Some thoughts on Poetry in translation provoked by an exciting new development the publication of translations of two contemporary American poets into Bulgarian by Rumyana Emanuilidu’s Znatsi.

06/08/2015 by Christopher Buxton

The moon and the sea, the forest and the mountain mark time with chasms and deserted ruined houses. They form a backdrop to a hundred synonyms for loss and grief and alienation, rendered in rhyme. This is romantic poetry at its extreme, heavy in symbolism, leading to an unwieldy abstraction. What it lacks is the everyday.
This kind of poetry is difficult to translate.
American poetry is grounded from Whitman onwards in the democracy of objects and the sense that even round the corner of the supermarket aisle between the tins of tomatoes and the frozen peas there is a sudden awareness of an almost impalpable truth. American poetry at its best is lucid – its evocation of experience is grounded on the positioning of images on the page. Words are objects. Sentences pin experience. And what emerges is a disarming lack of pretention. Read me, invite me into your mind, make of me what you will.
In classic Bulgarian poetry, Vaptsarov achieves this objectivity in his evocation of Spring entering a factory. Hristo Fotev stands in the sea in Burgas and for a moment feels cleansed. Atanas Dalchev conveys the desolation of an abandoned house through his selection of key objects. Margarita Petkova conveys the ironies of human passion through everyday occurrences – jumping on a tram or shredding the petals of a flower. These poets translate.
Katerina Stoykova Klemer, Manol Peykov, Kristina Keranova are at the forefront of translators bringing the best American poetry to Bulgaria. Klemer actually brought two American poets with her on her now annual visit: Cecilia Woloch and Clint Margrave. Audiences across Bulgaria had the opportunity to hear these poets read in English and were captured by their Bulgarian translation. Katerina Klemer is both a formidable poet working in both languages and an accomplished translator. Her achievement in publicizing and publishing contemporary Bulgarian poets in America is to be celebrated. Manol Peykov has recently published his excellent translations of e e cummings. It’s a really rewarding labour of love.
And the publication of Kristina Keranova’s translations of two contemporary American poets, Billy Collins and Stephen Dunn, is an exciting new development in Bulgarian poetry publishing. Rumyana Emanuilidu’s new venture Znatsi publishing house has produced bilingual editions, giving any reader versed in both languages the chance to enjoy the original, feast on the wonderful translations and bask in that no-man’s land of possibilities that exists on the border between languages.
Both Billy Collins and Stephen Dunn are grounded in the every day. Lucid exquisitely formed lines lead the reader towards a sudden awareness that discovery is possible. As Billy Collins defines the difference between the “houseguest” novelist and the poet: The poet is more someone who appears. You know a door opens and there’s the poet. He says something …closes the door and is gone….”
In the words of William Carlos Williams – “no ideas but in things.”