Teaching an extra graduate course for a colleague hoping to come up for tenure ate up more of my time in the fall than I thought possible, leaving me far behind my self-imposed December benchmark for translating Kin (not to mention absenting me from this weblog). Then, out of the blue, I got asked to serve in a new administrative post that made me wonder at the possibilities. This is the only reason to take up a new administrative post, I believe, so after wondering over it, I took it up. The inevitable result was even less time and, most importantly, no regular routine.
Finally in the past few weeks I’ve been able to establish one, counting up words and pages to see how much I can reasonably accomplish in what segments of time–is three thousand words per week enough? (probably not). At last, based on what I’ve managed to crank out in the past week or so, and the fact that the work gets faster as I do it more, it looks feasible. I remember this from previous long prose translation projects, numbers of words or pages per day projected out mentally to see whether I could finish by the deadline, revisions to those numbers as I worked, then a grown certainty and comfort as the project gained momentum. This is not like writing an article or review. You can stop where you need to stop for that. You write as much and as well as you have the time to do so. With this, there is an end from the beginning, and a whole bunch of words you need to get to, pages and pages of them. Maybe four thousand words per week? (probably not).
Nor is translating poetry the same, despite the fact of all those words–it’s true, there are fewer of them as a rule, but more importantly, and let’s face it, who’s waiting for you to finish those poems? You can take your time. Actually, the argument for timeliness is really flipped on its head: You really should take your time. Tomorrow that line or image will work itself out, and if not tomorrow, then the next day or the day after that. Here, however, not only do you have pages and pages of prose words, which is one rather interminable feeling thing, but there also seem to be people waiting, strange as that might seem from your poet’s perspective. Best get to it, every day, the earlier the better, and for as many hours each day as you can spare.
Hence the conclusion, which I’ve remarked on before though maybe not in writing until now, so here it is: The difference between translating poetry and translating prose? The backache.