Exeter Translation Festival

There was such a fantastic buzz in Exeter Central Library yesterday morning as the very first Exeter Translation Festival got underway. This brilliant initiative by Exeter University’s Professor Michelle Bolduc and her team brought translation down from the dizzy heights of academe right into the centre of town. The huge range of events offer made you want to be in four places at once – there were activities for children, Bounce and Rhyme, International Story Time, and translation games such as the Spectacular Translation Machine run by Andrea Reece,where the public were invited to try their hand at translating captions in the graphic novel Alpha -Abidjan to Gare du Nord. There were pop-up readings in different languages, a poète publique  Hervé Eléouet writing poetry on demand, as well as discovery sessions such as Translation, Migration and Polylingualism, The Wonderful World of Czech translation, Translating Russian, and Middle Eastern Translation. So much to see!

I particularly enjoyed a performance by Darina Al-Joundi and her translator Helen Vassallo of ‘The Day Nina Simone stopped singing’, a powerful story of being a ‘free woman’ in war-torn Lebanon –a great example of collaboration between author and translator, how to bring a performance alive to audiences in different languages and cultures.

One lovely surprise for me was the enchanting Translation Jazz session with Michelle Bolduc, Anne Julien and jazz musician Fred B.B. – a playful and innovative way of presenting music and poems in translation – jazz improvisation from, interwoven with performance poetry in French and English. This got me thinking about different ways of ‘presenting’ poetry translation, particularly as my own part in the Festival was a poetry translation duel with fellow translator Martin Sorrel and the invaluable Clare Horackova as mediator. We both translated two poems, Brise marine by Mallarmé and Le cancre by Jacques Prévert and discussed our own approaches to these two very distinct poems. No blood was spilled of course, translators are generous and friendly people, but it was fascinating example of how no two translations are ever the same and just how adventurous the translator can be if he/she is brave enough to break the rules (whatever they might be). There was also a Spanish duel, prose this time between Simon Bruni and Rosie Marteau under the watchful eye of  Rosalind Harvey.  This of course threw up quite different issues, and fascinating insights into the nitty-gritty of translating prose – is that colour purple or violet, when to use tremble, vibrate or…even throb? and why does one put a comma and the other leave it out -and that was just the first few lines! Time is one of the cruellest constraints when discussing translations!

I am sure there are events and people I haven’t mentioned – I certainly couldn’t get around to all the events, but there was truly something for everyone. People I spoke to were inspired by the events they had attended and by the energy generated by the whole festival. It really was a celebration of language and cultures from across the world, at a time when we need it most.So HUGE congratulations to everyone who worked so hard to make it happen! It would be wonderful to see it become an annual event.




*(I promised myself I wouldn’t use the B word.)

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