To Love by Reza Mohammadi

Featuring: Reza Mohammadi, Hamid Kabir, Nick Laird

I've known about the wonderful work the Poetry Translation Centre does for years, and when they asked me to help translate Reza's poems, I was very keen to give it a go. I started tinkering with the literal versions [of Reza’s pomes] and trying to come up with poems. These early efforts were pretty much a disaster and had to be scrapped. I tend to work through many drafts when I write my own poems, and usually end up a long way off from where I start. I was allowing myself the same latitude with the translations, which wouldn't do at all, and I realized I'd have to start again from scratch.

I realized that rather than trying to tame or domesticate his poems into western ideas of order or neatness, I should just try to present them in a language that did its best to allow their strength and power to come through. I aimed to keep the strangeness in them that I experienced on encountering them, and decided to worry less about technique and more about voice.

I can't judge how the finished translations stand as poems in English, and it would need a bi-lingual reader to judge their fitness against the original, but after having toured with Reza for a week around Britain, and read my versions out, I still experience an odd frisson when I read the work, which is both mine and emphatically not. He's a rare and fine poet, Reza, and it's been a weird pleasure to work on his poems, like opening your mouth and finding someone else's voice coming out.

Extracted from Translating Reza Mohammadi by Nick Laird