Translating Poetry to become a better Poet
Daljit Nagra - 22 March 2011
I found translating poetry a useful way to develop my writing skills. Translating another poet's work meant I had to learn their mannerisms and attitudes before I could translate their work. This took me out of my comfort zone and when I came back to my own poems I had acquired a slightly new set of styles for writing my poems.
I worked with the Dutch poet Jan-Willem Anker a few years ago and I am working with him again. We are translating each other's work. He sends me literal prose versions of his poems and then I try and shape them into English. I look at his Dutch versions for the general and local shape of the poem to help with me the layout.
I found that Jan-Willem writes very differently from me and I had to step out of my usual box of tricks to learn his. Also, when he was translating my poems I had to explain in considerable detail what I was doing at each stage of my poems. This helped me detach myself from my work and consider my style from the confused eyes of my translator. Both of these methods have improved my writing skills.
Even if you do not have access to a living poet, I think it's important to focus an a single poet and enter their poetic world closely by translating their poems.
Has anyone else translated poems? What do you think about this process in terms of aiding your own skills? What do you think about the art and/or ethics of translating poetry? What were the problems you encountered?