Far Away Within Us

A Translation Game in Art and Poetry

Workshop led by Ricarda Vidal and Pavle Ninković

Inside Out Festival, King’s College London, Franklin Wilkins Building, Glass Suites 2 & 3, 22 October 2014, 6.30 – 8pm

For this workshop Ricarda teamed up with Pavle Ninković who runs the interactive Serbo-Croatian Poetry Translation website. The workshop began with a short presentation of Translation Games and its outputs. We discussed the fine line between translation, interpretation, illustration and response. What does translation mean within different contexts and how can we define language beyond the linguistic realm?

We then proceeded to the practical part and challenged participants to translate a visual translation of a poem by Vasko Popa back into words. The original poem, ‘Daleko u nama 22’, was written in Serbian and had been translated by artist Danka Dimitrijevic into a photograph.

Danka Dimitrijevic's translation of Vasko Popa's 'Daleko u nama 22'

Danka Dimitrijevic’s translation of Vasko Popa’s ‘Daleko u nama 22’


Even though both of us (Pavle and Ricarda) felt that Danka’s image was an excellent translation of the poem, we were  worried that perhaps this time round the challenge to literary translators was bigger than ever before, as so far the artistic translations had always involved several senses and layers of communication, e.g. film, dance, scent, etc. So this time round the poem had been distilled into a two-dimensional purely visual experience, albeit with a multi-layered pictorial ground.

We then decided to gradually give away more clues about the original poem and played a recording of ‘Daleko u nama 22’:

Now our participants had image and sound, albeit the sounds of a language none of them spoke. To this we added the printed poem itself:

Daleko u nama
By Vasko Popa

Naš dan je zelena jabuka
Na dvoje presečena

Gledam te
Ti me ne vidiš
Između nas je slepo sunce
Na stepenicama
Zagrljaj naš rastrgnut
Zoveš me
Ja te ne čujem
Između nas je gluhi vazduh
Po izlozima
Usne moje traže
Tvoj osmeh
Na raskrsnici
Poljubac naš pregažen
Ruku sam ti dao
Ti je ne osećaš
Praznina te je zagrlila
Po trgovima
Suza tvoja traži
Moje oči
Uveče se dan moj mrtav
S mrtvim tvojim danom sastane
Samo u snu
Istim predelom hodamo

And after a while we added Ricarda’s German translation of the English translation of the poem – German being a language, which none of the participants spoke either, but which is, of course, considerably closer to English than Serbian…

Weit in uns

Unser Tag ist ein grüner Apfel
Ich schau dich an
Du siehst mich nicht
Zwischen uns steht eine blinde Sonne
Auf der Treppe
Unsere zerrissene Umarmung

Du rufst mich
Ich hör dich nicht
Zwischen uns steht taube Luft
In den Schaufenstern
Suchen meine Lippen
Dein Lächeln
Auf der Kreuzung
Unser überfahrener Kuss
Ich gab dir meine Hand
Du fühlst sie nicht
Die Leere hat dich umarmt
Auf den Stadtplätzen
Sucht deine Träne
Meine Augen
Am Abend trifft mein toter Tag
Deinen toten Tag
Nur im Traum
Laufen wir durch dieselben Felder

In retrospect, we felt that it would perhaps have been better not to show the German translation, as from that moment the tantalisingly more accessible German words distracted from the photograph and the nuances of the Serbian recital. In any case, as transpired from the discussion afterwards, most participants felt that they were able to capture the mood and gist (the essence?) of the poem by merely looking at the photograph and listening to the Serbian recital. So the German helped with finding words rather than content.

Here are some of the drafts for poems:

c18-multilingual draft.jpgamber day.jpgbrother & sister.jpgdraft 4.jpgthe story of a woman.jpg

We discussed these together with Danka’s blurb for her translation:

Above all, it’s important to note that the photo came about in a Parisian flea market where old items are endowed with the energy of their former owners; where on the stands (or “In shop windows”) objects mingle with history. Then there’s Paris, questionably itself a symbol of love. Furthermore, the quality of the photo does not conform to today’s standards but suggests a more distant past.
The mere title of the poem “Far Within Us” permeates the various elements of the photo. These are very archetypal – especially the knowledge that deep within ourselves we are all children. Yet some of the objects are intended for personal use and may carry sentimental value, like the framed photo or the little box with a mirror.
The two children in the photo represent the two parts of the green apple, one part boy and one part girl. The girl directs her gaze at us while the boy amuses himself with other things. The cold tone of the scene mirrors the “blind sun”.
The apparent forced distance (“torn-apart hug”) and lack of communication (“I don’t hear you”) are reflected by the objects in the photo which are deaf to one another, although still together create a harmony of composition. Similarly, the disconnection between the girl and the boy suggests “deaf air” between them.
In the first part of the poem, the children (who will become adults) play the main part and the photo captures the symbolism of the two sexes caught in their eternal misapprehension.
The second part of the poem, then, relates to the wedding dress as a symbol of realised love, though in this case something unrealised: the dress hangs lifeless and without a corresponding male suit, hung like a judgement and without hope of realisation of a happy dream. Indeed, “I gave you my hand” alludes directly to a marriage proposal and the desire to be with someone.

And finally, we revealed the English translation of the poem, which, by then, did not hold any surprises for anyone…

Far Within Us
Translated by Lazar Pašćanović

Our day is a green apple
Cut in half
I look at you
You don’t see me
There’s a blind sun between us
On the stairway
Our torn-apart hug
You call me
I don’t hear you
There’s deaf air between us
In the shop-windows
My lips seek
Your smile
On the crossroads
Our run-over kiss
I’ve given you a hand
You don’t feel it
The void has given you a hug
On the city squares
Your tear seeks
My eyes
In the evening my dead day
Meets your dead day
Only in a dream
Do we walk in the same fields

If you would like to provide a new translation of Vasko Popa’s ‘Daleko u nama 22’ into English or any other language, we’d be delighted to  publish it on this website as well as on the Serbo-Croatian Poetry Translation website.

Follow this link to see a spin-off from this workshop: Further Away – translating drawing to poetry

Here are some pictures of the workshop

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Collaborators’ bios:

Danka Dimitrijevic was born in Kraljevo, Serbia on December 21st, 1979. She graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade in 2002 and in 2005 she received her Post Graduate’s Degree, taking painting as a major subject. She completed her PhD at the same University in 2011. She is a member of ULUS (Association of Serbian Artists) since 2004 and a member of a group of artists named “Kg of green”. She was awarded a “Perspective XXIX” prize by Yugoslav Art Gallery in Belgrade. Danka has exhibited her works independently and together with other artists, both at home and abroad. She lives and works in Belgrade.

Pavle Ninković runs the Serbo-Croatian Poetry Translation initiative. This is a collaborative online translation effort to make poetry in Serbo-Croatian more accessible to a wider audience. Pavle is motivated by the wealth of culture embedded in these works and by the power of translation to bridge the linguistic, cultural, geographic and temporal distances to reveal a common human denominator in that diversity. Pavle is interested in exploring the experience of poetry as an oral tradition and the effects of its transmission on the work itself.