In several conversations I have had with people who knew Igor Isakovski well, what they emphasized about him most frequently was that Igor “translates tirelessly”. They all used this word – “tirelessly”. Indeed, if one looks at the Blesok editions, it becomes immediately obvious how tirelessly Igor was translating – from the ex-Yugoslav languages (Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian and their variants), as well as from English, thus giving to the Macedonian readers the opportunity to become familiar with truly exceptional poetry. Since it is impossible to cover the large oeuvre of Igor’s translations, I have selected only few poems by three poets through which I will try to show the characteristics of Igor as a translator. The poets in question are: Josip Osti, Olja Savičević Ivančević and Jack Galmitz.
When a person has the opportunity to choose poems for a magazine, and gives himself the task to translate them, then the first and most important thing is the selection, since translation follows selection. And Igor selected exceptional poetry and dedicated many days to the translation of a single poem in order to find the best solutions. The poems “Knjige – angeli, kućna božanstva” (“Books – angels, house gods”), “Pjesma je bila, i ostala, tvoj jedini dom, Marina Cvetajeva” (“The poem was and always will be your only home, Marina Tsvetaeva”), “Iste smo pjesme, nekoć, čitali” (“We used to read the same poems”) or “Jesam li ostao bez jezika” (“Have I been left without a language?”) by Josip Osti, published on the pages of Blesok are a case to the point. Thus, regarding the selection of the poetry, it is not necessary to know biographical data or read critical essays about Osti in order to notice immediately the specificity and the power of his poetry. Osti’s love for books and his skill to transfer that love are conspicuous from the very first verses, and Igor has noticed that and transferred that into Macedonian.
Книги – ангели, домашни божества – преполн со вас
ми беше сараевскиот стан. Преполни полици – олтар
пред кој, толку пати, стоев понизен.
Прашувајќи се по која ќе посегнам. Чија тајна ќе се обидам
да ја одгатнам. Во која ќе оставам траги од читањето.
In comparing the original at the very beginning of the poem, a characteristics that interweaves the whole translation oeuvre of Igor becomes visible – careful consideration of the context. Thus, first, in some cases, the original word is slightly changed, not kept close to the original, because in the context of the whole poem in Macedonian another word or another grammatical construction is more adequate. Second, the contrary is sometimes true – in certain cases, a syntactic construction which sound strange in Macedonian is nevertheless kept in the translation, without being adapted to the rules of the Macedonian language, and this has achieved the aim of the defamiliarization – so that, depending on the context, it may sound more poetic (contrary to the prose expression which would sound more natural), or deliberately resembles a fairy tale, a folk tale or another specific literary form which is distanced from natural speech.
In the extract above, the first case is evident: in the original “kućna božanstva” (house gods) is reformulated into „домашни божества“ (home deities) , which is much closer to the spirit of the Macedonian language taking into consideration that the books are identified with deities in one’s own home, not simply in any house. Another case to the point is the verse “Pitajući se za kojom posegnuti” (wondering which one to reach for), for which the solution „Прашувајќи се по која ќе посегнам“ (wondering which one I will reach for) was chosen. The rhetorical questions that follow, and which are incited by this first question, continue in the same manner, and it soon becomes clear that Igor’s choice excellently follows the rhythm of the Macedonian language with the variant “I will reach for” rather than “to reach for”.
In the same poem, „skriveno blago“ means “the hidden treasure” for which there is an adequate translation into Macedonian – „скриеното богатство“ – but, in order to defamiliarize the expression so that it is in accordance with the atmosphere in the poem, the contemporary word „богатство“ (treasure) is replaced by „азно“, which has the same meaning, but is in archaic form – thereby achieving an effect of a folk tale or a fairy tale, which is exactly the effect that the poem intends to achieve – for the books in it are the heroes of the world (and heroes are usually connected with an older kind of literature rather than with contemporary).
The choice of Osti’s poem dedicated to Tsvetaeva also reflects the outstanding decision to present this long, yet easily readable poem to the Macedonian readers – perhaps one of the most beautiful poems dedicated to a poet in world literature. In the following verses, in accordance with the above mentioned second case, Igor closely follows the syntactic construction of the original, not adapting it to the Macedonian language, completely deliberately, of course, in order to achieve the specific poetic rhythm:
Раздвоен, како ти што си била раздвоена, од
своите најблиски, од кои нè раздвои животот,
на начин на кој, подеднакво сурово, раздвојува
So, instead of the more natural prose rhythm and the common syntactic structure of the Macedonian sentences, here a more unusual expression, such as „како ти што си била раздвоена“ is chosen, which coincides with the emphasis of „ти“ (you) in the poem.
The selection of the poetry of Olja Savičević Ivančević reflects a special sense of interesting and varied poetry. Her poems are lively and playful, her day spent with her daughter (in the poem “Market Day”) is a topic that is rarely treated in poetry, and almost never with such energy and love as in the poems of Savičević Ivančević. “Tendency” and “Bossa Nova” also reflect the same liveliness and readiness to enjoy the beauties of life. The latter starts with the verses „Нека летото трепери пред вратата / Не отварај му нека пукне од желба / Ние ќе се смееме голи и црни…“ . In the Croatian original, the poet uses the word “drhti” (in English: “trembles” or “shivers”), but instead of using the Macedonian word „се тресе“, which is associated with trembling/shivering out of cold or fear, Igor translates it with „трепери“ (which is similar to “to tremble”, but with a somewhat different connotation, not necessarily due to fear or col, and it can also mean: to shine unsteadily), thereby referring precisely to what the poem expresses – that the first signs of the summer are arriving, it is in the air, but it hasn’t fully arrived yet. For the expression „umre od želje“ (literal translation: die with desire), there is a Macedonian counterpart consisting of the same expression; however another expression that means the same thing, „пукне од желба“, chosen in the Macedonian translation, is much more lively and impressionable, just as the energy of this poem.
The third choice that I would like to say something about is the poetry of Jack Galmitz, contemporary Western master of the traditional Japanese haiku poetry. The poetic form of haiku has become increasingly present among contemporary poets in the last decades, and Galmitz is recognized as one of the most successful poets who write in this (sub)genre, so that the selection of his poetry is certainly no accidental. If the aim of a haiku poem is, according to critics that examine it, to give a straight-forward clear image of a certain phenomenon in nature or a certain experience, to express life experience in a short, efficient way, or to integrate experience in a visual image of a natural phenomenon or an event, then Galmitz has done this exceptionally well in his mother tongue, and Igor has managed to make his poem sound exceptionally well in Macedonian. And he managed to do this through careful discarding or addition of words in order to make the image as clear as possible. The poem “Clear Flower Stem” is an excellent example of this. These are the verses of this haiku poem in the English original and in the Macedonian translation:
Clear flower stem Цветно стебло:
A stream connecting me Поток кој ме врзува
To a place I’ve been Со видено место
In the first verse, there are three separate words in the original composed of one syllable each – in all, three syllables. The Macedonian counterparts of these three words are composed of two syllables each – which means six syllables only in the first verse; that would spoil the effect of the haiku whose essence is through very few syllables to express a whole image. Igor has found here an effective solution: he decided to dispose of the word “clear” because the image is complete even without this word. At the same time, he has managed to retain the balance from the first verse: each word in it has an equal number of syllables as all other words. Thus, in English, each word in the first verse has one syllable, while in Macedonian, each word has two syllables.
In the second verse, Igor has managed to retain the shortness of the form by using the shorter form „врзува“ rather than the longer (with a prefix) „поврзува“, which is more common is such a context. The last verse also displays a very interesting choice. Instead of literally translating it – which would render a long phrase in Macedonian, inadequate for the haiku form – he has found an interesting solution: „со видено место“ .
This is only a short excerpt of the translation that Igor was working on and the manner of translation that he practiced. There are large number of examples in his long-time dedicated work to translation and, unfortunately, there is no space to discuss all of his translation achievements in one text. We thank him for all the extraordinary poems by Osti, Sibila, Baretić, Savičević Ivančević, Galmitz and many other poets that he made available in Macedonian.