Zhivka Baltadzhieva Introduces Botev's Poetry to Spanish Readers

Culture |Author: Daniel Dimitrov | February 22, 2015, Sunday // 17:07|  views

Photo: Personal Archive

Zhivka Baltadzhieva is a Bulgarian poet and translator.

She has been living in Spain for twenty years now, teaching Bulgarian and Slavonic literature at the Madrid University of Compultense.

She also has become the editor of the Colecci?n Ala Este" sequel of the Amargord publishing house in 2014, the first book being Bulgarian national hero Hristo Botev's poetry.

Baltadzhieva will be coming to Bulgaria in March following an invitation by the Servantes Institute in Sofia and Spanish poet Theresa Augustin, for a bilingual reading of Botev's poetry.

Novinite.bg has interviewed her on questions concerning her views of the value of Bulgarian literature for the world and many other regional issues .


The first translation you made was of Blaga Dimitrova's works. What provoked you to choose her and how suitable are her poems fro Spanish readers?

The anthology of Blaga Dimitrova with over 130 poems under the title Espacios, published by the Barcelona based La Poes?a, se?or hidalgo. I had worked on it for several years and it wasn't easy.

As you know, Blaga used a number of neologisms in her works and I had to convey their meaning in Spanish. But I never gave up. I think that her vision of the world and of people has a lot to offer to those living in different spaces, times and communicating in other languages.

I believe her poetry is one of the biggest accomplishments in European literature from the second half of the 20th century.

The last book I translated and that is now published in Spain is Hristo Botev's Poesia. The issue is bilingual, as is the one of Blaga's works.

But my first ever translation published in Spain was of The Secret Knight of the Holy Book by Anton Donchev. My co-author was Dr Tanya Laleva. The choice of the author and the book were made by the publishing house in this case.

How do you select the authors, having in mind that you will be translating in Spanish?

I never choose the authors based on how easy it would be for me to translate them in Spanish. I am just trying to translate the poetry that I love reading myself, so that the Spanish version would be as close as possible to the power of imagery of the original.

Do Botev, Bagryana, Anton Donchev and Nikolay Kanchev sound powerful enough in translation and can readers understand the message of their works?

We definitely can't talk about the same impact. I can just say that our poets certainly cause great interest and even acclaim.

In the case of Botev, critics have been unambiguous. Same as the readers. A 20-year-old boy even tattooed Botev's words ''Freedom is dear, the truth is sacred'' on his body in both Spanish and Bulgarian.


Two famous composers wrote music based on Botev's poems. When the professional recordings are out, I will make sure they will be heard in Bulgaria. For now, they've only been performed at the book presentations.

Many things have been written about Blaga. The unified opinion was that she is all-encompassing, largely ahead of her time, that her creating Destined to Love has cured European texts from what was then called an ''engaged poetry''.

Those remarks truly show high appraisal. Some of them belong to the most authoritative Spanish and Latin-Amrican critics and poets.

Unfortunately, few people in Bulgaria are interested in the view on Blaga Dimitrova's poetry from abroad. Most people care about the foreign perceptions only of themselves. I am truly saddened to say that.

How do you avoid the pitfalls of translation ? Are there many such in adapting Bulgarian texts for the Spanish audience?

There are no pitfalls in translation.

However, every word has a different destiny in every language, it has passed through thousands and thousands of uses and misuses, it has been immersed so to say in both black and golden waters, has been torn apart, or has been glorified, it has been used for lies, and used for good night stories ... It has accumulated various hues and hints, carries different associations not only in different languages, but in every new context.

So, one doesn't need to translate words, but more the works of art as a whole, their spirit, style, rhythm, temperament, passion or cold retreat. But not separate words. If we remain truthfull to the rest of the essential elements of the text, to its spirit, the most suitable words will eventually come to us, through which the original text can be voiced.

Are contemporary authors easier to translate ? Apart from Georgi Gospodinov, Ivan Tsanev, Georgi Borisov and Rada Panchovska, who else is worth translating? Do you already have an idea who will be next?

Well, I can undoubtedly say that there are many Bulgarian poets that have a lot to share with the foreign readers, they have something to rumble their worlds with, and also something to make them feel loved. Bulgaria has huge poets.

But I don't like classifications. Various translators would point out different names. And those merely trying to translate a text because it has been ''canonized'', can clearly see despite their unwillingness sometimes, that it's all just words, words, words ...

No, literature is not an athletic race. I see it as an unbound free space for naming and saying the unspeakable, the imaginary, the things that must not be spoken about but must simply be passed by. It's a form of struggle between the conscious mind against inertia and against the addiction we have to the known, to the trivial.

Is it easy to access subsidies for publishing Bulgarian literature abroad? Should Bulgarian sponsors only be sought?

I have never received any subsidies or any other sort of material support from Bulgarian institutions, sponsors, or donors. Once, many years ago, it must have been in 2005, I applied for EU assistance. I have not received anything, not even a rejection notice, by the respective unit of the ministry so far. I would never pay for these publications, not only because my income is limited but because I believe that artists are people who do hard work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Although it is painful to admit this, all of the few books that I have published in Spain have come out because the publishers found something about them that could incite public interest, something that they found exciting.

How popular is Bulgarian literature in Spain?

As I said, it is a tough battle. One can hardly speak of “popularity” of Bulgarian literature in Spain, despite the fact that it had been gaining ground. Nevertheless, even Ivan Vazov with all of the 13 issues of the novel “Under the Yoke” is an unfamiliar name for the broad public of readers.

All of the works of Elias Canetti, Tzvetan Todorov, and Yulia Kristeva have been published. They are avidly read, met with love or rejection, challenged or awarded. These are the Bulgarian authors that are famous in Spain. Ilija Trojanow’s name was quite popular at a certain moment. However, all of these authors write in English, French, and German.
Out of the other 35 or so Bulgarian books published in Spain over 80 years, three date back to the 40s and three others to the 80s of last century. A substantial part of them came out in the past 20 years. However, what difference do 30 books make, given that they are mostly absent from bookstores and libraries? You can only achieve that much with the individual efforts of translators such as Rada Panchovska, Lilyana Tabakova, Ventsislav Nikolov, Neva Micheva, Viktoria Lefterova, Tanya Laleva, and me.

How would you explain the failure of Bulgarian literature to gain recognition on a global level and its lagging behind all of the neighboring Balkan countries? 

Our country doesn’t care a fig about artists. Apart from the fact that it is poor, it only cares about them insofar as it can use them to its benefit. What is more, Bulgarians do not respect each other as individuals. We are unable to feel genuinely happy when an indisputably successful piece of writing comes out. We lack the courage to challenge the praise lavished on certain authors by critics who enjoy high credibility. We are even unwilling to question the criteria of these critics. When we are so self-centered, we are bound to become invisible as a people. How could we seek recognition abroad then?

Could you describe the students to whom you teach Bulgarian at the Complutense University of Madrid? How have they developed an interest in Bulgaria? What do they do after they graduate? Are they good ‘ambassadors’ of Bulgaria in Spain?

They can hardly be grouped into one category. The subjects I taught were aimed at a wide range of people. I have had students of different ages who belong to different social groups and have different interests, with all of them sharing a love of literature and inquisitiveness. Very few of them have a special attitude or a permanent connection to Bulgarian literature. Some of them married Bulgarians. But they are not translating books. They have no time to do this or they cannot afford it. However, after so many years of existence of the specialty “Bulgarian language and literature”, I can finally name a young person who is doing his best to increase the popularity of Bulgarian music, literature, and art. His name is Marco Vidal. He is currently a student at the University of Granada as he found himself unable to pay the exorbitant rent in Madrid.

In what language are you writing now? In what language do your thoughts run?

I write and think in both languages and I believe that this is only natural. I have been living in Spain for a few decades. After all, how could I read lectures in Spanish with my thoughts running in Bulgarian?
Almost all of the poetry that I have written over the past 15 years has been created in both languages simultaneously instead of being translated from one language into the other. I find it difficult to translate my works. However, all of my publications related to my academic work are in Spanish. There is an easy explanation for this – I had no opportunity or willingness or access to adequate research material in Bulgaria.


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Tags: Zhivka Baltadzhieva, poetry, Bulgaria, Bulgarian, Blaga Dimitrova, literature, poet, Hristo Botev, Botev


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