Estonian contemporary poetry in galician

by Rein Veidemann

Estonian contemporary poetry in Galician

Rein Veidemann

On Estonian literature’s path to world literature, truly exotic events occur, largely thanks to Estophiles scattered around the globe. One of them is Arturo Casas Vales (born in 1958), a professor at the university in Galicia’s capital city Santiago de Compostela, who recently edited an anthology of Estonian poetry in Galician. It is probably difficult for most Estonians to distinguish between Spain and its autonomous provinces, Galicia and Catalonia. Galicians, however, form a population of 2.7 million in the north-western part of Spain. Their roots go back to the Celts, one of the ancient nations in Europe. It is now possible for the Galicians, on the western edge of Europe, to read the poems of Estonians living at the other end of Europe, in their mother tongue. The anthology includes the following Estonian poets: Hando Runnel, Andres Ehin, Jaan Kaplinski, Paul-Eerik Rummo, Juhan Viiding, Ene Mihkelson, Jüri Talvet, Mari Vallisoo, Hasso Krull and Triin Soomets.

Professor Casas, where did you get the idea to translate Estonian poets into Galician?
Borges has said that there are no chance encounters and that behind such serendipity are in fact most genuine meetings. To satisfy its joy in playing, fate keeps arranging them. When I arrived at a conference in Tartu in the autumn of 1999 at the invitation of Jüri Talvet, I had no idea that our meeting would lead to the plan that has now materialised. The idea emerged shortly after the conference and was greatly enhanced by the fact both Professor Talvet and myself are simultaneously academics and poets. The idea became the more determined because of the wonderful impressions I had of the Estonian people and nature, and also because of what I was able to read about Estonian history, for example in Jaan Kross’s books. Chance thus became a wish and a need. In addition, I should mention my personal understanding of the future of Europe. It seems highly irresponsible to me when small or smaller nations let go of their cultural uniqueness and when they make no attempt to foster direct contacts between themselves and other nations. Europe is not just Paris, London and Berlin.

Poetry is generally considered a most difficult area of literature to translate. Hando Runnel, for example, who stands particularly close to the Estonian soul, is claimed to be practically untranslatable. How does Estonian poetry sound in Galician?
I agree: something always gets lost in poetry translation. This does not mean, however, that one should never even try. There is so much to be gained in erecting new bridges where traffic gradually starts moving both ways. The results are often not satisfying, but a successful translation of poetry can be more effective than in any other genre. We have certainly no illusions that the present translations are a perfect match to the expressiveness of the Estonian language, to each author’s rhythmic, semantic and intertextual peculiarity. But we have in any case attempted to get as close as possible to all that. The main challenge in any translation is to find a balance between each author’s poetics and the naturalness of the target language’s means of expression. In that sense, I am more than satisfied with the result.

It is admittedly difficult for you as an editor to take up the position of a critic, but could you perhaps still say which poet of this collection best meets your poetic taste?
Hopefully I will not seem to be avoiding the question, but as a critic I have never fancied sectarianism. Some poets are simply closer to me on an emotional, ideological or simply poetic level. Then there are those who, even without such closeness, or even if I don’t like them, can nevertheless interest and fascinate me, maybe more than the first ones. As a poet I feel that the greatest closeness with my own poetic manner (or to what I would strive for as a poet) can be found in Kaplinski’s or Talvet’s work. However, I am able to recognise myself in many a verse by Mihkelson, Krull and some other poet included in the anthology. In any case I have no doubt whatsoever that all ten authors are first-class poets. Neither have I any doubt that they best represent a certain historical poetic tradition. I respect them all, including the superbly talented Vive Tolli, whose graphic pictures illustrate the anthology.

Besides Galician, the poems are also presented in Estonian and English. What was the purpose of that?
 The small group of translators – my university colleagues Manuela Palacios, Manuel Barbeito and myself – have never at any point concealed that the translations were done from the English. As linguists, we were convinced of the necessity of being as correct and precise as possible. That is why the supplement of the present edition also contains English translations, mostly provided by the American poet H. L. Hix, in collaboration with Jüri Talvet. The main section of the anthology presents parallel texts in Estonian and Galician. Such a method has become a norm in international practice. Alongside the opportunity to enjoy the poems in mother tongue translations, the reader also has a chance to follow the ‘other’ language, its sounds, rhythms and signs, which can be perceived without knowing the language. It adds to the poetic communication a thoroughly physical extra dimension.

The anthology of Estonian poetry appears as a special issue of the literary magazine ‘Boletin Galego de Literatura’, edited by your colleague, Professor Anxo Tarrío. What is the position of this magazine in Galician intellectual life?
It is a biannual magazine, founded in 1989. From the very start, it has been headed by my older colleague Tarrío, Professor of Galician literature. This is certainly one of the most influential magazines of Galician literature, one that has gained the highest reputation in academic circles. The ‘Boletin’ mostly publishes papers on Iberian and world literature and theoretical research. It has become a habit to publish a choice of original literature in each issue. The overall aesthetic appearance is exemplary, with numerous reproductions of paintings, graphic art, photographs…

Where can one obtain this anthology, or at least read it?
We have naturally taken care that some copies reach the more important Estonian cultural institutions. Readers and propagators of literature who would like to purchase this book, should write to: Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, 15782 Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The fastest way is naturally the Internet:
Agradezco mucho su atención y la del periódico Postimees, Prof. Veidemann. Reciba muy atentos saludos,

Arturo Casas