- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 October 17, 2003 

Working With the Word: Translators gather in Yerevan to explore their craft

Last week poets and translators from many countries gathered in Yerevan to discuss the fragile future of poetry and to answer the question,is it possible to translate a poem and if yes, for whom?.

Is it possible to translate a poem? That question became a main topic of "Future of Poetry Through Translation" international conference last weekend in Yerevan. The conference - the first of its kind here - was organized by the Armenian Center of PEN International Association and was held at the Ani Hotel.

Russian poet and translator Grigory Kruzhkov gave a characteristically poetic answer:

"It is possible if a man believes in immortality of the soul. A poem has a soul and through translation it is just expressed by another language."

The conference was dedicated to the Targmantchats holiday - celebrated every second Saturday of October to commemorate the creation of the Armenian alphabet and the translation of the Bible into Armenian.

Translators from several countries attended the conference, and among topics of discussion was the very survival of their profession.

Vano Taufer of Slovenia recalled how in the '70s translations of Solzhenitsin into Slovenian helped his country understand the political persecutions of Yugoslavians. Such translations might not be possible or even necessary now, the translator said.

"Now the situation has changed," Taufer said. "Young people know languages and read books in the original. Besides, publishing houses prefer to publish bestsellers."

The consequence, Taufer said, is a diminished role for translators, a profession that has "turned from a continent into an island".

Armenian poet and writer Vahram Martirosyan said that the issue of poetry translation is not whether it is possible to capture the soul of the poem in a second language. Rather, the larger question is whether the poem has an audience in any language.

Senegal poetess Fatu Ndiaye Sow never heard before about Armenia and was happy to find open-hearted people among Armenians.

"Poetry has turned from a religion into a sect," he said. "Metaphors and rhymes, poetic genres have run dry. These days there are many people who have skills in poetry but the number of people reading poems has decreased in large quantities. Every poet has several fans and they make his sect. And the translator is a priest of that sect."

About 20 speeches were delivered at the conference, six by foreign participants.

Like others, Senegal poetess Fatu Ndiaye Sow was in Armenia for the first time. She first heard of Armenia through Anna Hakobyan, head of the Armenian chapter of PEN.

"Thanks to Anna I knew about Armenia and later I read about it in different sources. For translating any poet, a translator must know the nation which that poet belongs to because a poem descends from the way of thinking and reminiscence. For now my impressions of Armenia are that I think open-hearted people live here. These meetings will allow us to know each other better and translate our works."

Translator Nuneh Abrahamyan translated one of Sow's poems (Sow writes in French) and it became the first Armenian translation of the literature of Senegal.

In this big heart,
where night burns its ruins hard,
I was walking in the hall of loneliness' dark.

"This conference was a test of our abilities and it succeeded," Hakobyan said. "Now we can say for sure that we are able to carry out conferences during the coming years. Probably the next conference will be dedicated to the problems connected with reporting or freedom of speech."

The PEN Association was founded in the 1920s by the Union of Writers in London. Over time it expanded to include various professions connected to the written word.

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