Translating Pandemic Poetry

On September 20th 2020, with many of us well into our second wave and perhaps our third or fourth iteration of restrictions, a group of 15 collaborators met on Zoom to translate poetry together.

We were five groups across three countries, each with one or two native Romanian Source collaborators and one or two native English Target collaborators. Our Source collaborators had each facilitated a workshop group at our 2019 Afternoon of Collaborative Translation, so it was great to welcome them all back! Our Target collaborators were largely new to the process, and it was equally exciting to share the experience with a new audience.

Our source text was a poem by Romanian poet Vasile Baghiu, who we were fortunate enough to have join us on the day. The poem was “Ecuaţie Cu Multe Necunoscute”, translated by one group as “Equation with multiple unknown variables”. It reflects on the pandemic through the lens of a Romanian seeing out a compulsory period of isolation in order to holiday in Balcic.

The five translations we ended up with are the result of extended conversations about what it means to be a tourist in 2020, what we should or would be doing with our lives this year and the extent to which the researchers working feverishly for a treatment have sacrificed their lives. The translations all have points of commonality but they are each inevitably unique in their approach to certain images and ideas proposed by the original. The variation in the final line was particularly striking to see.

There were calls for them to be performed as spoken poetry, and we may well work toward this new initiative!

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