Taking the time to drown

Sussurri dall’Acqua, an Italian translation of Canadian poet Maureen Scott Harris’s Drowning Lessons by translator Alessandra Bordini, will be featured at the Italian Cultural Centre, Il Centro, on March 30. Bordini will read from selected excerpts in English and Italian, accompanied by the Toronto-based poet and 2005 Trillium award winner.

Bordini first became interested in Scott Harris’s work while completing her masters in literary translation at the University of Siena, Italy. She found her poems brilliant and meaningful and committed years to translating and publishing them. The persistent collaboration between the poet and translator paid off, and Drowning Lessons became available to the Italian audience in early 2016.

Sussurri dall’Acqua is the result of a slowly unfolding process, consisting of numerous interactions, iterations and inevitable interruptions. That said, it was a most rewarding experience, and I would do it all over again,” says Bordini of the collaborative project and friendship that she developed with Scott Harris.

Slowing down

When asked if poetry still has a place in a society obsessed with speed, efficiency and the latest technology marvel, Scott Harris’s answer to the dilemma is clear.

“It seems to me that poetry is essential in an age of distraction. One of the reasons poetry is a challenge for many readers now is that it takes time, and our tolerance for things that take time has shrunk,” she says.

The water of life

Maureen Scott Harris | Photo courtesy of Maureen Scott Harris

Maureen Scott Harris | Photo courtesy of Maureen Scott Harris

Nature is central in Scott Harris’s works; the willingness to reconnect with earth, even in a heavily populated context such as Toronto, goes back to her childhood. Scott Harris grew up in Manitoba, and while she has lived in other places since then, her connection with wildlife is alive and meaningful.

“Nature has been important to me since I was a child, and so it also feeds my writing, and permeates it,” Scott Harris explains.

But there is an element of nature that draws her attention more than anything else: water. She says the aquatic imagery embeds her works and seems to serve as medium, a means to reconcile the end and the beginning of the human experience.

While metaphorically immersing herself in the water, Scott Harris says she brings to the surface “the underwater world of barely recognized grief” including “absence, loss, things forgotten or missing, the experience of insubstantiality.”

Pleasures and challenges of translation

Alessandra Bordini. | Photo courtesy Alessandra Bordini

Alessandra Bordini. | Photo courtesy Alessandra Bordini

Bordini grew up in Sardinia, an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, in an environment full of nature where she claims the rhythm of sea tides played an important role in shaping her life and thoughts. Bordini found it relatively easy to connect with Scott Harris’s poems that in some way have assimilated a similar pace.

Flowers for my Mother, This house is Full of Longing and Dreams of Speaking spoke to me in a clearer and more sonorous voice than others, containing images, rhythms and sounds that I was able to internalize quickly and naturally,” says Bordini.

Other poems have proved to be more challenging for Bordini, as she says the uniqueness of the poetic work doesn’t leave much room for terms and concepts related to a specific culture or context.

“Not surprisingly, the hardest challenges posed by translating Drowning Lessons arose from the presence of culture-bound terms – references and allusions that are intimately bound up with the source culture – and, having no equivalent in the target culture, defy translation” Bordini explains.

Scott Harris doesn’t speak Italian, which could have made the process very complicated, but she says she is able to recognize a certain pace in the Italian translation that she enjoys.

“To have my poems read with the devotion and receptivity necessary for translation – and to hear the music they make in another language – made me very happy,” she says. “I never expected to find my poems leading a life in Italia, but it gives me great pleasure that they are.”

For more information, please visit www.italianculturalcentre.ca