Idra Novey and Andrew Zawacki in this Guernica interview are probably two people I would want to hang out with. Both poet-translators discuss their poetry, translations, writing place and time (among other topics) in this beautifully captured piece: Courting Influxes.
I would probably write several blog posts referencing this interview with Erica Wright (ha!) as it is brimming with profundity and depth/discernment on writing and poetry. Initially, Wright asks both poets if they “worry about being overly influenced by [their] translation work”:
I’d like to approach every poem I write with radical intent, and I find reading and translating innovative poems from other languages frees me up to write in English in ways I probably wouldn’t otherwise. [Idra Novey]
I’m grateful for the alchemy by which my poetry gets disturbed by another’s; I try to put myself in a position of maximal susceptibility. [Andrew Zawacki]
To read these poets’ perspectives on translating spurred me to think about my own writing practice, not just in English but more so in Tagalog. Having gone to a school whose founders were German (from pre-school to high school), I was taught to read and write in English. It was the norm, it was the daily mode of instruction except for the once-a-day Filipino class where my classmates and I struggled with syntax and form. Whereas I could breeze through Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (it was required reading) easily, reading Andres Cristobal Cruz’s Ang Tundo Man May Langit Din was extremely challenging. My reading pace was drastically slower and my comprehension of the material was next to nil. I shrugged it off and graduated.
But when your otherness suddenly becomes apparent, this fact becomes disconcerting. When you’re thrust in an environment where what you struggled reading through was not what you hear in conversations around you 25/8, you find yourself grasping for every word that was once familiar. Every syllable that you once took for granted. I moved to the U.S. in 2004 and realized that my shoddy Tagalog reading and writing comprehension needs to level up, and eventually surpass my colonized ways.
While Novey and Zawacki derive radical intent and maximal susceptibility from their translating experiences with poems, I am seeking home in a language that feels like air in my throat but pierces my eyes like blinding light. To start, I took out Bienvenido Lumbera’s Poetika/politika that I got from Arkipelago Books in San Francisco. This book – *WHEW* – is a trove of Filipino revolutionary-nationalist pieces and is a constant source of strength. All of the poems in this anthology are in Tagalog, and after rereading I opted to translate one.
“Kami” is a shorter piece in the book, and there are other poems that I want to attempt to translate like “Ang Mga Lorena” (The Lorenas) which is an homage to one of my heroes, revolutionary poet and founder of a militant women’s organization in the Philippines, Lorena Barros.
My process with this poem included initially translating it from what I knew (unbridled part), then using Google Translate as a sometimes good-sometimes poor-sometimes what?! reference, and then using other sources online. I tried to keep the essence of the poem from the Tagalog version, but my translation reads awkwardly to me. I did love rediscovering the Tagalog word for dawn which is “bukang-liwayway,” and it’s also interesting to see an English word streamer in its Tagalog format “istrimer.” The last line was the hardest because, well, it’s not militant enough.
I’ve read this book several times, but it never occurred to me to see if there was any dedication in the beginning. As it was a collection of poems, I never read it from start to finish. It was whatever page or poem I came upon on at the moment. But I checked, and found a nice surprise:
My folks are revolutionary, but we also know that we’re a colonized lot.
We’re changing that though.
To the struggle, for the people.