The International Poetry Journal in Bengali and English

Issue 39
Jan-Mar '08

Note From the Translator

The first translated issue of Shabdaguchha was published in 2000. That was the 9th issue of the magazine. It took us almost eight years to come up with another one. But, over the time, those who read Shabdaguchha would know that we have been publishing translations. Every issue contains some Bengali poems translated into English. We published poetry from other languages into Bengali as well, since our goal is to build a bridge between the East and the West.

The subtitle of the 9th issue was From Barishal to Briarwood and it included poems translated by 16 different translators. Barishal is the place in Bangladesh where the great Bengali poet Jibanananda Das was born, and Briarwood is the neighborhood in New York from where the magazine was being published at that time. But, the present issue is called Poets of Bangladesh. Actually, we meant it to be The Contemporary Poets of Bangladesh, and every poem of this special issue is translated by the editor of the magazine. As the editor of Shabdaguchha, I realized that many poets of Bangladesh have not yet been translated into English. Moreover, living in New York City and editing a poetry journal that has its roots thousands of miles away from here, my colleagues and I often face a situation where we need to present an anthology of Bengali poetry, something which is not yet available in the American bookstores. To me it became more insulting one day, while I was waiting to hear Stanley Kunitz in the Millar Theater at the Columbia University and chatting with others sitting beside me, a gentleman asked, "Are there any Bengali poets after Tagore?" The question landed on my heart as a bombshell. No matter how foolish the question or who the questioner was, a professor or a reader, it immediately was clear to me that I needed to do something. So, I started translating Bangladeshi poets and thought that I would publish an anthology with my translation. So, this project has been going on for a while. The poets presented here are ranging from the 40s to the 90s. I translated three poems of each poet, though one of each, which I felt better polished as a translation, is presented here. I still keep it in my mind that in future I will come up with the desired complete anthology, The Contemporary Poets of Bangladesh.

Bengali poetry has a long secular tradition, though just before the separation of India and Pakistan in 1947, some poets started to break it in order to embrace Islamism in their work. But their effort was not sustained. After the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, poets got more freedom to express their feelings. Still, the poets of the 50s and 60s presented here were more creative throughout the 70s and 80s. The poets of the 90s, the Bengali postmodernists, again made a significant contribution.

To include a poet in this special issue, I, first of all, made my choices of the best poets of the period mentioned above, and then selected the poems that would best represent these poets. Though it is not easy to represent a poet by only three poems, the poems I selected were nonetheless notable in Bengali. Then the process of translation started. After reading a poem for a couple of times, I create the English version and write it down in my notebook. Later, as I type the poem in my computer, I make necessary changes. Most of the time, while I think of a Bengali phrase, I imagine a colleague or a student of mine in front of me and try to think how I would explain it in simple English. Once the typing is done, I save it and forget about it for a long time. In about a month or so, I come back to the translation, and edit it without keeping the original in front of me. This time, I try to get it polished in such a way as if the poem is written in English. Now, I am ready to share it with American poets and professors who could give me a better suggestion to improve the translation. If needed, I go back to the original again and compare the two versions. Though I believe that through translating a poem, I am remaking it, but at the same time, I do not want to go far away from the original. Therefore, to me, translating a poem is a long process and I think anyone who is involved in translation would agree with me that it is even more difficult than writing a new one. In my view, translation should therefore be rather a product of team work than the work of an individual. And I am happy that initially I got some help from the poet and publisher Stanley H. Barkan and then, as the guest editor of this issue, Prof. Nicholas Birns, who painstakingly read all the poems and penned down his suggestions. We also discussed some difficult poems sitting in a restaurant a few times. Finally, what we came up, I hope, would be a good experience for any reader who is interested in some poetry that is not yet exposed to the West, but that has an enormous ability to walk readers through a path that is significant in today’s world poetry.

Hassanal Abdullah

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    Shabdaguchha, A Journal of Poetry, Published in New York, Edited by Hassanal Abdullah.