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A conversation with translator James Haenlin

Transom:
Is it possible for the original text to be reborn through the translator?

Haenlin:
The first two tasks of the translator are to assure that the translation is accurate as to meaning, and that it is truly poetry in the target language. Ideally, the translation must match the rhythmic, emotional and aesthetic impact of the original. I often give readings with my poets and know I have succeeded when my translation touches the audience in the same way as the original (i.e. tears, laughter and the inimitable awed silence). And let’s not forget the book sales.

Transom:
One of the pieces in this selection begins with the line, “The river carries you in its two languages.” Thanks to translators like yourself, Coffinet’s poems now exist in multiple languages. Do you believe in a linguistic “river” (or, what Benjamin calls “pure language”) that accommodates all of these?

Haenlin:
Since, to my knowledge, poetry exists in all languages, there is a river runs through it. I work in only three languages, so I am by no means an expert, but I assume all languages have similar mechanisms to express poetic sentiments and concepts. And there are great translations for all of them(?). In effect, this is a rather theoretical concern, far removed from the practical problems of dealing with the greater ambiguity of French, and the conversion of alexandrins to iambic pentameter.