In 2017 the annual report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association found that 72 countries around the world criminalise same-sex relationships, including 45 which outlaw sexual relationships between women. In eight countries, homosexuality can lead to the death penalty. This year has brought encouraging stories, such as Trinidad and Tobago’s move towards decriminalising homosexuality after a high court judge ruled that the colonial-era law banning gay sex was unconstitutional, but progress is sadly far from inevitable last autumn the Turkish government banned LGBTQ events, leading those in the community to be increasingly worried for their safety. Fear of arrest is one of the many reasons why LGBTQ+ poets around the world are too rarely heard at all, let alone translated. Even if a writer is not deterred by systematic privilege, prejudice and abuse, to send a poem out into the wider world can require a great deal of bravery, not only from themselves but from their translator, editor, publisher and even bookseller.
Yet translation seems to me, in many ways, to be a discipline that is inherently queer – it is full of men trying on women’s voices; girls speaking as boys. To translate is often to experiment with identity and intimacy. In my own practise, the thrill of embarking upon a translation of Ovid’s Heroides, his series of dramatic monologues in the voices of women, lay partially in the chance to be a woman speaking as a man speaking as a woman; in exploring the performativity of gender. I am also fascinated by the way gender inflects different languages in different ways. In her essay in this issue, ‘Queerness as Translation: From Linear Time to Playtime’, Mary Jean Chan notes that he, she, and it are phonetically the same in Cantonese: ‘As a bilingual speaker, the notion that I would check someone’s use of my pronouns only makes sense within an Anglophone context.’ For queer translators, this means that some languages are particularly open to ambiguities and possibilities.
The response to the call-out for this issue was overwhelming – I am sorry I didn’t have the space for many more of the LGBTQ+ poets and translators who sent in work. Thank you for your generosity and, in many cases, courage in sharing your poems. Although our focus changes each issue (we plan to have a Hungarian focus in the autumn), Modern Poetry in Translation will always be pleased to read poems from the global LGBTQ+ community, and we hope you will submit again.
Many of the poems within these pages are about love. Many are about living in the body, that ‘house of thirst’ – its degradations and desires. What subjects could be more universal? Yet how infinitely particular every human’s individual experience. As the Polish poet Julia Szychowiak writes, in Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese’s translation: ‘I could be a river, no matter how many times you entered, | you wouldn’t be quick enough to drink me up.’
– Clare Pollard