Responses to American Poetry
The aim of this online space is to host the research work of university students or young scholars as this emerges from larger projects focusing on the American poetry scene. The objective of this initiative is to bring this kind of research activity to the attention of the general public in an attempt to further promote the exchange of ideas with regard to the process of reading, understanding and appreciating poetry writing.
Kenny Fries Aristeidis Kleiotis
Translating the Poetry of Queer-crip Writer, Kenny Fries, into Greek
Despite the ongoing queer and disability movements in the social and academic worlds since the 1980s, one could argue that queer-crip visibility has yet to reach its peak on a global scale. Since the early 2000s there have been various academic (Sandahl 2003; McRuer 2006; Kafer 2013;) and artistic publications (Fries 2003; Gutter and Killacky 2004; O’Connell 2015) which discuss the different nuances of queer-crip experience with emphasis placed on sexuality, gender and normalcy, while they endeavor to secure cultural visibility and their own space within cultural production. The dual imbricated queer-crip identities still remain invisible having not been offered the opportunity to be heard in addition to articulating their own stories.
The main reasoning behind the marginalization of queer-crips from social and cultural life is thought to be their deviation from the norm. According to Robert McRuer, one of the most prominent theorists of (queer-)crip theory, there is this “regulating system” of compulsory able-bodied heterosexuality in society that views queer-crip existence as doubly inferior because of its deviation both from the ideal of able-bodiedness and heteronormativity (qtd. in Kleiotis 16-17). Queer-crip lives are thus plagued by social constructs that limit and define their existence a priori as unworthy of visibility and inclusion. But, that was back in the early 2000s. What about today? As prolific queer-crip writer Kenny Fries states during a recent interview, “I think the visibility on an individual basis has changed. I encounter more queer-crips now than decades ago. But that could be because of social media and the Internet. I still don’t see many accurate depictions of crips in literature, and even less of queer-crips” (“A Conversation Between American Queer-Crip Writer Kenny Fries and Aris Kleiotis”). A testament to this argument is that a quick research online indeed proves that queer-crip references are still widely inexistent in the academic world and, weirdly, specifically in literary, cultural and translation studies.
Though the intersection of queer and crip identities has been cemented since the early 2000s with the aforementioned publications and particularly with McRuer’s canonical Crip Theory, these academic fields have yet to catch up with the developments and changes taking place in the socio-cultural reality and they continue to favor or pay attention to one of the two elements in the queer/crip intersection. Specifically, translation studies showcase utterly no intersectional publications with regard to queer-crip cultural manifestations, particularly artistic ones. There are, nonetheless, publications on translation and disability (Sati and G.J.V 2019) with special attention paid to translation and queerness (Baer and Kaindl 2018; Baer 2020). Seeing this gap in translation studies (both in theory and in practice), I have immersed myself in an endeavor to translate three poems by the queer-crip writer Kenny Fries by viewing translation as a cultural act of activism and resistance against dominant ideologies as regards the vast permeation of compulsory able-bodied heterosexuality. In fact, Someshwar Sati and Prasad G.J.V with reference only to disability (Disability in Translation 2019) and Brian Baer and Klaus Kaindl (Queering Translation 2018) with reference to queerness point to the resistant quality of translation, on the one hand against able-bodiednes and on the other hand against heteronormativity, further reverberating McRuer’s compulsory able-bodied heteronormativity. In other words, as Maria Tymoczko claims, translation can be seen as a space where translators can “oppose or resist social and political constraints” by “initiat[ing] action, chang[ing] direction, construct[ing] new goals, articulat[ing] new values [and] seek[ing] new paths” (Translation, Resistance, Activism viii). In this way, through the translation attempted here of the three poems by Fries, it is the breaking of the boundaries of invisibility and the introduction to the Poeticanet readership of the queer-crip artistic expression and experience that matters here.
Apart from the resistant character of translation and whether it is a disability, queer or particularly queer-crip poetry to be translated, it is also crucial for one to consider the complexities of poetry translation itself. What renders poetry translation one of the most challenging types of literary translation is its intricate combination of stylistics, pragmatics, and semantics. As Vasiliki Misiou puts it, “the core elements of poetry—rhythm, meter, structure, syntax, diction, form, sound, tone, voice, imagery, to name but a few—are very difficult to transfer, let alone reproduce in another language addressing a different audience of another culture” (“From Poetry to Poiesis: Celebrating Poetry in Translation”). For these reasons, many scholars have pointed out the difficulty of translating poetry (Misiou, “From Poetry to Poiesis: Celebrating Poetry in Translation”). Despite the impossibility of poetry translation, translators should not forget to celebrate both the wins and the losses in an ideal interlingual poetry translation. At the end of the day, poetry translators are “asked to produce a text that has some intrinsic poetic quality defined in terms of the poetic norms of a particular time, place and tradition. This basically amounts to an acknowledgment of the expectations of the readership for poetry in a specific language or tradition” (Connolly qtd. in Misiou). In this view, poetry translators need to respect the boundaries between the source language culture and target language culture and cater to the gaps to produce a translatum that better corresponds to the stylistics, semantics, and pragmatics of the original.
To do this, I have approached my translation process through Eugene Nida’s dynamic equivalence. On the basis of Nida’s principle of equivalence, the target text should bear to the target audience the same result the source text has on the source audience (“The Translation Ode: A Conversation Between Lana Del Rey and Sylvia Plath”). To effectively render Nida’s dynamic equivalence my translation needed to incorporate these four basic characteristics: 1. making sense, 2. conveying the spirit and manner of the original, 3. having a natural and easy form of expression, 4. producing a similar response (Munday qtd. in Ntokli). In my translation of Fries’ three poems titled “Body Language,” “The Canoe Ride” and “To the Poet Whose Lover Has Died of AIDS,” I have, therefore, endeavored to be as faithful as possible to the content, form, and purpose of the source texts while, at the same time, creating a sense of naturalness in the translatums that will not overshadow, eliminate or overexaggerate elements of the original texts. For example, in the third stanza of the English version and the fourth stanza of the Greek version of the poem “To the Poet Whose Lover Has Died of AIDS,” the word “teacher” needed to be studied meticulously in order to avoid twisting the original purpose of the source text. In English, the word is grammatically gender-neutral, while in Greek its proximate translation “δάσκαλος-δασκάλα” are male and female gendered respectively. Additionally, even its more formal rendition “ο/η εκπαιδευτικός” demands an emphasis on the choice of gender because of the obligatory use of Greek articles before nouns.
To resolve such a challenge—among others—I first had to discuss with the writer himself the intentions of the source text and that line specifically. In his words, at the time he wrote the poem, teachers were thought to be mostly women, which was also the case in Greece. However, through the translation, the poem is transferred to the present, and with that, it addresses today’s audience. Therefore, we either had to stick to the singular female-gendered noun “η δασκάλα” or find a gender-neutral solution. It is the conversation with the poet that has helped the translator decide on the use of the plural form of the noun “ο/η εκπαιδευτικός”, which is “οι εκπαιδευτικοί”. Though this may be controversial from a feminist point of view as the article “οι” and the suffix “-οι” is predominantly used in Greek to denote the male gender, in this case, it is the only option that is gender-neutral. This happens due to the noun belonging to a specific grammatical category of nouns where both the male and female genders have the same form in the plural and, thus, allow the plural form to acquire a gender-neutral quality. Following this example, I have approached with such attentiveness the whole translation process and I hope that the Greek translations of Fries’ queer-crip poetry will both preserve their authentic tone and faithfully pay tribute to the source texts by introducing a yet unknown—to the Greek audience—genre and mode of writing to the Greek cultural sphere.
Baer, Brian James. Queer Theory and Translation Studies: Language, Politics, Desire. Routledge, 2020.
Baer, Brian James, and Klaus Kaindl. Queering Translation, Translating the Queer: Theory, Practice, Activism, edited by Brian James Baer and Klaus Kaindl, 1st ed., Routledge, 2018.
Fries, Kenny. “A Conversation between American Queer-Crip Writer Kenny Fries and Aris Kleiotis: Discussing Fries’ Thirty Years of Literary Craft.” Interview by Aristeidis Kleiotis. Poeticanet, May 2022, www.poeticanet.com/conversation-between-american-queer-crip-writer-kenny-a-362.html. Accessed 20 June 2022.
---. Body, Remember: A Memoir. U of Wisconsin P, 2003.
Gutter, Bob, and John R. Killacky. Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories. Routledge, 2004.
Kafer, Alison. Feminist, Queer, Crip. Indiana UP, 2013.
Kleiotis, Aristeidis. Queer-Crips: Intersection of Gender, Homosexuality and Disability in Contemporary American Life-Writing. 2022. Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, MA thesis. IKEE, ikee.lib.auth.gr/record/338115?ln=el. Accessed 16 May 2023.
---. “The Translation Ode: A Conversation Between Lana Del Rey and Sylvia Plath.” Poeticanet.com, www.poeticanet.com/translation-conversation-between-lana-a-311.html? category_id=137. Accessed 20 May 2023.
McRuer. Robert. Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York UP, 2006.
Μisiou, Vasiliki. “From Poetry to Poiesis: Celebrating Poetry in Translation.” Poeticanet.com, Poeticanet.com, www.poeticanet.com/from-poetry-poiesis-celebrating-poetry-translation-a-296.html. Accessed 20 May 2023.
Ntokli, Maria. “On the Translation of Maya Angelou’s Poem ‘Still I Rise’.” Poeticanet.com, www.poeticanet.com/translation-maya-angelou-poem-still-a-305.html. Accessed 20 May 2023.
O’Connell, Ryan. I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves. Simon & Schuster, 2015. Google Books, books.google.gr/books/about/I_m_Special.html?id=DUAjBQAAQBAJ&redir_esc=y. Accessed 16 May 2023.
Sandahl, Carrie. “Queering the Crip or Cripping the Queer?: Intersections of Queer and Crip Identities in Solo Autobiographical Performance.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol. 9, no. 1-2, 2003, pp. 25-56.
Sati, Someshwar, and G. J. V. Prasad, editors. Disability in Translation: The Indian Experience. CRC Press, 2019.
Tymoczko, Maria, editor. Translation, Resistance, Activism. U of Massachusetts P, 2010.
I would like to thank Kenny Fries for granting us copyright permission to reproduce his poetry on the online platform of Poeticanet as part of this translation project. I would also like to thank the author for being eager and willing to provide clarifications amidst translation challenges.
Author's Bio: Kenny Fries
Translator's Bio: Aris Kleiotis
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