As I read Ismael Ramos’s work, I am continually struck by the presence of the body, by the corporality his pieces evoke. Often hovering between poetry and prose, Ramos’s work has a quiet vitality that derives, perhaps, from its proximity to the failures of the body, to death and other forms of loss. And yet, as Ramos pointed out in our most recent correspondence, any sense of corporality that a poem might transmit is always a corporality in absentia, like a phantom limb that continues to feel pain years after being severed. Indeed, Ramos’s poems succeed by evoking familiar yet absent sensations, echoes of presence which the readerly mind amplifies and completes as it reflects on the precarity of the body.
I began to translate from Galician while in graduate school conducting a research project that led me to read almost exclusively in that language. It was a purely textual immersion; rarely did I have occasion to speak Galician, or hear it spoken. Even so, at a certain point I began to have the experience of reading something in English and hearing it in my mind in Galician, or the other way around. It was an uncanny experience of unwitting ventriloquism that led me to translating as a way of exploring the feeling that I had become physically occupied by a language that had entered me through reading.
I would wager that most translators have a similar story to tell; letting a language into one’s body is a foundational experience for translators, it is where the translator’s identity begins to be forged as such. But as a translator of a Galician, while I consider myself lucky to have experienced such a transformative experience, it is also clear to me that continuing to find opportunities to deepen my relationship with the language I translate is a challenge. My life as a teacher takes me in other directions, and even in our universities there is little support for scholars and practitioners wishing to devote themselves fully to the study of less widely spoken languages, or to literary translation more broadly.
This lack of structural and institutional support means that the literary translations we have the good fortune to read come into being, in most cases, through deeply personal and frankly strange processes that straddle the realms of abstraction and corporeality. For me, translating Galician is reaching into the air to seize a fistful of soil; it is reaching into words to feel the warmth of blood. In reading and translating Ismael Ramos, I have sensed the presence of limbs I no longer have, of bodies I will never see. I hope you feel them, too.about the author