Natalia A. Pagán Serrano

Short Talk on Translation

after Anne Carson

On May 20, Ilya Kaminsky tweeted: “‘Tell me—Who are you? When you speak in someone else’s language?’ —Samira Negrouche tr Marilyn Hacker.” [n][/n] Think about how these words have gone through three mouths. A fourth, in Spanish: “Dime—¿Quién eres? ¿Cuando hablas en el idioma de otro?” Think about what might have been lost in the process and what is continually lost in the act of translation. This is what you fear when translating your own words, that you don’t sound the same in Spanish. And you don’t—sound the same. It’s your native language but sometimes it sits on your tongue like it wants to get out. It’s probably the colonized in you. Frantz Fanon wrote: “To speak as the colonized is therefore to participate in one’s own oppression and to reflect the very structures of your alienation in everything from vocabulary to syntax to intonation.” [n][/n] Who are you, then? When you write poetry in a language of oppression? When it sits in your mouth comfortably, like it’s been in there for over a century? But then—what language hasn’t been used at one point to oppress? You wonder what language you would speak if the native people on your island wouldn’t have been subjected to genocide. If the Spanish hadn’t come along first, surely, another White Country would have, no? Maybe you would have ended up writing poetry in English anyway.

Natalia A. Pagán Serrano is a poet from Puerto Rico. She currently resides in Oregon drenched in tree-magic and rain. She adores her fiancé, Daniel, and her cat, Esteban. Natalia’s poems have been published in [PANK] magazine, Portland Review, and The Acentos Review, among others.