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He Could Not Have Done it Without His Calculator

Working With Numbers Helps Long Island University Foreign Language Professor Earn Prestigious Translation Award


Alka Gupta,Assistant Director of Public Relations
Brooklyn Campus,
Long Island University
(718) 780-4137

Gregary J. RaczBrooklyn, N.Y. – It took Long Island University associate professor Gregary J. Racz six weeks with a calculator to translate the 12 lines of the poem, “Profećia alfabético-numeral” (“Alphabetical-Numerical Prophecy”) from Spanish into English.

In the world of literary translation, this is by no means is a simple feat. It has garnered Racz, chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at the University’s Brooklyn Campus, the American Translators Association (ATA) Alicia Gordon Award for Word Artistry in Translation. The award recognizes imaginative solutions to knotty translating problems.

The poem, by 19th-century Uruguayan poet Francisco Acuña de Figueroa, is a singular work that attributes a numerical value to each letter while keeping a running total of each line’s sum and employing rhyme. For example, the first lines of Acuña de Figueroa’s poem were:

12. 1. 21. 12. 5. 22. 20. 1. 21. 4. 5. 5. 21.
L a s l e t r a s d e e s
22. 5. 1. 12. 6. 1. 2. 5. 22. 17.
t e a l f a b e t o…………….243

The letters strung together look like this in Spanish: “Las letras de este alfabeto”

The same lines, translated by Racz into English, look like this:

12. 15. 20. 8. 5. 1. 12. 16. 8. 1.
L o t h e a l p h a
2. 5. 20. 19. 12. 5. 20. 20. 5. 18. 19.
b e t’ s l e t t e r s………243

The result in English is “Lo the alphabet’s letters”

“It was the longest it took for me to translate a poem,” said Racz, who has contributed more than 300 translations of Spanish-language poems to journals and anthologies, “because I had to maintain the numerical value of each line in translation as well as the rhyme while also retaining the meaning of the poem.” It was necessary for Racz to get the translation and numerical value correct because the sum of the lines total 1847, a year that was historically significant in Acuña de Figueroa’s poem.

Described as one of a “new generation of poet-translators” by “The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry,” Racz is vice president of the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA), which is not affiliated with the ATA. He is also review editor for Translation Review. His translation of “Fuenteovejuna” by Lope Felix de Vega Carpio appeared in Margellos World Republic of Letters, published by Yale University Press, in 2010. This year, three books of his translations of Peruvian poet Eduardo Chirinos’s work will be published. His book, “Approaches to Translating Poetry,” will be published in 2012 by the publishing house, Multilingual Matters (England).

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Posted 02/08/2011

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