by Olga Miranda
(final essay for the class Workshop in Translation, finished on December 2016 )
• Understanding the source text (ST). The author, his context and his literary style
Henry Charles Bukowski is a contemporary American poet with a vast and internationally recognized literary production, which has been translated into more than twelve languages. He was born in Germany on August 16, 1920, and died in San Pedro, California on March 9, 1994. His father was a German-American who participated as a member of the American Armed Forces troops of occupation during World War I and remained in Germany where he married the poet's mother. In 1923 the family decided to leave the country and settle in California. Bukowski was then three years old. His childhood was difficult because it went trough the hard years of the Great Depression. Also, his early years were sad and traumatic as his father abused him and the kids at school made fun of his strong German accent and of his unpleasant acne when he reached adolescent. All these experiences made him a loner, an outsider and getting into alcoholism, which was reflected in his literary work.
Bukowski was and still is one of the most controversial American writers. His work has marked the American culture and influenced its literature because he started a new style, very original and experimental. His narrative poetry was very powerful and authentic so it was rooted in the life of the American working class and marginalized people.
Note (The French filmmaker Barbet Schroeder made a movie titled Barfly about Bukowski beginnings where he represented the personality of the poet and the socio-cultural environment of his life at the time he was 24 years old. There was a young, bohemian and rebel Bukowski with talent and passion for literature, with concerns and sensibility about social issues and need of friendship and love.
The realistic, rebel and critical Bukowski’s aesthetic became popular attracting the interest of readers and critics for three main reasons:
Los Angeles is, simply, the place that Charles Bukowski has lived for most of his life. As he says in a London Magazine interview of 1974, "You live in a town all your life, and you get to know every street corner. You've got the layout of the whole land. You have a picture of where you are....Since I was raised in L.A., I've always had the geographical and spiritual feeling of being here. I've had time to learn this city. I can't see any other place than L.A" (38-39).
Thus, while he does not concern himself with the mythological possibilities of the West that an immigrant writer might be likely to exploit, Bukowski does, as the quotation above suggests, feel that Los Angeles possesses a unique "spiritual" identity. And this identity is as inseparable from much of Bukowski's work as are the Spanish bullfights and street cafes from the best of Hemingway. Rather than bullfights and street cafes, Bukowski's mileau is the horsetrack, the backstreet bars, and the rooming houses of Los Angeles” .(1)
problems such as prostitution, alcoholism, gambling addiction, violence, political manipulation, poverty and inequality as common social issues in the cosmopolitan city of Los Angeles.
Bukowski’s literature had a philosophical side also. His poems approached the obscure side of life in general such as the tragedy of the human fate, the consciousness of death, love and hatred, loneliness, hypocrisy, and other existential subjects. The role of the artist and the art in society was a main concern of Bukowski as a creator too. He talked, for example, about the hard position of writers who are always questioned by critics and lack of economic stability due to their dependency of the publishers financial interests and of the critics’s concepts about what is a good or a bad literature.
Second, the way Bukowski wrote was called "dirty realism" not only for the content of his works, but precisely due to the presence of slangs, sociolects, popular, informal and coloquial expressions in his poems, which made easier to understand his literature by readers from different social groups. The language of his literature was irreverent and aggressive with a rough humor characterized by a direct and simple style. He used dialogic and conversational forms and a low register lexicon from urban areas and low social classes.
Third, Bukowski’s poetry became successful due to a positive duality. It was existentialist, sarcastic, objectivistic, and had a dark and crude tone, but, at the same time, it was subjective, intimate, humorous and thoughtful, which made his artistic production interesting for an audience more specialized since it had enough stylistic complexity and ideological strength to be attractive for intellectual groups and for readers with knowledge of literature.
II. Formulating the target text (TT). Strategy of translation.
The textual analysis of the poems will be guided by theories that defend the cultural paradigm. This perspective sees the translator not as someone transferring literary meanings from one languages into another, but as a professional of languages who is a cultural mediator and negotiator of meanings. For example, Michaela Wolf, in New trends in translation and cultural identity (2008) explains the new ideas proposed from the postcolonial studies on this matter. Homi Bhabha has developed the concept “hybridization” and “third space” which offers a new vision and more flexibility for the translation work. According to this author:
In a situation of hybridity, the translator operates in an environment characterized by the hybridization of language, culture, behavior, institution and communication. She/he becomes shaped by a sort of exile, involved in, yet still on the borderline of, culture and
connected to the cultural and ideological values of society, therefore, they are essential references for a responsable and very creative translator who has to negotiate meanings between the American culture and Hispanic culture creating a “hybrid” that is a different aesthetic product.
Based on these assumptions, translating Bukowski poems doesn't need to face the radical dilema between focusing on ST or TT. It will be a dialectic process that take places thru a cultural negotiation. Consequently, both languages and cultures will be considerer with equal posibilites to create a coherent and comprehensible aesthetic result from their own qualities and features. “[b]etween the two extremes of literal and free translation, one may imagine an infinite number of degrees, including some sort of a compromise or ideal half-way point between the two” (Herver 13). Following this wider concept, this translation will attempt to be located in the half way in order to produce a balanced and communicative text.
All these arguments above conform the conceptual and historical framework of the translation into Spanish of Bukowski’s poems. The selection for this essay was made from Bukowski’s collection of poems “You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense”. It was first published and printed as a book in 1986 by Black Sparrow Press.(1986). The audience of this translation might be the Hispanic readers in USA.
Consequently, the strategic decisions for the translation of these poems should be based on some principles:
- According to Sandor Hervey, Ian Higgins and Louise M. Haywood in their book Thinking Spanish Translation before starting to work on the TT one question needs to be responded: “what are the functions and intended audience of my translation?” ( 9). It is crucial to be aware that the main function of Bukowski’s literature is its criticism and expressive intention to arise feelings and emotions against the social false values describing the human degradation and mediocrity, and, also, uncovering the vulnerability of the individuals, their solitude and suffering. Based on these features, it is necessary to seek the validity of the poems in the TT thru different ways of cultural transposition in order to make the TT closer to the target audience. For instance, it is recommendable to adapt verbal forms and idiomatic expressions to the current cultural and social context, which is more tolerant and respectful of the differences. Basically, it implies that the translation of Bukowski poems should keep the aesthetic style from the author perspective using a negotiation of meanings between both languages and cultures. In other words, the translating method will be aimed to reach two goals: make the poems enjoyable for contemporary Hispanic readers without lost the sender attitude addressed to see the world differently and critically. In this sense, the point of view of Maria Tymocka could be helpful:
Translation always carries with it the capacity to challenge what is so’cially established, to expand or overturn what is known, and to foster rebellion against the constraints of local ethical, ideological, and political standards and hierarchies. Translation at times can undermine what has been accepted as foundational at both the level of the individual and the level of whole cultures (Tymoczko 170).
- The translation will be focus in keeping the coherence of the text based on the narrative structure of Bukowski poems. Most of the poems are short stories with a dramatic development so all the parts and stanzas play a different role in the text, such as introducing the characters, creating an atmosphere of conflict or ending in a final resolution. But all of them form a poetic unity.
- The translation process should focused on producing a TT based on the standard Spanish spoken in USA, but preserving the author's personal style, his dark and critical tone and the low register language, which constitutes his trademark. Also, the Spanish lexicon should be that one is closer to the American English dialect since potentially the readers would be immerse in this cultural reality where Spanglish and code switching between both languages are very common.
- It is also important to preserve the coherency in each poem being aware that the author wanted to break with the traditional and formal poetry by creating an anti-formalist poetic structure. This is expressed in many ways, for example, in the lack of punctuation marks, the absence of uppercase letters; and the use of a colloquial language and typical expressions of oral dialogues.
- The visuality of Bukowski poems is interesting so it follows a pattern. For example, the lines are decreasing toward the end, they are shorter so the text look like a triangle, most of the time the last line is a single word. It is related to the phonologic structure of the poem so at the end of the poem the rhyme is slower and softer, it is decreasing until disappear in a sigh or a whispering. It is recomendable to keep this way in order to keep the musicality and to convey the atmosphere of something is declining or dying.
- At the same time it is good to keep in mind that despite the anti formalism and experimentalism present in Bukowski's poetry it possesses a particular rhythm, it is soft, fluid and penetrating, and, is also, polyrhythmic with moments of rupture and improvisation as in a piece of jazz. Therefore, phonemic translation is a good technique to be applied in most of the cases in order to keep the slow cadency and musicality of Bukowski’s poems which helps to compensate the rudeness of the contents and to maintain a balance in the whole TT.
- It is difficult to preserve all of these features of the ST by bringing it into another language, but the translation, in this case, should be aimed to achieve these goals building a simple syntax of direct style. In most cases some arrangements are necessary in order convert the ideas applying the communicative function technique.
- Indeed, the translation of Bukowski's poems is an arduous task because of the use of the slangs, sociolects and dialectical forms of California English with evident Southern characteristics from the fifties, sixties and seventies, but it has its benefits too. For example, there is a predominance of direct and denotative language, there are not many metaphors or other sophisticated rhetorical figures, he rarely used foreign words or neologisms. Ambiguity is not a common issue in Bukowski ’s poems. Therefore, it is relatively easy to understand meanings, find equivalences and equivalent idiomatic expressions, it is not necessary to interpret too many symbolic literary figures, allusions and other similar. However, it is important to know the cultural and political social context of Bukowski’s timeline so he was motivated for some ideological and cultural tendencies and most of his poems express his historical circumstances.
- Finally, the translation of Bukowski’s poems is oriented to achieve not a literal and formal version in Spanish, any ways, this technique needs to be applied since looking for a word by word equivalent helps during the process. However, the spirit that guide this work of translation is closer to the “interpretive translation”. Like Raffael Burton states, in his book The Art of Translating Poetry, about the job of literature translators as interpreters: “if he doesn’t translate the words, the translator remain faithful to the original sequence of images, to his rhythms or the effect produced by his rhythms, and to his tone”(115-116). It is the philosophy of translation that inspires this work.
III. Decisions of details
In the light of the general strategic decisions the translation of each poems need to face the specific problems of grammar, prosody, lexis and so on avoiding to produce a bitty and uneven TT.
1. red mercedes
This poem has a colloquial and direct language expressed in a low register, urban dialect and slangs. Also, it has a lot of verbs and idiomatic expressions indicating violent behavior. It has a sarcastic, existential and depressive tone and is related to violence, social inequality and gambling addiction. Likewise, it is conveying a pessimistic atmosphere, closure of possibilities, frustration and loneliness. It has a narrative structure so can be read as a short story. Techniques applied:
—Cultural transposition: using an idiomatic expression in Spanish “yo estaba en baja” for “I was in a downmood”, and “cabrón” for “fucker” in the third stanza, “parqueo” for Valet parking” . In the stanza number four, “culo” for “ass”, in the stanza seven “sabía que podia echármelo” for “I
—The absence of punctuation marks was maintained and the lower cases because is part of the rhyme and the trademark of the author.
—-Applying equivalent sociolects and slangs in the TT in order to maintain a low register.
2. working it out
It is an intimist poem, based in a narrative technique called “stream of consciousness” . The author is describing different emotive states or ideas are crossing by his mind in an apparently chaotic manner. It as an aesthetic style that express inner conflict and use surrealistic images coming from dreams or irrational ways of perception. Also, it uses monologues and soliloquy as linguistic forms. In this particular case, this poem uses a figure of repetition with the conjunction “AND” to indicate slowness and routine. The subjects are: loneliness, nostalgia, alcoholism, drinking to escape a monotonous reality, hopeless, repetition, routine.
—-Compensation by splitting, the expression “some fix” became in “algunos se las arreglan así” because is not equivalent in Spanish to say that in the same short way.
—Phonemic translation: the linguistic forms used in this poem, such as alliteration, onomatopoeic words, are aimed to indicate repetition and routine. These figures were kept in the TT. For instance the “Y” in the second stance was equivalent of the “AND”, the word “swalllowing” too. Also, in the last stanza the TT incorporates “tararear” in order to convey the sound of the poem and because the author attempts to give an idea of monotony.
—Exoticism and calque: The TT reproduces the title in English of the famous book of F. Scott Fitzgerald because it is a well known novel, it is giving cultural context, the words are common and easy to understand, and is a short title.
Note: “Stream of Consciousness is a type of writing that originated with the works of psychologist William James (Brother of Novelist Emeritus Henry James). Basically, its purpose is to emulate the passage of thought through your mind without any inhibitors. For that reason, sentences become longer, less organized and more sporadic in style. Its lack of structure is not for everybody, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any order. Stream of consciousness permits deeper patterns of order to emerge, ones based on the genuine movement of information in your brain. It also permits writers to simulate different forms of consciousness, such as dreams, comas, drug use and hallucinatory seances” (qwikilit.com)
Themes: loneliness, alcoholism, death, the destiny of life, friendship, betrayal, hypocrisy, falsity of human beings. There is an existential, sad and nostalgic tone, fear of death, the need to be recognized, the perception of nothingness. Colloquial register using oral forms of conversation and dialogues. Also, it is noticeable the use of anaphoras such as the pronoun “it” , “they” and others to achieve cohesion in the ST. The narrative technique “stream of consciousness” is present here too.
— Compensation by place: applying grammatical changes in stanza number two order to make the TT more clear organizing the actions in the same verbal tense. The second stanza was changed including verb “SER” in future interpreting “soon enough” as an event is coming.
The stanza number five was changed, for example the verb to be in preterite is a better choice in Spanish; an idiomatic expression was found very useful to convey the idea and culturally appropriate “ él nunca fue una gran cosa”. The conversational forms in the next stanza were kept with the equivalent in Spanish. It is necessary to maintain some sintaxis of the original such as adjectives before nouns to keep the rhythm and because in Spanish it works well just and sounds good ninth context of the poem. For example, “lenta retirada” for “slow retreat”, and “hermosa batalla” for “beautiful fight”.
—-Compensation by splitting: in the first stanza “flumbing for the word” got a longer sentence making more clear the idea in the TT: “ el buscar torpemente una palabra” and using the direct object pronoun “el” looking for a more expressive function and reflexive form of the action.
—-Themes: criticizing the contemporary poets, the poetry disconnected from life, the art and life relationship; direct language, colloquial, popular, urban register. It is typical of the realistic genre. The tone is sarcastic when is describing the poets, mocking of them and defending a vital poetry linked to the reality.
—Communicative translation: applying this technique looking for similar idiomatic expressions, for example, for example in the stanza number six in the ST is “I get a rising in the gut”, in the TT the equivalent is “ se me revuelve el estómago”.
—Compensation by place: reorganizing the syntax so the subject is at the end of the sentence in the ST. In the TT is, “ delicados y cautelosos, la mayoría de estos poetas americanos....” The adjectives were kept in the beginning because they are giving the dramatic stress in that stanza, it is the main idea.
Themes: the human degradation, society corrupted and empty of values, individual loneliness and suffering. There is no explicit critic, but the tone is pessimistic and sarcastic. The rhythm is slow and soft, some musicality is achieved using verbs in the beginning of each stanza. These verbs have a descriptive and expressive function (synesthesia), for example, “here you see”, “hear this sound”, in the stanzas one, two ad three. Colloquial and intimist register. It is expressed building contrasting images which communicate an emotion of frustration. For example, it is evident when contrasting the life of rich people from the royalty and the life of marginalized people (junkies, alkies, whores). The translation was aimed to maintain these contrast in the TT looking for similar contrasting words in Spanish.
—Phonemic translation: at the end of the poem in the ST the author played with nouns and verbs using morphological resources building words in order to create musicality. It was kept in the TT achieving the same expressive effect with “the dogies se drogan, los borrachos se emborrachan, las putas putean, los asesinos asesinan”
6. un poema sin urgencia
Themes: the relationship between art and life. This poem recalls the Unamuno’s style, it refers to the tragic destiny of the artist in his declive, the cruelty of critics, the short cycle of success of the artist, the incomprehension of art and poetry by others and the honesty of the writer. What do we expect from poetry? What is it social function? It should give a concrete message or pleasure?The function of art is a big concern. These ideas are present in the ST using different resources. The language is colloquial and simple, direct, objective, still is a low register, non metaphors, conversational, personal.
—Compensation by place: important syntax changes were made to achieve comprehension and synthesis of ideas. For example, stanza number one, and last stanza were ignored some subject pronouns are not necessary in Spanish (he, they). In the second stanza the syntax was changed, in the TT is “ han sido sus días mas incompletos por ello?” for “have I made his days more incomplete? So it is not natural in Spanish in a literal translation option to say “yo hice sus días” for “I made his days” so in the TT it has a different syntactic construction. Also, the direct subject pronoun “ello” was used in order to simplify the sentence.
Themes: irrationality of life. This is a short story with scenes of everyday life, simple people, ordinary people, who are not recognized by society. This poem expresses emotions of loneliness, frustration and impotence and the need to assert itself even through violence and aggressive language. It is a protest against a world that ignores them and before which they feel inferior. There is a great realism, descriptions of the urban street life, use of the street language and slangs. The translation need to find idiomatic expressions in order to maintain the aggressive mood. The register is popular, words from American English dialects from low social clases. For example, it was hard to find a word in Spanish for “hotshot”, but “dandy” was found as a domestication; “estúpido” was better for asshole so it sounds aggressive and vulgar in Spanish; and “cabeza hueca” which is an idiomatic expression for “peanuts from brain”. Narrator is a witness so is part of the story. There is noticeable the voice of the poet with a different register at the end of the poem. It was probably a personal experience. These aspects should be considered in the TT.
8. a través del infierno
Themes: This is a poem criticizing the human egoism describing the life alienated in the big cities. It could be said that this poem conveys the disenchantment and disillusionment of postmodernity. The main idea is expressed in the last stanza in the TT was kept it: “ cuando conduzco por las autopistas veo el alma de la humanidad de mi ciudad y es fea, fea, fea: los vivos han ahogado el corazón lejos” . It speaks of hatred and bout the violence of the drivers in the freeways. It is a poem with much current validity. This poem has a message very pessimistic and fatalistic but has a more philosophical tono. Alliteration and repetition as literary resources are used, which was maintained in the TT to accentuate the dramatic atmosphere about the tragic fate of human life.
Themes: family, memories from childhood. It is a poem more positive about feelings and life in general, conveys emotion of pleasure related to music and beautiful images. This is a very personal and apparently a biographical poem that conveys nostalgia for the past based on memories of childhood from a positive relationship with a grandfather. It speaks of the pleasure of listening music. The author used synesthesia as a literary resource in describing visual sensations of color. At the end is a little pessimistic accepting the life is not good any more as was before.
—Cultural transportation: the nostalgic atmosphere was kept in the TT keeping the lexis typical from the 40’s and 50’s so it was part of the cultural context. For example, the word “victrola" in the ST was “vitrola" in the TT.
10. nota fragmentada
In this poem the narrative technique “stream of consciousness” is observed again since the images are like flashes of ideas that were going through the mind without any logic. It is a dark poem, pessimistic and expressing social criticism. The theme: the meaning of life, the conflict between daily life and higher ends, the need for transcendence in conflict with routine, the precariousness of subsistence, the conflict between reason and feelings. It conveys fellings of emptiness, disenchanted, loneliness on one side. On the other side, it is expressing the need for a compromise in order to produce some change in society. There are feelings of regret and impossibility for change the status quo, and ideas of destruction and social decadence. —Phonemic translation: this poem has, also, a peculiar musicality that is evident, for example, in stanza nine and ten. The author uses alliteration with the sound of letter “r” so in the ST can be read: “It's almost entirely waste. regret is mostly caused by not having done anything. the mind barks like a dog. pass the gravy......it is so arranged all the way to oblivion. next meter reading date. Jun 20.....and I feel good”. In TT it was reached using the same sound to maintain the rhyme:
“es casi totalmente un desperdicio.
el arrepentimiento es causado principalmente por no haber hecho nada
la mente ladra como un perro.
pásame la salsa.
está dispuesto todo el camino hasta
la siguiente fecha de lectura del medidor: 20 de junio.
Bukowski, Charles. You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense. First Ecco Edition 2002. From first published in1986 by Black Sparrow Press. Los Angeles, California.
Burton, Raffael. The Art of Translating Poetry. The Pensylvania State University Press. University Park and London. 19998. Printed book.
Debritto, Abel. Charles Bukowski, King of the Underground. Introduction. Abel Debritto, 2013
Dougherty, Jay. An Introduction to Charles Bukowski. http://www.jaydougherty.com/bukowski/
index.html. Web. retrieved on December 7, 2016.
Herver, Sandor, Higgins Ian, and Haywood, Louise M.. Thinking Spanish Translation. First
published Routledge, London, 1995. Print book.
Tymoczko, Maria. “Cultural hegemony and the erosion of translation communities”. A
companion to Translation Studies. Ed. Sandra Bermann y Catherine. Porter. Oxford/ Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014. 165-78.
Wolf, Michaela. “Interference from the third space? The construction of cultural identity through translation.” New trends in translation and cultural identity. Ed. Micaela Muñoz- Calvo, Carmen Buesa-Gómez y ̆ ngeles Ruiz-Moneva. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008. 11-21.
Other resources online used
Bukowski, Charles. Website providing a database with most of Bukowski literary production.
(for Jane) https://bukowski.net/database/playaudio.php?TrackID=289474386 (working it out) http://www.voetica.com/voetica.php?collection=2&poet=694&poem=2774