Translator’s Note

Nancy Naomi Carlson  

While reading a little anthology of francophone poetry, I came across Waberi’s evocative poetry, and I immediately knew I wanted to translate his book of poems (at that time, his only book of poems) into English. I contacted him via Facebook, thinking he was living in Djibouti, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that he was teaching at George Washington University, just a few metro stops away from me, at the University of the District of Columbia. We arranged to meet at the Starbucks at the Van Ness metro stop — a meeting that was to be the first of several at that location — and have now collaborated on two books of poetry translations. I can't wait for him to write a third!

In order to infuse these lyric texts with music, I used a technique I call “sound mapping” to identify patterns of sound (including assonance, alliteration, and pure rhyme) in the original  text, as well as patterns of rhythm. While I could not always fully replicate each pattern, let alone the exact sound (many French sounds do not exist in English!), I did my best, and sometimes I got lucky. For example, in the poem “Access,” Waberi repeats the sound of “s” across several lines, possibly to underscore the whispered undertones of “silence,” as follows:

le silence m’offre son sein

sa musique

simple et sincère

I was able to incorporate the sound of “s” into my translation, as follows:

silence gives me its breast

its music

simple, sincere

Although this approach to translation is labor-intensive, the musicality of the original text almost demands to be infused into the English translation.

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