To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication in Vigo of Rosalía de Castro’s Galician Songs, recently published in English for the first time, we continue our series of interviews with the editors/translators of the three anthologies of Rosalía’s Galician and Spanish poetry available in English.
Today is the interview with Michael Smith, who edited and translated Rosalía de Castro’s Selected Poems for Shearsman Books in 2007. We will be publishing a poem Michael wrote for Rosalía Day, ‘The Poet Out of Time & Place’, this Sunday on this blog.
What made you want to translate work by Rosalía de Castro?
I had come across her name in various books on feminism, but, when I went to look for her poems, I found that these were unavailable or had been poorly translated or were in a dated English. The best I found were the translations by the Scottish poet Edwin Morgan (which still seem to me to read well). Besides that, I was aware of her role in reviving Galician, which has a great deal in common with the Irish experience of reviving poetry in Gaelic after many years of marginalisation and neglect. I also felt that the feminists who wrote about Rosalía seemed more concerned with feminism than with the poetry. At any rate, I felt that Rosalía deserved decent recognition in English. I might also add that, as an Irish poet, I felt a deep affinity with the Galician background. That affinity was very helpful in empathising with Rosalía’s work.
How difficult was it to find a publisher? Who made the initial contact, you or the publisher?
I initiated the project, but I had no difficulty in finding a publisher. Tony Frazer of Shearsman Books had already published many of my translations from Spanish and, once I had sent him my small anthology of Rosalía’s work, he immediately agreed to publish it.
Which edition of Rosalía de Castro’s texts did you use?
I used the Obras completas in two volumes, edited by Marina Mayoral (Madrid: Turner, Biblioteca Castro, 1993).
What were the main criteria you used in your selection?
My main criteria were the quality of the poems and the possibility of their being translated into an English that was readable and pleasurable and at the same time faithful to their originals, at least in the sense that any translation can be ‘faithful’ to its original.
Was there a difference between translating texts from Galician and Spanish?
Now, I don’t know Galician, but with the help of Spanish literal translations and the help of two Galician friends, José Manuel Estévez Saá and Margaret Estévez Saá, I was able to cope comfortably enough with the Galician. Two Spanish friends of mine, Luis Huerga and my longtime co-translator from Spanish, Luis Ingelmo, were extremly helpful in checking my translations of the poems in Spanish.
Did you receive any input from the publisher – did they comment on the translation or did they limit themselves to publishing the book?
Tony Frazer was extremely pleased with the book and gave it an unreserved acceptance.
What kind of reception has the book received? How well has it been distributed?
I honestly don’t know how well the book was received, but four of my translations have been included in the prestigious Norton Anthology of World Literature, so clearly the book has not been ignored.
What place do you think Rosalía de Castro occupies in world literature today?
Although not quite in the same league as Emily Dickinson, Rosalía should rank with Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti and (as a poet) Emily Brontë.
One last thing. I am hoping to persuade some good bilingual Irish poet to translate Rosalía’s poetry into Gaelic. Her work would find a very sympathetic acceptance in that language.