There are endless metaphors for the art of translation, and while I have found many to hold resonance for me for a specific project, I don’t find that any single metaphor can work for all the many different experiences of translating. Each project is so unique, even translating a new work by an author we’ve already translated.
And this was certainly the case when working on Johanny Vazquez Paz’s collection which won the Paz Prize for Poetry from the National Poetry Series in partnership with the Miami Book Fair, for a collection written in Spanish by an author living in the United States.
Unlike the thirty poetry collections I have translated previously, I Offer My Heart as a Target hadn’t yet been published in Spanish; the bilingual edition was going to be the first publication and as a result there wasn’t yet a definitive original in Spanish. Or rather, as Johanny read my translations into English, she sometimes went back and rewrote or re-worded certain lines in the original poems, so that the English translation would then reflect or say something slightly different.
As such, the metaphor for this specific translation experience might best be that of my being an actor, bringing the work to an English audience, and the author-director deciding during rehearsals, as she read my drafts, to make alterations or changes in the original text, thus both responding to and influencing my performance(s).
The result is also one where the parallel text experience is very close; in translating literature, one often needs to stray from the original to make the poem work in the target language as a poem, not merely as an aid to reading or understanding the poem in the original language. In this case, where both original and translation mirrored and reflected one another so intimately during the creation process, the result is less an original and its translation than a bilingual collection, reflecting the polyphonic and multilingual nature of the author’s native Puerto Rico and the US.
Click here to read an exclusive preview of Lawrence Schimel’s translation of Johanny Vazquez Paz.