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Lieske translation workshops

by Patrick Cotter on June 18th, 2010

Today at the Tomas Lieske translation workshop we were joined by C.K. Williams. Working from Willim Groenewegen’s generous, poetically unworked,  but lexicographically exhaustive translations into English, Williams’ probing interrogations of Lieske’s ambiguities took on the character of a high consistory. All week myself and Thomas McCarthy had conducted inquiries in a typical slant Irish way designed to extract information in a society far less straight forward in its communication than urban America or Paris of the Fourth Republic.

Williams was unafraid to consider using the locutions of the street. McCarthy searched for equivalents integral to his own picturesque evocative voice. I questioned the etymology of particular Dutch words to check whether they retained nuances of their shared roots with German which I know moderately better.

One of the engaging revelations of the workshop was to discover in Lieske a logomaniac like myself, determined to resurrect almost obsolete words, dialectical variations and even combine them in neologisms; who sees part of a poet’s duty to be someone who strives to keep the individual word alive.

For instance Lieske used spalling – a dialectical word of Frisian origin. Groenewegen had to search a dictionary of medieval Dutch to discover it denoted a suckling pig. Two possibilities presented themselves to me: the American dialectical shoat which my youthful self had discovered in a rhyming dictionary decades ago and banmh, an Irish word in common currency in Hiberno-English. Williams recognised shoat and it fitted neatly and alliteratively with the rest of the line so I decided to leave banmh as an option for Seamus Heaney should he ever decide to translate Tomas Lieske.

At my invitation Lieske will travel to Ireland for the Cork Spring Literary Festival in 2011. I always like it when multiple productivities result from my participation in festivals abroad.

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