Antena, a language justice and experimentation collaborative founded by Jen Hofer and John Pluecker, have written a ‘Manifesto for Ultratranslation’ – an exhilarating document I urge you to read – that states: ‘Who we choose to translate is political. How we choose to translate is political.’
I am honoured to be taking over the editorship of Modern Poetry in Translation this issue from Sasha Dugdale who, like David and Helen Constantine, Daniel Weissbort and Ted Hughes before her, recognises the importance of translated poetry as a way of bearing witness and giving voice to the silenced. In these times it feels more important than ever, and I very much want MPT to continue to be a warm, inclusive space, full of diverse and distinct voices. I like Kate Briggs’ definition, in her marvellous essay The Little Art, of translation as a way of ‘attending to what is delicate and particular’.
I realise though that there are traps it is easy to fall into. As Hofer and Pluecker state: ‘Working across languages is a conundrum, especially for those of us who speak and write in the language of empire. Our language perpetrates the invisibility of the other. Our language imposes the privilege of the same.’ Those of us translating into English must be careful it does not also mean anglicising the text – being tempted to flatten or neaten it, to fit narrow ideas about how a ‘good’ poem behaves. The ‘great men’ put forward by some countries are also not necessarily the best poets – we must be wary of translating another country’s structural inequalities relating to colour, caste, sexuality, disability or gender into the UK’s own publishing landscape.
Still I am hopeful – hopeful that it is getting easier for other voices to be heard now outside of established channels. Hopeful that the work in these pages has been created through a process of humility, friendship and care. That (Antena again) we can find in translation: ‘a way of living restless and anarchic inside conundrum.’
In this issue I’m especially pleased to have a Caribbean focus, given that the area is the source of some of the world’s most thrilling poetry right now. Part of this seems to come from the region’s rich linguistic plurality: indigenous languages, Papiamentu, Caribbean Hindustani, Dutch, French, Spanish, creoles… I’ve also included poems in what Kamau Braithwaite might call ‘nation language’ – he famously stated: ‘The hurricane does not roar in pentameters’ and talked about how in the Caribbean: ‘Nation language is the language which is influenced very strongly by the African model, the African aspect of our New World/Caribbean heritage. English it may be in terms of some of its lexical features. But in its contours, its rhythm and its timbre, its sound explosions, it is not English.’
Many thanks to everyone who generously shared their knowledge and contacts, most especially Sharmilla Beezmohun and Serafina Vick. Putting together MPT is a collective effort, and we rely on our supporters in the poetry and language communities. The next issue will have a LBGTQ focus, which I hope will bring an equally urgent mixture of voices – please do spread the word and get involved. In the meantime I hope you enjoy what Kate Briggs calls the ‘everyday complicated miracle’ of reading this issue’s poems in translation.
– Clare Pollard