Celan is considered a key postwar poet because of his radical method of creating meaning by breaking the conventions of language. His admirers generally share a love for challenging poetry and an ability to read his notoriously demanding work in their original German. The husband-and-wife team of translator Popov (Because the Sea Is Black) and poet McHugh (Broken English) have tackled the daunting task of capturing Celan’s poetic spirit by balancing fidelity to the poems’ text with a faithful reproduction of his signature techniques. Their translations, like Celan’s German poems, break the bonds of conventional syntax and fuse syllables together to produce groupings of images that resonate with meaning. If the message behind these resonances is often difficult to discern, it must be admitted nevertheless that the format is startling in its strange originality and commands attention even when it seems beyond comprehension. Popov and McHugh supplement their translations with the textual notes and an introduction that offers a good insight into the structure and aims of Celan’s verse.
A good beginning for anyone unfamiliar with Celan: Popov and McHugh de-emphasize literal translation in an attempt to capture the spirit of his work.