Dennis Maloney is an award-winning poet, translator, and founding editor of White Pine Press. His works of translation include The Poet and the Sea: Poems of Juan Ramon Jimenez, The House in the Sand by Pablo Neruda, The Landscape of Castile by Antonio Machado and Between the Floating Mist: Poems of Ryokan. His most recent volume of poetry is Empty Cup, translated into German by Tzveta Sofronieva and published by Hans Schiler in Germany.
Ian Haight’s most recent book is Celadon, winner of the First Book Prize in Poetry from Unicorn Press.
Haight: As editor of White Pine Press, you’ve led the press in devoting significant resources to publishing translated literature from a wide range of cultures. Why? Given White Pine’s mission to publish literature in translation, how does it feel to have someone decide to publish your most recent book of poetry in German?
Maloney: From my start as a poet in college after hearing Robert Bly read, I was drawn to the translation of poetry, as well as poetry. I started translating Neruda and Jimenez in college, and when I conceived of starting White Pine Press I wanted to make sure translations were a fundamental part of what we published. When White Pine started in the early 70s, there was a huge lack of translated poetry available in the United States—a situation that thankfully has improved a great deal.
Having worked in the field of translation for over four decades, I am thrilled to have a book of my own work translated into another language. As a poet, I am deeply grateful for the work Tzveta has done to carry the poems into German.
Haight: As an editor and publisher of literature, could you talk a little about what it is like to go through the publishing process as an author, especially with a German press?
Maloney: Tzveta and I were invited to read at the LeaeLenz festival in Hausach in 2014. I met Hans Shiler, the publisher of Empty Cup, at the festival. He enjoyed my poetry and invited us to submit a manuscript for consideration. That, of course, is a huge thing for any writer. Tzveta had worked with Hans before on a number of projects, including books of her own poetry. She handled most of the interaction with the publishing house but I must say they were very professional and timely in getting the book out once we submitted the manuscript.
Haight: Were there any obstacles that popped up in the translation of Empty Cup? Was distance a factor? How were obstacles overcome?
Maloney: I found it interesting to work with a translator, rather than being the one doing the translation. We had many good discussions, mainly over clarifying small points in the poems, and mostly these were due to cultural references that might not be apparent to a German reader. One example that comes to mind is in the poem “Summer of Love,” which contains the names of many San Francisco bands of the era and references to the Haight-Ashbury district. This would be familiar to a lot of Americans but not likely to Germans. The other area we discussed at length was in some poems, particularly the short poem in the “Just Enough” section, where the German language could go in two different directions in translating some images, so we would go back and forth on which meaning was closer to my intentions.
Haight: You’re someone who has not only edited and published collections of translated literature, but you’ve also translated several books. Was there anything unexpected that happened or that you learned by having your own poetry translated?
Maloney: I’ve already outlined the translation process here, but I would say the thing that surprised me the most was having to look at my own poems in detail and in ways that I usually don’t. So it is a gift to see your writing in new ways. I would say that in my own work as a translator, I have only translated dead poets so they don’t question much.
Haight: It’s been suggested—at least as far as poetry is concerned—that to be well-rounded, a poet must at some time practice the literary translation of poetry. How do you see your experiences with the translation of poetry influencing your poetry, or your work as editor of White Pine?
Maloney: When I was a young poet I heard a suggestion from the great translator and poet, Kenneth Rexroth, that translating poetry was a way of keeping your hand in the game when you weren’t writing your own poetry. He also suggested it was a way of obtaining a deep knowledge of another poet. Those sentiments have carried me for a long time. There were periods of life when I was working full-time as a landscape architect, running the press, and raising a family that I didn’t have a lot of time to do my own writing. Translation kept my poetic juices alive in those times.
Haight: We live in a moment when—in America anyway—it would seem everything is political, including, given a certain perspective, the very air we breathe. Do you see the act of translating poetry as a political act?
Maloney:: I definitely see translation as a political act in the sense that, particularly here in America, we have gone through periods of isolation and arrogance, believing that our culture is better than the rest of the world. We are certainly in one of those periods now, maybe the most dangerous one in my lifetime. As poets, translators, and publishers, when we bring other voices of the world into English for an audience of the United States, we help open the eyes of readers to a wider world.
Haight: On a scale of read literature, translated poetry has one of the smaller audiences. Besides personal enrichment of any kind, why do it?
Maloney: It may be small in terms of numbers but it is a vital part of literature and the health of a culture. There is truth to the statement that poetry has saved the lives of many and inspired many more.
Haight: As editor of White Pine, do you see any changes in governmental support of artists, writers, and translators in New York State, or more generally America?
Maloney: As you might imagine, publishing poetry and poetry in translation is not a commercial venture and is not self-supporting in the marketplace. Like many non-profit publishers, we rely on public and private grant support to publish the books that we do. Thankfully we are located in New York State which has one of the best public arts support programs in our country. We also have a National Endowment for the Arts which supports writers and non-profit publishers, but that agency is under attack by the current administration.
In addition to support in our country, we also rely on support from outside the country for many of the translations we publish. Thankfully, many countries have public or private programs to fund the translation and sometimes even the publication of their respective country’s poets into other languages.
Haight: Could you talk about your next non-editor project?
Maloney: I am presently working on finishing two forthcoming collections: a full-length book of poems, The Things I Notice Now, that will appear this fall from MadHat Press; and a chapbook, The Faces of Guan Yin, that will appear in Spring 2019 from Folded Word Press.