I Was Afraid of Vowels…Their Paleness (Q Avenue Press, 2011)
translations of poems by Stella Vinitchi Radulescu
Did I Was Afraid of Vowels…Their Paleness start out as something larger whose parts you made into a chapbook? Or, if it started out as self-contained, is it something that can be changed into a full manuscript?
I first met Stella Vinitchi Radulescu in Chicago in 2008. We spoke for some time, and she left me with one of her French books, the prize-winning Un cri dans la neige [A Cry in the Snow]. I was astonished by her work. I found it beautiful and mysterious and unique. I wrote her to ask if I might work on translating her French poetry. She writes in French, Romanian, and English, but doesn’t translate any of her own work, so she graciously allowed me to translate her French work. I have the privilege of being able to send her my English versions for her comments and to get her approval for each poem. There are times when we discuss details of the translation and alternate possibilities, and other times she simply approves my version.
From the beginning, I wanted to translate Un cri dans la neige in its entirety, and then move on to the rest of Stella’s French books. However, once I began publishing individual translations in periodicals, I was approached by Sebastian Matthews of Q Avenue Press with the idea of producing a chapbook of the translations. Stella and I were both pleased with the idea, and we even commissioned cover art from one of Stella’s friends, the marvelous painter Marie-Thé Pent (whose work may be viewed here).
Much of Stella’s work presents language as something tangible: words become physical objects that are acted on by the speaker, or which themselves act on and viscerally effect the speaker. With this in mind, I selected a phrase from one of her poems that reflected this surreal approach to language to use as the title: “I was afraid of vowels…their paleness.” I think this makes an intriguing and unique title—a one-line poem in itself—and hopefully one that makes people want to look inside the chapbook.
Q Avenue produce a limited edition of the chapbook—there are only a few copies left, in fact. We’ve briefly discussed the idea of doing another print run, but that hasn’t materialized yet.
You can read a review of the chapbook in the online journal Blackbird here.
How would you describe your translating practice or process?
I always try to strike a balance between remaining faithful to the author’s intended meaning in the original and creating a poem that is effective in English. In a very real sense, every translation is a novel work. Consider the fact that language has a sound, and much of the meaning of language inheres in that sound. The meaning of words is not exclusively comprised of their signifying function, but also the way we react to the sounds of words as aesthetic objects. The sound of a poem necessarily changes when it’s rendered in another language, and therefore the meaning necessarily changes. The aim of every work of art is to have an effect on the viewer or listener or reader. So I believe that it’s the translator’s duty to attempt to achieve an effect with the translation that corresponds as closely as possible to the effect of the original. There is, of course, no possibility of perfection in this — there is no way of having a one-to-one correspondence between the languages — but there are degrees of faithfulness.
Paradoxically, sometimes the only way to remain faithful to the original poem is to take liberties with its form or contents. For this reason, I’m especially grateful to be able to correspond with Stella about each translation.
What are you working on now?
I’ve completed about 75% of the translation of Un cri dans la neige. I hope to look for a publisher for the full-length collection in the near future, and then move on to translating another of Stella’s French books.
Author’s Bio: Stella Vinitchi Radulescu was born in Romania in 1946, and left the country permanently in 1983 at the height of Ceausescu’s communist regime. After seeking political asylum in Rome, she immigrated to the U.S. She received an M.A. in French from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Ph.D. in Philology from the University of Bucharest. Since 1989, she has taught French, first at Loyola University, then at Northwestern University. Radulescu writes in French, Romanian, and English, but does not translate her own work between languages, and thus has a distinct body of work in each language. In addition to publishing books of poetry in Romanian and French, Radulescu has published five books of poetry in English, including All Seeds & Blues (WordTech, 2011), Insomnia in Flowers (Plain View Press, 2008), Diving with the Whales (March Street Press, 2008), and Self Portrait in Blue (March Street Press, 2004).
Translator’s Bio: Luke Hankins is the author of a collection of poems, Weak Devotions, and is the editor of Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets (both from Wipf & Stock). He is the translator of a chapbook of translations of French poems by Stella Vinitchi Radulescu, I Was Afraid of Vowels…Their Paleness (Q Avenue Press, 2011). He serves as Senior Editor at Asheville Poetry Review and Poetry Editor at The Freeman.
Stella Vinitchi Radulescu
un cri dans la neige
au ras de la nuit
un feu éclate un bras me fait signe
ma présence semble causer l’inquiétude
dans le jardin
la révolte des oiseaux des tremblements
les rues s’allongent l’ombre d’un mot
hante les minutes hante
je veux me taire mais mon cri s’accroche
à un brin de lumière
la neige le couvre
de sa fraîcheur l’étouffe un geste d’amour
d’avant le froid
dans la brûlure de la bouche
a cry in the snow
at the brim of night
a fire leaps up an arm gestures to me
seems to make the roses tremble
in the garden
and make the birds rise up
and make the earth shake
the streets lengthen the shadow of an infinite
haunts the minutes haunts
I want to remain silent but my cry attaches itself
to a sliver of light
the snow covers it
with its suffocating coolness a loving gesture
before the cold
in the burning mouth
(translated from the French by Luke Hankins)