Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Salongen interviews translator Jyrki Kiiskinen

The Swedish literary blog Salongen is run by Bodil Zalesky and Jelena Selin from Berlin. They have written articles on a large number of authors, both Scandinavian and other.

Recently, they interviewed the Helsinki author, journalist and poetry translator Jyrki Kiiskinen, who translates into Finnish. He has previously been editor of the literary magazines Nuori Voima and Books From Finland. Here are a few excerpts from the interview:

Question: Which language(s) do you translate from (and to)? How did you pick these specifically?

I only translate into Finnish, but from Swedish, English, French and Spanish. And I have joined various projects and translators' groups as a poet without knowing the original language involved. I have worked with someone who knew the language. In this way I have also translated from Latvian and Lithuanian.

Question: How do you receive your assignments? Do publishers contact you or what is the procedure?

Normally speaking, publishers are not too thrilled with my projects, they don't really want to publish poetry at all, so I only translate texts I really want to. And I also translate for the sake of my own poetry, I want to expand my own poetic style and learn new techniques. So I translate texts that are lacking within me. And once I've started working on a text, I fight to get it published somewhere.

Question: Is it important to be able to ask the author whose work you are translating questions?

Of course, as it is a natural way of diving into the universe of someone else and get to know the work you are working on. Discussions with the author can becoome very exciting. Asking questions of an author can be a good excuse to come into contact with another human being who has interesting things to say and knows what he is talking about. You can often obtain information more quickly than by consulting encyclopædias back home. And the latter activity is more boring.

Question: Which experiences and qualities is it important for a literary translator to have?

If we are talking about translating poetry, you have to be completely obsessed with language, look for pleasure as with a sweet in your mouth. But you must always return to the original text, once you start enjoying your own language. You should also have a passion about the differences between various languages and be interested in the boundaries between them, i.e. pursue various ways of structuring and viewing the world in these languages, the world which always stands beyond, in silence. You must also be systematic, methodical and yet be prepared to conduct wild experiments at the same time. And then return to the original text. So you have to be faithful and unfaithful, pedantic and wild, search for a precise meaning and be prepared to describe it on the terms of your own language.

Translated from Swedish by Eric Dickens

The rest of the interview can be read in Swedish, here. Kiiskinen has translated, for instance, Octavio Paz, Peter Mickwitz and Göran Sonnevi. Salongen has previously interviewed literary translators Margareta Zetterström, Kristina Rotkirch, Janina Orlov, Katarina Warfinge, Lev Hrytsyuk and Hans Blomqvist. All these interviews can be found on the Salongen website.

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