Editor's foreword

Sudeep Sen

When Hayat Saif's translated poetry manuscript was handed to me to be edited - I had to make some key decisions in terms of determining how close those English versions were compared to their Bengali originals, how much liberty the translator had taken, and whether or not they read as poems in the English language.

The very first thing I did, is to hear the poems read out aloud, as is always my practise before embarking on any translation project. I believe that our poetic ear tends to be much more fine-tuned than our eye, so it is useful to get an idea of rhythm, cadence, and texture of the poems themselves through an oral rendition of the work in the original language.

Then comes the harder part of seeing and judging the text on the page itself, a version which most readers are likely to encounter. It is not always the case that a poem that is successfully read out aloud, works as well on the page to a reading eye. The poem on the page needs to justify its space, positioning, line and stanza breaks, among many other considerations.

Ideally, both the translator and the poet ought to have spent a sufficiently long time on the project with each other, and then with the editor concerned. But given the few days I was provided to complete the task, my role as an editor in this case was only efficiently possible, if I assumed that the translations were accurate and sacrosanct.

As I was going through the poems in some detail, I realised that the translators had taken liberties in terms of interpretation, sometimes leaving out elements in the poems that they felt unimportant, and dispensing altogether with formal structure and rhyme. Also, there are instances where the phraseology and syntax in the English versions sound archaic, even awkward, due to mere literal rendition of most of the poems. Hence, what you have in this Selected Poems volume, are very free-verse translations that give a fair idea (via the translator's sieve) of what Hayat Saif intended to convey in his Bangla originals.

Having said that, I have enjoyed being associated with Saif's poems in this process of macro-editing, designing, and putting the book together. His poems have a very particularised voice, one that is studied and well-considered, one that is opinionated and clear, and one that reflects the milieu and times he is writing about. I am sure the readers will enjoy his work as much as I have done reading them.