Art Maker: Michael Goldman | poetry translator

Last modified: Friday, April 24, 2015
Michael Goldman, 49, of Florence, translates, promotes and publishes Danish literature. In the past two years, he has received six translation grants for his work with five distinguished Danish writers, among them Denmark’s most popular, all-time best-selling poet, Benny Andersen.

Hampshire Life: Describe the work you are doing now.

Michael Goldman: I translate Danish literature into English, mostly essays and poetry, which are being published in literary journals across the United States. I recently published audio book translations of three poets from Denmark.

H.L.: What is your creative process like?

M.G.: I came to translation of literature a few years ago after a career in carpentry and construction. I have realized since then that there is some similarity between the two. I hammer away at my rough draft, and then take meticulous care down to the fine details, so the lines combine into a harmonious and beautiful piece into which the reader can enter.

H.L.: Does is start with a “Eureka!” moment?

M.G.: The “Eureka!” moment is when I am deeply moved or entertained by a work I have read in Danish. I realize that the English readership cannot experience those same moments of revelation from these works, because they are in a different language. I am inspired to act as a kind of medium, and through my translation connect the Danish author to a previously unreachable audience.

H.L.: How do you know you’re on the right track?

M.G.: I want the English translation to have the same depth of emotion and the same tone of the original in a seamless flow of language. The original stands as a kind of blueprint, but through writing and re-writing I want to achieve a fresh new work in English, that also stands on its own. When the words feel inevitable, as if they always had been there, and the emotional charge of the original is conveyed, then I feel like I have got something.

H.L.: What do you do when you get stuck?

M.G.: When I need to escape my computer, my favorite breaks are cutting, splitting and stacking firewood or playing jazz clarinet. At linguistic roadblocks I reach for my invaluable dictionaries. Some stickier conundrums I reserve for my Danish wife, Jette, or my sister-in-law, Susanne, in Denmark.

H.L.: How do you know when the work is done?

M.G.: The translation is ready for submission to editors when I feel I have solved all the lingering linguistic riddles, it doesn’t hurt my ears to read it aloud, the emotion and mood has been conveyed, and Jette has no objections.

H.L.: To what end do you do this work?

M.G.: I continually remind myself that it is not for my own personal gain but to make exceptional writing available to a readership that otherwise would not have had the chance to read it and become inspired. Also I remember that I am serving the original genius authors, living or dead, whose work is deeply deserving of a rebirth in a new language.

— Kathleen Mellen

On April 11 from 2 to 3:30 p.m., as part of the Easthampton Book Fest, Goldman will take part in a presentation, “The Art and Craft of Translation,” at White Square Books, 86 Cottage St. For information, visit arts@easthampton.org. For more information about Goldman, visit hammerandhorn.net.