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Found in translation

Poetry, Poesie, Poesia

By James H. Miller

I have an undying respect for poetry translators. I’ve never had the patience or discipline to truly learn a foreign language myself. I tried Spanish so that I might read Cesar Vallejo in the original, attempted German because I thought Goethe was really rad, and then French for similar reasons—Rimbaud, you bad-ass!

I usually managed to earn a passing grade or better in these courses, but my actual knowledge of any foreign language amounts to funny vulgarities and swear words. So, if you’re like me (my sympathies if you are), those who translate poetry into English are crucial; whether it’s unearthing a master from Argentina, or showing us what, as O’Hara wrote, “the poets in Ghana are doing these days.” In recent years, we’ve been blessed with loads of groundbreaking translations from people like Edward Snow, Clare Cavanagh, and many other erudite guys and gals. I’d like to mention two translators that I’m personally grateful for: Michael Hofman and Jonathan Galassi.

First, Michael Hofman.

Michael Hofman was born in West Germany in 1957. Among other things (poet, free-lance writer), he’s an excellent translator and winner of countless awards. He most recently edited an anthology sensibly called Twentieth-Century German Poetry, which includes fine translations of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, Bertolt Brecht, and Paul Celan, along with many obscure others who’ve never, to my knowledge, been rendered into English so handsomely before. Continue reading Found in translation