Onderhoud met Gisela & Tony Ullyatt

Alwyn Roux: Hoe het julle betrokke geraak by die vertaalprojek, in a burning sea (2014)?

Tony & Gisela Ullyatt: Ons is deur die digter Marlise Joubert genader om aan hierdie vertaalprojek deel te neem.

Alwyn: Waarom Afrikaanse gedigte na Engels vertaal?

Tony: I was exposed to Afrikaans poetry when I took up a post at the University of the Free State in the early eighties. The English department was (and still is) on the same floor as the Afrikaans department. I became increasingly fascinated with Afrikaans poetry and had long conversations with Afrikaans academics/poets like Bernard Odendaal. A whole new literature opened up for me as my Afrikaans improved. Later on, I met George Weideman, who was a guest lecturer at the time and started to translate some of his poems. In the early 2000s, I was doing intensive research on the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, and discovered some poems on the topic by poets like Ernst van Heerden, Henk Rall, Jan Swanepoel, and Lucas Malan. Not speaking much Afrikaans in those days, I began translating poems initially because I wanted to know what they meant. Simple as that.

Gisela: Daar is soveel lesers wat andersins geen toegang tot die Afrikaanse digkuns sou hê as dit slegs in Afrikaans beskikbaar was nie. Ek sien dit ook as ‘n geweldige uitdaging wat die grense van my eie woordvaardigheid en analise toets.

Alwyn: Dit is baie interessant dat julle die gedigte saam vertaal. Hoe werk die proses?

Tony and Gisela: We work as a team. Gisela is mother-tongue Afrikaans speaking and I am mother-tongue English speaking. This combination brings the best of both worlds – a sound knowledge of both source- and target-languages – to the translation process.

And for those inquisitive readers who wonder whether working together as translators is stressful as far as our relationship goes, the answer is, perhaps disappointingly, no. That is because we both believe that the translation process is one of negotiation. It is an adjunct to the processes of negotiation Umberto Eco discusses in his book, Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation.

As far as the process itself works: I usually do the initial rough draft into English, working from grammatical unit to grammatical unit rather than line by line. If there are lines or words I have difficulty understanding – idiomatic usage is one example – I will retain the Afrikaans exactly as and where it appears in the original text. At this stage, getting an overall sense of the text, of the poet’s style, while creating a document we can work on is of more immediate import than fiddling around with dictionaries. That comes later.

Once that rough draft is done, Gisela joins the process. Together, we go through the problems I had with the original poem. We discuss each of those matters, deciding on some of the suitable English possibilities and rejecting others. Once the initial draft has been typed up, it could resemble this; the last four lines of the ninth section of “Asemgedig” by Phil du Plessis:

Ek sal met halle van ’n blou kwas
’n stort vloed van reën
’n gety van vergetelheid
oor die landskap laat spoel

I shall with strokes/dashes from a blue brush
a flood/torrent/deluge of rain
a tide of vergetelheid
over the landscape let flow

Once these lines come into existence, we can tackle a couple of initial questions: Where, in the English version, might the phrase, “oor die landskap”, fit? What if it were moved to the end of the line? Which of the alternative nouns fit most tightly with both the context and the line’s syllable count? What English verb would be most apposite for “laat spoel”? At this point, we have made no attempt at English grammatical ordering, thus leaving many possibilities open.

Now we are able to focus our joint attention on going through the translation word by word, unit by unit, line by line as we work towards a text that reads like an original English poem. At the same time, we are fully conscious of Peter Newmark’s question: “Why should a translation  not sometimes read like a translation, when the reader know that is what it is?” All well and good, except that you might wind up with a monstrosity like this: “I tripped on the carrot of a tree and broke my keybone.”

This process may take days, even weeks. We do a great deal of reading the poem aloud, listening for stylistic clumsiness, inappropriate words, trying to get rhythms right, and so on. We discuss various alternatives and see how well or badly they work. New changes come to mind after several readings; after these, we know we’re pretty close to what we striving for.

burningsea_omslag

Alwyn: In in a burning sea (2014) het julle gedigte van Martjie Bosman, Marius Crous, Tom Gouws, Marlise Joubert en Dolf van Niekerk van Afrikaans na Engels vertaal. Watter uitdagings het die vertalings van elke digter se werk aan julle gestel? Is die vertaalproses makliker by sekere digters en moeiliker by ander?

Gisela: Eerstens is dit belangrik om die integriteit van die oorspronklike gedig te behou: vir my beteken dit om die ‘atmosfeer’ daarvan raak te lees en te verstaan. Dit help weinig as die vertaler op woord-truuks staatmaak. Literêre vertaling is ‘n meditasie: die digter se intensie moet behoue bly. Daarom geskied die proses nie oornag nie.

Elke digter het sy/haar eie “binnetaal” en konteks en dié moet die vertaler ook in ag neem. Een so ‘n voorbeeld is Marlise Joubert se “dryfgoed” (144). Strofe twee lees as volg:

in die vroegoggend huiwer
‘n kewer dou aan die kwas,
breek ek die vergeefse bloeisel af […]

Ek en Tony het gestoei met die beeld “‘n kewer dou” en hoe dit skakel met “bloeisel”. Na ‘n e-pos aan Marlise het ons meer klaarheid oor die beeld gekry. Sonder die spesifieke waterverf-konteks, sou die vertaling dalk nie so geslaagd kon wees nie. In hierdie geval was dit die stasis van die waterdruppel wat ‘n kewer verteenwoordig. Die finale Engelse weergawe lees as volg:

in the early morning a beetling
dew-drop teeters at the brush’s tip,
I break off this fruitless blossom […]

In hierdie geval was daar ‘n hele paar sinonieme: “vain”, “useless”, “unavailing”, “futile”, “fruitless”, “idle”, “ineffective”.  Hierna volg ’n  aansienlike eliminasie-proses waartydens ons elke sinoniem uitrafel  in terme van klank, aantal lettergrepe, ensovoorts. In hierdie geval het “fruitless” sterk na vore getree vanweë die voorafgaande versreël waarin die kewer-beeld voorkom asook die “bloeisel” wat langs “vergeefse” gevind word. As hierdie twee beelde nie daar was nie, sou “fruitless” dalk nie die “wenner” kon wees nie. Die vertaler moet dus sin kan maak uit die makro- en mikrokosmos van ‘n gedig.

Nog ‘n voorbeeld: Nie net gebruik Marius Crous se gedig “Ted” (74) met die vernietigende huwelik tussen Ted Hughes en Sylvia Plath as interteks nie, maar ook die selfdood van Sylvia en die latere selfdood van Ted se minnares en kind:

swaar sou hy sluk
aan sy smartpraatjies
asof profeties
dis uit die stigmata
van sy gasgevulde vrou van fitzroy rd
wat die feministe
hulle penne sou volsuig
in die vliesige oë
van sy minnares en kind
soek na die ongetemde god

Die vertaling van “ongetemde” na “untamed” blyk heel eenvoudig, maar omdat dit die slotreël van die gedig is, berus soveel op die juistheid van die vertaling. Sinonieme in ons voosgevatte Pharos was: “Untamed”,  “undomesticated”, “unbroken”, “wild”. “Untamed” sou gewis nie ‘n slegte vertaling kon uitmaak nie. Die gedig het egter na meer gevra, wat Flaubert ‘le seul mot juste’ noem (“the unique exact word”). Hierdie gedig se selfdood-tematiek het ons op “savage” laat besluit. Dit  word egter nié as sinoniem in die woordeboek aangedui nie. Hier het sinchronisiteit ‘n groot rol gespeel: op ons boekrak was Al Alvarez se “The savage god” (1971), ‘n uiters insiggewende en belangrike teks wat selfdood en kreatiwiteit karteer. Alvarez het Plath in die laaste jaar van haar lewe geken. Hy baseer ook sy boek op sy eie selfdood-poging.

Bogenoemde staaltjie het ook ‘n les aan voornemende vertalers: lees so wyd as moontlik. Die vertaal van ‘n gedig vra eerder na wye belesenheid as vertaal-teorieë. Jy kan laasgenoemde weer nagaan as jy ‘n akademiese artikel oor die vertaling van gedigte wil/moet skryf.

Alwyn: Albei van julle skryf self ook gedigte. In watter mate kan die vertalings van gedigte gesien word as ’n leerskool by die skryf van oorspronklike gedigte?

Gisela: Om ’n gedig na Engels te vertaal help om prosesse in my kop ten opsigte van my eie gedigte oop te beitel. Dit leer jou die haakplekke van taal en klank asook die nodige woord-dissipline wat poësie vereis. Vertaling help jou om met ‘n strenger oog na jou eie gedigte te kyk. Of dis in elk geval wat ek myself wysmaak…

Tony: Translation can be an extremely valuable learning process for a poet. It hones the translator’s understanding of another poet’s creative processes. In that sense, it is a privileged sharing of someone else’s art and craft; and it feels very personal. It’s like one-on-one tuition. Who better to teach you the whole business of writing poetry than those who have been extremely successful at it? And, in a broader sense, it gives you an awareness of another language’s literary history, its tradition and its individual talents – to steal from T.S. Eliot. The process can also be a great help in dealing with one’s own writer’s block, as Joan Hambidge has pointed out.

Of course, these pleasures come only with considerable hard work and persistence. But translation remains irresistible, nonetheless.

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