Translating Clemente Padin

Ottar Ormstad made the case for non-translation at the recent Paris 8 conference on the translation electronic literature. He eloquently explained that many explorations of language (including concrete poems) do not lend themselves to either ordinary translation or a simply explanatory note. This was a reasonable point that is appropriate to many works of concrete and sound poetry.

To illustrate this point, he displayed this concrete poem by Uruguayan poet Clemente Padin.


Very compelling! This is an amazing poem that is quite language-specific. And yet, I was compelled to translate it to English, and have done so below:

ZAP your NAP!

The original message, that PAN (bread) converges with PAZ (peace), cannot be communicated precisely in every way. But, using the same characters as in the original poem, I can assert that people should ZAP their NAP and wake up to our reality, in which the needs of our fellow people must be met before peace can be attained.

5 Replies to “Translating Clemente Padin”

  1. Hi,
    Do you know if this talk will be published? I looked it over the net but couldn’t find any comprehensive information. I had written an MA theses on translating electronic literature, thus got curious about the argument. I think, beyond any claim something can be translated or not (which for any contemporary translation scholar is an irrelevant question) translating electronic literature against all odds would prove to be a widening practice for both translation and electronic literature.

  2. Well done, Nick. Here’s a similar poem and challenge in German from the 1960s (literally: pig from the usa), also a coded political message.


  3. I have to disagree. The leap from “zap one’s nap” to “wake up to our reality, in which the needs of our fellow people must be met before peace can be attained” is vast. To make that kind of connection, you need to actually know and understand the original (and even then, it’s pretty unlikely anyone but you, the author could come up with that explanation).

    While your “translation” might work as a commentary, it’s basically just the only two English words that are possible with those three letters (which in itself is a nice gag, granted) with an explanation tacked on that tries to tie it to the meaning of the original.

    What the translation shows, mostly, though, ist that Ottar Ormstad was right.

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