“Translation as Truce”

Monica de la Torre ‘Equivalences’ poems really stood out to me in their contrasts in tone and effect in relationship to each other. “Equivalences” (Translation by Google Translation.), “The Poem is Titled ‘Equivalences’” (Interpretation by a listener with high-school Spanish.), “Like in Valencia” (Homophonic translation by a listener with no Spanish.), “Equivalence” (Generated by a Spanish speaker who read the original into the Google Translate iPhone app.), “Llamaradas Are Blow Jobs” (Generated by a non-Spanish speaker who read the original into the Google Translate iPhone app.) are unique and could stand on their own, but are understandably connected altogether, like distant relatives.

Initially, knowing there is an original poem that, as the reader, I do not have access to, it’s an expected reaction that I would want to compare the poems to the original, and end up comparing them to each other to find out what holds consistent and how different lines were interpreted. But, the poems can all stand on their own with distinct character and all have interesting lines such as “what am I doing here, burning your bed” and “I call your name, and… I don’t hear you” and “the two roads were doubly tragic” and “4 months / a man says nothing / 4 is the same / as two” and “8 say yes /  / 4 same gestures.” These are all great lines and phrases, and none of them are in any of the other poems. In the end this is actually preferable, I appreciate the variety of the translations, even if they do not hold true to the original text.

Seeing these different takes of the same text, but never seeing the authors original poem keeps bringing me back to a class I am taking on history and memory, and how we have all of these different accounts, perspectives, experiences, artistic representations, and symbols that represent the same events, but we will never know the ‘truth’ of what happened. In this case we have a ‘truth,’ the original poem, or at least we know it exists, but do not have access to it, which is initially vaguely frustrating, but is actually okay. But then going back to history, it makes me question the existence of a ‘truth,’ because everyone’s experience and interpretation of their life and surroundings is valid, even if subjective. I am not quite sure what an objective history would mean. In the case of these poems, they are valid in their own way, as an interpretation, even if it is understood that they are not 100% correct translations of the original text. Because even if everyone in the class were to read the original poem, we would all be reading it differently, bringing our own experiences to the poem, and getting completely different things out of it.

After a while all of the different lines from the five poems float around together creating a larger, blended poem in my head, much like reading different takes on a historical event broadens your overall understanding of the event, even knowing that you will never be able to truly understand what it was like to live in that moment. Even just reading all of the first lines of each poem is very beautiful and satisfying:

One silence, a flash.

There’s some silence, the serving of something that’s bitter, I know that.

Uno. Un silencio, una llamarada.

The silence of Esmeralda.

January 1 flare

Two paths to a

Of course these are mostly quite literally misinterpretations of the original words, and are a lack of a competent translation between Spanish and English, whether it be by a computer or by someone who doesn’t speak Spanish, but it is still interesting to think about in a broader, almost metaphorically way. In Torre’s aesthetic statement, she says “One way to look at it is:” and then proceeds with a 1-11 numbered list of interpretations of her poetry. The ones that stuck with me were “8) As the stage on which the clash and friction between Spanish and English is reenacted, temporarily forgotten, or tentatively resolved,” and “11)Translation as truce / 12) A shift of focus toward language’s plasticity.” Number 8 is interesting because it views the poems as a “reenactment,” almost a artistic take or representation of recognizing the negative disconnect between the two languages, but briefly neutralizing this “friction” in order to accept and appreciate these different poems without getting too hung up on how poorly these languages interact with each other. And number 11 and 12 are also seemingly positive, using the words “truce” and “plasticity” to allow an acceptance of the distinctions between Spanish and English for a moment of the accidental beauty that is a result of the miscommunication.

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