Multiple im/person/aliz/ations: Four Attempts to 'get under the skin' of Poets

Tom Priestly


I have been actively translating for about twenty years. Looking back, I now realize that it made translation easier when I tried to ‘become’ the original writer: I was more successful when I asked myself, “what would they have written if they had had my knowledge of English?” and, for poetry, when faced with the clash between the demands of form and content, “which way would they bend?’
Rather than attempt any theorizing, I propose to relate my efforts to get under the skin of a number of poets, for example: one, surviving the siege of Leningrad; another, pioneering multiple poetic genres in early 19th-century Central Europe; a third who (successfully? I am not sure) aimed to capture the horror of a Nazi atrocity in Vienna; a fourth who became the most popular author of Slovene poetry for children by temporarily shedding his own adulthood. Also, I will add my recent attempts to capture, in Slovene, the style of children in war-torn Northern Uganda who are writing to the sponsors who are paying their school fees in a charming but not always clear fractured English (which they are just learning): is it possible, is it expedient to pretend to be such a child in order to transfer their thoughts into Slovene?
It certainly helps to have been a teacher. Teachers are, I believe, better teachers if they can act the roles of others, and translators can perhaps be better translators if they can ‘become’ other people. Anyway, it makes for a more interesting life.


Anna Akhmatova; Francè Prešeren; Janko Messner;Kajetan Kovič

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ISSN 1920-0323