Do I speak Romanian? No. Can I read Romanian? No. Am I a fraud? I hope not.
Then why has EgoPHobia, a Romanian cultural e-journal posted my name under the name of a Romanian writer of a short story called Hell and Blood?
Here it is – see?
“by Cristina Nemerovschi (Morgothya) (Romania)
Translation from Romanian by Christine Coleman and Mircea Filimon, MTTLC student
edited by Robert Fenhagen”
And here is the lively opening of a story that I appear to have translated into English from a language I know nothing about (apart from its links to Latin and Italian)
“Today I started spitting blood.
The first thing that I thought was that I might have tuberculosis, which, actually, made me feel alright, because after all, it’s a disease which sounds good; it kind of gives out a romantic aura: tuberculosis; mononucleosis, well, at least, I think so, and I don’t die too quickly— the worst case scenario, I have a few months to live, which is plenty of time for me to write a novel, or a really good short story, or, at least, some poetry, or, at the very least, an essay–something that will be found after I croak, of which people will say, “He was a prolific writer; we’ll miss him. He died of tuberculosis, you know.” And the other person will say, “Oh my, I had no idea.”
So how did I get involved in the first place?
It was thanks to Anne Stewart, the talented and energetic founder of poetrypf, ”a growing showcase of poets writing in English, some fully accomplished with several published collections, others at the start of their poetic careers.” Anne agreed to collaborate in the translation project set up by Lidia Vianu, Professor of contemporary British literature at the English Department of Bucharest University.
This project began in February 08 with translations of poetry into Romanian and publication online at the Translation Café, along with a programme of broadcasts by the Romanian National Broadcasting Corporation. Anne asked for poets to volunteer some of their own poems for this project, and in early December 08 I had the surreal experience of hearing my own brief biography, and then my poems, read in Romanian.
When you’re on the site, click on: ‘The Poets’ on the top right of the page. Then scroll down the alphabetical list till you reach my name and that of the translator, and click on ‘Listen’, to hear my poems being read first in Romanian, and then in English
Follow the poetrypf link again and scroll down to find out more about this project, including the CD, the anthology and the international tour. I didn’t take part in the tour, but one of my poems, Something Like a Stone, is on the CD in both languages. Read more about my first ever prize-winning poem, here
But that wasn’t the end of the Romanian connection for me. Towards the end of February, I received an email from Anne, “am I right in thinking that you were interested in ‘polishing’ translation from Romanian? We have a short story translated by one of Lidia’s students that needs polishing to publishable standard.”
I tend to try anything once, when an opportunity arises for a new experience, so I agreed. Almost by return, the organiser of this project, Silvia Bratu, sent me the story.
And now for the tricky part: when you can’t understand the original language, how can you be sure of the author’s intentions? Was that slightly clumsy phrasing a deliberate representation of the narrator’s own lively speech patterns? Or was it just ‘bad English’? How far should I go in imposing my own personal views on another writer’s work?
I’d enjoyed reading this story as it had a fresh and quirky style with some highly original images – I particularly liked the narrator’s musing about the moment of death:
“ If…you keep your soul after death, then you need to mark it very clearly so you don’t mistake it for someone else’s. Because there should be some sort of little border to cross, a tiny rupture, during which you and your soul are separated for a short time. It’s like putting it on a plate while you go through the metal detector.”
When I followed this link and read the final version, I was glad to see that the editor had tightened a few of the passages that I didn’t feel a ‘translator’ had the right to do.