Quick Interview with the Balassi Literary Translation Grand Prize Winner

This year Mr Paul Sohar was given the Balassi Literary Translation Grand Prize. After the award ceremony, Mr Sohar gave us an interview.

Primarily you are a poet. What is the difference between writing and translating a poem?

The difference is huge. When I write a poem, I do so, because a line or an image comes into my mind. Thoughts, pictures and words start to form and a poem is born. However when I translate, I have to find the image of the poem first. I have to imagine it. This is what most translators fail to do and translate the text word by word. You have to feel the poem first, you have to imagine it and then to find the best expression for it in the target language. 

What does the prize mean to you?

I am very happy about it, but I fear to admit, my greatest pleasure is to enter into a bookshop and to feel that the readers like my books.

Paul Sohár

Paul Sohár

What are the readers like in the US?

Readers in the US are, of course, very different. Poets in the US write mostly free verse. For example, the Russian poet, Brodsky, who wrote in strict verse form, was told by the publishers to be too old fashioned. But Brodsky answered that these were his poems and he wrote them as he did.

In the US, free verse may be more popular. I know some poets who can perform their poetry well, which is also important nowadays. You have to perform a lot for the audience.

Which Hungarian writers are known in the US?

In the US, the great Hungarian composers, like Bartok, Liszt and Kodaly are known primarily. Writers and poets much less. An average American doesn’t have any knowledge about Hungarian literature.

What would you recommend to the next generation of literary translators?

Perhaps I would advise them to spend some years in both the source and the target language environment. Linguists can confirm that a good translator must spend a long time in both countries. He/she needs to know not only both languages but both cultures. It is also important to use the source language. If you don’t use it, you can’t be a good translator.