A Bird is a Stone is a bilingual collection first published this year by Glasgow’s Freight Books. It includes poems by 25 contemporary Palestinians, translated into English by 29 different Scottish poets such as Alasdair Gray, Liz Lochhead, James Robertson, Jackie Kay, William Letford, Aonghas MacNeacail, DM Black, Tom Pow, Ron Butlin, Christine De Luca and John Glenday. The translation approach was one as far away from literal, word by word translation as possible. Instead, the translators in charge were not afraid to bring the Palestinian texts closer to home by even adding break lines, moving entire phrases around and modifying punctuation in some occasions. The resulting translation is to be read as an entirely separate work from the original.
The Difficulty of Translation
A freer approach towards translation was necessary due to the different poetic traditions existing behind the source and target languages. Similarly, the audiences at which they are aimed have entirely different styles of reading. In the words of Palestinian-Syrian poet Ghayath al-Madhoun, blaming translators for what they have done is very easy until you try to translate the works yourself. It was only then that he understood that there are parts of the original which cannot be conveyed in the target language without some modifications. The poet also commented on how shocked he felt when he first read his pieces in English, after they had been translated by Catherine Cobham.
Translating Poems for What They Are
In the introduction, Scottish poet Liz Lochhead states that, before the book was published, the poems included in A Bird is a Stone had only been translated into English for the purpose of academic analysis or to be quoted in essays and publications. She notes that when translated for such purposes, the poems are degraded and turned into an object of analysis of which part of its content has often been omitted. The reasons behind these measures lie in the attempt to make the poems easier or more to the liking of Western readers. Another reason lies in the fact that the translations are generally aimed at Arabists, many of whom are in the process of learning the language.
The translated Palestinian poets are not famous giants such as Mahmoud Darwish, winner of several literary prizes and internationally renowned. Instead, A Bird is a Stone offers an opportunity to learn about the voices of contemporary Palestinian poets, some of them already well established, and their country’s political social and emotional landscape.