(Re)writing Fragments: Reflections on Translating Poetry

In these interlinked talks, translation was discussed and illustrated by two poet translators. Sarah Ekdawi worked from lacunae and semantic opacity towards wholeness and coherence, whereas Yousif Qasmieh posited translating/rewriting itself as replete with the fragmentary.

‘If I profane with my unworthiest hand’: Reflections on Translating Poetry
Sarah Ekdawi

What is a text? Is a (Sapphic) fragment an instance of poetry? What is a translation? How can a translator work with physical and/or semantic obscurity? In this paper, I reflect on my own practice as poet-translator and discuss the notion of translation as '(dis)respectful behaviour'. I discuss translation in relation to the work of two Greek poets, Sappho (b. 640-610 B.C.) and Iphigenaia ('Jenny') Mastoraki (b. 1949) along two metaphorical axes: translation-betrayal and destruction-reconstruction. Both poets resist (and attract and repel) translation; in both cases, meaning is often obscure. This obscurity is related to lacuna (Sappho) and ellipsis (Mastoraki). I refer to translations of Sappho into English by Anne Carson and into Greek by the Nobel laureate Odysseas Elytis as well as a translation of a 'reconstruction' of Sappho into Arabic by Yousif Qasmieh. In relation to Mastoraki, I discuss the poet as the translator's collaborator, controller and judge. I do not offer solutions; I offer translations as creative acts that neither replace nor represent the originals but co-exist with them, question them and pay homage to them.


‘Who Writes Who?’
Yousif Qasmiyeh

Who writes who? And is translation in its transformative sense an act of rewriting or simply an alternative to a fragmentariness that is inherent in the origin and maintained in the form of “rewriting” in the hosting language. As I write, not knowing which language precedes which and which language follows which, but equally whether these two languages, in this context Arabic and English, or English and Arabic, will ever coexist benignly in the same corpus? Through fragments that exist both in Arabic and in English, and ones that are incomplete in either Arabic or English, in this reflection I shed light on the impossibility of locating the origin in these encounters.