"The poems are the work of a profoundly serious temperament and a professional translator of world into word"– Michael Salcman, Judge, Harriss Poetry Prize
When the Polish poet Wisława Szymborska won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996, and my American friends started asking about her writings, I set out to translate into English one of her poems for my friend Alice, whose grandparents had emigrated from Poland in the 19th Century. I chose “The People on the Bridge.” I enjoyed flowing through the seemingly peaceful poem, then almost shuddering at its ending.
Still hesitant to translate
I started by choosing poems from Lidia Kosk’s books that I thought would easily lend themselves to the English language. I didn’t fully realize all the possible problems. So much so that I began with a rhyming poem! When my translation was later published in the literary journal Passager, I was hooked. I have continued translating my mother’s poems at a slow pace. As a result, her first bilingual he book niedosyt/reshapings came out in 2003. For her second bilingual book, Słodka woda, słona woda/Sweet Water, Salt Water, with the practice gained over years, I translated all her new poems as they came to me via the Internet.
Translating the work of a poet who is available for consultation is a great advantage when questions arise.
What if the name has a special meaning to the author? I posed such a question to Lucille Clifton while translating into Polish her poems “praise song” and “moonchild.” I appreciated the opportunity to ask Linda Pastan whether the children in her poem “Ethics” were girls, as in the Polish language the verb forms are different depending on the person’s gender. I was also fortunate enough to be able to discuss with Josephine Jacobsen her poem “Last Will and Testament” for the Polish translation. The consultations encouraged me to continue.
As a translator, does it help to be a poet?
A panel of four translators, which I had the privilege to moderate at CityLit 2014, provided a whole range of responses to the question from the audience. There is no one “right” answer. I believe that it helps, especially when the two parties share a similar poetic sensitivity. Most of all, it helps tremendously, whether a poet or not, to know the culture, history, tradition, and literature of both languages and countries. That’s why, as the editor of the poetry translations section at Loch Raven Review, I have focused on bilingual publications.
Literary journal publications in the USA and elsewhere:
American Poets in Poland: translations of poems by three Maryland Poets Laureate – Lucille Clifton, Josephine Jacobsen, and Linda Pastan – for publication in literary journals in Poland
Polish Poets in the USA: translations of poems by Lidia Kosk, Ernest Bryll, and Wisława Szymborska – over 70 publications appeared in the USA
World Poets in the USA: as the Loch Raven Review editor in charge of the Translations section I have featured poets and translators from all over the world representing several languages:
http://www.lochravenreview.net/2012Spring–celebration of Wisława Szymborska
http://lochravenreview.net/2012Winter/index.html#Translations–Contemporary Mayan & Spanish-language poets
http://thelochravenreview.net/le-pham-le-translated-by-nancy-arbuthnot-2/— Vietnamese-language poems
1. niedosyt/reshapings, a bilingual book of poems by Lidia Kosk
2. Słodka woda, słona woda/Sweet Water, Salt Water, by Lidia Kosk, a bilingual book of poems translated by Danuta E. Kosk-Kosicka, with three short stories translated by Piotr Kosicki, Jan Wiśniewski and Wojciech Wiśniewski, respectively
“In the second half of this book, Kosk-Kosicka has translated a selection of her mother’s poetry. There are mothers and daughters in these poems, too, and grandparents, and a sense of longing. But the harshness of war intrudes everywhere. “In the Current of the River” begins with a placid scene of a river flowing past grasses and alders, but this kind of scene is where the speaker “ran from the Germans,” where “the Germans shoot / 30 Poles,” where “the alders will grow and hide the bodies” (28). While walking through the city of Lublin years after the war, the speaker’s “defenseless memory” recalls “the crash of Nazi military boots,” the “whir of a bullet,” “a dying young man / kicked to a pulp on the pavement” (31-32). Lest we mistakenly think the violence is all in the past, “Before a Human Killed with a Human” reminds us that 9/11 wasn’t so long ago, an “ordinary day” that became anything but. Yet the brutal power of these images is often offset by tenderness and beauty, like the moonrise that makes the speaker realize “all of me was a song,” (35).”…Reviewed by Patricia Valdata
Three poems from Lidia Kosk’s niedosyt/reshapings in my English translations were rendered into music. Composed for mixed choir by Philip A. Olsen, they were performed by the McDonogh School mixed choir, conducted by Philip A. Olsen. Subsequently the works were performed in Peru, Spain and Portugal.
May 4, 2013: the poem “From the Window of my Apartment” (read by me and Kathie Corcoran in Polish and English, respectively).
May 3, 2014: the poem “Obligations” (read by me and Philip A. Olsen)
May 3, 2015: the poem “The Clock Is Ticking” (read by me and Philip A. Olsen)
As a founding member of the DC-ALT association of literary translators:
Hosting the “Poetry in Translation” Panel at 2014 CityLit Festival in Baltimore:
“Interlinear: Multilingual Poetry Reading and Translation Discussion”--Celebrating the 2013 International Translation Day in five languages at the Writers’ Center in Bethesda: