On Polish Translation of Sea and Spar Between

Critical Writing
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2013
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Stephanie Strickland's and Nick Montfort's See and Spar Between is in many respects a translational challenge that in some languages might seem an impossible task. Polish, our target language, imposes some serious constraints: one- syllable words become disyllabic or multisyllabic; kennings have different morphological, lexical and grammatical arrangement, and most of the generative rhetoric of the original (like anaphors) must take into consideration the grammatical gender of Polish words. As a result, the javascript code, instructions that accompany the javascript file, and arrays of words that this poetry generator draws from, need to be expanded and rewritten. Moreover, in several crucial points of this rule-driven work, natural language forces us to modify the code.
In translating Sea and Spar Between, the process of negotiation between the source language and the target language involves more factors than in the case of traditional translation. Strickland and Montfort read Dickinson and Melville and parse their readings into a computer program (in itself a translation, or port, from Python to javascript) which combines them in almost countless ways. This collision of cultures, languages and tools becomes amplified if one wants to transpose it into a different language. This transposition involves the original authors of Sea and Spar Between, the four original translators of Dickinson and Melville into Polish, and us, turning into a multilayered translational challenge, something we propose to call a distributed translation. While testing the language and the
potential of poetry translation in the digital age, the experiment – we hope – has produced some fascinating and thought-provoking poetry.

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Jill Walker Rettberg