Poetry Month, Day One: George David Clark recommends the FIELD Translation Series

April 1, 2013

This year to celebrate Poetry Month 32 Poems has asked some of our favorite poets to recommend venues that are hosting particularly interesting projects in the genre. Over the next 30 days we would like to use this space to praise the presses, journals, and readings series that have brought  poetry to us in a special way. Our hope is that we can point new fans in their direction and publicly thank these editors and curators for their work.

To kick us off, I’d like share a few words about the FIELD Translation Series, a project I first came across in the form of Charles Wright’s translation of Montale’s La Bufera while I was an undergraduate.  In the following years I found my way to Miroslav Holub, Dino Campana, Vasko Popa, Inge Pederson, and Yannis Ritsos through FIELD translations, but it wasn’t until this fall when I began preparing a course on European Poetry of the 20th Century that I really began to appreciate the significance of what David Young and David Walker (the editors of Oberlin College Press, which hosts FIELD and the FIELD Translation Series) have given us. I quite frankly can’t imagine teaching such a course without their books.

Wright’s Montale, the first volume of poetry I read in translation, opened Europe to me, and in many ways I feel I owe my love of Celan, Alberti, Mandelstam, Transtromer, and so many others to the power of that book. Although those authors come to English from other presses, other series, it was the extraordinary persuasiveness of Wright’s translations that made me vulnerable to the world of poetry beyond my home language. And ultimately that’s why the FIELD Translation Series has been so important: the giftedness and care of its translators. That, and the editors’ insistence that translation should be thought of as creative activity in its own right.

David Young has written that “a lyric poet engaged in translation is intent on capturing in the language he most cares about a prize object that is supposed to be the private property of another language.” As I try to summarize the series I keep coming back to that idea of a gift bestowed by translation on English. The FIELD translators (a list that includes such notables as Charles Simic, Marilyn Nelsen, and David Young himself) have shown such tenderness to their sources that we can’t help but read these poems as gifts that honor the originals as well.

—George David Clark

*Check back tomorrow for a recommendation from Lisa Russ Spaar.

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