While on a Fulbright grant to Berlin, Germany, poet and translator Sharmila Cohen is experimenting with various approaches to collaborative translation of contemporary German poets. Here she shares the result of one of those projects.
This series is part of a project that investigates poetry translation as a correspondence or communication between author and translator. For this translation, the basic outline was that Ann would send me a poem to interpret and respond to, and then she would respond to my response—this is a way of addressing the fact that responding to poetry is a type of translation in and of itself. To my surprise, after her first poem, Ann switched languages and wrote her responses in English; thus, I was translating from English into English and she was translating me in the same way. As we got further into our exchange, I started getting the feeling that we were playing into the responsive nature of the project; we were writing poetry letters; we were creating texts that invited a reaction from the other writer, while bringing some of each other’s voice into our own text. I think that in most forms of collaboration, we are in some respects translating one another—you must for the project to continue.
O eine Richtung eine eine Richtung
Mehr brauch ich nicht. Zufrieden zu trotten
über Wurzeln Hügel und Wege, egal.
Ich bin Stiefel, bin Lunge und Auge.
Mein Hund ist mein Hirn.
Fühlt sich in mir allein und unverstanden,
läuft in die Landschaft, sucht andere.
I hope this letter finds you well. I agree, it must be true that we all find wild beasts on our way, or perhaps we are following them; nonetheless, I’ve left those old boots behind (the lungs and the eyes, too)—I’ve only just begun to settle in and find it the best way to become accustomed to a place. It is my understanding that the earth has always been round, although not necessarily at the center of things. Wherever it is that we end up on this path, trotting along through the roots and hills, it’s all just fine with me.
Enclosed you will find the missing map. I hope it leads you in the right direction.
Hello? Hello? Is this the Telephone? I can’t go back! I went too far
the first time. I have no car, must go all the way back, but going
forward all the time. This is not doubling life, it is quadrupling
it. I have the version I don’t like, the process of it being taken
back, the absence of the good version, and the apology for that
absence. What would I be without alcohol? I would be less funny, I
would be someplace different altogether. Looked over the rim of the
glass, it was like looking out of a car. I didn’t see much. I saw a
fox pedaling in front of my headlights. I veered off to the left and
crashed into the shop window. That is all I remember. Telephone? Is
this the telephone? Can you tell me what time it is today? What is my
name? Did the fox get away?
We’re sorry, you have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service. If you feel you have reached this recording in error, please check the number and try your call again.
After hitting the proverbial sauce, N goes through her list of future contacts; gets trapped looking for answers.
There are too many lives, she says, the current methods are obsolete. We need to consolidate, bring the numbers down.
As most of us know, words spoken into a different time space are often left unheard.
Please, let’s turn this ship around…and around.
N is not in the water, but may as well be.
I fear I am no longer myself. There is some life left in me, but whose?
A dead fox tells no tales.
This shop has seen better days, but that is not of consequence at this time.
Let’s not break things down in terms of good and bad, dear N. Unfortunately, she can’t hear me because I am not in this scene.
If I could just cross this street, just see you again… Why aren’t you responding?
Sand has gotten into the telephone. Red sand of beauty that laughs over white skin and cajoles over black. The fun sand of the Sahara is taking back the world it had allowed for a while.
As long as they keep the generator going, there is a lamp that sends senses of the store across the square. Around two it shudders and the night continues, black and still.
They used to stock almost everything, and if they didn’t have it they would send word by mobiles and relays and it would be brought on the bus from Ziguinchor the next day. Now the era of whims is past; the whims have settled in the internet or in the three dvd movie theatres, and everyone is back to threads, needles and Mauritanian beer.
This is how it is here; no need to tell you for I have forgotten everyone. The dune eats everything but its children who know when to run away. I will die of fearlessness, but I am taking my time; for every bad judgment I make there is a friend to save me. Your turn will come and I will call you.
With the busses down, I’ve decided the best alternative
Is by horse. The camels always outlive us, but no matter
How many times I’ve fallen to my death, I refuse to change.
In your stitching, have you begun to understand the old way of life?
In times such as these, there is always a debt to be paid.
A pound of flesh for what has been unjustly taken.
My kingdom for a fistful of sand.
This for that.
No, I will not deny your call, though it may be unintelligible,
I will, however, remember the old rule:
A life for a life
And ask you at whim to kill on my behalf.
Or perhaps you’d best learn to run.