Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Morning Ritual: Editing Naseer Hassan's Dayplaces

I wake at five every morning. And every morning for the last 18 days I have begun my day by reading one of Iraqi poet Naseer Hassan's translated poems from his extraordinary book Dayplaces. My job in our collaborative translation process is to question every English word--"putting pressure" on the choices, I call it with my students--to make sure the sound, the tone, the overall arc of the poem is as close as possible to the original Arabic. Naseer's English is very good; I speak no Arabic. So he brings the poem across into English, and I interrogate him about the original, about the intentions of the work, about the sound of the poem in English. Every choice is carefully tended. We've completed a first round of questions and responses on half of the 84 tiny poems and have accumulated over 200 pages of e-mails.  We have at least ten pages of correspondence just on the cultural meanings of the various punctuation marks we're using. It's a wonderful process, truly a joy to be engaged at this level. And the book itself is extraordinary--difficult, mysterious, tragic and joyful. I'm grateful to be attending its (re)birth into English.

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