30 January 2009

Powell's question # 3

Here is my unsolicited answer to the third question raised by Adam Donaldson Powell:

"It must be quite a sensational achievement to publish poetry in a language other than one's mother tongue, or to have the freedom and dexterity to choose which language a poem or part of a poem or an entire collection of poetry will be in -- without having to employ a translator. Can you comment on this 'virtue', and the exhilaration experienced when one succeeds?"

Definitely sensational. Every language has its unique advantages (as well as disadvantages, of course). To be able to use another language is to expand the poetic reservoir into which one can dip to get exactly the nuance that one wants. Sensational, although I am not sure about exhilaration. One can never tell if one is fully exploiting the second or third language because, by definition, that language is not what one thinks in or grew up in. We have enough testimonies from readers reading works written in their languages by people that just learned it in school or as adults; these "native speakers" invariably find the second-language writers a bit odd, to say the least.

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