If there is anything that translation has given me, it would have to be an unrelenting faith in cycles. After all, translation is a circular exercise. One begins with the original work, anchored to conveying a specific moment or meaning. From this point, the translator, while wrestling with different word choices and rhythm, moves away from the primary text. Yet, in the end, the aim of any translation is to return to the starting material, creating a full circle of sorts. Except, in reality, it’s more like a wheel since every time you get all the way around, you’ve happened to move into a different moment, or in the case of translation, a different language. The translations encompassed in this issue are a testament to this process. Rooted in the original texts, they not only allow you to make that circular journey back to the poet’s initial thoughts and feelings but they are also full of movement, urgency, and progress. They rotate forward and spin; they provide nuanced interpretations of both the familiar and unfamiliar.
Nothing conveys this more literally than Su Shi’s “chain verse” poem which consists of ancient Chinese characters arranged in a “circle.” Each seven-character line is formed by reading around the ring at different points, representing how each cyclical iteration is shaped by where you begin and end. Translation has hence taught me that although we may all travel on this cycle that is time and life, every journey is unique. The voices in this issue, hailing from Thailand, Norway, Tunisia, Russia, and many more, span across continents and centuries, presenting a wide array of experiences. We at DoubleSpeak understand that this need for representation is more pressing than ever, a notion so eloquently dissected by renowned author Maria Dahvana Headley. In our interview about her feminist translation of Beowulf, she noted how translation is crucial to the process of telling stories with the “full spectrum of humanity.” We hope that as you dive into the ensuing poems and translations, you too are able to experience the slice of diversity stored within this year’s issue.
Although translation has taught me to appreciate the nuances of humanity, it has also reaffirmed its universality. As the world continues to battle with the COVID-19 pandemic and “migraines and / unemployment rates / worldwide turmoil / and injustice,” as described by Uruguayan poet Cristina Peri Rossi, I am reminded of the pervasiveness of loss, death, and marginalization. Yet, my faith in cycles, so carefully instilled in me through my time in DoubleSpeak, gives me hope that in times of hatred, isolation, and fear, we can and often do return full circle back to love, unity, and peace. We have witnessed this very cycle in the United States as we begin to slowly go back to our “pre-pandemic” lifestyles albeit forever changed.
However, as noted by Chinese poet Zhang Zhihao in his COVID-19 poem, “the danger of life repeating itself is that memory is prone to degaussing.” As this year progresses, we must remember that it is not enough to return full circle and that true change only results when we break away from vicious cycles, when we vow to do things differently the next time, when we move like wheels instead of circles. And, more importantly, this can only be achieved together — with unity and compassion. After all, Italian poet Filippo Vignali in his poem explains “how a hug props us up / a caress heals us / how our tides are moved / by the half-moon of a true smile.” The power of empathy and connection is strong. Being a part of the DoubleSpeak community, a family of brilliant and kind editors, translators, and academics who have poured their souls into this issue, has been my living proof.
As you, dear reader, delve into the complicated and daring worlds of poets and translators from all over, I hope you too are gifted with an unrelenting faith in moving cycles, in harmonious change, and can remember that, as tenderly voiced by Tunisian poet Amina Saïd, “each beginning represents a circle / a memory leads to a sea of possibilities.”