December 19, 2013KR BlogUncategorized

Outside Language, Looking In: Mary Jo Bang, Brandon Brown, K. Silem Mohammad, and Polly Duff Bresnick on Alternative/Radical Translation

What follows is an interview of sorts with four writers who have, in one way or another, taken the act of translation, as standardly understood, and made it their own.

Brandon Brown is the author of The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus, “a translation”—as Krupskaya Press’s description puts it—“in which the decadent excesses of ascending Roman hegemony meet the decadent excesses of collapsing American domination.” Poems is a motley body; its weaponry consists in everything from dips into joyous, apocalyptic sentence salad (see #14 at the Poetry Foundation’s website) to instant message conversations, internet slang, “elegiac couplets,” straight-laced discourse on classical history, and kickboxing intellectual upset: “Can the translation of a poetry that advocates subjugation and rape itself perpetuate the opposite advocacy?” Cf. also his comments on his own process: “This particular translation is accomplished ‘despite’ the fact that Catullus’s mind has been itself appropriated by profound grief.” Along more confessional avenues, like #104, the Janus-faced-ness of the translator and his inseparability from the translated become more apparent; the book’s über-chic hyper-modernity, which at first might threaten to overdetermine or derail the text, serve as its saving grace: everything is a mark of its own horrid time, Catullus’s grief and Brown’s schadenfreude. And the sensibility here is, to borrow a phrase Jason Guriel used to describe D.A. Powell’s Chronic, “so sharp it could laser off tattoos.”

Mary Jo Bang is the author of several books of poetry, including Elegy and The Bride of E: Poems; she’s also the translator of Dante’s Inferno in a new, and talk-provoking, edition. There is, of course, no dearth of translations of this Virgil-guided journey through hell. But I would be unsure where to point anyone looking for a more colloquial, irreverent, updated—in every positive sense of that word—version that preserves the feistiness of the original in the flesh, not in formaldehyde. Jo Bang netted this sea-monster of a monument not to have it mounted and collecting dust but to put it on display; she has, in Adam Fitzgerald’s words, “attempted to rethink, relive, and re-envision a 21st century Inferno.Her attitude toward translation might be best embodied by the first-and-a-half stanzas of her poem, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” (yes, another Breughel poem in the fat catalogue of Breughel poems): “How could I have failed you like this? / The narrator asks // The object.” But the Inferno’s failure is a plenitude. I could enumerate, as others have, the roll call of every contemporary reference that pops up in a breathless testament to just how “21st century” this Inferno actually is, but others have already done that. Besides, it seems to defeat the purpose: the moment the scholars get their canon-muddied hands on the thing and map out its every nook, its warp and woof, what rough edges there were start softening. This book is headed to where the rest already are, but it has quite the headstart; in the meantime, it’s a drastic revision—really, a “seeing again”—of Dante, and what it might have been like to read his provocation in the 14th century. Even Dante scholar Robert Pogue Harrison deemed Jo Bang’s rendering of its first tercet “the most vivid” out of all the English translations he knew.

Polly Duff Bresnick has so far completed two collections she describes (I think rightly) as “radical translation”: Old Gus Eats and Mirror Poems. In Old Gus Eats, in particular, she delves into that pre-semantic phase that every one of us experienced before learning a language—that time when letters and words were still objects, ones we knew correlated with sounds and meanings, but whose networks were alien to us. In it, she aims to “visually mistranslate” The Odyssey, an activity variously named “eye-rhyming, bad lip reading, and Rorschach writing.” The Offending Adam has published a good excerpt, one that frames Duff Bresnick’s acrobatics for what they are—by turns a “naïve doorway” and a “windowed zoo,” to pilfer just two phrases from the author’s Anglicized Attic Greek. Like any good translator, the Greek originals sit facing their English counterparts so that these renderings can be judged; even by such a conventional gesture as this, the slippery relationship between input and output, even on such seemingly whimsical parameters as those of “visual translation,” comes out in all its slipperiness. Her other recent project in alternative translation is MIRROR POEMS, an excerpt of Duff Bresnick’s “antonymic translations” of the late poet Patricia Serra Delmar’s Poemario Rouge. The Spanish originals aren’t included; the focus is, largely, on the interactions of pairs of English translations. One is “faithful” to the original Spanish, while the other aims to present its opposite as just that—an opposite in terms of definitions, form, and more. Illustrated by the eerie and sharp Bianca Stone, whose drawings also accompany Anne Carson’s Antigonick.

K. Silem Mohammad’s Sonnagrams are remarkable considered either as “translations” or as anagrams (more strictly speaking): each “sonnagram” is an anagram of a Shakespearean sonnet that contains “exactly the same letters in the same distribution as the original.” The title, he says, comes last—after he’s assembled “a working sonnet in iambic pentameter with an English rhyme scheme.” That Mohammad should work with the sonnet “isn’t that unusual,” as Sarah Case puts it in a review of Sonnagrams and Peter Gizzi’s Threshold Songs in Jacket2; he apparently completed his doctoral work, says Case, on Renaissance lyric. Still, each sonnagram is a feat, a balancing of Flarf and formalist leanings; they are, as a whole, hilarious, bathetic, pathetic, astounding, contrapuntal, and pleasingly self-conscious. Each is “an anagram as scrupulous as it is full of slang and sass,” to borrow Heather McHugh’s phrasing. Whether or not these poems should be understood as translations is questionable, and while I cede that the answer is “probably not,” I asked Mohammad to participate because his work exemplified an approach of reappropriation—in his case, the desire to pound Shakespeare to rubble and hew him up again out of the shards. It is such an approach or ethic, I think, that all of these writers have in common: the translator or the writer is no longer a receptacle for the past (when and if he or she does want to look backwards) but a conversant, an interrogator, a jester, traditional in mission if not in method.

Kenyon Review: It seems that, in some ways, all of your projects arrive at (and go beyond) the insight that the contemporary is embedded in the historical, and the historical in the contemporary—if not in the exact words used, then tropes, arcs, and motifs. Can there be any clear line, then, between a poem or work that openly declares itself a “translation” and one that doesn’t? Is the New Criticism notion of doing away with externalities and fluff to get at “the poem itself,” as Cleanth Brooks wrote in 1956 in The Well Wrought Urn, a tenable one? Can we ever get back to originals?

Brandon Brown: I’m not sure about the “clear line,” but I feel like one can point to a certain specificity of attention in the work of translation. That is, translation is the result of a particular encounter, the translator’s body and a text. That encounter is inflected by transformative praxis—the text is transformed into not just writing but preceding writing (“preceding” because it precedes another tangible text)—and the translator’s body, and her product (translation) is necessarily transformed by the act of reading.

And so, yeah, that meeting necessarily suggests the encounter of the contemporary and the historical. I guess I’d want to say what might be obvious, that both the “historical” and the “contemporary” are modes permeated by obscurity and that we might want to be careful about investing translation—or any artmaking—with the stakes of illumination or testimony.

K. Silem Mohammad: This question, like almost all the rest here, is difficult to answer in the context of my project because that project—anagrams of Shakespeare’s Sonnets—is only translation in the loosest sense. It is not in any way an attempt to “get at” or “convey” anything essential in the originals. I never thought of declaring it a translation at all, actually, but if I were to frame it that way, maybe it’s more a translation of form than of content. It’s a translation of early modern prosodic strategies within a specific set of constraints (those of the English sonnet) into a proceduralist, OULIPO-like condition that preserves them as a travestied shell. So, if my poems are useful in this discussion at all, maybe it’s as a counterexample, an instance of work that does go right up against the line (clear or unclear) separating translation from non-translation. But I would maintain that they’re on the non-translation side of the line.

That said, there is a kind of “faithfulness” required in the compositional process that resembles one of the challenges posed by translation. As I said, though, it’s a faithfulness to form, to the raw linguistic materials, rather than to the “spirit” of the original.

Mary Jo Bang: In terms of the Inferno, we can never get back to the original because we can’t we can’t turn back the clock and become medieval. We can’t exist in the era of conflict between the Guelphs and the Ghibillines. We can’t imagine ourselves in a society that is uniformly invested in the Catholic Church and its theology. And we can’t go back to having far fewer words than we have today. And if we’re American, we can’t go back to when we spoke medieval Tuscan Italian, because we never did. Even if we learned Italian in school, we didn’t learn that Italian.

In spite of all of that, we can read Dante’s Inferno in translation and make sense of it on multiple levels, the most basic of which is as a compendium of bad behaviors and their consequences. That aspect of the poem is timeless. The alternative to reading the poem in translation is to forget that the poem exists or to consign the reading of it and the making sense out of it to a small group of academics, who will report back to us.. I see no reason to do that. I trust that great literature will last. It does last. We have proof of its lasting. And part of that lasting is that people continue to take the original and make something like it. The resemblances between the original and the new become interesting to us. And in the case of the Inferno, which has been translated into English over two hundred times, it’s interesting to compare those attempts at resemblances and see where they vary one from the other.

KR: Can there be a content/form distinction when translating or appropriating (not that the acts are mutually exclusive) others’ texts? Some of your projects hark back to their source texts only in terms of content; some, only in terms of form; still others in terms of both content and form. Should the translator or appropriator of text pay more attention, or special attention, to one?

KSM: See above. I suspect that a project like mine, in which actual translation really does occur only at the level of form, is only meaningful qua translation when the source material is at least as famous for its form as for what it says. It’s hard to think of very many works that signify in that way, where the form effectively stands in metonymically for the writing that historically employs it. Classical epic in dactylic hexameter (Homer and Virgil), Dante’s Divine Comedy (with its terza rima), Williams’ “variable foot,” maybe some milestone procedural texts like Cage’s mesostics, Silliman’s Fibonacci-based work, etc.

MJB: Since English has far fewer rhyming words than Italian, the Inferno’s original terza rima is very difficult to match. Because of that, many translators have opted to forego poetic form altogether and translate the poem into prose. However, terza rima’s interlocking rhyme isn’t the only way to use sound patterning to carry the poem forward and create a sense of inevitability.  I think poetry is capacious enough that there are other ways to formally achieve a degree of sonic momentum. I think form should be paid attention to because form always does some expressive work. If someone can’t manage form, a scholar for instance, well, that’s a loss for the poem. It is, of course, perhaps a gain in other ways. I assume that’s the bargain that’s being made.

KR: On the same note, what motivated you to think about, and select from, your source text in the way that you did? How did you know when you’d reached your goal, and how did you decide what that goal was?

Polly Duff Bresnick: For the visual translation project, I wanted a source text that was aesthetically unfamiliar and intriguing. I chose Greek because I think it’s beautiful and alien, and more so each day, kind of seductive in its slant resemblance to my own modern English alphabet. That makes it compelling to work with for such a long project. I’ve done some visual translations of Hebrew into English, but it’s not quite as satisfying, somehow, perhaps because I’ve grown so attached to the visual Greek. I’m slowly becoming fluent in “visual Greek,” which is, of course, problematic for the situation of unfamiliarity that I’m trying to maintain.

I chose The Odyssey because I know the story, but only fuzzily, as translated through many years and foggy memory of reading an English translation of it in high school and seeing O Brother Where Art Thou?

BB: It’s differed with each of the three books—and in each case there’s been some acknowledgement of the political and social circumstances attending each work.  When I wrote The Persians By Aeschylus, I was deliberately working with an odious text that, in the context of still-ongoing American imperial efforts and spectacular displays of racism and violence, was all the more urgently in need of rejection. So my project entailed finding every possible way to derail the Aeschylean lexicon of xenophobic nationalism, from his metrics to the notion of performance and everything in between.

With The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus, there was a similar general discomfort with his work, and that was attenuated by my writing it through a really devastating personal experience of romantic reversal. Not to dwell on that, though—it’s also the case that while Catullus might be famous for his bitter lyric songs of romantic anguish, most of the poems in his 116-poem corpus do not speak of such things at all. For the most part I found his work to be a series of lessions in social toxicity—and that’s when the poems were good.  They were quite often not.

Flowering Mall, which takes as its source text not Les Fleurs du Mal but rather the oeuvre of Baudelaire (which includes not just his writing but his moment and its traces in contemporary life), also provoked the least amount of resentment towards the preceding writing. And yet of course Baudelaire’s writing itself is so fiercely resentful of its moment! In reading and undertaking Baudelairean work of art, a certain kind of Satanic form of life emerged for me.

MJB: My goal was two-fold: one, to create a text that was syntactically easy to read—I didn’t want the reader to have to untangle some kind of strained word order created by an allegiance to the original language—and two, I wanted to drop the tone of the poem to that of contemporary poetry so the poem wouldn’t read like a literary artifact of a bygone time, since it didn’t read that way in its own time. By doing those two things, I hoped to create a version of the poem that would welcome new readers to the poem. It seemed enough to tell a reader that the poem was written in the 1300’s; I didn’t feel I needed need to continually remind them of that fact by elevating the language and including anachronistic language.

KR: Relatedly, how many of you were familiar with the idiosyncrasies—grammatical and historical—of the language you were translating out of, whether that was Spanish, Latin, Italian, or the Englishes of centuries ago? In his note to his 2000 translation of Beowulf, Seamus Heaney said, “Joseph Brodsky once said that poets’ biographies are present in the sounds they make and I suppose all I am saying is that I consider Beowulf to be part of my voice-right.” His lines attempted to adhere, he wrote, “as much to the grain of my original vernacular as to the content of the Anglo-Saxon lines,” and he felt that the writer of Beowulf had also occupied “this middle ground between oral tradition and the demands of written practice…” What is it to “know” a language, and what is it to enter a foreign one, or a variant idiom of one’s own language?

PDB: When I starting advancing in Spanish, in high school, the teacher would ask us to write little essays that proved our grasp of new concepts like “The Subjunctive” and things like that. It was no fun at all at first, but eventually, I started to develop this sort of Spanish language alter-ego. The essays became surreal stories and it felt like what people talk about when they talk about “channeling a voice” through their writing. The stories were different than what and how I wrote in English. I think part of it was that I was so excited about the sounds and shapes of all the new vocabulary (because I liked the word for “bat,” a bat would show up as a main character in a story), but part of it was that I was a different person in Spanish. I lived in Argentina during college and fell in love with someone, and when I think about it now, I modify the experience: I fell in love with that person in Spanish. I translated his mother’s poetry into English, and that didn’t feel like enough of an engagement, so I translated the poems from English to English antonym. And I think these final versions are “by Polly Duff Bresnick,” as opposed to the English versions which I think are “by Spanish Polly Duff Bresnick.”

BB: That’s so interesting, Polly, to consider how our subjectivities are transformed by entering into other languages. I’ve long been interested in language study as one way to possibly dismantle the xenophobia that often results from a strict monolingualism.

I think I’d only offer here that while I really like studying the Indo-European languages (Latin, Greek, Sanskrit) that I’ve been working on for the last decade, and especially like studying them in groups, I don’t really fetishize—or I try hard not to fetishize—the traditions that those cultures initiate. Inasmuch as they are “our” forebearers in the West, they are evil and should be repugned! Lol.

MJB: I didn’t know Italian when I set out to translate the Inferno. I knew that was also true of any number of other translators. When one has over two hundred translations of a poem in English, the parameters of meaning are well-established.  I also relied heavily on an excellent unabridged Italian/English dictionary. I knowingly imposed my own vernacular on the poem as a way of bringing a poem that is often translated into an older form of English into the modern era. I felt that readers who wanted to read the poem in an antiquated form of English had many to chose from but there wasn’t a version in contemporary colloquial English that, tercet-for-tercet, matched the original in terms of action and narration. Since I’m more or less ventriloquizing Dante, using the script he wrote, the characters will sound a bit like me. However, that’s true of all translation. It’s only a matter of degree. My hope was that using my voice would be less distracting to a modern audience than having Dante speak in the voice of someone living in a bygone era.

What did you hope or aim for most when completing your translation or appropriation? Are literalness and gist two irreconcilable masters? John Simon, in “On Translation,” writes that translations of prose “can even be accurate,” but translations of poetry “only brilliant”—is this a useful distinction, or even an accurate one, as it were?

BB: Fuck the master(s)!

PDB: What BB said! / Sometimes the process I used for translating Delmar’s Poemario Rouge felt like the way of producing the most (“)accurate(“) translations possible. But accurate is a pretty slippery word, isn’t it?

MJB: In that same essay (“On Translation,” Poetry 2001) Simon also says that some translations, he points to Pope’s Homer and Dryden’s Virgil, are best viewed as illustrations of the translator’s era. Having read over twenty translations of the Inferno, I think that’s quite true. And I think that with a work of great literature, those historical markers can become part of an on-going conversation about that work of art. Those translations insist that a particular piece of literature is still relevant, and the shifts in tone and diction become a record of the poem over time.

KR: To what extent are translations original works? Can they, or should they, ever be considered the property of the translator? In your mind, are there permissions or procedures one’s beholden to when approaching the work of another (which itself might rise from the work and language of those who preceded him or her), rules of engagement and ethics?

BB: I’ve tried to think about how to liberate translation, the discourse around translation, away from the master/slave or loyalty/treason dialectic. And the question of “permission” seems to me to be situated in that tradition precisely. Of course this is a complex question and I don’t mean to be flip. But I don’t believe that words are sacred. I never got into any Robert Duncan trip.

But that being said—one thing I get asked a lot about my work is something along the lines of, “would you do this to a living author?” And that’s a really good question, actually. To go back to permission, I essentially believe what C.A. Conrad said in an interview last year, that poetry involves “total permission.”  As much as I believe that, I’m also a subject in a society of spectacular horror; a violently sexist and racist culture of war. And so I don’t think it’s the same thing to try and upend Aeschylus and, say, translate the poems of Mahmoud Darwish. I just hope, and assume, that the poetry of total permission can be undertaken with a lot of care. I’m not sure that’s ethics in any sense.

MJB: I do think translations are original works and should be protected, or at least attributed. A tremendous amount of complex creative effort goes into making a translation. I think the creative license that is inherent in translation—no matter how “literal” the translation aspires to be—should be associated with a particular translator’s sensibility.

KR: Ryan James Kernan, among other critics of Langston Hughes, holds that the translations of Mayakovsky and proletarian poetry Hughes completed during the early ‘30s “had an impact on his ‘radical’ poetic production, and on the proletarian verse he wrote over the next four years in the shadow of the great poet of the October Revolution”—even going so far as to trace that influence to the beginning of Hughes’s “A New Song”: “I speak in the name of black millions.” How has the work you’ve engaged with as a translator or appropriator bled into your non-translation work?

PDB: When I was first working on the antonymic translations, the person I was living with at the time would sometimes interrupt me to ask me a simple question, and it would take me a second to flip my brain back to right side up. Nonantonymic language became the foreign language in those moments of transition.

I often describe the visual translation project as the most reliable nonsense generator I’ve discovered for myself so far. In the best case scenario, words that I haven’t thought about it a while emerge from the foreign shapes of the Greek words, and of course that leads to surprising word combinations for which I have to give the Greek shapes most of the credit.

MJB: The brain is plastic, and after having spent six years immersed in a text like the Inferno, it has to have changed my brain. That said, there’s no way to measure how it has changed my brain because that influence gets layered onto other influences. We can’t deconstruct the brain.

KR: In a famous thought experiment, philosopher John Searle posited the existence of a machine that could translate Chinese ideograms passed to it beneath a door; it would pass English translations back. The question was whether or not the machine could really be said to understand Chinese: Searle held that there’s an important difference between understanding a language and being able to merely manipulate symbols. How might humanity’s move into the digital realm influence translation, especially when one can log onto Google Translate and get rudimentary “translations” instantly? Could a machine ever perform a viable translation, or write a poem?

BB: Ha ha!  Well, I think we’re sort of living in a liminal zone between human and machine.  It turned out Donna Haraway’s sort of a prophet, you know!? But let me say that a little bit better: I think that the rapid appropriation of communication technologies potentially has effects on our bodies that cannot be predicted or known, that we will only know about them once they’ve completed a certain stage of intervention into our molecular and biological morphology. I mean, it might have already been happening for a while!

MJB: Of course a machine can write a poem, and can translate a text. And we might even enjoy reading that work as much as we enjoy reading a poem done by a human. Text, no matter how it’s generated, affects us. There is a certain pleasure in making sense of language, and there’s more pleasure in that activity for some of us. That’s why we like to arrange words and then read them back to ourselves. The only thing that might be missing in the case of the machine is the pleasure of generating text. I don’t know whether machines can experience pleasure. Although perhaps pleasure can be programmed too.

KR: If it’s true, as Matthew Reynolds writes in The Poetry of Translation, that languages “do not have boundaries” (they relentlessly overlap instead) and that “communication,” even within a single language, “is always shadowed by the possibility of having to translate” between different senses and meanings, can there be any limits to what constitutes translation? I’m thinking, also, of a recent translation of Moby Dick into Japanese emoticons.

MJB: Some languages are clearly more expansive than others. In Seeing Voices, a book about deafness and schools for the deaf, Oliver Sacks makes the argument that sign language, for those who learn it early, can be more expressive than any spoken language. The language of emoticons, on the other hand, is a shortcut method of communication, it reduces any number of emotions to one signifier. It might be charming to see the results of reducing a complex work to fit the emoticon parameters but nuance will inevitably be lost. On the other hand, sign language clearly could be used to translate any work of literature, although one would have to know how to read that language.

KR: Traditional accounts of translation seem to speak of a text in purely linguistic terms—as opposed to material terms, though such are not necessarily mutually exclusive with the linguistic. But the practice of printing an original source text parallel to its translation seems to undermine this: there’s an impulse to honor the semantic sense of the original poem and the original poem as an object. (I suppose if one wanted to be really militant about this, one could insist that the reproduction be done with the same font, color, paper type, etc.) Some of you reproduce your source texts; some of you don’t. Ira Torresi, however, has argued for an approach to translation in which “the verbal and the visual appear intrinsically linked: the text appears as a semiotic whole, where every sign is there for the translator to use.” And so what I want to ask you is how much your original text was an object of consideration for you beyond the realm of language—as sound, for instance, or as visual form.

PDB: ~94% in the case of my visual translation. But that’s decreasing as the narrative that’s emerged takes more of a firm grip on the reins  of the language.

Close to 0% in the case of my antonymic translation, though the line breaks of the original poems carried over into the translation. I vacillated about whether or not to include the original Spanish of the poems or my English translations of them on the left facing page. At one point I considered including both the Spanish and English on the left, with the antonymic translation on the right. Ultimately, I chose to leave the Spanish out in favor of inclusivity. I like the reader to be able to participate, to see my work, to have the option of disagreeing with my choices (the same goes for the visual translation, which is why it’s necessary to have access to the original Greek when reading or listening to a performance of the visual translation).

MJB: I was very aware of Dante’s three-line stanza and I kept it as a formal constraint. The other constraint I used was a maximum line length, so that no lines would be broken later by the typesetter. Those decisions were somewhat based on wanting to imitate the visual form of the original, and partly because constraint can be a useful device. In this case, it forced me to be concise.

KR: Willis Barnstone, in his manifesto-essay, “An ABC of Translating Poetry,” writes that a translation “is an x-ray, not a xerox” [bolded text in original]. Kenneth Haynes, in Classics and Translation: Essays, writes that one “basic fact” of translation is that it is “ontologically incomplete.” Nabokov, in “On Translating Eugene Onegin”: “What is translation? On a platter / A poet’s pale and glaring head, / A parrot’s screech, a monkey’s chatter, / And profanation of the dead.” John Simon again: “A good translation is one that to a sensitive and informed reader—perhaps even an expert—reads, first, like an original, and, second, like the original.” Anne Carson has described translation as a room “where one gropes for the light switch.” How would you articulate, via analogy or not, your experience with the act of translation?

PDB: Here’s a game to play with someone you really really like. It goes like this: Sit facing each other with your faces very close to each other’s. Make the sound of the beginning of a word and draw it out until the other person joins in. Complete the word while the other person attempts to say the same word simultaneously through telepathy or instinct or gut or whatever. Then it’s the other person’s turn to start the sound.

BB: I think that the nexus between the “original” and the “translation,” or the writing which precedes and the writing which proceeds, is the translator’s body. It’s the historical(ly very successful) attempt to efface this body in the ideological maintaining of a fiction that all of those quotes address themselves to, with the exception perhaps of Carson’s, which at least acknowledges embodiedness.

KR: In The Poetry of Translation, Matthew Reynolds writes about a conception of translation as maintaining fidelity to an author-figure rather than an individual work—such as with Sir John Denham, who said of his translation from Book II of the Aeneid that he hoped to allow Virgil to “speak not only as a man of this Nation, but as a man of this age.” And Simon (again) has said that a good translation is, firstly, “one in which the translator serves the author more than himself.” How much attention did you pay to notions—factual or imagined—about the author whose work you translated or appropriated?

MJB: I can’t know what it was to be Dante. What could I know about living in medieval Florence, or being exiled, under sentence of death? However, I do know what it is to be a poet, and in the end, that’s what I held on to. That shared space where I was making the poem in translation the way he had made the poem originally, word by word, and trying to get it right.