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godly distanced/ stonesounds: Beautiful Afrikaans, Beautiful un-English

September 9, 2016

One of my children is an adult learner of Sepedi in South Africa where for a year she’s been teaching English to school children. Before living in the rhythms of the people of her new language she started reading Antjie Krog in the USA in English.

This blogpost of mine is my catching up. Pardon me if many of you here already have read Krog and her now much-reviewed and highly-praised work Skinned. I just read this now two-year-old interview in which she talks of translation. If you also missed it enjoy this excerpt (below) and go to her fuller conversation with Rauan Klassnik (linked after the excerpt, his interview of her which he posts on his blog, that is going away next month):

RK: In addition to making the original versions of these poems in Afrikaans, your native tongue, you also translated most of them into English yourself. In the “Acknowledgements” section of “Body Bereft” (which released in 2006 ), you wrote that in some cases the “translation process required creative solutions, which in their turn opened up other possibilities in the poems.” Can you give us a sense of what’s it like to wear the two caps of original author and translator? And could you give us details of a particularly memorable example (or two!) of a “creative solution” and the possibilities this led to?

AK: I recently attended a very interesting conference on writers who translated themselves (Brodsky, Beckett, Arendt, etc) and the problems were multi-full but also obvious. The writer’s effort goes into the heart/essence of the poem, the translator’s into trying to capture that heart in the new language. As a writer one often doesn’t have the patience or skill for the capturing process and sometimes prefers to write a new heart in the new language.

Another factor is that when somebody else translates me I often find the work feels too English. When I translate, I try to stay within the Afrikaans rhythm. The work must maintain its from-elsewhere-ness. Then there is also the truth that I know what a cliche is in Afrikaans; I don’t necessarily in English, so the poet as translator can often translate his work in a way which sounds old-fashioned in the new language.

Lastly, some things that are beautiful in one’s language do not work in another, unless distorted. In the jpeg below you will see an example of an Afrikaans poem, then the translation by a good translator and then my own literal translation trying to capture the full nuance of the Afrikaans, but the end result is un-English.


Skinned: An Interview With Antjie Krog

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