Vuslat D. Katsanis
"Karşılaşma" ("Exchange") from At Element by Leonard Schwartz
“The Intimacy of Listening: Translating Leonard Schwartz’s ‘Exchange’”
Leonard Schwartz is someone whom I greatly admire— a colleague, a friend, and a poet of incredible depth and sophistication. When he invited me to translate his “Exchange,” I felt both honored by his trust in me to handle his work, and intimidated for this would be my first time translating into Turkish. Until now, I have translated prose from Turkish into English, but not the other way around and never any poetry. This invitation came after several conversations about our teaching plans at Evergreen and a research trip we took to Istanbul in the summer of 2019, where we were to consider the connections between contemporary writing and art in the US and Turkey.
“Exchange” gives shape to a certain intimacy of telling and listening. In fact, reading the poem feels a bit like sitting with the author over a drink or two. We lean in as he reminisces about his twenties, sharing bits of information about people he only refers to by an initial, accentuating some moments while glancing over others. Each stanza reflects on a time past, but the memories remain fragmented as Schwartz never attempts at a full picture. The moments he remembers, the ones of deep admiration, doubt and gratitude, give us pause too. As we listen to the author share those glimpses, we begin to see that the various people who’ve entered Schwartz’s life have had lasting impression on his own writing; that even a seemingly mundane occurrence as walking across a public garden to pass the time is something he still cherishes. Schwartz did reveal to me in conversation that the poem was about some of the well-known writers that have influenced his own writing, including his professors at Bard College, Robert Duncan and Robert Kelly, and his mentors, Edouard Roditi and E.M. Cioran.
Translating Schwartz’s “Exchange,” was a rewarding challenge. The intimacy of listening becomes much more heightened in the translation process as every choice of word, tense, and punctuation lingers a minute longer to detail for us the weight of human encounters, the words uttered in confidence, and the exchanges that took place. Eventually, the boundaries of whose memory it was becomes blurred as those connections are given new shape by the translator’s words. Now, I listen even more carefully to what the poem is saying, absorbing what I hear in its particularities and pondering what I am left feeling in those words buzzing with sentimentality, regret, and renewed confidence.
By far the most challenging and enjoyable moment of translation in this piece was the last line:
D counseled fullness over purity, and wrote to me that the word “purity” would flame once
you saw the word “fire” in it.
Here, in the original English, Schwartz by way of D, attends to the etymological connection between the words pure and pyro: that there is indeed a certain fire that kindles deep within purity. Whereas a more direct translation of “purity” into Turkish is “saflık,” or “arıklık,” I chose instead “berraklık”:
D berraklık yerine bolluğu öğütledi, ve bana içindeki “ateş” görüldüğü an “berrak” kelimesi
tutuşacak diye yazdı.
The Turkish word “berrak,” deriving from Arabic barrāḳ برّاق [brḳ] signifies brightness or that which is luminescent. Arabic baraka, برق also means to flame, to spark, as if by fire. In Turkish, “berrak,” is used commonly to indicate cleanliness, a certain purity, as if looking down into a sea so clean and pure that you can see deep into the ground. This was the perfect word, not the kind of purity implied by “saflık,” a naiveté, but “berraklık,” almost an uncontaminated purity, clean and clear, and brightly illuminated by the light of fire.
When I asked Schwartz about that particular line, he confirmed D’s thoughts on sexual desire there; that he counseled fullness over purity in order to embrace passion without concern or fear.
Several parts stumbled me, the least of which was the English simple past tense:
R and I shared a delirium, though I disappointed him by not even holding hands, I should say
he confirmed for me my own delirium, and I am grateful.
A direct translation of the simple past tense in the words “shared” and “disappointed” would have been “paylaştık” and “hayal kırıklıgına uğrattım.” But this, more accurate translation would have lost the sentimentalism in the poem, making it more of a report on what happened. I used the Turkish inferential past tense, indicated through the suffix ‑miş‑ ‑mış‑ ‑müş‑ ‑muş, something close to the English past pluperfect tense, as in “had been,” but with added emphasis on time past:
R ve ben çılgınlığımızı paylaşmıştık, gerçi elini bile tutmayarak onu hayal kırıklığına uğratmıştım.
Söylemem lazım ki bana kendi çılgınlığımı teyit etmişti, ve buna minnettarım.
Here, “paylaşmıştık,” rather than “paylaştık,” and “uğratmıştım” rather than “uğrattım” give the impression that the completed action continues to have lasting effect. Less of a report on a completed action and more representative of a continuous unfolding of effects felt more appropriate for this particular exchange.
Another puzzle was the gendered descriptors in the English given that Turkish is gender-neutral and the poem references several people—women and men. Aside for apparently not having a word to indicate the female lion (lioness) in Turkish, there are also no gendered pronouns.
We sat in his small 6th arrondissement flat, C and his friend, me and the Italian editor.
She wasn’t interested.
6. Belediye’deki küçük dairesinde oturduk, C ve arkadaşı, ben ve İtalyan editör. Kadın ilgilenmedi.
Here, I added the word “woman” as a noun in the last line to indicate gender. The line “the woman wasn’t interested,” makes the implied heterosexual romance clearer in the poem. However, the identity of C, who is a “he” in the original, remains ambiguous in the Turkish. In fact, none of the other encounters are gendered in my Turkish translation since the language omits pronouns entirely. One exception is in the case of B in the second stanza, who is described by the noun “guy” in the original.
What’s lost in the omission of pronouns or in the gender neutral construct of Turkish is the implied homosexuality of some of the references. Most apparent is with R:
“though I disappointed him by not even holding hands…”
The Turkish emphasizes the mood of sexual tension or disillusionment, but does not indicate homosexual desire. In place of a clear “him,” whom the (male) writer refuses to hold hands with, is an indiscernible third person:
“elini bile tutmamakla onu hayal kırıklığına uğratmıştım…”
That sexual tension rather than sexual identity is emphasized—that it was the sort of tension and regret anyone could feel—may or may not do justice to the poem’s original sentiment toward that particular person, and toward the various people “Exchange” memorializes.
“Exchange” is enchanted with the memories of various mentors, friendships, and even some flirtatious missed connections. It’s certainly deeply personal, and as such, asks for a similarly intimate exchange of meaning between the writer, the reader, and in this case, the translator. For my own part, I can only hope I’ve adequately served the poem and the people it honors. “Exchange” initially appeared in the book At Element, from Talisman House.
I thank Leonard Schwartz for extending me this invitation to translate his words. I thank Ilknur Demirkoparan and Öznur Kutkan for carefully reading my Turkish translation and helping me refine it throughout multiple conversations. I thank Ali Hamade for advising me on my reference to Arabic. With their input, I was able to attain greater clarity of the poem in both its English source and Turkish language translation.
D şaşıydı. Ağzından kelimeler sonsuzca akarken, âdeta duvarlara konuşuyor gibiydi. Bana konuştuğuna karar verdim, fakat bu karara varmak yedi yılımı aldı, sonuçta bilgi dediğimiz her şey anı, duyu ve algının cümlelere yerleşmesidir.
B ile ilk tanıştığımda kendi kendime “bu adam eğlenceli, devamı varken keyfini çıkar, uzun yaşamaz” diye düşünmüştüm: bütün o korunmasız seks, Times Meydanı jigoloları, içtiği dediği taş, vesaire. Yirmi yıl sonra B hem hayatta hem de daha geçen hafta ayaklarıma masaj yaptı.
Gözlerimizin buluşması unutulmazdı. Karşılaşmamızla tüm kısıtlamaların kalkması, hasretin bakışlarla doyması ve kucaklaşma; ama o zaman ki durum onu yürümeye devam etmesini zorlamıştı. Mahzun değildim, hatta bir başka zamanda gözlerini kedi gibi kısmasını ve dişi bir aslan gibi öpüşünü anımsamaktan keyif aldım.
C sırrını dökerek bana tanımlanamaz bir şey verdi; sayfadaki kelimeleri dişi aslan sürüsünün avladığı bedenin çırpınışıydı, fakat, nihayet, vücudu da hırsla yiyip yuttular. Dile getirdiği sözler, bana söylenen, sadece bana, abartılı gamla doluydu, coşkunun beklentisini sürekli ima ederdi.
Bu günlerde K’nin bazı satırlarını ödünç alırım, mesela “kendimi yalanlarım çünkü konuşurum” diye geçen, ve K’nin konuşmasını düşünürüm, öyle içten tutarlılığını.
Onu tanımaya başladığımda R yaşlı bir adamdı, C’den büyük, K’den büyük, lisan ve hüzün dolu – ama konuştuğu onca dilden hiç biri o hüznü dile getiremezdi. Efkârlı bakışları bana bunu söyler gibiydi, onun bir işe yaramaz çırağı.
R bana Paris’teki çeşitli değerlerdeki tablolarla dolu dairesini ödünç verdi. Daha sonra, İspanya’nın uzaklarında, kiralık bir daireden, bana kafası attı, Lear-gibi—ya da benden hoşlanmadığını bildiğim G tarafından öyle denmişti bana. Her neyse, R’nin bir sonraki mektubunun dostça olmadığı da bir gerçekti.
Bütün bunlar olduğunda ne kadar genç olduğuma hayret ediyorum. R ve ben çılgınlığımızı paylaşmıştık, gerçi elini bile tutmayarak onu hayal kırıklığına uğratmıştım. Söylemem lazım ki bana kendi çılgınlığımı teyit etmişti, ve buna minnettarım. (Çok daha az dil biliyorum, konuşmayı öğrenmeye hala umutluyum).
R hiç bir zaman D’nin evcil huzuruna ulaşamadı, yuva masalına evcil yaşamın çarpıcı candanlığına. Evlilik ilişkisinin inceliklerinden haz etmeye yeterli miyim, o incelikler içerisinde yaşanmış anları keşfetmeye, hakikatin içindeki hakikati, bir tür evcillik şöleni?
B benden ve R’den çok daha telaşlı, maddi ve manevi her şeyini harcar aşk uğruna.
V’nin de benzer bir dikeni var etinde, her ne kadar yokmuş gibi davranmaktan hoşlansa da, onu oradan gelecekte bir zamanda yolacak, ya da o yegane aşkı onun için çekip çıkaracak âdeta bir dişi aslanın pençesinden çıkarırcasına.
C insanoğlunun budalalığına güldü, ve aynı zamanda beni genç ve güzel bir İtalyan editörle buluşturdu. 6. Belediye’deki küçük dairesinde oturduk, C ve arkadaşı, ben ve İtalyan editör. Kadın ilgilenmedi.
Yıllar sonra B’nin Fransa’daki editörü olarak kadın tekrar ortaya çıktı. Hoşlanmamıştı B ondan—ona S deyim—ve alaylı alaylı dalga geçmişti onunla.
C insanoğlunun budalalığına güldü ve beni Luxemburg Bahçesinde yürüyüşlere çıkardı, o yürüyüşlerin anısı hala içimi çalkalar.
Sanırım K benden pek bir şey olacağını düşünmüyordu, nitekim o yaşlarda sevimsiz ve içine dönük biriydim, diğer insanlarla nasıl olunacağını çok çok sonrasına kadar öğrenmemiştim. Belki de K haklıydı.
R’nin çeşitli yazılarını derlemek isterim ve böyle bir projeye girişmek ister mi diye tanıdığım yayımcıya sorabilirim.
D berraklık yerine bolluğu öğütledi, ve bana kelimedeki “kıvılcımı” gördüğün an içindeki “berraklık” tutuşacak diye yazdı.
D was cross-eyed. As the words flowed endlessly from his mouth it appeared that he might be talking to the walls. I decided that he was talking to me, although it took seven years to come to that decision, as everything that we call knowledge is based in memory, sensation and perception settling into sentences.
When I first met B, I thought to myself “this guy is fun, enjoy him while he lasts, he won’t live long”: all that apparently unprotected sex, the Times Square gigolos, the crack he said he was smoking, and so on. Twenty years later B is not only alive but just last week, he gave me a foot massage.
It was a memorable locking of the eyes, one that overcame all the restrictions of our exchange, a longing satisfied by sight, and an embrace; but the circumstance dictated that she then had to continue walking on. I wasn’t wistful, I took renewed pleasure in the memory of the feline narrowing of her eyes on another occasion, and that lioness-like kiss.
C took me into his confidence, he gave me something undefinable, his words on the page were a pride of lioness’ hunting down the body’s refusals, but, alas, they devoured the body too; his spoken words, spoken to me, to me alone, were filled with an exaggerated woe that intimated, always, an expectation of the ecstatic.
Nowadays I borrow some of K’s lines, like the one that goes “I contradict myself because I speak”, and I think about the way K speaks, with such inner consistency.
R was an old man when I came to know him, older than C, older than K, filled with language and sorrow - but of the many languages he spoke none could speak his sorrow. His mournful gaze seemed to say this to me, his useless apprentice.
R lent me his Paris apartment filled with paintings of variable worth. Later he grew angry with me, I would say Lear-like, from the distance of a rented residence in Spain, or so I was told by G, who I knew disliked me. Yet it was true that R’s next letter was not friendly.
I find it amazing that I was so young when all this happened. R and I shared a delirium, though I disappointed him by not even holding hands, I should say he confirmed for me my own delirium, and I am grateful. (I know far fewer languages, still have hopes to learn to speak.)
R never gained the domestic bliss of D, the myth of the hearth, the intensely intimate domestic life. Am I capable of cherishing the minutia of the conjugal relation, of finding in that minutia the minutes of lived experience, the actual in the actual, a mode of domestic celebration?
B is far more frantic than R or myself, spends everything he has, emotionally and financially, in love’s pursuit.
V has a similar thorn in the flesh, though she likes to pretend it isn’t there, that she will pluck it out at some future date, or that one particular lover will remove it for her as from a lioness’ paw.
C laughed at all human folly, and at the same time set me up with a beautiful young Italian editor. We sat in his small 6th arrondissement flat, C and his friend, me and the Italian editor. She wasn’t interested.
Years later she turned up again as B’s editor in France. He didn’t like her – I’ll call her S – and mocked her in the most sarcastic terms.
C laughed at all human folly and took me for walks in the Luxembourg Gardens, and the memory of those walks still stirs me.
I don’t think K really thought I would amount to much, and it is true at that age that I was obnoxious, and withdrawn, and didn’t learn to be with people at all till much, much later. So maybe K was right.
I would like to edit R’s uncollected and perhaps will ask a publisher I know if she might be willing to take on the project.
D counseled fullness over purity, and wrote to me that the word “purity” would flame once you saw the word “fire” in it.