Translating poetry in tandem

Keith Taylor and William Reader have won the 2004 Keeley and Sherrard poetry translation award with their translations of Karyotakis’s «Preveza» and «Sleep,» Poetry Greece editor Wendy Holborow announced last week. Kathryn Koromilas took second place with another Karyotakis translation, of «For My Brother,» while Elisabeth Arseniou was in third place for excerpts from Joseph Ventura’s «Tanais.» Taylor and Reader came to the poetry of Karyotakis by very different routes, as Taylor told Kathimerini English Edition in an e-mail interview – the former from reading Modern Greek literature in translation and the latter as a specialist in New Testament studies. Their 10-year collaboration on the poems of Karyotakis reflects their different approaches and characters. Faithfulness So how did they go about the business of collaboration and what were the sticking points, Kathimerini English Edition asked Taylor in the interview. «The sticking points are reflections of our characters and our professions,» he explained. «Bill is a scholar. His sense is always to be as faithful to the original as possible. And he defines that faithfulness as meaning. He would much rather pick the right tense of the verb and the most exact equivalent in English than worry about how things sound. With Karyotakis – and all those very controlled forms, tight rhymes, and exact rhythms – this meant that he would get a long way from the sound of the poem in a sense to get the meaning. «My task in the mix was to make a good English poem out of it. Rhyme sounds so much more clunky in modern English, but it is a disservice to Karyotakis not to at least suggest it strongly from time to time. As soon as you do that, you do violence to his images. There are a few translators who have made the choice that the rhythm and rhyme are the most important qualities in his work. They have been willing to completely sacrifice some of his images and metaphors to make that formal presentation. «Quite frankly, I think that is the main reason that of the major modern Greek poets, Karyotakis is the least well-known among English-speaking readers. It seems clear to me that the tone – often genuinely funny – and the precision of the language are equally important – maybe even more so. Several times we have formally regular poems in English, but often the poems have sounded better when we’ve stressed the tone and precision.» Like most translators of poetry, these two have found that there is probably no definitive rendition of any poem. As Taylor commented: «One of the reasons this has taken so long for us – somewhere around 10 years now – is that we change our minds, and thus our translations, all the time. I think we are finally at the place where we can call an end to revision, recognizing that we will never get to the point of even pleasing ourselves, let alone any other reader out there. «Still, it’s been fun. And our friendship has survived the process. That may be the oddest thing of all.» Reader is a lifelong academic whose studies have taken him deep into the languages, history and the cultures of the eastern Mediterranean, which he teaches along with general courses in religious studies and occasional courses in Koine and classical Greek. By contrast, Taylor worked at a wide variety of jobs – camp-boy for a hunting outfitter in the Yukon, dishwasher in southern France, housepainter in Indiana and Ireland, freight handler, teacher, freelance writer, the co-host of a radio talk show, and night attendant at a pinball arcade in California – before becoming a bookseller in Ann Arbor, Michigan for 20 years. A published poet and short-story writer, he now teaches part-time at the University of Michigan and coordinates the undergraduate program in creative writing there. His love of modern Greek literature came from reading Kazantzakis in English translation as an adolescent and Cavafy in French translation as a young man. His formal knowledge of the language came from freshman Modern Greek classes he took as an adult at Michigan. In 1976, he met Reader, who introduced him to the work of Karyotakis, a poet whose work, though of high repute in Greece, is seldom translated into English – the exceptions include what Taylor describes as Rachel Hadas’s «marvelous» translations. In 2002, the translators held joint residency at the International Writers and Translators’ Center of Rhodes to work on translating the poetry of Karyotakis. That was five weeks of hard work and argument as they hammered out what Taylor calls «a polished draft of every poem Karyotakis published in books and quite a few that he didn’t.» Poetry Greece A word about Poetry Greece, which was regularly reviewed on this page before being suspended for lack of funding. Its good work continues on its website, http:// -greece/ where readers can access examples of the award-winning translations. Is there no poetry-loving philanthropist out there who could help put this heroic publication back into print? At a time when public funds are squandered on extravaganzas in dubious taste, this modest voice for poetry surely deserves support. The award and the anonymous donor The Keeley and Sherrard poetry translation award was the brainchild of Wendy Holborow, one of the editors of Poetry Greece, who told Kathimerini English Edition about the genesis of the prize. «The idea for the award was mine, after Poetry Greece had been going for some time,» explained Holborow. «We – the editors – used to get into long conversations about translations of poetry and I personally lamented the dearth of Greek poetry in translation, especially of the modern Greek poets. «After consultation with Edmund Keeley and the widow of Philip Sherrard – the translators we considered to be the best translators of Greek poetry up until then – they agreed, and were honored to put their name to the award. «Speaking and reading very little Greek at the time, I was indebted to them, and others like them, for allowing me to be able to become familiar with the poetry of great poets such as Seferis and Sikelianos.» «There have been three awards in four years. It is not necessarily an annual award as we are dependent on a private, anonymous individual who has put up the prize money. Expenses incurred for the administration are partly funded by the reading fee we ask participants to pay. Unless we receive more funding, we do not know if there will be another one, but we live in hope.»

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