Looking back through old notebooks at the weekend, I found some notes I must have made after talking to Joan Margarit back in 2002, I think. The conversation was in Spanish, and the notes (made later in English) are my personal interpretation of what he was trying to say.
There were two points about translation that I hadn’t remembered:
Form, metre, rhyme etc. are superficial elements of a poem. What gets translated is something more essential.
(Re-reading that, I wonder whether the original talked of ‘essential’ or ‘essence’.)
If a poem can’t be translated, maybe it’s because it doesn’t say anything in the original.
Taking the two together, I think we can infer a criticism of poems that rely solely on technique.
Sometimes a piece doesn’t seem to warrant the word ‘poetry’ although, superficially, that’s what it is. I’ve written sonnets, for example, that obey the rules and yet don’t seem to be more than doggerel or elegant word games.
Maybe what’s lacking is the poetic ‘essence’. And maybe that’s what the translator should look for first and try and identify clearly, so that it doesn’t get forgotten in the search for rhyming words or other poetic ‘accidents’ of form.