A book of English-language translations of Yiddish and Hebrew poetry and a journal which includes some of his own poems as well as more of his translations are the two latest publications from Seymour Mayne, a professor of English at the University of Ottawa and coordinator of uOttawa’s Vered Jewish Canadian Studies program.
Being a translator, Mayne told the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, came naturally to him.
“Growing up in our immigrant neighbourhood in Montreal, I had no choice but to be a translator,” said Mayne, who spoke Yiddish, Russian and Polish at home, English and Hebrew at school, and English, French and Yiddish on the street.
“Languages were thrust upon me,” he said. “I learned early the necessity of negotiating languages, translating spontaneously the give-and-take of family talk.”
It was perfectly natural, Mayne said, to switch languages in the middle of a conversation “or even mid-sentence.”
The combined 2016 and 2017 editions of “Shirim: A Jewish Poetry Journal,” published this summer, is subtitled “Dream the Living into Speech: A Selection of Poems and a Homage to Yiddish by Seymour Mayne” and intertwines translations of poems by Rachel Korn, Melech Ravitch and Abraham Sutzkever with Mayne’s own poems and autobiographical commentaries.
His own poems, together with the translations, Mayne said, “explain and reflect the atmosphere in Montreal.”
Among Mayne’s poems in the Shirim collection are “For the Dentist Who Extracted My Last Wisdom Tooth,” “Curses upon the Thief or Thieves Who Stole the Old Blue Couch from my Front Porch during the Early Hours of June 7, 1986,” and “Sukkah Guests.”
In his preface, Shirim editor Marc Steven Dworkin describes the mix of Mayne’s translations, personal poems and the autobiographical paragraphs as a “picture of how life in Eastern Europe transported itself to life in a Canadian city… Above all – Mayne captures the Jewish drive to survive and move forward that transcends all language.”
Mayne’s new book, In Your Words: Translations from the Yiddish and the Hebrew, also published this summer, includes his translations of poems by Yiddish writers Rachel Korn, Melech Ravitch, J.I. Segal and Abraham Sutzkever, and Hebrew poets Moshe Dor, Eytan Eytan, Elisha Porat and Shlomo Vinner.
In his preface to In Your Words, Mayne explains that translating from Yiddish and Hebrew poses a complex challenge of transmitting old and distant languages and cultures into modern Canadian English.
“The poems show an integral part of my life. Hebrew literature and the Tanach are central to my tradition,” Mayne said. “Canadian literature and culture are also part of my education, and all of them together create my personal canon.”
In Your Words: Translations from the Yiddish and the Hebrew will be launched on Sunday, September 17, 2:30 pm, at Library and Archives Canada, Pellan room, 395 Wellington Street. In addition to Seymour Mayne, Sara Vered, Rebecca Margolis and Caroline Lavoie will participate in the readings.