Translation as (Re)Performance (Part 1: Moonstriking)

In 2014, after fourteen years of reading, researching, and translating the poetry of the polyglot poet Amelia Rosselli, I found myself faced in terms more immediate than ever with the task of transmitting her voice to an English-speaking audience. Invited to present at a salon in Madison, I decided to read from my recently published book of translations, Locomotrix. But lacking access to a sound system, I was suddenly forced to confront the heresy of relaying the "voice" of the Italian text with my own: faced with the limits not only of the usual semantic equivalents, but of phonemes and beats detached from their sonorous manifestation via Rosselli's person, tuned by political exile from Italian Fascism between four nations and three languages.

This poet's readings highlight the fact that her lines ply their way between linguistic systems. A comment on the displacing effect of Rosselli's language by one Italian critic is indicative of the way her voice testifies to a hovering between the imagined phonetic norms of nation-states: "non si capisce bene da dove venga" (one doesn't understand where it comes from). Rosselli's spoken accent, with its guttural r and other traces of alterity with respect to the faulty notion of a "standard" Italian, is the source of ample fascination, and some measure of condescension; I've heard it characterized as other to English, French, and Italian colleagues alike.

Read the full essay on the Poetry Foundation website.