The editor of Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry shares five translations that have inspired her
Here’s my library. On the door you can see some pictures and book covers from my translation patron saints, the short story writer Kay Cicellis and the poet Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, who both wrote and translated from English to Greek and back again their whole lives. On the left of the bookcase you can see some of my critical works and translations – Kassandra and the Censors, The Rehearsal of Misunderstanding, The Scattered Papers of Penelope, The Greek Poets, and a stack of Brooklyn Rails where I first began publishing my translations of the new Greek poets that turned into Austerity Measures.
Kassandra and the Wolf, translated by N. C. Germanacos
My interest in translation began with Margarita Karapanou’s novel Kassandra and the Wolf about a little girl growing up under the Dictatorship. I was deeply moved by N. C. Germanacos’s translation and then, when I had learned enough Greek, by the original, I was fascinated by the fact that they weren’t the same. The translator had put the terrifying sing-songy pieces in a different order than the author. Why?
The Penguin Book of Greek Verse, translated by Constantine Trypanis
I began to see that there were many ways of publishing translations. You could make poetry into prose the way the Loeb classics did or Constantine Trypanis in his Penguin Book of Greek Verse that opened up the whole post Classical world of Greek poetry for me.
C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems, translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrad
And then there were monolingual translations, and even adaptation into other mediums. Reading C. P. Cavafy in English made this abundantly clear. There was such a range of translations from the Greek-inflected English of John Mavrogordato to Duane Michals' photographs that reproduced the shape of Cavafy’s poems. And although I learned something from every one of these translations, I was most indebted, as most of us are, to the first translation I encountered: Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard’s C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems.
It was their translation that showed me that translations belong as much to the culture they are translated into as to the culture they come from. The conversational style made it seem like Cavafy was talking to me: 'As you set out for Ithaka/ hope the voyage is a long one,/ full of adventure, full of discovery.'
Edward Hopper, translated by Lawrence Venuti
Later Lawrence Venuti’s translations of Antonia Pozzi’s Breath and the Catalan bio-poem Edward Hopper by Ernest Farres made me realize that translations could also challenge the status quo. What happens if instead of making the poems fit in to the standard diction seamlessly, the translator bent the rules of the receiving language?
Foreign Words, translated by Alyson Waters
Recently I have begun to wonder about books that are written between two or more languages. In these texts translations aren’t en face or underneath or consecutive, but completely mixed in. What does a translator do with texts that are already translational? How to translate Diaspora and immigrant writing that doesn’t belong to one national canon? Alyson Water’s translation of Vassilis Alexakis Foreign Words, a novel published in both Greek and French about learning the African language Sango, provides a key. English can handle loan words, even whole passages in other languages. Think of multilingual writers like Juno Diaz.
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'I remember caresses, kisses, touching
each other's hair. We had no sense that
anything else existed'
- Elena Penga, 'Heads'
'Nothing, not even the drowning of a child
Stops the perpetual motion of the world'
- Stamatis Polenakis, 'Elegy'
Since the crisis hit in 2008, Greece has played host to a cultural renaissance unlike anything seen in the country for over thirty years. Poems of startling depth and originality are being written by native Greeks, émigrés and migrants alike. They grapple with the personal and the political; with the small revelations of gardening and the viciousness of streetfights; with bodies, love, myth, migration and economic crisis.
In Austerity Measures, the very best of the writing to emerge from that creative ferment - much of it never before translated into English - is gathered for the first time. The result is a map to the complex territory of a still-evolving scene - and a unique window onto the lived experience of Greek society now.