Svetlana Lavochkina recently organised and was one of the featured authors in LE Writers‘ “The Embassy of Love: a Literary Concert“, where she read her short story The Youngest Sea as well as her translation of Vasyl Holobodko’s poem Pigeon Post. Svetlana’s short stories and poetry translations were published or are forthcoming in Witness, Drunken Boat, Chamber Four Fiction Anthology, The Literary Review, Eclectica (shortlisted for Million Writers’ Award 2010) and In Our Words Anthology. This year, she was on the panel of judges for the Million Writers Award 2011 and co-edited an international generational anthology A Long and Winding Road. Svetlana is also currently working on her first novel. She spoke with Rachael Clugston about her approach to language, globalisation, and her motivation for writing.
It is more typical to translate out of a second language into a first language. Yet you take Ukrainian poetry and translate it into English. What was your path towards literary English?
I learnt English as a child back in the Ukraine. Even as a child I felt the freedom, the beauty and the luxury of this language. At times English still feels unattainable, but it is worth striving towards what you wanted to say. It is also a unique perspective in my own writing to take my heritage and find a voice for it in the globalised language of English. In that way, I can contribute something to the enrichment and deepening of English, which Globalisation offers. It had been a dream of mine to write in English, and in 2005 I took that step. I can see that my Russian and Ukrainian has flavoured my use of English, and that is my own unique voice. I was fortunate to have my work published almost straight away, and that encouraged me to continue.
What are some of your considerations in translating poetry into English? Poetry is notoriously hard to translate well.
The translation of poetry is a literary endeavour, of course. A decision has to be made when approaching a poem for translation, whether being faithful to the poem is at the cost of the „music“contained within. I would prefer to preserve the musicality of the work first and foremost. Not many Ukranian poets have been translated, so to produce their voices clearly and yet authentically in English is important to me. I have to be willing to go beyond the rational experience to preserve the power of such things as meter, sound, emphasis – these things carry the meaning as much as the actual words. It is true that some poems feel more transparent, and chasing down the poets can be back-breaking work. Ultimately, poems end up on the page and can be contested and appreciated for what they have become. Through the Globalisation of English, together with the exposure of the Internet, these poems, often written in small Ukranian villages, can now gain a whole new audience.
So you would say that the Internet has also opened up these possibilities?
The internet is a beautiful collection of thought. Many literary journals are now online, and the options for discussion, collaboration and exposure are there. I think for research and references, I can find out many things without leaving my desk, although I have to use other ways to get to those who are not „online“. Writers are exhibitionists in a way, so the internet is a wonderful place for us.
Once you have written something, and it is down, is that the end?
Writing a short story might take me about nine months. I go through the phases of conception, development, right through to the birth. My writing does depend upon other people, I still need some things checked in English, for example with prepositions or word choice. I also have reference works and dictionaries which I like to use. But I have discovered that my weaknesses can become my strengths, and that writing is an adventure best undertaken in good company. I write because I am interested in the human condition, not in remaining in my own thoughts. I look outwards and work hard to build up a believable world in which characters move around, perhaps echoing our own fears and passions. And once something is finally finished, it is out of my hands, and has its own existence and possibilities.
by Rachael Clugston