When one approaches a poem with the intention of translation there are many factors that must be taken into account. One must consider not just the two languages at hand, their syntax, rhythm and idiom but the cumulative affect of these factors in terms of register, tone, imagery and the overall impression that the poem leaves one with. As a poet I understand how crucial it is that the creative vision and intention of the poet must be understood as too should a certain knowledge of their body of work be appreciated. This knowledge can be helpful in translating specific cultural references and linguistic puns.

All these factors contribute to why working with another on translations can prove enlightening and beneficial in rendering the original into an accessible secondary text. On translating the Turkish poets Gülten Akın, Gonca Özmen and Refik Durbaş I worked with Özlem Özmetin a professional Turkish translator.

My background as an author and poet combined well her skills. We came up with various impressions and after many discussions were able to weave all the various threads to form a whole.

Of the process Özmetin observed; "For me, like writing fiction, literary translation is both a painstakingly difficult and rewarding art form. One moment you are full of delight and elation, the next you are tearing your hair out with exasperation. When fully immersed in the process, it is an all consuming and lonely pursuit which is why collaboration can be so important." 

An example of tandem translating is that of the poetry of Mevlana Rumi and his two most well known translators, John Moyne and Coleman Barks. Where Moyne provides a direct literal and educated translation of the original Persian/Arabic, Barks renders this original text into a culturally accessible and relevant version that may be enjoyed by contemporary readers.

The decisions made in the translation process may seem finicky and micro-managerial, however the details of each word and its relationship with the next and the former are crucial in weaving the fabric of the whole. Not just in terms of musicality and assonance but in each word's implicit suggestion as well as its explicit meaning and the overall poetic atmosphere and mood it contributes to the text.

The following is a brief example of our translation process.

In Gülten Akın's poem, Barok/Baroque the second stanza reads;

               Imagine entire nations, borderless;
               this expansive resilience to prejudice

These two lines were worked up from:
               Imagine no statehood/entire nations without borders/
               Imagine a world without borders
               The spaciousness and tolerance immeasurable/
               The expansion limitless 

After much discussion of the word dayanıklı, we chose to use three variations of its possible translations throughout the poem. We used resilience, resistance and finally enduring as each time the word dayanıklı was used it turned ever so slightly on subtle hinges of meaning, tone and suggestion due to its context.

In the first instance of the poet's use of the word, the question arose, resistance to what? We chose to specify this by inserting the word prejudice as given the content of the poem and the poet's overall political vision it seemed most appropriate.  It was used a total of three times by the poet in a sort of rhythmic refrain as the last word of each stanza. Each time it never carried the exact same meaning and implication as before. The choice of possible English translations was also based upon temporality; the continuity or timelessness of the word. Perhaps in using these three different words we lost the original rhythm of the Turkish. However we gained subtle inflections of meaning that would otherwise not have been clear.

Ozmetin reflected, "Furthermore, translation requires, passion, patience, great skill, knowledge and experience of the two different cultures of the source and target languages in order to better capture the complexities of emotion, imagery, ambiguity, puns, metaphor cultural nuances and humour, idiomatic correlations, while keeping in mind that some culturally based words and phrases are untranslatable."

The translation process is obviously is a delicate one where much may be lost or found, as the case may be. That is why throughout the process I came to firmly believe that translation is not so much a process of transcribing as one of re-writing and re-visioning within the constraints and poetics of another language, to create a second text. As translators we create new linguistic incarnations that share common origins but are in  fact, to varying degrees, new texts in their own right.

Throughout the process says Ozmetin, "I try to recreate the magic of the original. I ask myself many questions: will the translation of this particular phrase give the foreign reader the same spine tingling sensation that the original work has given to primary readers? Have I done all I can to convey the original intention, meaning, message and vision of the author?"


Alice Melike Ülgezer is an author and poet currently based in Melbourne.
Özlem Özmetin is a professional Turkish translator based in Melbourne

Alice and Özlem translated poetry for our Lyrikline project.
Read A Poem for the Master who quenches steel with water here »