Posts tagged Doina Ioanid

Untranslatable worlds – not words

Exquisite food, pleasant talk and wine flowed on Tuesday afternoon under the gingko tree and fat-bellied blackbirds in the garden of former Poetry International board member Jan Hendrik van Dorp and his wife Elisabeth. An excellent opportunity for the festival poets and the staff of Poetry International to get to know each other and to exchange views on topics such as poetry translation.

The act of writing is firstly the wording of the poets’ inner voice into a language nurtured by a specific understanding of the world. And translating this inevitably demands some effort when relocating a concept into a language in which it does not exist. Take for instance the use of the polite form of the second person, “vous”, in French. How do we find an equivalent in English if its most straightforward translation – “thou” – has fallen into disuse? To what extent does this lack of a direct translation imply the absence of the concepts linked to it? Do poets differ from other people in the way they see the world?

© Sarah Ream

Amina Saïd (who is from Tunisia and writes in French) commented, “I did not choose the language I’m writing in; my mother tongue chose me instead.” Doina Ioanid (Romania) argued that “the difficulty of translating one’s own poem lies in not creating a new poetical composition from it”. “Indeed”, answered Ion Mureşan (Romania) to my objection that a greater distance from my mother tongue gives me more freedom to express, for instance, love, to someone in Dutch or even in Arabic in a way that I would never dare to confess to myself in Catalan or Spanish. “However”, he added, “you only can bring forth the nuances of what you are saying when using your first language.” Perhaps he was right. Nevertheless, whether distance from one’s words might further or hamper the translation of poetry, it seems from Bakhyt Kenzjejev’s request for simultaneous translation of his poems in Russian when reading earlier in the day at the Rotterdam town hall that what ultimately matters is to be understood by your audience.

(I might add that foregoing conversations were held in French and hence, my translation of these into English may be as incomplete and idiosyncratic as my own memories of them.)


Interview with Doina Ioanid

© Doina Ioanid

Your PIW biographer, Jan H. Mysjkin, writes that in your poems “autobiographical data are interspersed with surreal images”. How do you see the role of memory in your poems? Are there distinctions for you, poetically and personally, between imagined or embellished memories and ‘true’ memories?

Memory plays a major part in my poetry, but then again it plays a major part in all literature. Even ‘pure’ fiction draws on memory in order to structure an imaginary world. Memory stores data which the writer retrieves unawares whenever he/she needs to create a character or to describe a situation or to provide a background for them. In my case, memory feeds my poems, but in a way that transcends personal experience. In my poetry, memory data are processed and integrated into a poetic order that aims at understanding the particular from a wider perspective. Moreover, these data are passed through the filter of words and images, thus being reshaped into a concrete sensitive material that hopefully becomes relevant for the others as they read my poems.

Personally, I don’t believe in ‘true’ memories. All memories are emotionally or affectively marked, which doesn’t make them necessarily untrue. But what we remember is an emotional association of facts and images that sometimes distorts what is commonly called ‘objective reality’. There is no such thing. Reality is a matter of subjective perception, and as such it cannot be objectively defined. Paradoxically, poetic subjectivity reshuffles memorized experience, imbuing it with a sense of higher objectivity, the objectivity of poetic order. Surreal images are a natural product of poetic order, seizing points of convergence between random occurrences and interpreting them transcendentally.

Has your knowledge of French language and literature (and of other languages) influenced your own writing? If so, are you able to say in what ways?

Each language one learns opens a wider field of knowledge, not only to literature, but to the whole culture of the linguistic space in question. Consequently, influences are unavoidable, even though they sometimes go undetected. These influences, however, should be assimilated well enough not to transpire in one’s writing. I know I’ve been influenced by my knowledge of French and English, but I can’t put my finger on it and that is a good thing. The influences should stay subtle.  Let me give you an example: I was utterly unimpressed by Baudelaire in the Romanian translation, but when I read him in the original, something clicked. I started writing somehow differently.

How do you combine your life as a poet with your work as editor at The Cultural Observer? Are they distinct or intertwined?

My writing and my work as an editor are worlds apart. The only way they are related is that they both compete for my time.

Have you attended other poetry festivals as a guest reader? What have you most and least enjoyed about these experiences? Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to about the Rotterdam festival?

Over the years, I’ve attended several poetry festivals, both in Romania and abroad. What I enjoy most about the ones in Romania, apart from interacting with new readerships, is getting together with fellow poets I appreciate and don’t see very often. Reading abroad is a totally different experience of course, since my poems have to be transmuted into another language. It’s like putting on a new dress. At the Istanbul Poetry Festival, for instance, I liked the occasional unconventional setting – at one point, I read on a boat sailing the Bosporus. But most of all, I like the reactions of a responsive audience. And that’s what I’m looking forward to in Rotterdam.

Read more about Doina Ioanid on PIW.

Read some of the poems from Doina Ioanid’s latest collection translated into English and published by Singapore literary magazine Asymptote.