The B|ta’arof poetry series will feature translations of contemporary poems written in Persian and translated into English by emerging poets and scholars in the Iranian diaspora. The series is curated by Contributing Editor Solmaz Sharif, a Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University, who provides introductory notes for each of the selections:
In conceiving this series, we considered how we are issued translations with the translator’s name appearing in small print on the cover or in tiny italics at the bottom of the page, as if the translator is a mere side note, objective wiring capable of transferring the energy of the original without interference. We are presented, in other words, individual translations as if they are authoritative versions of the original poem. This hides the many deliberate and, yes, imperfect choices translators are forced to make. Here, however, we will highlight the role of the translator. Over the next few months, we will publish a variety of translators working with poems written in Persian from the 20th and 21st centuries. We will also interview the translators, asking each of them the same five questions. The idea is to pull back the curtain on the process of translation, revealing how it is subject to individual choices and proclivities—the first choice being what poem to even translate. Here the translator’s power is obvious—without the translation, those of us relegated to English will never know the poem. This is the first decision, too, that goes against what the poet herself had decided.
Translations are inherently imperfect. Or, with the aid of a thesaurus as translator: Conversions are essentially unsound. Or, again: Transfigurations are mandatorily dangerous. Even in an English-to-English translation, the mess is quick. When confronted with the task of translating poetry from Persian into English, with their different musics and syntaxes, with the absence of gendered pronouns in Persian, with the impossibility of transferring the cultural connotation, with and with and with, we are being confronted with a seemingly lose-lose situation. Do we translate “khafe sho” into “shut up” (how its actually used), or to “choke” (its literal meaning)? What do we lose in each case?
But what we lose without our imperfect and unsound and dangerous attempts at translation is far, far greater. Translation, however messy, is our one shot at conversations larger than the ones limited by our own languages. And for a diaspora, there is no choice but to live in translation.