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Emigrant by Corsino Fortes

Featuring: Corsino Fortes, Sean O’Brien, Daniel Hahn

The problems we encountered working with Corsino Fortes' poems made the translation process more interesting, and arise from the fact that the voice in Fortes's work is not one that renders easily in English.  It's often declamatory and dramatically musical, which can come off as, at best, a little arch and archaic, at worst portentous and completely hollow. Interesting issues arose, too, of how to distinguish in English (if we should at all?) between the two languages Corsino uses in his writing.

In addition, the poems use recurring imagery that clearly resonate with a Cape Verdean reader, that more often than not have no such near-mythical associations for an Anglophone one.

(The recurrent motifs have implications for vocabulary, too, which suited me as first translator - I didn't know the Portuguese words for mortar and pestle when I started this process and had to look them up; but having looked them up I then got to recycle them, using them again and again, in poem after poem after poem...)

These recurring images and words - a pestle, a guitar, sun, beach, bread - are physical, inanimate things assigned vital and sometimes epic powers, creative power. And the poems they inhabit are strong, sonorous poems, filled with these recurring images and other strong visual moments, and unpicking each of these moment and images into its components - yes, this word means this, but there are elements of that in it, too, and echoes of the other - was a pleasing challenge.

For me, though, these challenges were not what made the experience such a rich one. The real pleasure came not with my own needfully expansive readings of the poems, but at the other end, when I handed them over to my collaborator...

I've never before agreed to translate poetry, because I've never had confidence in my own understanding of what makes a poetic line work - and certainly no sense that I could produce something that works myself. But it's something I may perhaps be starting to understand, just a little, from examining Sean's versions of my translations of the Fortes poems.

 

Extracted from the essay 'Translating Corsino Fortes' by Daniel Hahn

 

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