huerta (trans. Yvette Siegert)

Posted in Latin America, Marxism, Poetry by Yvette Siegert on Friday, 19 October 2012
My former
Of Marxism
Have gotten
Harder to
Some are
Sitting now
In prison,
Others with
A scepter
In their hand.
A mis
De Marxismo
No los puedo
Unos están
En la cárcel,
Otros están
En el
–Efraín Huerta, Poemínimos
(México, DF: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2005)
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3 Responses

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  1. kvennarad said, on Friday, 19 October 2012 at 02:07

    Translation isn’t easy. Often it is a case of either following the sense or the form. The principle of the late Vera Rich, that a translation is ultimately unsuccessful unless it can do both, is a very difficult discipline to follow – it’s something she taught me during our very brief collaboration just before she died, and I have tried to follow it in my own handful of translations.

    I like what you have done here. It obviously wasn’t easy being as pithy as the original, and you have had to replace the direct, factual ‘en el poder’ with the metaphorical ‘with a scepter in their hand’; but I am going to applaud you sincerely anyway.

    By the way, shouldn’t line 9 of the Spanish original read ‘Otros están’?

    Marie Marshall

    • Yvette Siegert said, on Friday, 19 October 2012 at 02:42

      Thanks for the praise and for catching that missing ‘n’, Marie. I translated this as fast as I could type, which is the kind of translation I wish I could do all the time, and ended up with that typo! In terms of this old sense vs. form question, I disagree with Rich. Sense and idiom normally matter more to me than pedantic adherence to form in poetry. I don’t like to think of translations in all-or-nothing terms of “successful” and “unsuccessful.” In this little poem, though, the shape is charming and dominant, and the rhyme is so memorable and sly, that I wanted to capture its musicality, and a metaphorical reading was the swiftest way to create an equivalent in English, since “power” is such a bulky word for rhyme: “My former teachers of Marxism are getting harder to decipher; some of them are in prison, others are in power” works, but it felt kind of dry and forced. Plus, the scepter made me think of the problematic relationship between church and state in Latin America! It was just playing. Have a lovely day. Yvette

      • kvennarad said, on Friday, 19 October 2012 at 11:12

        Vera’s genius was that she could do both, one of the few translators who could. ‘Pedantic’ she was not, rigorous she was.

        I think your version was very well pitched. 🙂

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