Spotlight on Literary Translators is a regular feature here at Intralingo. The aim of these interviews is to get the word out about our profession and the works we bring into other languages. The insight the interviewees provide is also sure to help all of us who are aspiring or established literary translators. Enjoy!
Spotlight on Literary Translator Ann Cefola
LC: What language(s) and genres do you translate?
AC: I translate the work of contemporary French poet Hélène Sanguinetti. Seismicity Editions published my translation of her second book, Hence this cradle, in 2007. Hélène is the author of De la main gauche, exploratrice (Flammarion, 1999), D’ici, de ce berceau (Flammarion, 2003), Alparegho, Pareil-à-rien (L’Act Mem, 2005), Le Héros (Flammarion, 2008) and Et voici la chanson (Editions de L’Amandier, 2012).
LC: How did you get started as a literary translator?
AC: After completing my graduate degree in poetry, I wanted to try my hand at translating. I had studied languages in college, followed by work at a French company or two in New York. The idea of combining my understanding of poetics with my language skill appealed to me. However, the first challenge was to find a contemporary poet. The well-known ones already have translators—and the lesser known would be challenging to locate. After much online research, I found an American working at the Poetry Center of Avignon who recommended Hélène, and I ordered her book.
De la main gauche, exploratrice, or Left-hand Exploring, is a wild combination of poetry, multiple narratives and journal entries. Fortunately, when I began translating, my new next-door neighbor was the multilingual Ligia Yamazaki. Equally intrigued by the text, Ligia spent Saturday afternoons with me reviewing my translation. Sometimes we’d pantomime sentences to get a better understanding of knottier phrases. In many ways, Ligia showed me how to approach a text.
LC: What do you love most and least about this work?
AC: Hélène is doing something with poetry unlike anything I have ever seen—it’s creative in the extreme. The multiple voices she generates have caused critics in France to compare her to TS Eliot. She also weaves in charming fables, such as this one from Alparegho, so her poetic narratives are both innocent and adult. Translating her first four books has also stretched me as a poet, filled me with richer vocabulary and new approaches. I often say I feel more like Hélène’s apprentice than her translator.
When it comes to the process, I savor the detective work—first determining meaning, then choosing the most appropriate corresponding English. I love Hélène’s playfulness when she makes up her own words, turns nouns into verbs, varies fonts or employs unexpected punctuation. She also views space on the page as an integral part of the poem, and I do my best to honor this visual aspect. Probably the thing I like least is proofing galleys under short deadlines—although I am deeply grateful to the journals that accept Hélène’s and my work.
LC: Can you tell us a little about a recent project?
AC: Recently I revised my translation of The Hero (Le Héros). This 150–page poem explores the fallacies of war from the vantage point of one village and a young couple who live there. The poem integrates a fable, concrete poetry and script dialogue. The current International Poetry Review features a selection, and The Dirty Goat has also published several chapters. While translation feels like it’s never “done,” I am happy with the manuscript.
Thanks, Lisa, for this opportunity to talk about Hélène’s work. I encourage any book publishers to consider snapping up The Hero, Alparegho like nothing else or Left-hand Exploring.
LC: Ann, thank you for participating! Hélène’s’s work sounds like a magnificent challenge to translate. I hope publishers hear your call…
Dear readers: Please leave any questions or comments for Ann Cefola in a comment!
Ann Cefola is the author of St. Agnes, Pink-Slipped (Kattywompus Press, 2011), Sugaring (Dancing Girl Press, 2007), and the translation Hence this cradle (Seismicity Editions, 2007). A Witter Bynner Poetry Translation Residency recipient, she also received the Robert Penn Warren Award judged by John Ashbery. Ann works in mid-town Manhattan as a writer and lives in the New York suburbs.