Artists statement from Jaewon Che
Issue 1: ‘Dalpaengi’ by Jin Eun-Young
Issue 2: ‘Neoulgwa noeul’ by Lee Jenny
Mini Issue: ‘Nongdam han songi’ by Heo Su-gyeong
Issue 3: ‘Gongbap’ by Kim Haeja
Issue 4: ‘Gagak dan Ikan Mata Tiga’ by Erni Aladjai
Artist’s statement from Jaewon Che
Mixed media on vellum
eye meets tongue eye touches skin
to trace to stutter to touch
to bang body against a wall
축축한 뿌리 축축한 뿌리
바스러져 깨진 조각 위
무심히 무사히 누억누억 넘어
씻어 벗은 눈끝 뻗어
더듬더듬 더듬 더듬더듬 더듬
Listen to Soje and Jaewon Che chat in the podcast episode about this issue.
Introducing the fifth issue of chogwa zine
‘I felt like saying yes for some reason.’
Variations of this statement flooded the chogwa inbox over the course of its first year.
One contributor, who had a Twitter account for 10 years and never once tweeted, decided to send her first message to participate in the inaugural issue.
When I asked the poet Lee Jenny if she’d be interested in joining us for a reading!potluck!gabfest in Seoul, I didn’t know she lived on Geoje Island, off the southern coast of the Korean peninsula. Yet she took a train and many transfers to gift us an evening to remember. And a delicious pun on chogwa issue 2: choga 2 gaein cake, an actual cake with two candles!
Another contributor got a pixie cut for the first time in her life *for* the aforementioned event, a fact she shared only months after the fact!
Whenever I worry about being ‘too much’ (too intense/sensitive/whatever), I remember the drunken zeal with which my friend yelled, ‘You MAKE a zine called CHOGWA!’ making me burst into tearful laughter.
I don’t know how else this little zine could’ve lasted a year, during a most tumultuous time for so many. Thank you.
The chogwa About page from June 2019 reads, ‘In Korean, geurida means to draw means to pine. Here is the little sketch pad where we pine for an abundance of Korean poetry in translation.’ It amazes me how many pages we’ve filled already! I’m curious for what’s to come. I hope you are, too.
If we could have a live event, I’d close the night with Yaeji’s title track off her album WHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던 (using the same verb, geurida!) released in April 2020:
내가 그려왔던 내가 그려왔던 내가 그려왔던 내가 그려왔던
그런 이 세상을 나는 만들었어
내가 사랑하는 그 사람들과 함께
그 곳을 우린 만들었어
그 곳을 우린 만들었어
Soje’s email to all previous contributors (July 2020)
If you’re receiving this email, it’s because you have contributed at least one poem in the past year of chogwa zine!
Fun fact: 30 translators contributed 41 poems over 4.5 issues. Isn’t that incredible???
To celebrate our anniversary, the next issue invites you to revisit any of your translations over the past year and do what you want to do. As returning contributors, you know that I try to avoid editorializing before you all surprise me each issue with your divergent translations!
That said, I also want you to know that I fully empathize with the difficulty of this prompt. Some of you may revise toward multivalence, others toward precision – not that those ‘styles’ are mutually exclusive. Some may rather reflect on why you don’t want to revise at all. What is so uncomfortable about revision, to see your work in a new light, to refuse to move on to newer & shinier things?
Back when you first translated these poems, they hadn’t been translated and published in English. Now, you have so many others to read and commune with! You’ve also had bits of my commentary to remind you what about your translation makes it yours.
Suggestions for your translator’s note:
– consider what you like about the poem as a source text & in translation
– reference other contributors’ translations (highly encouraged!!!! esp. if one or more inspired your revision)
– introduce yourself
– ask questions to be answered on Twitter and beyond
I really, really look forward to reading your revisions and reflections! Thank you all for making chogwa with me.
Issue 1: ‘Dalpaengi’ by Jin Eun-Young
See Issue 1: ‘Dalpaengi’ by Jin Eun-Young (August 2019) on chogwa
TRANSLATED BY JAEWON CHE
Things that snail with their home on the back
must all head to the moon
Ever seen a snail on a leaf?
Behind it the moon always turns up
It’s not Home it’s a trap
In that trap Father turns to sleep
Mother clips her nails
Younger sibling tries math problems
Father I’d like you to return
Mother I’d like you to go out
Frequently I shot Father in my dreams – we died
Please do not return Father – we keep dying
My house is aflame in blood
Child, the sun must set before we return to the moon
I want to tell you:
the moon isn’t pale because it turned up prematurely
the moon is the product of shedding blood
How much blood must I shed before we rise in peace
Once you see, you cannot unsee. The reverberating space of the multiplicity of meaning opened up by ten translations of Jin Eun-young’s ‘Dalpaengi’ in the inaugural issue of chogwa altered me as well as my understanding of this poem forever. Once you see, you cannot unsee. The world starts to multiply. The pulsating blossom bursting from just a few lines may be the ultimate challenge as well as the joy of translating poetry that chogwa captures.
As I was rereading ‘Dalpaengi,’ the alliteration of the central motifs – both notions and actions jib/jim (house/burden), jumusigo (sleep), jokesseoyo (like), jugeotda/jugeoyo (die), jebal (please) jakku (repeatedly), jaju (often), jyeoya (fall/set), janjanhi (tranquil) – stood out to me, especially in the two lines where the speaker confesses repeatedly shooting Father in dreams and pleading him not to return.
I remember that I struggled with translating this line: Kkumsogeseo naneun jaju abeojireul chongeuro sswa jugeotda (In dreams I often shot father dead*). One would say sswa jugyeotda, not sswa jugeotda, where the former uses the verb kill (transitive) and the latter die (intransitive), which sounds unnatural immediately following the transitive verb sswa (shoot) whose subject is explicitly stated as ‘I.’ I wanted to capture the suspension created by this intentionally awkward phrase, slowing down the reader and possibly implying that the subject of dying may not be limited to Father. I chose to ignore this in my original translation for a smoother read.
I was more aware of the sense of predestined movement through an inescapable cycle that is repeatedly evoked in juxtaposing the moon (with its rise and fall) and a snail (with its spiral shell, both a home and a burden it has to bear), equating this burden to the speaker’s household trapped inside a carapace called Family, and playing with the ambiguity in the speaker’s wish/action to kill Father by describing it only in a mediated fashion (‘going to the moon,’ ‘returning,’ never explicitly stating who is dying.) This was largely due to the discussion in chogwa about doragada (‘to return (to the earth)’ as a literal euphemism for ‘to pass away’) as well as the superimposition of imagery summoned through dal (moon) and dal-paengi (moon-spinning top): Moon Whorl (Hoyoung Moon), Moonslug (the editor), and The Spiral Moon (Emily Yae Won) as a reference to the Snail.
TRANSLATED BY HOYOUNG
All creatures that carry home on their backs
must go to the moon
Have you ever seen a snail on a leaf
A moon always rises in the background
Weighted not by home, but a world
Inside, Father sleeps
Mother clips fingernails
Kid sibling solves math problems
Father I wish you’d die
Mother I wish you’d go out
In dreams I often gunned Father down
Please don’t show up Father You’ll keep dying
My home is red with blood
Child, the sun must set before we can go to the moon
I want to teach you
The moon is pale not because it’s out early
The moon is the product of hemorrhage
How much must I bleed
to ripple sky
The revision process for my translation of 「달팽이」 by 진은영 was guided by two intertwining desires. One, to tighten my whorl; two, to make more wavesss. When the first issue of chogwa came out, I was immediately struck by the economy of other contributors’ translations. Right from the first line, I could see the difference: my original translation begins, ‘All those that live carrying home on their backs,’ whereas Emily Yae Won’s ‘Creatures saddled with home’ packs a punch in just four words. I was also *shook* by Anton’s translation, which really made every word pull its weight. Anton drops the adverb 잔잔히 in the final line – ‘How much must I bleed before I rise’ – I didn’t know you could do that! I’d struggled with the question of how to recreate the quiet but powerful ending of the source text, and the decision to end on a verb felt like such an elegant solution to that dilemma. So, taking cues from these translators, I tried to whittle away any superfluous parts.
Now, let me elaborate on my attempts to ‘make more waves.’ Perhaps the most difficult line in this poem for me was ‘집이 아니야 짐이야.’ In my previous translation, I tried to strike a balance between preserving the alliteration and the intended meaning by translating 짐 as ‘haul.’ I marveled at other translators’ approaches to this challenge: Si Yon’s ‘han’ and Archana’s ‘load’ both address the issues of sound and of meaning in inventive ways. Taking inspiration from them, I decided to be more bold and replaced ‘haul’ with ‘world.’ To be honest, ‘haul’ reminds me more of shopping sprees and moving companies than of burdens. So I started thinking about different idioms, and ‘the weight of the world’ came to mind. And as I kept rereading the source text, I realized I wanted to better reflect the currents of violence and destruction within the poem. It seemed as though the 집 (home, house) or world, the weight of which is borne by the speaker, needed to be destroyed in order for a new moon to appear.
Once I decided to allow myself this departure from sonic fidelity and move toward better representing what I understand to be the overarching purpose of the source text, I felt better equipped to rise to the challenge put forth in Soje’s editor’s remark. Regarding my translation of the title, they wrote, ‘“Moon Whorl” gets at the spinning motion [of the word 달팽이], though they revert to “snail” in the body of the poem.’ I do still use ‘snail’ in this revision, but I tried to add more motion and intentionality this time by changing ‘shot father to death’ (ST: 자주 아버지를 총으로 쏴 죽였다) to ‘gunned Father down’ (vs. rising moon) and ‘You keep dying’ (ST: 아버지 자꾸 죽어요) to the more menacing/prophetic ‘You’ll keep dying.’ Then, the final line ends with ‘to ripple sky,’ placed on a separate line with indentations. Because ‘rise’ is often used with the word ‘moon,’ I wanted to use a different verb that would provide greater dramatic effect. I also thought back to the image of the snail with the moon backdrop we see at the beginning of the poem. At that point, the scene feels peaceful and idyllic, but by the end of the poem, we’ve killed Father(s) and bloodied home(s), even if only in dreams. Hopefully, the word choice and placement of the phrase carries the quiet tension of the source text’s final line, letting it unfurl amplified.
Issue 2: ‘Neoulgwa noeul’ by Lee Jenny
See Issue 2: ‘Neoulgwa noeul’ by Lee Jenny (November 2019) on chogwa
sea swells and sun sets
TRANSLATED BY HELEN HY KIM
To read Lee Jenny’s poem is to come under her spell. These seemingly simple, ordinary words are stitched together to create an ebb and flow of breath and sound that powerfully evokes the rhythm of the swelling sea. In my revision, I approached structuring the poem as though I’m rearranging music, using the formal constraints of the original poem as melodic intervals, and situating words on the page as notes on a staff. The poem follows a 2 syllables-space-3 syllable-space-3 syllables-space-2 syllables pattern (10 syllables total) per line in Korean, so I tried to mimic this sound by limiting each line to 10 words as much as possible. As noted by the editor, Lee Jenny limits her use of verbs to four total, so I welcomed this constraint with my revised translation. Lee Jenny also uses five distinct prepositions, so I also limited myself to five varieties. Additionally, inspired by dahyun kim’s form in Issue 2, I borrowed her breaks to guide where the reader should take a moment to inhale before taking in the next set of words.
heaving sea and evening sun
TRANSLATED BY SETH CHANDLER
There were basically two directions that I wanted to pursue further and one that I decided to back away from in revising my translation of Lee Jenny’s ‘Neoulgwa Noeul.’ Seeing the other contributors’ translations and sitting down with them to discuss the poem with Lee Jenny herself last December gave me the first impulses for what paths to follow, but the materials that our editor Soje suggested on Twitter also guided me in trying to realize those impulses.
First, I wanted to bring the shape of the poem closer to the original rectangle of eight columns and ten rows. grace hs.p mentioned my effort to reproduce the shape of the poem in my first draft as a strong point, and the reinterpretation of the poem’s shape in her and dahyun kim’s translations, as well as the compactness of Hoyoung’s, excited me about rethinking the shape once more. In the afterword to the collection, literary critic Cho Jae-ryong points out that the grid shape encourages not only horizontal but vertical or diagonal readings, illustrating the plurality and interdependence of meanings that produces language, and during our discussion Lee Jenny also described the poem as an exploration of how meaning and language are generated, and referenced these multidirectional readings. Finally, Layli Long Soldier’s ‘Obligations 2,’ (retweeted by Soje) helped me to visualize how the words could be grouped to form the columns.
Second, I wanted to strengthen the shared sounds and wavering motion that connect neoul (waves/sea) to noeul (sunset). Jaewon Che explained her title ‘Sea Waves and Sun Waves Back’ as an attempt to capture the ‘illeongineun’ or ‘swaying’ motion that links the images of waves and sunset. At least one (amateur?) etymologist on the National Institute of Korean Language website’s Q&A section has suggested that noeul, neoul, and several other similar words all derive from nabul-georida, an onomatopoeic word for exactly this sort of wavering or swaying. In other words, the visual wavering motion – the rolling of the waves, the wavering of the sunset’s redness on the horizon – may well be how these things got their names, and the aural similarity of ‘n’ and ‘l’ sounds shared between them is a result of that process. Talk about language generation! In the first line, the words nunmul (sobs; lit. tear) and haneul (sky), while not etymologically related to neoul or noeul in this way, do share the alliterative-rhyme complex of ‘n-l’. I tried to capture this image-sound-meaning relation in title and first line with the assonant rhyme in ‘heaving’ (borrowed from Soje’s intro translation) and ‘evening,’ the alliteration of ‘sobs’ (borrowed from Archana Madhaven and grace hs.p)-‘seas’-‘sky,’ and the collocation of the verb ‘heave’ with both ‘sobs’ and ‘seas.’
The path I backed away from, and probably the most obvious change I made, was to remove the potential double meaning ‘veil.’ Neoul can mean ‘veil’ as well, and the etymologist above suggests this word may also come from the wavering motion of nabul-georida – the fluttering of the draped veil. But I found this to be my own idiosyncratic interpretation during discussion. I’m not outright opposed to such personal readings in translations, especially when there are other translations available. However, Jericho Brown advises in the second issue of underbelly that ‘it’s a good idea to delete any point you find yourself making’ during revision, and when I look at the ruby text in my first draft, it feels more like its itching to explain itself than working with the rest of the poem.
As I tried to stick with the swaying, incantatory rhythm from phrase to phrase, I also cycled through a slew of other indecisions over each word (especially the articles – Carmen Giménez Smith’s twelfth poem hack gave me the confidence not to cut them), but this translator’s note already feels so long! Thanks for reading!
Tide and Eventide
TRANSLATED BY HARIM OH
After tears comes a tide, beyond the tide is the sky
Beyond the sky is a face, through the face comes a wind
In the wind is the heart, on which songs come down
There is breath in songs, there is death in breath
Beyond death are clouds, beyond the clouds comes day’s end
Beyond day’s end is the fog, beyond the fog is the field
Beyond the field rises the dust, beyond the dust are the streets
There is silence in the streets, there is a hill in silence
On the hill is a tree, after the tree come tears
After tears comes a tide, beyond the tide falls the eventide
It was only after I started reading chogwa Issue 2 that I realised I as a prose writer hadn’t given enough attention to form and rhythm, the critical elements of the source text and of poetry in general. I hesitated to participate in this issue until the last minute because I wished I had done this last year so no one knew what I’d overlooked.
That said, dahyun kim and grace hs.p’s translations brilliantly captured how the source text is seen and read, and they became the inspiration for my revision. I decided to go even further away from ‘neoul’ (swell) this time and chose the word ‘tide’ instead of ‘swelling tides.’ This was a risky change but one that improved the conciseness and regularity of the poem, and its alliteration with ‘tears’ was a bonus.
I so badly wanted to render ‘jeonyuk’ (evening) as ‘dusk’ for that same effect. I couldn’t in my first translation and still can’t because of the inconvenient fact that dusk comes after sunset. As the figure stands on the waterside thinking of the words, vivid imagery is created in their chronological order. To maintain the logic of the source text – 저녁이 오고 노을이 진다 (evening comes, then a sunset) – ‘day’s end’ got to stay.
Sea swells, sun sets
TRANSLATED BY ARCHANA MADHAVAN
After I saw the other translations in chogwa issue 2, I had a bit of a revelation. In my first translation of Lee Jenny’s poem, I put most of my effort into keeping the number of syllables in each line consistent, trying where I could to add alliteration and internal rhyme, but otherwise I didn’t think I could do too much with the overall shape of the poem – that pleasing, rectangular shape, made up of eight straight columns, I figured was impossible to replicate in English. But I was delighted to see how dahyun kim, Seth Chandler, Helen Kim, and grace hs.p incorporated spacing and line breaks to give their translations regularity and form that lent itself to the rhythmic sound of the poem.
Which led me to the focus of my revision – how could I play with shape and form in my translation to capture its sound? Ho Hur, whose beautiful artwork was featured on the cover of chogwa issue 2, said of his work, ‘Feeling the regular, wave-like rhythm of the poem, I strived to render that rhyme visually.’ That’s what I wanted to capture in my translation – the beat, like the periodic crashing of waves on the shore. I kept going back to the spacing in dahyun kim’s translation. I knew I wanted to somehow add caesuras but I didn’t want the translation to feel staccato. I went with adding commas and capitalization (inspired by Jaewon Che) which I thought were unobtrusive, but enough to denote that intake of breath, and removed the ‘and’ that broke up each line of my first translation. Then I cheated a little bit because I so wanted to recreate that regular shape and the columns in Lee Jenny’s poem. I broke up each line into fours (separated by comma and capitalization) and separated them in a 4×10 table. I used a monospace font and distributed the text across the table cell to recreate the straight-edged columns in Lee Jenny’s original poem (now if only I could get the ‘the’ and the ‘there is a’ in each line to line up with each other!!).
Speaking of articles, some of the changes I made in word choice were adding in and changing up definite and indefinite articles. In my first translation, I kept the syllables per line consistent, but it still didn’t quite have the rhythm of the Korean. I wondered in this new four-column format, how I could make each of the four parts in the line have the same beat. So, I tried to keep where I used ‘the’ and where I used ‘a’ consistent (the first and last lines use all ‘the’ and all the other lines – except line 7 – use ‘the,’ ‘a,’ ‘the,’ ‘a’). To me, the English articles added the same blip of sound that the particles in Korean (로, 는, 에, 이, 가) did. Now, that meant that some of the lines actually don’t have the same number of syllables anymore! But as I read my revised translation out loud, it feels like it has more of a rhythm than my first.
Lastly… the title. I wanted the title to reflect the balance and shape of the poem and give a nod to the breaks and commas, so I got a little adventurous and translating the Korean nouns into noun + verb, which could also be cheekily read as sea swells (noun) and sunsets (noun).
Mini Issue: 6 translations of ‘Nongdam han songi’ by Heo Su-gyeong
(Published in 『자음과모음』, December 2019)
A Single Joke
TRANSLATED BY VICTORIA CAUDLE
I want to go to someone’s most desperate place
and return having plucked a joke
I want to be as pungent and ultimately sad as
that single poignant stem
flitting like a butterfly until I fade away
I want to live
A Single Stem
REVISED BY VICTORIA CAUDLEI want
to slip into someone’s most sorrowful spot
return with a snapped stem of a joke
stink of that single stinging stalk
sorely stubbornly sorry
flutter flit fade away
like a butterfly
As a reader and as a translator, I gravitate more towards fiction than poetry. As someone who does translation workshops with Korean language learners, I find myself turning to poetry more often to guide their understanding of linguistic flexibility and what they may potentially discover about a work and about themselves through translation. It is while thinking of, and for once following, the advice I have given my students at Sup sogŭi Hosu that I returned to 「농담 한 송이」 by Heo Sugyeong and my translation of it, ‘A Single Joke.’
When I first approached translating Heo Sugyeong’s poetry, I was struck by how precise and compact the images were. The way that each couplet felt full and complete ending with ‘~고 싶다’ to create natural unpunctuated pause felt like the blackness that rhythmically flashes between the changing slides of a carousel projector, like a downbeat between measures. I attempted to emulate this linked separation in my translation, but was troubled by the problem of English needing to move the ‘want’ to the beginning of the couplet which would, as Soje mentioned in their commentary when the set of translations were published, change the final image the reader is left with from ‘I want to live’ to fading butterflies. I broke from my adherence to the rhythm and repetition of the Korean form for the sake of the lingering cry for life, but felt dissatisfied by the confusion of the final image in my translation. What I was most proud of was my word selection creating an inner rhythm and flow through repeated consonants by choosing ‘plucked,’ ‘pungent’ and ‘poignant,’ ‘single’ and ‘stem,’ and ‘flitting’ and ‘fade.’ However, upon returning to the poem, I feel my strict adherence to the original Korean couplets and the beat of separation between the images rendered my translation feeling tight and the word choice having too high of a register, like a pastiche of a romantic poet’s verbiage. Reading through the other translations of the same poem, I felt initially pleased to see that we all adhered to the rhythm of the couplet, but now I want to challenge myself to thread the lines syllabically together. I was also thrilled by the spikiness of word choice in Sora Kim-Russell’s ‘A Single Stem of Laughter’ and Sung Ryu’s ‘Blossom of a Joke’ and thought I could try and punk-up my word choice.
My revised poem, ‘A Single Stem,’ is a reflection of my conviction to break from the couplets and to bring more fluid orality to the language while keeping the poem compact. This version doubles down on the consonant repetition I initially worked with; I tried to move away from plosives as the initial consonants and instead chose slippery sibilants to blur the rigidity of images in a crossfade. My first attempts at revising stuck to the tryptic of ‘want’s, but the elision I was pursuing was getting stalled by the necessity of starting with ‘I want,’ so in order to keep the emphasis of the ‘want’ I shunted the images away from the ‘want’ and only repeated it twice for emphasis. Along with trimming the repetitive ‘I want to’s from my first translation, I also removed all conjunctions to further my hazy vision for the poem. As someone who feels very new to poetry and experimenting with form, I felt emboldened by the examples of successful transformation of the Lee Jenny poem in issue 2 of chogwa by translators dahyun kim, Seth Chandler, and grace hs.p. Instead of feeling restricted by insecurities about my ability to ‘appreciate’ poetry and being unfamiliar with terminology and techniques of poetry composition, I was able to return to revise my translation with much more playfulness and take joy in aspects of language I find stimulating, such as orality. Looking between the two translations, I can’t say that I prefer one or the other. The choices I made in the first version are still valid, and the choices I made in the second are the result of having already made the choices found in the first. Revision offers the opportunity to present different possibilities and, as a reader, I love to be spoiled for choice.
Issue 3: 7 translations of ‘Gongbap’ by Kim Haeja (February 2020)
See Issue 3: 7 translations of ‘Gongbap’ by Kim Haeja (February 2020) on chogwa
TRANSLATED BY DAHYUN KIM
grandfather slowly and slower still drags along a handcart whilst attempting an uphill slope wads of paper and cardboard boxes haphazardly tangled are fallen to the ground crouches lowers himself picks the boxes up and ties the paper back together grandmother back from yonder helps to drag grandfather’s handcart grandmother happened upon a heavy frying pan got in exchange two thousand won, she is softly beaming
I place my faith in the sentiment that bicycles libraries and poetry are the tools for communal life and stayed a half-day in a library not to be budged rolled around a poem about community like an assembly line worker situated in front of a conveyer belt made the rice of poetry while waiting for that hard-to-get-just-so poem to become just right took a ready poem grain by grain and ate it recalling the time as a factory girl who yearned for the library that was closed after all work hours studied earnestly even the naengi reach out their hands frozen blue even the ssuk struggle their way upwards through parched broken soil those young ’uns devote themselves to serving a table of green so in order to prevent my becoming a piss-poor poet who partakes in food undeserved, strived, I did, to write a poem
Please do help yourselves today’s poem that took a half-day to ladle out is free
It wasn’t difficult for me to choose which poem I wanted to revisit for this edition of chogwa. As soon as I saw the prompt I knew I had to go back and examine my translation of Haeja Kim’s poem, ‘Gongbap.’ The poem that I originally translated as ‘food undeserved.’
The biggest problem I thought I faced while working on the translation itself was how I was going to write out the poem without any, or very few, punctuation marks. I had my heart set on making sure that the translation mirrored that aspect of the source text. The sentences run on into one another and yet, you can tell where one ‘sentence’ starts and another begins. It’s just how you go around reading Korean, I guess. But then again, you have all of these sentences but sometimes it’s difficult to tell when a sentence really ends or not, or what clause modifies another clause, et cetera et cetera. For example, the line ‘반나절 꼼짝 않고 공생의 시 궁글렸습니다 컨베이어벨트 앞에 앉은 조립공처럼 시의 밥 지었지요’ could be divided like this: ‘반나절 꼼짝 않고 공생의 시 궁글렸습니다 / 컨베이어벨트 앞에 앉은 조립공처럼 시의 밥 지었지요’ or this: ‘반나절 꼼짝 않고 공생의 시 궁글렸습니다 컨베이어벨트 앞에 앉은 조립공처럼 / 시의 밥 지었지요.’ There are these ambiguities within the poem that I wanted to be visible in the translation, which is why I decided to put the spaces in. I wanted the poem to be readable, but I didn’t want to make any definitive stops within the poem. I felt that the spaces gave the reader a bit more agency about how they were going to read and interpret the poem. Hopefully the intended effect was conveyed. If not, well. What can I say. I tried.
For this revision, I haven’t made a lot of changes. Barely any. I’ve changed a few words here and there (factory girl was a term that I didn’t think of when I worked on the poem and I felt absolutely disappointed in myself when I saw that word in the other translations – why didn’t you remember that word, dahyun, why!) I also took inspiration from the way that the other translators (Anton, eyw, Hoyoung) defined 공생 – the insistence on ‘community,’ on a ‘communal life.’ In retrospect, the word I originally used, ‘symbiosis,’ seems too scientific a word, too formal.
I wanted to go back to ‘Gongbap’ because I remember reading the other translations submitted by the other wonderful translators and feeling slightly taken aback. Not that I wasn’t when I looked through the various translations of ‘Neoulgwa noeul,’ but this wasn’t a comparable situation.
The other translations of ‘Gongbap’ surprised me with how nice they were. When situated between all of these other poems, my translation seemed almost bleak. Which isn’t how I read the original text. And I wasn’t aware of it! I wasn’t aware of how my translation carried an almost desperate tone, something that, I was told at the chogwa event, carried something akin to a sense of guilt. I hadn’t even realised that my words had created that mood within the poem. There’s this sense of an ‘all or nothing’ mindset – the yearning, the devoting, the striving. The feeling that the speaker within the poem needs to create something worthy, otherwise they’ll be a disgrace.
‘시시한 시인이 안 되려고.’ I think that’s what this translation was focussed on. Focussed on trying to make sure that one is an okay poet, a poet who is more than mediocre. Other words I was thinking about before I decided on piss-poor poet were ‘posing poet,’ ‘poor poet,’ ‘pithy poet’ – yes, I was trying to keep to the alliteration, but there’s also that sense that one needs to be better to deserve something. That is also something that I struggle with as an individual, as a person who’s just trying to get by. This question of ‘worth,’ this question of ‘guilt,’ this question of ‘when are you ever going to be good enough.’
That realisation surprised me because I thought that I’d be able to be objective when I translated. That, when it came to translating, my objective (haha) was to make sure that the Korean was suitably addressed without carrying my emotions. As if! As if anything that anyone creates can be stripped of emotion. I didn’t write the poem, but I read it, decided to make certain decisions when translating it, and as a result it became a vessel for my emotions and feelings. This is something that has been surprising me whenever I translate anything. I am not a professional translator. Let’s just put that out there. I’ve never attended translation workshops or read any theory books that deal with what translation is or can be. I’ve translated a few poems here and there, but that’s it. What I’ve been doing has been makeshift, impulsive, and instantaneous. And as such, after dabbling a little in translation, it seems to me that it is almost impossible to stay absolutely true to the source text. No matter what you do, a part of you will always be inserted in the translations, nestled in between. Lodged in there. Making it yours.
So, when I revisited this poem I felt slightly apprehensive. Did I want to change anything? Did I have to change everything? Did I feel like, since my translation didn’t seem to capture the essence of the original Korean, that I should rewrite it to make it more faithful? I thought about it. Then I decided that I wasn’t going to do that. Even if I felt like what I did wasn’t enough, I didn’t really know how I’d do it differently. Even if I ignored everything that I’d done and tried to do a complete rewrite of the translation, I felt like every attempt would end up like this one. So I’m leaving it almost as is. Is that the best thing to do? I have no idea. But that’s what I’m going to do this time.
I Didn’t Want a Free Lunch
TRANSLATED BY ANTON HUR
Paper and cardboard slide off a wheelbarrow as an old man pushes it up a hill. There he bends, loading up the mess again. Now the old woman helps, pulling it at the front, still happy to have picked up a junked frying pan that will get her 2,000 won.
The government provides bike shares, libraries, and poetry toward a rich public life, which is why I sat motionless for half a day in the library, worrying over my lines of freedom for the general public like a factory girl sitting at a conveyor belt. I cooked my poetry, occasionally savoring the free lunch of well-cooked poems as I waited for my own lines to set, thinking back when I was a real factory girl who yearned to visit the library that was always closed by the time I got off from work. A shepherd’s purse pushing out a chilly arm and wild mugwort squeezing forth from dry dirt as they toil for their own meal of green makes me labor to not become a loser-poet as I scribbled these lines
I hope you relish it, this poem that took half a day to write and is finally open to the public.
I went off the rails a bit with my edit but came back to a more conservative translation in the end; I think this reflects the history of my philosophy toward literary translation. Speaking of rails, Sawad Hussain and Gitanjali Patel told me about ‘tube translators,’ or translators of color who are the unseen underground of the literary landscape, gliding across the city invisible and unappreciated, making literature in translation happen. I did these corrections on the subway as a tribute to them – and to all the tube translators!
Issue 4: 8 translations of ‘Gagak dan Ikan Mata Tiga’ by Erni Aladjai (June 2020)
See Issue 4: 8 translations of ‘Gagak dan Ikan Mata Tiga’ by Erni Aladjai (June 2020) on chogwa
REVISITATION NOTES BY AZLIANA AZIZ
may i start my revision note by singling out the translation that got the essence of the original poem and inherently closer to what i aspire to achieve one day? my pick is Madina Malahayati Chumaera’s ‘The Crow[s] and The Blue Panchax (Or, the Three-Eyed Fish).’ i won’t go into the extensive list of why i like this one the most but suffice to say i enjoyed it a lot, first time reading and also after countless readings (with others) that i went through for the revision. not that this is a slight to the other contributors because each one of them opened my eyes to variety of perspectives and approaches on how to read, interpret, translate, read, revisit and let’s be frank, read and read again.
now we come to something pretty obligatory which is my self-introduction as in to put this untidy note into a little bit more context. i don’t have any formal training, official certificate or in classier language the academic credibility to allow my work to emit some kind of sophisticated flair. i am barely a novice. my real life hustle is in minor science adjacent field which is inevitably getting some slow beat due to the ongoing pandemic so that probably explain my little jump to this effort back in march. and i am still wonder-struck. a kinder situation than saying i get the taste of the impostor syndrome upon embarking in something very new to me.
if you’re wondering where i get the spirit in trying, it is because my hometown is malaysia, indonesia’s neighboring country or what we would say, ‘dua negara serumpun’ so the basis of our languages intersect as they are mutually intelligible to some extent. furthermore, during my formative childhood days of tagging along my mother to watch daily sinetron on tv, while doing my home works and also from my own affinity towards south east asian cinema specifically films from indonesia, thailand and philippines. these aspects are my primary sources of exposure and inspiration. i wish i can say i am the expert in reading indonesia’s literature but i am not. i have been dabbling but not enough to say i am familiar.
i wonder what made me feel attracted to Erni Aladjai’s poem in the first place. i sincerely thought the Quranic themes from the poem is thoroughly captivating. i read ‘Gagak dan Ikan Mata Tiga’ nearly 50+ times and flip flopped between can i do this? do i get it enough to even try? can i do it some justice? (tldr: impostor syndrome). i was struck by how the poem read as an homage to prophet Adam a.s and his two sons, Qabil and Habil. additionally, the story of the crows being one of the only three birds that are specifically mentioned in al-Quran. all of these run through the poem as the background, effortlessly doubled with her magnificent ability to spin them with her own narrative. for example, the effects of men in war and how their internal war is with their belief and God alongside the physical war they are/were having. the sense of loneliness and how you fight it, cope with it or just live with it. living the dream, if i may be very bold, i don’t feel any of the translations captured the beauty and complexity of this poem completely. but then we got to live with it. nothing is perfect. it’s like Erni Aladjai’s poem is her own country and we are the tourists of her reality.
there are certain lines of my translation that i feel is my truth and accordingly i don’t think i have the capability or the heart to change it to something else. romanticizing it or not, yes probably, it’s similar to having my first baby and to try to de-flaw it is something i don’t think is an honest or a true way if i am at least being earnest and sincere in approaching translation and its arts.
so in standing my ground i decided to offer some minor revision or more accurately in my part, reflection in two aspects from my translation.
i wished i didn’t fall into the trap of gendering the poem to a default ‘HE.’ i took it as my most glaring weakness in the failure to recognize that for a language as genderless as bahasa indonesia (and the korean language and also my own native, bahasa melayu) that it is alright to divert and do it your own way. take the liberty and use it.
this instance however, pushed me towards self-examination and i questioned myself whether unchecked internalized patriarchy brought me to view maleness as the norm. i’ve been reading mostly in the english language and the effect is how i defaulted to read any text without the specified gender pronoun in the ‘standard’ voice of literature, the standard = MALE. this is something i will never stop trying to do: to unlearn, be better and inclusive and stop indulging in the english writer-reader constructs, in what is acceptable and tolerable.
– ‘aku tangguh. aku tangguh pada segala kehancuran’
the translations offered in issue four for this particular line were:
- I am resilient, I stand among the destruction and the decay
- i am tough. i am tough against all destruction
- I’m strong. there’s nothing I can’t survive
- ‘I am strong. I stand firm against all kinds of destruction.’
- I am brave. I can brave all the brokenness.
- I am mighty, I will resist all ruination
- ‘I am strong, I am against all odds.’
- I am strong, I am invincible to all destruction
this particular line was actually the hardest part to capture its meaning. i kept going back and forth on how to translate this line properly for weeks so imagine my delighted surprise when in the guest editor Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s note that it was being pointed out as the main reason the they picked this poem. at least this coincidence (in my imagination) put me in line with someone so experienced and adept in translation and poetry. (go me!)
noticed how half of the translations chose strong as the equal of ‘tangguh,’ mine included. resilient, tough, brave and mighty got equal love from the other half. how do you (translators) pick what is suitable? per my option i tried to capture the voice of the child. what is this child’s range of vocabulary? how old are they? what is their background? what are my alternatives? and i wonder by doing so did i undermine the child’s capability? or did i pander to some other external expectation?
destruction seems to be the pick for ‘kehancuran’ and admittingly my inadequateness here was obvious as looking at my choice of odds doesn’t translate the magnitude of the context within the line. odds seem very trivial.
moreover, the guest editor magnanimously singled out my translation of this line, quote: ‘They hinted a social context that was from the translator’s life (I didn’t confirm this to Aziz though): living in the so-called postcolonial Global South, aspiring to the United States and its pop culture.’ this bull’s-eye observation raised up a great insight in how to decolonize reading and translation – another work in progress for myself.
lastly, i am indebted and in immense gratitude for the generous space(s) and efforts chogwa zine has allowed me to express and to be. thank you.