Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Translation Issue—Issue 51, March 2015)

Molly Weigel
We Are Now Live: in the “middle versions” of In the Moremarrow

Translating experimental poetry requires an attention to the breakings and reformings of language and a willingness to break and reform the original as a new poem across the gap between languages. The poem and the language are not whole or one with themselves. Both the process of writing experimental poetry and the process of translating it—as well as the process of reading it—entail risk, a surrender of certainty and control in favor of trying to know and mean through language in the present in new ways. All this is exponentially true in Oliverio Girondo’s In the Moremarrow, which is blasting off into all directions. There are portmanteau words whose original constituent words are uncertain and potentially multiple. Parts of speech and referents are both ambiguous. Key repeated words have several meanings, or no known meaning. Prepositions and grammar are fractured. Words and phrases may thus join with each other in more than one way, creating an irreducible instability. Yet there is no more lyrical poetry—it is song, sound, feeling, and spell. In essence, Girondo breaks the Spanish language into small indeterminate units of meaning and recombines them or allows them to recombine, not mechanically, but with heart, with music, with desperation and anger, with an attunement to poetic tradition. The language will never be the same, even from one reading to the next, even within a single reading.

In translating these poems, I needed to take apart the already taken-apart Spanish and let it be multiple in Spanish and English, then let it reform in English as a new but related unstable entity. This was my way of being faithful. As I was translating each poem I created a “middle version”: a working version that included all of the possible meanings in both Spanish and English that I could come up with or collect from dictionary, thesaurus, or Internet, including sound quality, interconnection or threads of meaning, ambiguity of syntax or reference, odd glancing notions that cropped up. The middle version contained the slant of my personality and present experience, but I made it as big as I could, making myself bigger in the process. The middle version represented the inherent instability of any original or version and suggested ways we might inhabit such unstable space.

The way that translated poetry conventionally appears reinforces an erasure or reduction of the live process of translation and an implicit hierarchization of original and version. When only the translation appears, we seem to have a univocal text in which the translator’s voice is elided into the author’s. Many contemporary poetry reviews continue to perpetuate this illusion of univocality by failing to name the translator or discuss the quality of the translation. Or the translation may appear in a bilingual edition, either with facing pages, where the original and translation seem to have equal footing, or with the original appearing in smaller print at the bottom of the page, which seems to privilege the translated version. This bilingual presentation creates a view of translation as binary--there is the original and then there is the translated version, and they are separate from each other. A white expanse of page, the crease of a spine, divide them. For those who do not speak the source language, the purpose of the bilingual edition seems symbolic, suggesting that it is important to at least have this originary otherness visually present so as to acknowledge its existence. For those who speak both languages, or try to, the act of reading a bilingual edition involves a process of rapid eye movement between versions--a constant or periodic back and forth, or up and down, an attempt to recreate the act of translation by looking at individual choices, verifying or questioning them, as if in REM sleep, dreaming the connection, the middle that is the process, back into being. Or as if performing EMDR, allowing eye movements to reopen the story of the trauma of translating in order to see and tell it anew in the present moment and thus to heal.

These “middle versions” of my translations of poems from Oliverio Girondo’s En la másmedula / In the moremarrow visually acknowledge and represent this live process of translation. They represent that translating is “not-one,” “not-two.” They map the iterative or circular journey; they show that translation, like projective verse, is created in and as a field. Although this representation remains two dimensional, it suggests the possibility of multidirectionality and three-dimensionality, of previously unforeseen trajectories. Whether this space of the process of translation occurs between a reader’s eyes, in conversation across a seminar table, in a live reading or recreation, or in a hypertext or sculptural version of a middle version, I invite you to create it and inhabit it, actively and receptively, right now.