BCLT INTERNATIONAL LITERARY TRANSLATION SUMMER SCHOOL

1525653_566738746747795_827567701_nTwo weeks late and ample proof that I am not a blogger by nature, but I did want to put something in writing about my week at BCLT Literary Translation Summer School at UEA in Norwich. I loved Norwich the city, my first visit, and the UEA campus with its huge rabbit population which at times made it feel like a cross between Watership Down and the Teletubbies!
I was in a fascinating group translating poetry under the inspiring, thoughtful and thought-provoking guidance of George Szirtes. We were five women from different cultures, myself, quite boringly English translating from French, Aya from Japan, Pushpita from Bangladesh, Carmen from the US with Polish/Spanish background, translating from Spanish and Chiara from Italy, translating from Italian but also offering her own poems written in English. We each brought with us poems that we wanted to translate, and then began the intriguing process of discussing why we wanted to translate this poem, what did it mean, what we wanted to carry across into English, what the difficulties were, etc. Each poem had its own particular way of holding our attention and provoking discussion. For example, Pushpita’s poem began ‘ Oh Lord’ or was it God or Father, what were all the connotations that went with each word? That took some time to decide and so we went on, pouring over every word and realising that with one choice,one word changed, a whole set of other word choices were brought into play. With Aya’s haiku, the issues were different again, a form that is now familiar to us, but which remains partly mysterious when we do not understand the images and emotions behind the Japanese characters, the weight of the haiku tradition. For example ,the Japanese characters for ‘jellyfish’ read ‘ocean’ and ‘moon,’ which conveys something quite beautiful and different to the image that is conjured up by the word in English, and Aya tried to incorporate these images into her translation. It was really fascinating discussing all the various possibilities for an English version, or versions, as Aya came up with several equally beautiful poems around the same haiku. I could go on, but George has written much more eloquently and in more detail about the week’s work in his blog and my own attempts at translation during the workshop are on my POETRY page.
The week in Norwich also included daily creative writing sessions with different tutors, all writers themselves. This was a stimulating and brain-stretching start to the day, working on different ways of using English from around the world,using writing prompts, exploring how boundaries and constraints shape our writing and kindle our imagination. Rather like Georges Perec and his novel written without the letter ‘e,’ I loved the challenge of these exercises even if an hour was never long enough. ‘Translating’ Kingsnorth into Chandler or a Chandler text in Wodehousian prose or vice versa, it was more challenging playing strip poker on the moon, but all frightfully good fun,what! Each day after lunch , and as we were all ready for a nap,there was a ‘plenary session’ and midweek we were treated to a fascinating lecture by Prof. Clive Scott on the ‘Aesthetics of Literary Translation,’ again an example of how to push boundaries in translation, and the creative possibilities of translation, amongst a wealth of other ideas. I attempted in my own poor way to encapsulate what I understood from his talk in a ‘poem’ WRITING THE MOUND
The icing on the the Summer School cake was the opportunity to get to know translators and writers from many different countries, all with stories to tell, all ready to share their skills and knowledge – and translators are a friendly and generous bunch. It was a rare privilege and pleasure to have met and worked alongside such talented people! The Summer School was rounded off by a splendid dinner and presentation of the week’s collective efforts in the Dragon Hall, home to Writers’ Centre. Including both prose and poetry, we heard translations ( and enjoyed some spirited re-enactments) of texts from Korean, German, Norwegian,Dutch, Italian, Bengali, French, Spanish, and Japanese. The nervous participants who had arrived a week earlier ( in many cases not really knowing what to expect), were now transformed into a group of translators ‘participant’ in the true sense after a week of collaboration, and indulging a common passion for words and language away from the realities of workplace. I came away buzzing full of ideas, and also with a renewed passion for translation,and poetry in particular, even if I am still very much a fledgling (albeit with a senior railcard) teetering on the edge of the nest.

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