Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Married couple, poet Marlon Fick & Spanish painter Francisca Esteve are translating Catalan poetry for Tupelo Press . . .

Christal Cooper

*Photo description,  copyright information and web site information is located at the very end of this piece.

Guest Blogger Marlon L Fick:
Translating Catalan Poetry
In the Fall of 2015, the editor of Tupelo Press, Jeffrey Levine, suggested that I and my wife, Francisca, collaborate in translating Catalan poetry. The two of us were viewed as capable of such a project: Francisca Esteve is a native speaker of Catalan, one who came of age in Franco’s time and who, along with nine million other speakers of Catalan, suffered from laws forbidding her language. On the other hand, my activities as a translator have principally been with Spanish and French, with forays into German and Chinese. In the 1960s and 70s, Francisca met regularly (at the same café frequented by George Orwell, by the Plaza del Pi in Barcelona) with her friends in the anti-fascist underground to talk strategy and plan ways to subvert the Franco government. If you were lucky, overheard speaking Catalan, a Tricornio (the police with three pointed hats), would shake a finger and shout, “Speak Christian!” (meaning, Castilian Spanish); if unlucky, prison. Her job was to smuggle and disseminate books and pamphlets in the Catalan language. During this time, Franco murdered an additional one million people in his prisons, adding to the civil war’s death toll of two million.

Now Franco is gone. Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, flourishes with numerous publishing houses dedicated to Catalan. In addition, Catalan continues to be spoken in Cataluña (and its four provinces), València, Balearic Islands (Mallorca and Minorca) and Andorra. Catalan developed about the same time as the other romance languages—French, Italian—in the thirteenth century, and by coincidence, the Anglo Saxon and French/Latin hybrid of English during the time of Chaucer.  The thirteenth century mystical and erotic poet, Ramon Llull, the author of The Book of Love and the Beloved (Llibre D’Amic I Amat), was the first great master. A poet of his magnitude is a necessary condition for a language to fully bloom. English had Shakespeare; Russian, Tolstoy; Spanish, Cervantes, etc….

The task of translating in the magnificent shadow of Catalan’s rich past is daunting and humbling. However, since my wife is a natural speaker, and since my Spanish and French are strong and my training is in the history of poetics, we agreed to take up Tupelo Press on the challenge. 

In May of 2016, we traveled to Cataluña and València to meet with dozens of poets, among them Joan Margarit, Màrius Sampere, David Castillo, Jordi Valls, Josep Piera, Maria Josep Escrivà, Francesc Parcerisas, Manuel Forcano, Antoni Marí, and Feliu Formosa. 

Others we contacted by mail: Teresa Pascual, Ponç Pons, Cèlia Sànchez-Mústich, Laia Noguera, Anna Gual, Jordi Virallonga, Narcís Comadira, Mireia Vidal-Conte, Àngels Gregori i Parra, Rosa Font, and Antonia Vicens. 

Long, intense, and delightful conversations ensued. Josep Piera met us at in the train station of Gandìa, València, around 11:00 A.M., we began talking (about history, poetry, poetic movements, the history of València, politics, paella…) and before any of us realized, it was suddenly three o’clock in the morning! 

Similarly, Jordi Valls met us on several occasions at Bracafé by the Plaza Cataluña, thereupon taking us on long walking tours of the city, teaching us, peripatetically, the interrelations of art, architecture, history, and poetry. 

Others, like Antoni Marí, graciously filled us in on Petrarch’s contributions to Catalan Literature. 

Joan Margarit and I exchanged our views on poets and translations; we received from Margarit and Sampere and Parcerisas extremely good advise on what sort of direction our anthology should take. Margarit, for example, explained why Pere Gimferrar, although a brilliant poet in Spanish, did not represent Catalan literature.  But it was Carme Sampere, Marius’ wife, who helped us contact the important women writing in Catalan.  Sampere’s generation (he was born in 1928) tended to dismiss talented women owing to a culture of machismo, although he himself shows no signs of such bias.

By August, we had received as gifts hundreds of books to survey, in addition to the hundreds we purchased ourselves. The most common question a poet or potential reader asks is “What is your criteria for selection?” All of the aforementioned have already established their fame at home, many of them are already known internationally. Yet I am less interested in accolades than I am in the poem I see on a page. There is a brilliant poet in Barcelona, but the references in his poems are so local, that translating his poetry would entail a long list of explanatory footnotes, and his poems would have become lost in translation. 

As we translated (which we are still doing currently) we grew a vision: we would only translate poems that both of us liked, whether the enjoyment grew from the richness of the language or from a particular theme. I want to be moved.  In addition, my wife’s background is in painting, not poetry. To be sure, she is smart, but this anthology represents her first introduction to the world of poetry (in any language). So I rely on her freshness. If an intelligent reader, not academically trained in poetry, is moved by a poem, I sit up and take notice. My own half-century of involvement in poetry may be valuable, but I cannot claim to see poetry “for the first time.” This is an element of magic that I decided we could make essential to our process. One day, she emerged from her office in a state of childlike joy and amazement, clutching a volume by Sampere, exclaiming, “Sampere wrote a poem about stoplights that you have to read!”

Regarding our method, Francisca first reads and glosses the poetry, often tracking down dialect differences between Catalan in Catalonia and Catalan differences in Valencia or Mallorca. She is usually aware of the differences without a dictionary since she was born in Castellón de Rugat, València. Her parents took her to Barcelona with she was three months old. Her mother, Valenciana, continued to speak Catalan from that region. Her teachers, who were nuns, were all from Minorca. So Francisca has a grasp of all three dominant dialects of Catalan. When we encounter dialect differences, in the poetry of Pons (Minorcan) and Piera (Valenciano), Francisca hears her mother’s voice again, or the voices of the Sisters.  We both study the poem in Catalan. We discuss the poem in Spanish and in English. She tells me her version of the poem and I write my version in English. After we’ve done this, I read back my version to her, verbally translating my English into Spanish as she carefully follows the original text in Catalan. This is a process known as “back translation,” a method dreamed up by Saint Cyrus, the man responsible for translating the Vulgate Latin Bible in the fifth century. In this way, we are confident that we have insured fidelity. However, we do not end there. Once we are confident, we send our version back to the poet, some of whom do know English (Parcerisas is quite famous for his translations of English renaissance poets, including Shakespeare and Donne). The other poets who do not know English share our translations with a trusted friend and then formally approve of the translation, or, in some cases, suggest changes. 

We have tried to avoid mistakes made by a well known and extremely prolific translator of Catalan Literature, D. Sam Adams. Mr. Adam’s translations are often so literal and so word for word that he loses the drift of the whole poem. His translations are published by The Institute of North American Studies. It is an unfortunate venue due to its obscurity. By working with Tupelo Press, we may be assured that Catalan literature will reach a far broader audience. Also, I have been told that I am not, like Adams, an “academic translator.”  As a poet, with some success, my translations stand a better chance at appearing seamless, although as for that, the act of poetry is more often a cousin to failure than to success. But it is a failure that redeems us. Translators routinely experience frustration and pain when encountering impossible, beautifully lyric lines that repeat a word with multiple uses. Josep Piera writes “I vol la veu que veu al vol,” which, sadly, becomes “and the voice wants to see flight,” a line without its original chiasmus since there are no English words which double their signification the same way.  Similarly, he writes, “Cau la nit com un cau,” again translated without its original lyric breadth: “Night falls like a lair.” For this reason, translation editions should always be bilingual.

In reading and conversations, we soon learned that Catalan Literature is dominantly a poetry of lyric tradition.  Most does not attempt to tell a story; indeed the existence of some narrative poetry in Catalan is a borrowing from the English and American tradition.  Also, the chief external influence on Catalan tradition comes from the French, in particular, the French Symbolist movement.  Catalan poets are profoundly familiar with Verlaine, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Laforgue, etc.  When asked to define the movement, I find myself at a loss. A symbol, by its very essence, is a centrifugal force of meaning, spinning just beyond our grasp. Just so, the symbolist may write lines that extend beyond the edges of clarity to a hazy area between the world of reference and the beyond.  The influence of the symbolists affected Catalan as much as it did the British and Americans—notably Yeats and Eliot.

While the influence of the French Symbolists has not dissipated even now, a second influence crept into Catalan letters, latently, after the death of Franco. The American beat generation.  Younger Catalan poets, like David Castillo, are wild about our miscreants, valorizing their anarchy.  In the summer of 2016, both the Pompidou, in Paris, and the Contemporary Art Museum of Barcelona held special exhibitions dedicated to the Beat Generations.  Burroughs, Ginsberg, and Kerouac are idolized among some of the younger poets, only recently discovering them.  My own personal misgivings about such an influence have more to due with the lives these poets led than with their actual work: some of them used drugs excessively and preached anarchy, but the baseness of their lives reaches even into sex trafficking, a crime for which they were run out of Morocco.  Not to mention, they were uniformly misogynistic. It was my great misfortune to have known some of them personally and rather well. They are not my role models, but it would be an oversight not to mention their influence here.

*Translations from Catalan by Francisca Esteve and Marlon L. Fick

Ponç Pons
A Christmas Letter to My Father

I was never a hunter. I liked to visit Biniguarda
with you to see the dogs run or the partridges sing.
When we came back to Lô, we walked and listened to church bells.
The world was joyful and safe because you held my hand along the way.
At home with my mother, watching her cook, we found my brothers
and there was great joy and so many of us, and we all had dinner
and listened to the radio.
Saturday evening, I took a bath in a wash tub, and later you held me
in the rocking chair.
With the humble faith of the poor, you told me, “Poncet, one day we will
be rich. We have land in Havana!” but to me that wasn’t important
because I had you. At home you filled me with kindness with your blue eyes.
I was the baby of the family, the one who listened the most to your stories
about witches and dragons, or your fear filled chatter about the civil war.
Many evenings you returned exhausted from the factory and spent
extra time on your feet cutting pieces of leather, up in your bedroom
till late. I read, voraciously, all of the old books about that famous uncle
from your side of the family, the one who was the confessor for two popes
and other ecclesiastics in Rome.
I see you always satisfied.
You were wearing an apron and you had a pencil in your ear.
I often went to see you at Ca’s Toribios
and you kissed me, happy, and your mustache was scratchy.
When your salary was so meager it dissolved in the can,
you hugged mother and with a lively gesture you smiled at her,
“Maria, everything will be clarified!” and she clarified everything,
and we grew up happy.
You made us Menorcans, and with facts for examples, you told us
that we had to be good people.
Don’t get lost in the woods.
When you hear the bells as it gets dark
and you come back alone
on the paths of the dead, I will give you my hand
and I will come to your side
to hear your stories and hear you talk to me without fear
of the civil war.
I hope you are fine and there are newspapers in heaven
and you can hunt any time.
You didn’t care so much about politics.
If you see God, tell him that He didn’t clarify anything,
that between war and hunger, He left a frightening world.
Christmas is a sad time for me, and it’s as if the nativity scenes were missing
their old joy.  Their little stars are dim and the figurines of shepherds are not smiling.
Always there is a worm that gnaws at me, and it hurts.
Since you’ve been gone, I’ve felt the weight of a terrible emptiness
and I don’t want you to die, father, anymore.

Joan Margarit

In the Middle of the Night

In the middle of the night
the air is freezing,
so cold the nightingale won’t sing.
With my forehead pressed against the window,
I ask my two dead daughters
for forgiveness
because I rarely think about them anymore.
Time has left dry clay over the scars. And besides,
when one loves someone, forgetfulness follows.
Light has the same hardness
as days that fall from frozen cypress trees.
I place a log, stir the ashes,
and the flames flare up from the coals.
As I’m starting the coffee, your mother,
from the bedroom, smiling, and with your voice, says
“What a wonderful smell. You have risen so early this morning.”

Marius Sampere

I am completely alone with God. Both
of us occupy and complete a room.
That’s why I can’t explain
the little noise from someone else
who is eating
in the room, and who is so full, so satiated
with God and me.

First, I examine the place inch by inch,
then the surface of the table.
And there it is…
a primitive nest just in the wedge
maintaining the balance of the four legs.
There is where I find the termite,
the third.

Photograph description, copyright information, and web link information

Photo 1
Marlon Fick

Photo 2
Tupelo Press web logo photo

Photo 3
Jeffrey Levine web photo from tupelo press.

Photo 4
Francisca Esteve and Marlon Fick in Paris, France. July 2016
Copyright granted by Fick and Esteve

Photo 6
George Orwell’s Press Card ID in 1943.
Public Domain

Photo 7
Plaza del Pi in Barcelona
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law.

Photo 8
Franco on October 23, 1975

Photo 9
Poster of the murdered victims and missing of Franco’s massacres.
Public Domain

Photo 10
Map of Cataluña and its four provinces.

Photo 11
Ramn Llull
Public Domain

Photo 12
Jacket cover of The Book of Love and the Beloved

Photo 13
Tupelo Press Facebook photo

Photo 14
Joan Margarit and Marlon Fick
Copyright granted by Fick and Esteve

Photo 15
Marius Sampere and Marlon Fick
Copyright granted by Fick and Esteve

Photo 16
Marlon Fick, David Castillo, and a friend
Copyright granted by Fick and Esteve

Photo 17
Jordi Valls

Photo 18
Josep Piera

Photo 19
Maria Josep Escriva

Photo 20
Francesc Parcerisas and Marlon Fick
Copyright granted by Fick and Esteve

Photo 21
Manuel Forcano and Marlon Fick
Copyright granted by Fick and Esteve

Photo 22
Antoni Mari
Copyright granted by Fick and Esteve

Photo 23
Francisca Esteve and Feliu Formosa
Copyright granted by Fick and Esteve

Photo 25
Ponç Pons

Photo 26
Celia Sànchez-Mústich

Photo 27
Laia Noguera

Photo 28
Anna Gual

Photo 29
Jordi Virallonga

Photo 30
Narcis Comadira

Photo 31
Mireia Vidal-Conte, web logo photo

Photo 32
Angels Gregori I Parra

Photo 34
Antonia Vicens

Photo 35
Josep Piera and Marlon Fick
Copyright granted by Fick and Esteve

Photo 36
Jordi Valls and Marlon Fick
Copyright granted by Fick and Esteve

Photo 37
Antoni Marí and Marlon Fick
Copyright granted by Fick and Esteve

Photo 38
Joan Margarit web logo photo

Photo 39
Francisca Esteve, Màrius Sampere, Marlon Fick, and Carme Sampere
Copyrigjht granted by Fick and Esteve

Photo 40
Marlon Fick and Francisca Esteve
Copyright granted by Fick and Esteve

Photo 42
Francisca Esteve and her painting

Photo 44a
Saint Cyrus.

Photo 44b
The Vulgate Latin Bible

Photo 46
Josep Piera

Photo 47a
Paul Verlaine

Photo 47b
Charles Baudelaire

Photo 47c
Arthur Rimbaud

Photo 47d
Jules Laforgue

Photo 48a
David Castillo

Photo 48b
William S. Burroughs

Photo 48c
Allen Ginsberg

Photo 48d
Jack Kerouac

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