Bijan Jalali’s poems are simple, brief, and sparse. Each poem utilizes an abundance of white space, inviting readers to stay with his thoughts and images, to dwell within the physical and intellectual space of the poem. We thus focused on precision and visual aesthetics in our translations, in order to create a similar effect of simplicity and open space. Because we were working with short, self-contained units, we often found ourselves considering the shapes and lengths of words. An English word that may otherwise be a decent translation of a Persian word, could in this context be unsuitable if it had too many or too few syllables, or harder or softer consonants. For instance, the visual effect of the single letterو, which translates directly to “and,” does not map visually and sonically directly onto the latter, which is longer, and perhaps more muted. In these cases, the “&” symbol feels more appropriate because it is a single character. On the other hand, the و (at least in the context of Jalali’s poems) carries greater weight and we are afraid to substitute something that might seem frivolous. In engaging with such minutiae — which we insist can make or break a translation — are moments of discovery, and revelations of a language’s nuances.
If a poem in translation is like a road, we, as its translators, have searched for an English-language sign that reads: “Caution! Form at Work.” In other words, we have attempted to defamiliarize patterns that are otherwise automatic for English-speaking eyes. In order to approximate the uniqueness of Jalāli’s form, we have attempted to foreignize, using Venuti’s popularized term, the poem’s typography by justifying the text to the right. It also slows down the reader and calls attention to its structure. By disorienting the English reader, we hope to move closer to the poetic qualities of Jalāli’s work in Persian. A lowercase “i,” a style pioneered by e. e. cummings, both reflects the individualistic gesture of Jalāli’s poetic speaker and its flight from the universal “I.” Initially, we had opted for a style of enjambment and punctuation more familiar to English readers, but later removed all stanza breaks and commas/colons to approximate Jalāli’s lack of punctuation. We hope that through these measures some of Jalāli’s poetics resurface in English.
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