Dog walk at dusk
As I fell on my arse in the mud,
a mistle thrush sang atop an ash
and the pale ghost of the new year’s moon shone through the trees.
Reasons to be joyful!
My first celandine
Not so bright – crushed in the mud
More winter to come
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.)
With huge apologies to Edward Lear whose Quangle Wangle Quee did not deserve to be associated with in any way with the present incumbent of the White House
On the top of Capitol Hill
the Trumpettypotus sat
And his face was plain to see
Because he wore no hat
For his face was fake orange his teeth fake white
He liked to tweet throughout the night
SAD! Unfair! It’s all FAKE news !
The only truth is the one I choose
said the bigly mad Trumpettypotus
The Trumpettypotus said to himself
as he sat on Capitol Hill
This is a finely tuned machine – things are going swell
but the longer I sit here in the Oval Room
It seems the world is full of gloom
millions cheered me on my Big Day
My people love me, and those who don’t will pay
Fake media tweet #impeach the SCROTUS
but I’m draining the swamp
said the Trumpettypotus
Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor who opposed the Nazi regime. He spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. Germany, 1937.
— Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz
Martin Niemöller’s poem is all the more relevant today. We should remember and resist current attempts by the US President to silence those who disagree with him and his policies.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
I should say I wrote the following observations on my first visit to LBF a few years ago , when I was still a very much ’emergent’ translator. I am still not fully fledged actually, but having got to know the way things work, I feel more part of the incredibly supportive translator community, less terrified, more confident, but only marginally more successful! So the following was written from the outside, an anthropologist’s view as it were, but I think it might still strike a chord with those who feel new and bewildered by the whole experience!
LBF: anthropologist at large
Here in the translators’ enclosure the younger members of the tribe lurk anxiously.Greeting is usually preceded by a furtive glance at the name badge strategically placed on the left breast. They move around, talking first to one then the other, their eyes always on the alert for new contacts. From time to time publishers and the more experienced members of the tribe gather together in panels to throw them tips and precious nuggets of wisdom on which the juveniles feed voraciously. Within the translators’ enclosure it is remarkable that, unlike the general behaviour in the world outside , the more senior members of the species, worldwise and able to fend for themselves, are extremely generous and helpful to the less experienced juveniles. There seems to be little animosity amongst translators as a species and on the whole they appear to be a pleasantly garrulous and sociable tribe, perhaps because of long periods of enforced isolation at the wordface. Indeed, displays of camaraderie and affection can be witnessed that are rarely observed amongst the besuited corporates outside the enclosure.Fortunately perhaps it was not possible to gain any insight into their mating habits in this highly protected environment , although one tiny infant translator was spotted in the enclosure this year.
From time to time, some juveniles will venture out of the enclosure to try their luck hunting in the great jungle that is the LBF: the more meaty prizes will have already been gobbled up by the dominant males and females of the species, so to ensure survival they must press flesh, mark their territory with their business cards before they scuttle back to the safety of the TLC ( oops, LTC ) enclosure. Such forays are a necessary rite of passage, in preparation for the day when they will finally hunt down and secure the elusive contract for themselves. In a few days time, they will be released into the wild, left to fend for themselves with only a laptop for survival. It’s a jungle out there..
I enjoyed this article in Asymptote by Megan Bradshaw -a view from another angle!
Thinking about the books I had read in 2015, I collected them all into a pile, though not all – because I can’t remember them all and also because the dreaded kindle renders books invisible , and annoyingly intangible. I was not surprised to see that ten out of thirty or so were books in translation. I read Spanish and French fluently and do not need to read translations from these languages, but now that I am more familiar with, and dare to feel part of the ever-growing community of literary translators, I am more aware of newly published translations and tend to seek them out especially if they are by a translator I know or know of. This is thanks largely to small independent publishers like And Other Stories, Deep Vellum, Peirene et al. promoting literature in translation. For example, I could have read Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila in the original, but was also excited to read the highly acclaimed translation by Roland Glasser. The same applied to Tregian’s Ground co-translated so skilfully by Louise Rogers Lalaurie and the very same Roland Glasser. You might say, I could have read both the French and English versions, but time and the pile of to-read books dictates otherwise, and I am not interested in doing a critical comparison of the two. To state the obvious,the main reason for reading in translation is to be able to read a book that was written in a language we don’t understand. The old translation cliches about windows into other worlds, building cultural bridges etc etc hold true however often they are trotted out. In 2015, amongst others, I discovered Han Kang’s The Vegetarian translated from Korean by Deborah Smith , Ruth Ahmedzai’s translation of Fadi Zaghmout’s The Bride of Amman, and Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life, translated by Charlotte Collins, books I could never have accessed in their original language and feel all the richer for having done so. Reading them whetted my appetite for more from these authors and/or cultures. I might add that when I read these translations I usually pass them on to friends and family with evangelical fervour, which means that they too read a book or books that they might never have come across otherwise. I also was urged to read Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (translated by Ann Goldstein) -and wished I could read it in Italian because I felt it to be an uncomfortable read and couldn’t put my finger on why; was it the translation, or did the original have the same awkwardness? Was it just me – bridling perhaps because everyone was raving about it and I had not been so smitten?!
This was also the year in which I learnt more about poetry in translation, both the business of translating poetry at the BCLT Summer School (see previous post) and reading it, mainly through the excellent Modern Poetry in Translation. Another discovery was Bones will Crow ,a collection of 15 contemporary Burmese poets, edited and translated by ko ko thett and James Byrne, a beautiful bilingual edition (Arc), again allowing a glimpse of a culture and literature that I would otherwise never have read.
All this might seem blindingly obvious. Surely, we all know why we read and why we read translations. But in spite of the gloomy ‘three-percent’ statistic, the time seems to be ripe for translated literature, The translator community appears to be thriving and interest in world literatures growing – perhaps in a bid to understand and appreciate differences and kindred spirits in a world where politicians are building ever higher fences. I am excited by the possibilities of translation, both in the reading and in the art, so this coming year I hope to continue to be curious, to read in as many languages as I know how, to read translations and of course continue with my own translation projects.*
HAPPY NEW YEAR!