Zafer Senocak – Berlin vor dem schwarzen Frühling

Berlin vor dem schwarzen Frühling I
schwer ist es Städte zu befahren die es nicht mehr gibt
schwerer noch einen Weg hinaus zu finden
noch lange hält der Wall
lange nachdem die Stadt verwittert ist
wer entkommt träumt weiter
oder wacht als Toter auf
mit einem dicken SchuldscheinIV
die Fische auf dem Balkon werfen ihre Gräten gen Herbst
alle nicht abgeholten Hoffnungen stapeln wir zusammen in einen kleinen Raum
hinter dunklem Fenster rostet ein helles
und noch aus dem Rost blinken Blumen
unsere Preise fallen
der Gärtner hat die Sträucher abgeschliffen
die Gräten ausgejätet
geht siebenmal ums Haus
auch die Grabsteine pflegt er
auf dem glatten Rasen der einer Wüste gleicht
verschwindet unsere Spur in der Spur von anderen
unsicher bewegen wir uns im eigenen Gehäus
mit den Wimpern schließen wir die Fenster
und horchen
Berlin Before the Black SpringI
it’s hard to navigate cities that no longer exist
harder still to find a way out
the rampart remains long after the city is weathered
whoever escapes will dream on
or wake up as a dead man
deep in debtIV
the fish on the balcony cast their bones toward autumn
all the uncollected hopes we stack together in a small room
behind a dark window rusts a bright one
and still out of the rust flowers are flashing
our prices are falling
the gardener has filed the shrubs
weeded out the bones
goes seven times around the house
he even tends the gravestones
on the smooth lawn that resembles a desert
our trace disappears in the trace of others
uncertain we move in our own shell
we close the windows with our eyelashes and listen

Translated by Sarah Bailey, Emily Banwell, Christian Buss, Deniz Göktürk, Michael Huffmaster, Karen Logue, Damani Partridge, Sabrina Rahman, Zafer Senocak, Karina Sliwinski, Robert Schechtman, and Chantelle Warner.

(These translations are the collaborative effort of a graduate seminar called "Hybrid Cultures: Jews and Turks in German," which was team-taught by Professor Deniz Göktürk and Max Kade Foundation Distinguished Visitor Zafer Senocak in spring 2003. The two poems are from a cycle of 12 titled “Berlin vor dem schwarzen Frühling” published in Senocak’s 1991 volume of poetry, "Das senkrechte Meer.")

On Translating Poems by Zafer Senocak with Zafer Senocak
Though probably trying at some point or other for most of the seminar participants, the group translation project I think was felt by all to be a highly instructive experience. Aspects of syntax, grammar, diction, and style that any one individual might not have considered in his or her own translation (or rather might have taken as obvious and translated without much thought), when confronted with colleagues’ alternatives, suddenly seemed to merit closer reflection. This was true of both apparently minor details like definite articles or personal pronouns and semantically richer items as well.

Working on the first poem, we discussed the different meanings, the denotations and the various connotations, of expressions such as befahren, hält, Wall, verwittert, träumt weiter, and in particular the last verse, mit einem dicken Schuldschein. And we discussed the different meanings, the denotations and the various connotations, of their possible alternative translations as well. Similarly, in our work on the second poem we deliberated over the nuances of numerous elements including aus, blinken, abgeschliffen, auch, glatt, Wüste, Spur, and Gehäuse, to name but a few. We talked about prepositions, articles, and possessive pronouns, and debated their possible renderings in English. We discussed rhetorical devices in the originals that we felt it important to try to emulate, features we would be able or unable to carry over, and elements we might lose, or could “sacrifice” but compensate for by adding something in the translation. We considered aspects such as sound and rhythm and repetition. Individuals argued the merits of their preferences, tempers sometimes flared, and compromises were constantly negotiated.

After the working sessions, during which we mostly discussed the nitty-gritty of translating, a number of students in the seminar, myself included, reflected in writing on the process. Having worked before professionally as a translator, and always independently, I focused on the compromise entailed when working in a larger group, and suggested that two translators working together, ideally in consultation with the author (the intentional fallacy notwithstanding), would represent a more effective formation. I mentioned that we were fortunate in this respect to have had Zafer himself working with us on the translations.

From participants’ reflections arose further discussion in seminar about the act of translating and the significance of translation. Zafer pointed out that the metaphors used to talk about translation are often the same as those employed in the discourse on immigration and assimilation. We discussed the presence or absence of “hybrid” elements in the poems and whether such a thing as a hybrid poem exists, whether the term can be applied usefully to the poems we were working on, or to any poem.

Whether or not a poem can be a hybrid, every translation is, of some sort or another. These translations of Zafer Senocak’s poems, conceived as the heteroglossic mental offspring of everyone in German 268, certainly are.

-M. Huffmaster