Translator's notes

From Canciones

By Agnès Agboton

Born in Porto-Novo in Benin in 1960, Agnès Agboton has lived in Barcelona since 1978. She is the author of many books on African culture written in Spanish or Catalan, especially collections of oral legends and traditions and cookbooks, but for her poetry Agnès writes in her mother tongue, Gen, and then translates herself into Spanish. She has published two bilingual poetry collections, Canciones del poblado y el exilio (2006) and Voz de las dos orillas (2009). The poems here are from Canciones.

Agnès had been invited to represent her native Benin for the Poetry Parnassus coinciding with the 2012 London Olympics, and needed translations into English of her poems to read at the event. Working through Spanish as the bridge language (she had been unable to find any direct translators between Gen and English), I translated a selection of poems from her two collections. Since Gen is a tonal language, translating the musicality of her work was as important as the meaning. During many long phone conversations, Agnès read the original versions of her poems to me, so I could hear the sound, and I in turn read aloud the English versions, which we revised, tweaking word choice and word order until we had a final draft  which sounded right. I’m pleased that these translations will now reach a readership beyond those fortunate enough to have been able to attend the Poetry Parnassus and hear them read aloud.

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