Rules for Translators: George Messo (Turkish-English)
In Rules for Translators, Sampsonia Way presents selections from a series originally published by Arabic Literature (in English), a blog based in Cairo, Egypt. In the series, ArabLit queried 20 celebrated and award-winning literary translators about their “rules” for translation. See the full series here.
George Messo is a poet, editor and teacher, and a leading translator of Turkish poetry. His many books include From the Pine Observatory (2000), Entrances (2006), and Hearing Still (2009), as well as two books in Turkish: Aradaki Ses (The In-between Voice, 2005) and Avrupa’nın Küçük Tanrıları (The Little Gods of Europe, 2007). His translations include İlhan Berk’s A Leaf about to Fall: Selected Poems (2006), Madrigals (2008), and Berk’s epic poetic trilogy The Book of Things (2009). His anthologies include İkinci Yeni: The Turkish Avant-Garde (2009) and From This Bridge: Contemporary Turkish Women Poets (2010). He has twice been shortlisted for the Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize (including this year), and was a Hawthornden Fellow in poetry during 2002. His critical study, Into the Labyrinth: Essays on Modern Turkish Poetry, is forthcoming. Messo is the former editor of Near East Review and in 2008 he was elected a Fellow of The Royal Asiatic Society.
1. “Untranslatable” — the most alluring, provocative word in the language. Circle it. Prod it. Give it a kick. See if it moves.
2. Respect without reverence. Translation isn’t a faith. It’s not a free lunch either. Believe whatever you like but keep your hands in your pockets.
3. Translation is play. Toy with the poem. Throw it around. Take it apart, even if you haven’t a clue how to put it back together.
4. Slash and burn. Revise your way to the poem. Erase. Re-write. Reduce. Destroy. Begin again. Go on beginning again.
5. Suspect the myths of bilingualism. Trust that the right word in the wrong place still has something to say.
6. Be political. Know the weight and value of what others do in your field. Talk about them. Study them. Write about their work.
7. Nothing is lost. To the reader for whom the source is mute translation is a gift of speech.
8. Own it. You made it, so nurture it.
9. Keep knocking. Shape all the silent energy of a closed door into a knock. Turn pleas into invitations; solicit on the poem’s behalf. Build a case for your poets, for the poems you love.
10. Dig your own well. Where there’s water, don’t stand back for a minute. And drink according to need.