“Shakespeare in Lunfardo” Brings Together Translators, Poets

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Zaidenwerg giving his lecture on translation. Photo by Se Eun Gong.

Last week, Ezequiel Zaidenwerg, Argentinian poet, translator, and author of a book of poetry, Doxa, came to Swarthmore to deliver a lecture on translation as well as a bilingual poetry reading. The event included readings by Zaidenwerg, senior Robin Myers ’10, and Nathalie Anderson, professor of English Literature.

Myers, who studied translation under Zaidenwerg while abroad in Buenos Aires, helped to organize the event. During the reading, Myers presented three of her own original works: “Else”, “The Metaphysics of Pedro the Ice Cream Man”, and “Light.” The poems were supplemented by Spanish translations written by Zaidenwerg.

“Ezequiel’s poems, both translations and his own work, are technically skillful and intricate in ways that feel completely effortless when you read them,” Myers said, “it lends his work a kind of coherence and grace that I really admire. I hope to keep learning from it.”

Myers became interested in translation of poetry “as a natural result of reading [and] writing poetry while learning Spanish and wanting to do both at the same time.” She adds, “But more so, I think, as a result of spending part of 2005 in Mexico and having to live my whole life in another language for the first time – which taught me to think of not just words but also speech patterns and mannerisms and everything else as things to be translated, in a way.”

Anderson at the reading in Bond Hall. By Se Eun Gong.

The poetry reading also incorporated readings of a variety of English poems, including selections by Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and Denise Levertov. The English poems were read by Anderson and Myers and were followed by Zaidenwerg’s translations.

After reading eleven previously published English poems, Zaidenwerg began to read from his own poetry. He read three poems, including “Doxa,” the poem for which his book of poetry was named. Following Zaidenwerg’s Spanish readings, Myers read her English translations of the poems.

Myers described translating Zeidenwerg’s poetry as “intimidating”, having studied under him in Argentina. “I had taken a translation workshop with him which sort of added to the pressure,” said Myers, “just because everything that I feel like I have learned, I learned from him.”

Myers also expressed her excitement at the opportunity that she had been given. “I just felt honored that he asked me,” Myers said. “It was an opportunity to do something collaborative.”

Thursday’s poetry reading was a follow up on a lecture on literary translation, titled “Shakespeare in Lunfardo,” that was held on Wednesday in Kohlberg’s Scheuer Room and outlined Zaidenwerg’s relationship with poetry and translation.

Zaidenwerg, who started reading and writing poetry as a child and began seriously translating in 2004, opened his lecture by introducing the “two types” of translators. The first, according to Zaidenwerg, tries to create a “perfect” bridge between languages while the second uses the “gap” between languages to magnify the impact of the poem. “I like to think that I belong to that last group,” said Zaidenwerg, describing how he tries to create a meaningful piece of poetry while still adhering to the poem’s original content.

“Instead of stripping it from its traditional context,” said Zaidenwerg, “I have respected each and every image.”

Myers also tries to make a translation representative of the original poem but still unique. “I think it’s impossible to ever “recreate” a poem in another language, but there are ways to honor and emulate how it’s structured, how images unfold, how its tonal and technical elements come to life, how this all affects you,” said Myers.

“Ezequiel describes the role of a translator as that of a concert musician,” Myers explains, “[it’s] an idea I really like: you’re working with a score that you must be faithful to, but your job is also to interpret it. Which means that you’re making music, not drawing a blueprint.”