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Exchanging Lives

Written by Fernando Galván for The European English Messenger on no date provided

Exchanging Lives: Poems and Translations is the title of a remarkable dialogue that Susan Bassnett has established with the Argentinian poet, Alejandra Pizarnik. As Bassnett writes:

Translating is a form of meeting, it is an encounter between writers. I met Alejandra Pizarnik a few years ago, in Colombia when a friend gave me a pirate edition of some of her poems and it was love at first reading. I never had the chance to meet her in person. She died, tragically young at the age of only 36 in 1972, the year my eldest daughter was born. Her poetry was completely different to mine.... I started to translate her work because it was a way of getting closer to her, of finding out more about her. Then, I came to see that the act of translating was changing my own writing. I became braver, I tried new forms, experimented with different voices. We were and are, utterly different as writers and as women.... Maybe, if we had met face to face we would have had nothing in common with one another. But I feel a great sense of closeness to her. I know her. She knows me. We have shared something. Through translation. (29-30)

The 'exchanges' are organised in three parts. The first consists of translations of poems from Pizarnik's collection Arbol de Diana; the second juxtaposes poems by Pizarnik with poems by Bassnett; and the last consists of the translator's own poems -- 'poems that I would never have written had I not been inspired by the task of translating Pizarnik' (9).

Pizarnik's poems are a revelation, and it is of course highly rewarding to observe one of the leading theorists of translation studies translating and, in a sense, herself being translated in this way.

The pleasingly produced small volume is published by Peepal Tree Press, 17 King's Avenue, Leeds LS6 1QS (ISBN 1 900 715 66 X; £7.99).

This is a review of Exchanging Lives

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