Today’s menu: homemade translation, by Elisa Sartarelli

Photo by Elisa Sartarelli

You may think that translating your own poems is not a big deal but, actually, it is not easy at all. The result is what I personally call “homemade translation”. What is a homemade translation? Well, it is a self-translation that contains something more than what you will find in a translation made by someone else. It is like a homemade cake: it contains the secrets of the person who prepared it, the special ingredient. Likewise, self-translating involves adding a few more personal ingredients, or modifying the recipe. In short, it means changing the translation in some way, almost rewriting a poem from scratch. This is what Margarita Hernando de Larramendi did while translating from Spanish to Italian, and this approach will be an integral part of my modus operandi, if I choose to translate my collection Poesie d’autunno.

Beatrice Garzelli (2019) analyzes the collection of poems L’esultanza della serenità. Soggiorno pisano by Margarita Hernando de Larramendi, who self-translated her poems from Spanish into Italian. In my opinion, this article is very interesting if you want to focus on self-translation. Specifically, one of the main concepts which caught my attention is the idea that it is rather difficult to convey emotions from one language to another. This is because it is not only a language that is being translated, but also a culture, and every culture has its own scale of emotions which may be different from one country to another. Another important point is that not only the poetic message, but also the aesthetic function should be taken into consideration and defended.

Garzelli reports the views of others in her article. Paola Desideri, for example, says that the role of the self-translator may seem privileged; the author can manipulate his or her own poems, carrying out omissions and integrations, or moving textual sequences. It may seem an idyllic situation, as Garzelli puts it. Conversely, for a writer, putting his or her poems into the hands of a stranger (namely, a translator) may awake a sense of dissatisfaction or repulsion, and the poet may be misunderstood. Obviously, a self-translation may occur only when the writer knows the target language and is able to make both linguistic and cultural comparisons. In Margarita Hernando de Larramendi’s case, the author managed to translate from Spanish into Italian, using this new creation process.

I think that Buffoni, cited in Garzelli, sums up this concept perfectly: he perceives literary translation as a process involving two different texts with the same dignity, not an original and a copy. Margarita Hernando de Larramendi herself wrote part of her poems in Italian, translating them into Spanish. The reverse process, if compared to most of her poems originally written in Spanish, makes us further reflect on the concept of which is the original and which is the copy. And this is where poetic license becomes a translation license.

I don’t consider myself a poet, I just write what I feel. Sometimes I write fairy tales, sometimes novels, sometimes nursery rhymes, sometimes stories, and other times poems. At one particular moment of my life, I felt I had to write poems about autumn. Autumn was starting, summer was ending and I started writing. What I wanted to do was translate my poems into English, or even into French or German, but then I realized that I would end up changing them or even forcing the original Italian text. A second language must somehow be indulged, and for me it would have meant rewriting them.

I don’t want to bore you by commenting on the possible translations of my entire collection of poems but, as far as the title is concerned, it can definitely be translated in different ways depending on the target language. For example, it would become Poems in the fall in English. The word “fall” has always seemed to me more romantic than the word “autumn”. Perhaps because people say they “fall in love”, and therefore I have the romantic idea that leaves fall to the ground because they are in love. Furthermore, I have always considered autumn to be the most romantic season of the year. While I think that summer is made for fun, winter is linked to Christmas and spring is a rebirth, autumn is the season of love. And here you can already see my English cake, with a few more ingredients than the one I had prepared in Italian.

Now, let’s see what would happen with a French cake. My title would be Poèmes de l’automne. In French, I would use the definite article, to give importance to this season. Indeed, it is not just autumn, it is “the” autumn, that is the most romantic season of the year, the one in which the sea is in its full magnificence. It is still hot but not too hot, the euphoria of summer fades and still there is not t the winter’s rest.

In German, my choice would be using a single word for the title: Herbstgedichte. The possibility of the German language of merging words has always fascinated me. By using this term for the title, my poems would seem to belong to autumn, to merge with this season.

In conclusion, I think that the translator should be free to translate his or her own poems, or his or her works in general. This would give the writer the opportunity to deliberately force his or her original text, while another translator may want to try to remain as faithful as possible to the source text. Obviously, this is not always possible. Therefore, in my opinion, there should always be contact between writer and translator, because, even if the writer does not know anything about the target language and the related culture, the translator would thus have the chance to explain any doubts to the writer and ask for advice. However, I am still considering whether to translate my poems or not: I will keep you posted!

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