Juliet Winters Carpenter is an award-winning translator of Japanese poetry and prose noted for promoting contemporary Japanese authors (including Minae Mizumura, Noboru Tsujihara, and Ryōtarō Shiba) to English readers by rendering their distinctive prose into precise yet colloquial English. Pushkin Press reissued her translation of Machi Tawara’s Salad Anniversary in a beautiful edition last month. Carpenter describes the wry self-awareness that comes across in Tawara’s poetry with a sense of kinship, suggesting that a degree of self-cognizance, in addition to close reading and writing skills, is required from a translator.
Elisa Taber: Kenneth Rexroth famously commented on Japanese poetry and translation, “It is (…) more essentially poetic. Many, especially Japanese, editors and translators have been embarrassed by this intensity and concentration and have labored to explain each poem until it has been explained away.” You seem to encapsulate, rather than expound, the meaning of each verse, by translating the tanka form in three lines rather than the customary five. Were you wary of over-explaining Tawara’s work?