Translating ‘Rabbit’ into ‘Island’ at Gümüşlük

I’ve just spent a fascinating week translating the work of three talented younger Turkish poets, Efe Duyah, Pelin Özer, and the enigmatically titled Gökҫenur Ҫ. I was working with Richard Gwyn from the University of Cardiff, whose most recent book, Vagabond’s Breakfast, is a highly recommended memoir of lost years and redemption set in, among other places, Crete and Catalonia. (We should also have been joined by Anna Crowe, well-known both as a poet and translator for her work with StAnza and on Catalan poetry, but family reasons prevented her from being with us.)

This was in the conducive – or rather idyllic – setting of Gümüşlük Akademisi, not far from Bodrum, under the aegis of Literature Across Frontiers, an organisation dedicated to literary translation, and particularly to translating poetry from languages other than those of the main European states – and from contemporary poets, rather than those writers who have already become canonical. I and my fellow writers had all worked with LAF before, myself on the Indian translation project, soon to visit Ledbury and other venues.

Gümüşlük Akademisi occupies a hillside covered in young oak trees and, at this time of the year, is thick with the scent of oregano and other herbs. Blossom and wild flowers are everywhere. It has a series of chalets and workrooms, a library and an amphitheatre for performances, this latter overlooking a pond filled with very vocal frogs, lined by yellow irises and bullrushes, and visited by a steady thrum of thirsty bees. It’s a very pleasant half hour walk from the little port of Gümüşlük, where fish restaurants look out over the archaeological remains of Rabbit Island toward Kos, plainly visible on the horizon.

The Academy was set up in 1995 by Ahmet Filmer and is currently run by Latife Tekin; while Literature Across Frontiers was founded by Alexandra Buchler and is based in the Mercator Institute at Aberystwyth University, where it is currently celebrating its 10th year.

I was particularly delighted to be invited because there is a close correlation between this aspect of the LAF’s activities and the work I and other writers and translators associated with Newcastle University have embarked on with the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts, where literary translation is a key research area, as evidenced by our work with Bulgarian, Chinese and Somali poets, as well as current PhD research.

Our knowledge of many literatures in translation tends to lag thirty years behind the truly contemporary, which makes the principle of poet to poet translation one of the most dynamic ways of instituting literary networks across the world. Which is one way of putting things. Here’s another, from Gökҫenur’s ‘Beware of the Rain’:

Language is an island that nobody can sail away from. Nobody can disembark onto another. Anday said salvation comes when we burn the words; the inadequacy of language makes us defeated and miserable. (‘Waking Up in a Siesta’) It suddenly strikes me when I wake up from a siesta. Words dirty the language. I thought if I kept quiet nature would talk with me in the pure language of the wind. I thought if I kept quiet I could understand the essence of the rain, I could purify words, I could invent a language out of the sound of raindrops in which we would understand each other. Keeping quiet was like cutting down the last tree on the island. Deciding to build either a jetty or a boat with it. When I kept quiet concepts disappeared. Words lost their connections with things, and swayed in the emptiness like jellyfish. Words without concepts were shy and innocent as coal mining girls freed from their dirty clothes who try to cover the perfumed light coming out from their genitals with their hands. When I kept quiet nature did so too. All the voices that shout down the voice of the other kept quiet and I met myself as if a stranger with whom I had nothing in common except reaching for the same book lying on a dusty shelf.

About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
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1 Response to Translating ‘Rabbit’ into ‘Island’ at Gümüşlük

  1. Pingback: May I? | Dubious Saints

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