Translating Kamov

Online interview from 2014

This is an interview conducted by Dario Sušanj for velikabritanija.net and published 09.09.2014. 

Janko Polić Kamov, a Croatian writer and a poet, died at a very young age, but left behind a major work of Croatian modernist literature: the novel ‘Isušena kaljuža’ (‘The Dried Up Mire’). Literary critics often agree that his work was way ahead of the worldwide movements which were to follow in the years after his death, like surrealism and modernism, with writers such as Joyce, Kafka and Camus later leading the way, and they often label Kamov’s work as ‘revolutionary’. However, Kamov’s novel and much of his work has never been translated into English and an Englishman living in Croatia, Martin Mayhew, is now working on translating Kamov’s important novel. As Martin is doing this, he is also compiling a unique glossary of archaic and almost forgotten Croatian words and phrases which he hopes will be useful to any future translators who may embark on a difficult task of translating a work of Croatian modernist literature into English.

“They set off on a walk. Across the square passed a funeral, a long cortège of men, women and some kind of craftsmen’s guild. The music slowly followed the sad and boring step, under the gloomy sky, on the unbearable Sunday, which had closed the shops, cleaned the marketplace, brought people out for a walk or made them yawn at the windows of their houses. It was after noon. There were people at the side, who were looking blankly at the procession. The colourful robes, both genders, young and old, all with the same looks, which were neither of sadness nor curiosity, but of a kind of long, protracted and half-dead look, that notices nothing, but sees everything. The tolling of bells rang out like somebody’s voices breaking up then returning, sinking and re-merging like a castaway at sea. Arsen stared at the coffin. Behind it there cried one young woman, throwing her head wildly into a handkerchief and twitching her shoulders as though wanting to shake off some burden.”

– An excerpt from the yet unpublished translation of “The Dried Up Mire” by Janko Polić Kamov, as translated by Martin Mayhew

Martin Mayhew has been living in Rijeka, Croatia, for about ten years; he first visited the country in 2000 as a journalist, on a tour organised by the Croatian Tourist Board, but in 2003 he moved from his hometown of Brighton to the city of Rijeka, one of the main ports in the Northern Adriatic and a city known for having a lively cultural and also alternative scene, not much unlike his own Brighton. As his association with Rijeka grew stronger and stronger, it is no wonder, of course, that Martin, as a lover of good literature, also quickly found out about the works of Rijeka-born writer and poet Janko Polić Kamov who had been briefly active in the early years of the 20th century. Martin decided to embark on a challenging and difficult task – we could even call it a linguistic adventure – to translate Kamov’s most important work, “The Dried Up Mire”, into English. This has never been done before, probably owing mostly to the complexity of the task and the fact that Kamov’s work is still not well known and recognised outside the region – even though he is often compared to other modernists such as Joyce or Kafka.

Martin recently published a few excerpts from his yet unpublished translation on his blog, hoping, of course, to be able to find a publisher who would be interested into bringing this key work of Croatian modernist literature one step closer to the English-speaking audience across the world. This is why I caught up with Martin, asking him a few questions about the challenges he faced whilst working on this translation.

Martin, this is a rather predictable question to begin with, but why Kamov? Except for the obvious Rijeka connection, how and why have you decided to translate his works?

When I first came to Croatia in 2000 I was given a copy of ‘Southerly Thoughts and Other Short Stories’ a collection of stories by Croatian writers. Amongst the collection were two by Janko Polić Kamov which grabbed my attention as being something extraordinary, gritty, uncompromising. A couple of years later when I began working as a translator in Rijeka I was approached to make an offer to translate his novel ‘Isušena Kaljuža’ into English. Unfortunately that deal did not come to fruition and so I decided to continue personally with the translation of Kamov’s work, primarily of his short stories which along the way would allow me to continue with the English version of his novel, the first chapter of which I had already completed and shelved. For me the more I translate his work, the more I relate to it, which is also something I think other readers experience and just recently I have discovered that there are also other people working on the translations of his works into two other languages.

Why do you feel that ‘The Dried Up Mire’ (‘Isušena kaljuža’) is or could be relevant to the English-speaking audiences today?

So many people here in Rijeka tell me that ‘Kaljuža’, and Kamov’s work in general, is very important for the history of Croatian literature, because it is said that his work was way ahead of the worldwide movements which were to follow after his death. Surrealism, modernism, avant-garde, existentialism and revolutionary are some of the labels which have been attached to his work. In his work he refers to the political events which were happening in Croatia (at his time under Austro-Hungarian rule), he was against the system and briefly spent time in prison for his political beliefs. In this sense he could be seen as a champion for independence or more clearly a champion against repression, hypocrisy, elitism etc. in general. His work deals mostly with the human condition, internal conflicts, heaven and hell, madness, the dark sides of life, society, sex, alcohol, violence, death and religion. He was an early pavement writer. So, in this way his relevance to the English-speaking audience is important in that his work, when translated well into English, will shed light on the history and literature of this part of the world, in a specific period of time but even more so on a style which pre-dates the movements which were approaching on the literary horizon.

“Isušena kaljuža” (“The Dried Up Mire”) by Janko Polić Kamov: today’s, modern edition to the left, and the original 1957 edition to the right. The original edition was first published almost 50 years after Kamov’s death.

Would you compare Kamov’s work to any of his contemporaries in the English-speaking world or, generally, in Europe? Kamov’s life was cut very short by illness, and while ‘Kaljuža’ is his most important work, who knows whether he might have even had a chance to be compared to the likes of Joyce and others, had he just lived longer?

Firstly I must say that I am not literary expert. My study of literature ended with secondary school Shakespeare in England, but saying that I do like to read, and Kamov’s work, for me, is exceptional and it certainly deserves to be translated well and published. In that way literary scholars can come to their conclusions about it. Yes, Croatian literary circles have compared Kamov to Joyce, Kafka and Camus and have concluded that ‘Isušena kaljuža’ is in the top ten of Croatian writing, if not number one. He himself was influenced by the writers of his time and makes references to them in his work. It would seem that his work was ignored or maybe even suppressed during his lifetime due to its content and possibly because of other, more influential writers. He wrote the novel from 1906-1909 but it didn’t see the light of day until 1957, almost fifty years after his death. If he had lived who knows what may have become of him.

I have followed your posts on Facebook as you worked on this translation and it seems you stumbled upon many Croatian words which have proven difficult, or at least challenging, to translate into English or even properly explain using modern Croatian. How difficult was it really to translate a modernist novel containing so many archaic words? 

Janko Polić Kamov was born in Rijeka, modern day Croatia but then part of the Austria-Hungary, on 17 November 1886, and died at a very young age, being just 23, on 8 August 1910 in Barcelona, Spain.

Kamov’s work includes a vocabulary a lot of which doesn’t seem to fit into what is today known as modern Croatian. Slavic versions of words from French, German, Italian are mixed in with what are now Serbian and Bosnian today which makes their translation into English a real investigation. This together with the fact that he uses two verb tenses – imperfect and aorist – which are virtually unused these days, and the flashbacks and surrealism in the stories which seem unconnected and random, plus the unusual syntactical structure of his sentences, means that translating his work, for me, has almost become a process of interpretation. Every now and then I will post a word on Facebook which I am struggling with and invite my friends to offer a solution, sometimes causing heated, but mostly good humoured, discussions.

You are also compiling a glossary of terms as you continue working on this translation. Do you feel this could be useful and relevant to other translators who might eventually decide to translate other works of literature from this period?

Yes, as I am translating his work I am compiling a glossary of almost every word he uses in all of his works – it contains at least three English equivalents of each word. In this way I don’t need to remember every single word when it appears again as I translate. In compiling this I have also compiled a dictionary of late 19th and early 20th centuries Serbo-Croatian to English from free online resources as well as a large selection of Croatian dialectal words. In this way I’m trying to use the English vocabulary from the same period as he wrote. In the end the final glossary of possibly 50,000 words should be a unique collection, which could be useful for the translation of similar period works.

Give us a top three words which you think even the native Croatian readers today would have trouble understanding and let’s see whether our readers have a problem with them! What are your English translations for these?

Well as Croatian is not my native tongue is it not so easy for me to say. Much of the time it is the context in which he uses the words and expressions which take time to translate. Here are three such examples in no particular order: none are a woman’s breasts (origin is still unclear), budlaj – werewolf (unknown origin),  bilikum – a special cup (German origin). Modern Croats would certainly have trouble understanding these without a proper explanation.

Another point to be taken into consideration is that over the decades various editions of his works have had some slight amendments made by publishers and editors – they have changed some spellings or even omitted words for whatever reasons, so I am trying to use the originally published versions for my translation.

Kamov’s statue on the bridge crossing the river Rječina in his home town of Rijeka, Croatia, is the work of the Croatian sculptor Zvonimir Kamenar.

Would you like to see any other Croatian authors translated into English? Any that you plan to do yourself, should you be successful in finding a publisher for Kamov’s work?

There is enough of Kamov’s work to be translated and published as a complete anthology. This would be a great personal achievement. Of course if the cultural, literary or even academic entities in Croatia could provide funding for such a venture in order to push Croatian literature out further into the English speaking world, it would be a great step forward in the appreciation of all the literature from this part of the world. I am sure that there are many Croatian authors, past and present, who deserve to be translated. In fact today in Rijeka itself there are numerous young writers, many of whom are admirers of Kamov’s work.

Are you in contact with any publishers, in Croatia or in the UK, who might be interested in publishing your translation when it’s finished?

Yes, I have been communicating sporadically with a couple of publishers in Croatia and the UK who have shown interest, but due to the economic climate in Croatia being as it is, and the fact that publishers outside the country have yet to fully appreciate Kamov’s work, it is proving difficult to make an impression.

Thank you so much for your time and this interview, Martin. Should our readers wish to find out more about you, I suggest they have a look at your blog and, of course, if they feel that they can help you in finding a publisher and finishing your work, they are certainly free to get in touch!

*****

This interview was conducted by Dario Sušanj for velikabritanija.net and published 09.09.2014.

Since this interview I have published my first book of my translations of Kamov’s works – a collection of 12 short stories – ‘Farces & Novellas‘ (May 2018) which is available at Amazon (paperback) and all other online ebook stores.

Janko Polić Kamov – sabrana djela

All four original volumes of Kamov’s work, with dust jackets. Published by the ‘Otokar Keršovani’ publishing company in Rijeka. Edited by Dragutin Tadijanović, artwork by Miljenko Stančić.
Vol. 1 – Pjesme, novele i lakrdije 1956
Vol. 2 – Isušena Kaljuža 1957
Vol. 3 – Drame 1957
Vol. 4 – Članci i feljtoni – pisma 1958
Kamov sabrana djela

Kamov – ‘Isušena kaljuža’ English extracts

Extracts from my work-in-progress translation of Janko Polić Kamov’s revolutionary, modernist novel ‘Isušena kaljuža‘ (working title ‘The Dried Up Mire‘).

These extracts are from the first part of the novel ‘Na dnu‘ (‘At the Bottom‘).

isusena-kaljuza-cover-insetThey set off on a walk. Across the square passed a funeral, a long cortège of men, women and some kind of craftsmen’s guild. The music slowly followed the sad and boring step, under the gloomy sky, on the unbearable Sunday, which had closed the shops, cleaned the marketplace, brought people out for a walk or made them yawn at the windows of their houses. It was after noon. There were people at the side, who were looking blankly at the procession. The colourful robes, both genders, young and old, all with the same looks, which were neither of sadness nor curiosity, but of a kind of long, protracted and half-dead look, that notices nothing, but sees everything. The tolling of bells rang out like somebody’s voices breaking up then returning, sinking and re-merging like a castaway at sea. Arsen stared at the coffin. Behind it there cried one young woman, throwing her head wildly into a handkerchief and twitching her shoulders as though wanting to shake off some burden. One gentleman was reconciling her, but she just shook her head all the more wildly and the sounds like a torn crack came crashing down onto the white coffin and the stinking corpse inside it. “She’s crying” and immediately Arsen wants a young woman to cry for him upon his death too, dressed in black, with red-hot cheeks, and that she throws her head into a handkerchief and touches her tears with her nose. He was moved. He was watching her listening to her sob, captivating, sweet and rich. “Yes, this kind of sobbing…Whilst I would be lying inside damp planks, on which the paint had not yet dried. In gold writing:Arsen Toplek – the people will read and whoever remembers that they knew this man will feel sorry for the dead youth and also for that dark, red-hot woman who cries for him…Even she is young…”

sprovod“No, brother workers! Our struggle will be as peaceful as our conscience. And whoever interferes with our conscience, let them quickly realise, that our conscience is the conscience of millions.” There then erupts shouting and clapping amidst the raised arms, which were flailing around in the smoky light. Arsen, agitated, not being able to handle the feelings of fear and elation that were unconsciously gushing out of him, seizes upon the impression of those arms. To him they seemed blackened and scraggy, bristling like the fingers of a huge beast that would lacerate the world and blow apart existence. The same man continued, raising his voice, as though the past of a destitute old drunkard was emanating from his mouth.
At that moment the police broke down the door with bare sabres and called upon them to “disperse in the name of the law.” Arsen didn’t hear what happened next. Several chairs were knocked over, some glasses were smashed and the restaurant began to empty. Inside a sabre still flashed around as did several bare heads that couldn’t reach the door immediately. Arsen felt a sharp blow to his back, and then the thrust of pale people trembling from anger and fear pushed him outside. Only then did Arsen see two guards striking a woman with their sabres on the other side of the street and shouting something unclear he moved closer. But they immediately left her, because at the other door the guards were still scuffling with the crowd, which was resisting with sticks and offensive shouting.

policesabresprincipTranslated from the original Croatian novel ‘Isušena kaljuža’ written by Janko Polić Kamov (as yet not translated or published in English) by Martin Mayhew

Sva prava pridržana / All rights reserved

*****************************

U potrazi sam za sponzorstvom ili drugim oblikom financijske potpore kao i prikladnog izdavača (za tisak knjige ili e-book verzije) kako bih završio svoj prijevod svih djela Janka Polića Kamova. Na prijevodu sam njegovih djela s hrvatskog na engleski jezik radim od 2012. godine. Tijekom tog procesa stvaram jedinstveni rječnik fraza i arhaičnih riječi koje Kamov koristi u svojim djelima, kao odraz i osobnog autorskog stila ali i vremena u kojem je pisao. Taj bi se rječnik mogao koristiti od strane budućih prevoditelja zainteresiranih za ovo značajno razdoblje hrvatske književnosti.
Molim vas, kontaktirajte me ako ste zainteresirani.

Intervju

I am looking for sponsorship or funding and a suitable publisher (printed or online) in order to complete my translations of all of Kamov’s work. I have been working on translating his works into English since 2012. During this process I am compiling a unique glossary which could be used by future translators interested in this important period of Croatian literature.
You can read more about my work here: interview
Please contact me if you are interested.

More Kamov…

Get more Kamov in English quotes on Twitter

isusena kaljuža

Unusual blue cover…

Janko Polić Kamov – ‘Isušena Kaljuža’

Kamov Isušena kaljuža

‘Isušena kaljuža’ – rare cover of first edition from 1957

Janko Polić Kamov – ‘Isušena Kaljuža’ (English ‘The Dried Out Mire’)
I am very fortunate to be given an original first edition of this book, intact with its dust jacket – which is very rare to find.
Kamov wrote the manuscript for his novel from 1906-1909, but it was not published until 1957, many years after his death.

In the opinion of many literary critics it is the best Croatian novel ever written.

Isušena Kaljuža

Isušena Kaljuža

Isušena Kaljuža blue cover

isusena kaljuža

Unusual blue cover…

Impressum / imprint details:
Urednik: Vinko Antić
Opremio: Miljenko Stančić
Korektor: Čedo Diminić
Priredio: Dragutin Tadijanović
Izdavačko poduzeće: Otokar Keršovani, Rijeka 1957
Tisak: Novinsko, izdavačko i štamparsko poduzeće “Novi List” – Rijeka

Janko Polić Kamov Članci i feljtoni pisma

Janko Polić Kamov – Članci i feljtoni pisma 1958. Sabrana djela IV, with original dust jacket.

Impressum / imprint details:
Urednik: Vinko Antić
Opremio: Miljenko Stančić
Uredio: Dragutin Tadijanović
Izdavačko poduzeće: Otokar Keršovani, Rijeka 1958
Tisak: Novinsko, izdavačko i štamparsko poduzeće “Novi List” – Rijeka

Information about Kamov:
http://hr.wikisource.org/wiki/Janko_Poli%C4%87_Kamov
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janko_Poli%C4%87_Kamov
http://www.kamov.hr/

JANKO POLIĆ KAMOV – DORA MAAR AND PABLO PICASSO

In Mladen Urem’s book ‘Janko Polić Kamov, Dora Maar i hrvatska avangarda‘ (Janko Polić Kamov, Dora Maar and the Croatian Avant-garde) (ISBN 953-6700-06-9) (2006) one chapter is dedicated to the relationship between Antun Gustav Matoš – a leading Croatian modernist writer and contemporary of Kamov’s – and the architect Josip Marković (1873–1969), the father of Dora Maar – born as Teodora Marković (1907-1997), the painter, photographer and Pablo Picasso’s muse and lover.
For more than 10 years he researched the genealogy of the Marković family; Dora Maar and her father the architect Josip Marković who was the illegitimate son of Kamov’s father Ante Polić and Barbara Marković. The long time friendship between Antun Gustav Matoš and Josip Marković, plus links with the Croatian politician Stjepan Radić reveal a deeper link between Matoš and Janko Polić Kamov. It is most likely that Josip told Matoš the story of his own origins and of his true father, although this would never be acknowledged publicly, various events and correspondence signify the links. From the entire study it can be assumed that in 1903, whilst the young Janko Polić Kamov was demonstrating in Zagreb against the Khuen government he spent several months in prison, where he became acquainted with Stjepan Radić and from him he learnt that he had a half-brother the architect Josip Marković. Janko’s brother Nikola Polić in ‘Iskopinama’ (‘Excavations’)(1953) describes how the young Janko was searching for when and where his father’s martial infidelity took place by correspondence with his parents. Many of the family’s documents and correspondence have been lost, and so it is difficult to reconstruct the actual events which acted formatively on Kamov and his literary work. Nevertheless, everything that is available to us to shows the obvious connections and contact between these people.

Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar (born Teodora Marković) by Man Ray

From this recent research connections between Janko Polić Kamov and Picasso’s lover Dora Maar have been uncovered and the new information has prompted a new analysis of Kamov’s life and works (many of which are semi-autobiographical) clarifying many details from which can be seen that he was one of the most significant writers of his time, about whom, unfortunately, the international audience has had little opportunity to discover.

Between the two world wars the works of Janko Polić Kamov were rarely printed. Initially these were his Sabrana djela – Collected Works (including his novel Isušena kaljuža’ – ‘The Dried Out Mire’, written from 1906-1909) and printed for the first time in 1956-1958.
Only in the last 20 years has he gained international recognition and his works have been translated into other languages: English, German, Italian, Spanish, Catalonian and French. The novel ‘Isušena kaljuža’ – ‘The Dried Out Mire’ has been translated and published into Italian and should soon be published in German but has never been translated into English.

More about Kamov and Dora Maar here (in Croatian).

Mladen Urem author, editor, publisher and literary critic in Rijeka – Croatia.
More about Dora Maar: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dora_Maar

more Kamov:
Kamov’s short stories in English
Kamov’s poetry in English
More of Kamov’s poetry in English

You can read more about my work here: interview

More Kamov…

Get more Kamov in English quotes on Twitter

A modern edition published by Večernji list in 2004 ISBN 953-7161-07-2

isušena-kaljuža

Kamov statue in Rijeka

The City of Rijeka erected a statue of its famous pavement writer – Janko Polić Kamov.

janko polić kamov postage stamp

In 2010 the Croatian post office (Hrvatska pošta) issued a series stamps featuring eminent Croatian writers, composers etc. The 3 kuna 10 lipa stamp commemorated the 100th anniversary of Kamov’s death.

U potrazi sam za sponzorstvom ili drugim oblikom financijske potpore kao i prikladnog izdavača (za tisak knjige ili e-book verzije) kako bih završio svoj prijevod svih djela Janka Polića Kamova. Na prijevodu sam njegovih djela s hrvatskog na engleski jezik radim od 2012. godine. Tijekom tog procesa stvaram jedinstveni rječnik fraza i arhaičnih riječi koje Kamov koristi u svojim djelima, kao odraz i osobnog autorskog stila ali i vremena u kojem je pisao. Taj bi se rječnik mogao koristiti od strane budućih prevoditelja zainteresiranih za ovo značajno razdoblje hrvatske književnosti.

Molim vas, kontaktirajte me ako ste zainteresirani.

I am looking for sponsorship or funding and a suitable publisher (printed or online) in order to complete my translations of all of Kamov’s work. I have been working on translating his works into English since 2012. During this process I am compiling a unique glossary which could be used by future translators interested in this important period of Croatian literature.

You can read more about my work here: interview

More Kamov…

Get more Kamov in English quotes on Twitter

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