Adriana X. Jacobs is a graduate student in Comparative Literature at Princeton University, where she works on twentieth century Modern Hebrew poetry. Her translations of Israeli poetry and prose have appeared most recently in Kritya and Zeek: A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture.
These two “mistranslations” are part of a larger project that consists of translating (or rather, mistranslating) poems from languages I do not know well or at all (in this case, Russian and Hungarian). I produce these translations without dictionary assistance and without consulting native speakers. They are what I imagine the poems to be or I what I wish for them to be. I noticed, as I attempted to read the poems in their original language, that I instinctively would seize upon words that seemed familiar. Using this (sometimes very faint) sense of familiarity as a starting place, I would "decode" the rest of the work. Later, I learned that the English translation of Radnóti's "Szerelmes vers" is "Love Poem." It contains no lizards or seashells. In the case of Petrova's poem, the idea of Hugo emerged from the phrase "k Yugu," southward, and other fragments that I was able to decipher with the help of one year of college Russian, most of it forgotten by now. The rest of the poem is my creation. Or is it?
Miklós Radnóti (1909-1944) was Jewish-born Hungarian poet who was killed in WWII by Hungarian fascists. In 1946, his body was exhumed from a mass grave and a notebook full of poems, letters and fragments was found in his coat pocket. These poems later became part of the posthumous collection Tajtékos ég (Clouded Sky), which includes the poem "Szerelmes vers."
Alexandra Petrova was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1964 and graduated from Tartu University. Her publications include the poetry collections Liniya otryva (1994, Point of Departure) and Vid na zhitel’stvo (2000,
Residence Permit), which was short-listed for the Andrey Bely Literary Prize. She lived for many years in Jerusalem and now resides in Rome.