It is interesting how what one considers innovative in one language would be of the very essence of the other, particularly when that language is dealing with "sacredness," whether it occurs or is spelled out in ritualistic or institutional terms or not.
Turkish is also full of similar puns, partly but not completely due to the narrow sound range of the language. Since Ece Ayhan’s work in the 1950's and 1960’s (A Blind Cat Black and Orthodoxies, Sun and Moon Press, 1997), Turkish poetry exploits this quality continuously, in all sorts of ways. The "Godless Sufism" which I attach to this poetry in an essay I wrote in 1995 (Talisman, no. 14) partly derives from it.
At the moment I am translating a poem, “Hotel Kuskuncuk,” by the Turkish poet Haydar Erg¸len where I am struggling with one of these pun clusters: "ay" ("moon") also means "ah," both of pain and rapture; "ayla" ("with the moon") also means a woman's name; "ayna" means "mirror," etc., etc.
Another cluster occurs in an Seyhan ErozÁelik poem: the word “kiragi” means “frost”; “kir agi” also means “meadow web”; “kir” also means “break,” “crush,” “emotionally hurt,” “disappoint”; “agi” also means “dirge.” The poem involves a boy’s memory in early morning walking in the field and crushing the frost with his heel, the incredible pleasure he feels and also oddly the trauma. Words as fragments explode in the poem, of pleasure, pain, song, etc.
This poem belongs to the book, Rosestrikes and Coffee Grinds (G¸l ve Telve), which I am translating in its totality. (Sections from it appeared in English in the Eda: An Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry, Talisman House, 2004, and in Bombay Gin, 2006, translation issue.) The poem in question is the final piece in the Rosestrikes section. Undoubtedly, it is one of the greatest poems written in the last twenty years, in any language. Interestingly, the title of the poem in Turkish is a word in English, “Rosebud,” which is a reference to another formative childhood experience in snow, Orson Welles’s, together constituting a Spicerean correspondence, a continuum, or, put in another way, both belonging space/universe of Walter Benjamin’s “ideal language.”
Susan, I think we come here back to the issue of the “sacred,” what it means, and how it relates to the questions you raised in your initial post, the possibility of a “refusal to translate.” The sacred is that part of the dialectics of translation which wants to keep itself intact, “untranslatable.” In a text, the sacred often manifests itself as style, that aspect of a writing most involved with its own “modes,” its own culture (I discuss this in “Translation and Style,” Talisman, No. 6, 1991, and http://www.cs.rpi.edu/~sibel/poetry/murat_nemet_nejat.html). No true translation can exists without containing these traces of style. That is why, essentially, what a translation translates is distance, its untranslatability. In my own case, and in the case of Turkish, eda is those stylistic trace, segueing into the sacredness of Sufism, and the inviolable wholeness of the dream city Istanbul, and the elusive wholeness of Turkish as an agglutinative language.
In this dialectic the other side belongs to the target language, its own sense of lack at the moment of contact in relation what the original text has to offer, the translation starting out of this insufficiency . The target language in some ways has to transform itself to accommodate this other, its elusiveness, “growing a new limb.” This aspect of the dialectic leads to experimentation, linguistic innovation.
Following this argument leads to a startling conclusion: linguistic experiment, innovation must involve a confrontation with the sacred. To put it within the framework of the poetics of our time, translation involves the confrontation of the secular language with the sacred. In more general terms, isn’t this confrontation between the secular [“democratic,” “rational”] and the sacred [“terroristic,” “sentimental”] the primary ideological battle of our time, doesn’t this make translation the quintessential form, the most relevant of this historical moment?
I would like to refer to Jerome Rothenberg’s The Technicians of the Sacred, the anthology which was crucial in bringing the idea of the sacred to the surface. Unfortunately, American poetry since then, a very significant portion of it, seems to have focused on creating a poetics of the avant garde basically decoupled from this sacred dimension, as if poetic experiment can thrive basically as social criticism, within the infernally endless machinery of language. This to my mind is sad and peculiarly drained of reality.
There is a deep spiritual strain –a strain of the sacred- in American poetry, starting from Biblical sermons to Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Spicer, Duncan, Creeley, Fanny Howe, Kent Johnson, Forrest Gander, Linh Dinh, etc., etc. (the list is rich and long). If one frees oneself from the dichotomy of The Avant and The School of Quietitude –which is an attempt to project a poetic movement of about thirty years onto the total history of American poetry- the primacy of the spiritual (as opposed to exclusively political or social) in this poetry becomes self-evident: one has then a spectrum the two ends of which are the sacred and the secular, inhabited in between by the blasphemous, the profane, the witty, the ironic, dying towards the indifferent.
As David-Baptiste Chirot says, American poets are looking for a new Fleurs Du Mal.
A poem in two languages, a kaona:
An/kara: My Kind Hearted Step Mother*
An--: moment, second.
Second black, not first.
kar: doing it.
kar(a): to the snow.
kar(i): the snow.
kari: old crone.
Kirhane: prick house
next to our synagogue in Istanbul there was a prick house,
on wooden tables at the end of Yom Kippur
in the dark, in the intersection of our street and theirs,
the ladies of the night and their pimps left
glasses of water for us to drink
for free: Sebil.
thirty years later I went to the same spot.
the synagogue and its porch garden
(where I'd spent two evenings a year, the twinkling lights mixing with the stars through the Succah)
was all in ruins,
the rusting gate ajar,
and a red rooster was strolling at home among the lunar mounds and weeds.
Red rooster: as in red light district?
Yuzde yuz kiz: hundred percent virgin.
and oz, as in the Wizard of O's.
(from Io’s Song)
*Ankara: my Kind Hearted Step Mother is a line from the Turkish poet Cemal S¸reya. The capital city of Turkey, Ankara, is a step-mother compared to Istanbul, which culturally and historically was the main Turkish city. Another expression along those lines is: Ankara is a wife, Istanbul is a mistress.