Bottom's Up The Translator's Toast

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J. Kates


I was writing poems before I was translating poems, and I write poems still. I am a translator because I am a poet, not because I am a linguist. I began translating about the same time as I began writing seriously, but I didn’t think what I was doing was much different from writing my own poems. I read Catullus and Ronsard and put them into my English, the way I had read others doing, the way I knew most poetry from around the world. Translating was doing two things at once: honing my skill in the language I worked from, and reading other poets’ work closely and carefully. In those days, there were no translation studies, no translation MFA programs. We read. We wrote. In college, I stumbled backwards into one translation course (with the exigent Norman Shapiro) and honed my poetry under the occasional guidance of another poet for whom translation and his own writing were simultaneous and congruent—Richard Wilbur.

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