I sat down beside a girl with a white hijab

I smiled, she smiled back

Everyone on their phone

You said

No-one talks

I know, it’s London, no-one talks

Eyes down glazed, entranced by the screen

The odd glance as the station approaches

West Ham

Our eyes met

Your eyes danced dark and lively

I always talk I have to talk

You said and told me your story

(So much pain behind the dancing eyes

Arranged marriage

Domestic abuse

On the run from husband father mother-in-law


Canning Town

I was in a bad situation

You said

I still suffer

I live in a refuge now

I can’t go back

Not even to my family

But I am strong

I want to be free

I want a kind man

Are English men kind?

We talked a lot

Her life in a northern city

So boring you said after your native Marrakesh


Just because I wear this

So young and pretty in your white hijab

London Bridge

My stop is next

Where are you going?

Westminster I think-to walk, explore

Then back North to the refuge

I will be free one day


This is my stop

Thank for talking

You said

Thank you for your smile

I said

You have a beautiful smile

Stay safe


imageWhether you are a translator, reader, publisher or anyone passionate about literature, International Translation day is always a treat. At its home in the British Library, it is a wonderful opportunity for translators to meet new faces, rekindle old acquaintances, forge links and enjoy the bain de foule that is usually so absent from life at the wordface. This year was no exception. The themes were varied; the rise of the reader was the opening panel with some interesting new insights into the world of readers, publishing and social media  from Will Rycroft of Vintage and into digital publishing from Anna Jean Hughes at The Pigeonhole  and some controversial remarks about whether writers should be more involved in helping translators to produce better writing…..hrrrmmph. There have already been reactions to this, of course, as most translators feel that they are necessarily both writers and translators; it is just that what they are writing has been imagined for them in another language. There was a nice image put forward by Gaby Wood, of a translation being the source text seen through a pane of glass, with as few smudges as possible. There also plenty of food metaphors  – the rise of the reader’s enthusiasm for translated literature  likened to our growing curiosity for ‘exotic’ foods. The independent traveller versus the chips, beer and ‘full English’ tourist.

So much to think about and only the first hour! The good thing about ITD is of course that there is always plenty of coffee and biscuits and time to catch up with fellow translators. In between the coffeebreaks, the seminars on offer covered  topics  such as translator training, selling translated literature, self-publishing and the challenges facing translators in crossing cultural and historical divides. I attended the one on “talking shop” – exploring the role of booksellers in getting the translated books to the readers -and indeed the role of the translator in promoting his or her translation, citing the recent success of Deborah Smith and her translation of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian , which proved how a proactive translator can influence its journey into the world of the readers by promoting it in bookshops and social media. In the afternoon I attended the session on Fifty years of Modern Poetry in Translation with Sasha Dugdale and the magazine’s former editors David and Helen Constantine. It was a fascinating insight into the history of the poetry review over the last half century, emphasising the fact that poetry is not divorced from political reality and that translation plays a key role in making voices heard that might otherwise be silenced. We are all looking forward to MPT’s anthology of work from the last fifty years !

The day was rounded off with a session called from Page to Stage , which thanks to some brilliant actors, gave a taste of the process of  transforming a translated play into a piece of live theatre. I think what came out very strongly was that in a translated play as in a translated novel, we are confronted with different cultures, different ways of seeing, and are sometimes made to feel uncomfortable with the ‘foreign’ but that we always find some common human thread that we recognise. That is the skill of the translator. The play may have been set in Belarus but we all knew what the girl meant when she said “Wanker”!

If you want to know more, ITD has been written up in more detail and more eloquently by Kristen Gehrman  in her blog http://kristengehrman.com/archives/1542

See also http://publishingperspectives.com/2015/10/international-translation-day-stokes-the-literary-campfire/


See you all next year!


Don’t call me migrant
My country is torn apart
By war and horror

Don’t call me migrant
I saw them kill my parents
I fled for my life

Don’t call me migrant
They burned my village
I cannot go back

Don’t call me migrant
I am a doctor teacher
Grandmother a child

Don’t call me migrant
I am a human being
Don’t close your borders

Don’t call me migrant
How can you turn a blind eye
To thousands drowning?

Don’t call me migrant
Don’t negate my life with words
Call me refugee

Call me brother

This poem has been beautifully translated into French  by Alain Lecomte  (https://rumeurdespace.wordpress.com)

Ne m’appelez pas migrant
mon pays est déchiré
par la guerre et l’horreur

ne m’appelez pas migrant
je les ai vus tuer mes parents
j’ai fui pour ma vie

ne m’appelez pas migrant
ils ont brûlé mon village
je ne peux pas y retourner

ne m’appelez pas migrant
j’enseigne la médecine
et j’ai une petite fille

ne m’appelez pas migrant
je suis un être humain
ne fermez pas vos frontières

ne m’appelez pas migrant
comment détourner le regard
des milliers de noyés ?

Ne m’appelez pas migrant
ne niez pas ma vie avec des mots
appelez-moi réfugié

appelez-moi mon frère


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.

THE HIGHEST EXPRESSION OF THE DIVINE: Anne Cuneo’s ‘Tregian’s Ground’, translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie and Roland Glasser


THE HIGHEST EXPRESSION OF THE DIVINE: Anne Cuneo’s ‘Tregian’s Ground’, translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie and Roland Glasser.

The genius of the translators’ work becomes self–evident.’

Roland Glasser and Louise Rogers Lalaurie’s translation of the quasi–biographical account of the extraordinary Tregian is well worth the wait.’

I enjoyed this thoughtful and comprehensive review of Anne Cuneo’s book and I enjoyed the book itself even more.  I hardly have anything to add to such a fulsome review. Having read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and its sequel,  this was a familiar landscape with the extra dimension of the Catholic /Protestant tension and of course the music. Strangely, as I was reading it, BBC Radio 3 was featuring music by Monteverdi and other pieces from the period, which  enhanced  the reading of Tregian’s Ground. There is a consistent music within in the prose which proves that the translation is extraordinarily accomplished and as a collaboration between two very able translators, it is impossible to ‘see the join’!’

WRITING THE MOUND (with apologies to Clive Scott)*

Translation does not preserve does not perform
 it is not static nor is it a sort of approximation 
a pale imitation of style or form – even meaning 

fixed or immovable in time or space not a sacred 
image held in aspic a single aesthetic set in stone

                                                                                    layers of A
                                                                               an accumulation
                                                                            of a metamorphosis 
                                                                       modulation perpetuation
                                                                     projects the text in variation
                                                              TRANSLATION IS dynamic  it evolves

*inspired by a lecture he gave at BCLT Summer School this year on “The aesthetics of literary translation”