Feature Articles

POETRY IN TRANSLATION by Dara O'Hare

(Poetry Ireland News July/August 2002)

Karl Kraus once said that ‘One can translate an editorial but not a poem. For one can go across the border naked but not without one’s skin’. The number of volumes and anthologies of Irish poetry that cross physical and metaphysical boundaries without the shedding of skin or tears seems to counter this view and endorse Hazlitt’s opinion that ‘poetry is the universal language’.
 
Since it was established in 1994, Ireland Literature Exchange (ILE) has funded the translation of almost 100 volumes and anthologies of poetry. The work of 70 Irish poets, including Ciaran Carson, Theo Dorgan, Michael Hartnett, Rita Ann Higgins, Pearse Hutchinson, Paula Meehan and Peter Sirr has appeared in 24 languages, ranging from Breton, Catalan and Chinese to Finnish, Greek and Russian. Most volumes are published in bilingual or trilingual editions, with print-runs ranging from the low hundreds to several thousands. Some include additional features, like the recent Japanese edition of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s poetry which includes a Cd of Japanese harp music and readings by the poet. The translator, Mitsuko Ohno, Professor of English at Aichi Shokutoku University, has also translated Evan Boland and Paul Muldoon.
 
Recent months have seen new translations of poetry by Nobel Laureates. An original collection of 52 poems by Yeats is available in Sweden in a translation by Kaj Attorps. Prior to this only 16 of his poems were published in Swedish. Leading French poetry publisher, Editions Verdier, has brought out The Tower, translated by Jean-Yves Masson, the grand homme of French translation. Beckett’s Collected Poems have been translated into Spanish by the well-known poet and translator, Jenaro Talens, and published in a trilingual edition by Ediciones Hiperión. Poetry by Ireland’s most recent Noble Laureate, Seamus Heaney, has appeared in 15 languages with funding from ILE. The most recent translation is of The Digging Quill into Lithuanian by Kornelijus Platelis, former Minister of Culture and current editor of the Lithuanian literary magazine, Literatura ir menas. His own poetry has been translated into 13 languages.
 
While established markets for poetry like Italy, France and Germany continue to thrive, other markets emerge and blossom. In recent years no fewer than 12 volumes of Irish-language poetry, including collections by Gearóid Mac Lochlainn, Liam Ó Muirthile, Cathal Ó Searcaigh and Gabriel Rosenstock, have been published in Romania by Ars Longa. The translator, Christian Tamas, a self-confessed polyglot, also translates from Arabic, English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. Not surprising when one recalls that the nineteenth-century poet, Vasile Alecsandri, once described Romania as a nation of natural-born poets.
 
ILE also funds applications from Irish publishers for translations of foreign-language poetry into English and Irish. Last year, Das Perfekte Glück by Michael Augustin, was translated into English by Hans-Christian Oeser and into Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock (Cóiscéim), and Elisabeth Borcher’s Winter auf weißem Blatt was translated into English by Eva Bourke (Dedalus).

Dara O'Hare was Director of the Ireland Literature Exchange (ILE).

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