Poettrio chat to Jen Calleja, Translator-in-Residence at the British Library

jen calleja

photo: The British Library

A few months ago, Poettrio researcher Dr Rebecca May Johnson chatted to the British Library’s inaugural translator-in-residence, Jen Calleja.

Hear about how Jen got into literary translation, how she built a career in translation, what she’s got planned for her tenure as the British Library, how she approaches translating prose and poetry, and much more.

Sean O’Brien discusses Paradise Lost on BBC Radio 3

Poettrio poet Professor Sean O’Brien discusses Paradise Lost on BBC Radio 3’s show, The Essay:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09491jc

“Milton’s Paradise Lost was first published 350 years ago. It remains the most important long poem in the English language. It came out of a time of revolutionary upheaval in Britain and is a political poem as much as a theological one. Poet Sean O’Brien discusses Milton’s adventurousness. Producers: Tim Dee and Siobhan Maguire.”

Poettrio Youtube Channel!

Research associate Dr Sergio Lobejón Santos has built a YouTube channel to share videos from events and research from the Poettrio experiment. It’s just gone live so visit and see what we’ve been up to! 

Watch the Translation as Collaboration event curated by research associate Dr Rebecca May Johnson, which saw translators, writers, artists and performers from across the UK present collaborative translations to an audience in Newcastle. 

Soon we’ll post videos readings produced during Poettrio Translation workshops, as well as panel discussions featuring principal investigator Professor Francis Jones, co-investigators Professors Bill Herbert and Fiona Sampson and translators and visiting Dutch poets involved in the project. Watch this space. 

Poettrio X Translation as Collaboration Event

640px-Newcastle_University_campus

To showcase the fruits of a week’s hard work translating poetry at Newcastle University, and to bring together creative practitioners and translators from all over the UK, The Poettrio Experiment hosted a public event with a focus on collaboration. 

In the first half of the evening’s programme, visiting Dutch poets Menno Wigman and Hélène Gelèns read their originals that they submitted to the translation lab, with translator Willem Groenewegen ably reading on behalf of Elma van Haren (who sadly couldn’t make it). British poets Fiona Sampson, W. N. Herbert and Sean O’Brien read the translations-in-progress produced. To that, one trio of poets Bill Herbert and Menno Wigman and language advisor Rosemary Mitchell-Schuitevoerder discussed how they tackled challenges of translation, and co-investigator Fiona Sampson chaired a discussion between principal investigator Francis Jones and research associates Rebecca May Johnson and Sergio Lobejón Santos about the week’s translation labs.

[For the uninitiated: the poet-language advisor-poet trios work collaboratively and in person, and the poets are not necessarily experts in each other’s language. However, because of the contemporary hegemony of English as global lingua franca, the Dutch poets in this experiment were more familiar with English than the English poets were with Dutch. In our academic analysis, we explore how trios function, from the patterns of communication that arise between participants, to the strategies used to tackle problems of poetry translation and how moments of creativity arise in a trio setting.]

During the second half of the evening, the concept of collaborative translation was opened up to wider interpretation by poets, composers, artists and experimental translation practitioners visiting from University of Birmingham, University of Warwick, Roehampton University and beyond, as well as Newcastle University. This half brought in poets and creatives who had not previously engaged with translation in their own work to reflect on how they could re-imagine the process.

A selection of videos of the evening’s performances will be posted here soon, so you too can enjoy them… in the meantime, visit the ‘Translation as Collaboration’ section of the website to view the creative collaboration contributions. 

 

 

Stephen Watts on Co-Translation

via Stephen Watts on Co-Translation | Free Word

Acclaimed poet, editor and translator, Stephen Watts, shares his views on the art and power of co-translation.

I began co-translating in the early to mid-1990s, partly from an imperative and partly in a very natural way. I had met or was aware of many fine poets living in London, where I also was living, who were not writing in English and whose poetry was not being much or well translated. Some of these poets became my good friends and some of them began asking me to help translate their poetry so that they could find English language audiences where they were living: they needed such audiences beyond their own mother-tongue readers in order to better survive. Here, then, were the imperatives: friendship, political responsibility (many of the poets had been born in countries affected by British colonialism and/or postcolonial wars and I felt this keenly) and the existence of great poetry being written in England but not available in English. This was enough to prod me across and into co-translation:

“translation is a vital art / pulsing lifeblood through the heart”

~

READ the rest of this brilliant article here and explore the rest of the Free Word Centre’s work too: https://www.freewordcentre.com/explore/stephen-watts-on-co-translation

Activist Publishers and Institutions Translate

This piece about contemporary translation in the UK was first published on Versopolis, The European Review of Poetry, Books and Culture ( via Activist Publishers and Institutions Translate | Versopolis), commissioned by Professor Fiona Sampson.

by Dr Rebecca May Johnson 

versopolis image

We are in a time of politics in the UK. — Of course, we always are: but the 2016 European referendum and the 2017 snap General Election saw people old and young feel the measure of their power again. They felt the power of pen marks on paper to upend the murky calm of the way things are, to grow flippers and swim against the overwhelmingly strong current of ‘common sense’ that usually dictates the course of events in Britain.

While the Brexit vote may feel in retrospect to many like a devastating act of self-harm and a confirmation of the worst undercurrents of xenophobia, it was also an act of public disobedience. This disobeying of received political wisdom has continued with the persistence of Jeremy Corbyn despite widespread consensus, among his own parliamentary party and broadsheet and tabloid media even of the left that his politics were “foolish”. The young, angry and hopeful felt the contours of their political muscles and flexed them: 64% of young voters voted in the General Election, and 62% of those voted Labour. Such disobedience is an act of imagination and a bet that they ( we ) can make the future differently.

Such a future will exist on the page, too  – and is already doing so. The mood of political intervention and a growing sense of empowerment is evident among publishers and the young curators running some cultural institutions too. A new generation has been remaking the literary world in a more diverse and radical way, and translation is at the heart of it.

In response to a talk at the 2015 Hay Festival and republished in the Guardian by novelist Kamila Shamsie about the low numbers of women winning literary prizes or sitting on panels, grass roots publisher And Other Stories – founded chiefly to bring challenging, ‘mind-blowing’ voices into English – pledged to publish only books by women in 2018. It has made good on its promise and so, next year, we can luxuriate in the numerous exciting books that have sprung forth from their extremely positive discrimination. To name some: the first ever translation into English of Argentinean modernist writer Norah Lange’s Personas en la sala(probable title, ‘The People in the Room’) by Charlotte Whittle, a reissue of Italian writer Fleur Jaeggy’s novel Sweet Days of Discipline translated by Tim Parks, a Lithuanian novel, Fish and Dragons by Undinė Radzevičiūtė about the painter Castiglioni and his time working in the Chinese court, a Catalan novel by Alicia Kopf Brother in Ice, translated by Mara Faye Lethem, that takes in autism, contemporary Catalan politics and the history of polar exploration and a Dominican novel by Rita Indiana, (title TBC).

Another activist publisher intending to alter the status quo is not-for-profit Tilted Axis, co-founded in 2015 by self-taught Korean translator Deborah Smith: in 2016 the first translator to share the International Man Booker prize with her author, in this case Han Kang for The Vegetarian. ‘Tilting the axis of world literature from the centre to the margins allows us to challenge that very division’, is the declared intent of the publisher. The beautifully designed paperbacks they’ve put out so far have brought previously unheard south and south-east Asian voices, including Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, into English. The publication of her book Panty, translated by Arunava Sinha, received rapturous reviews for its erotically-charged exploration of religion, nationhood, gender and sexuality: it shocked audiences in its original, Bengali language. In July, Tilted Axis will be publishing violent, haunting and formally experimental debut, The Impossible Fairytale by South Korean writer Han Yujoo and translated by Janet Hong. The book launches with a bilingual reading at The Free Word Centre on July 10th.

In a more philosophical vein, new feminist publisher Silver Press, founded by two editors from the London Review of Books, Alice Spawls and Joanna Biggs, and the communications director of Verso, Sarah Shin will round off their first year by publishing the theoretical forbear to Elena FerranteDon’t Think You Have Any Rights, first published as Non credere di avere dei diritti by The Milan Women’s Bookstore Collective (La Libreria delle donne di Milano) in 1987, puts forward the group’s arguments for ‘female entrustment networks’. The idea is that women seek out symbolic mothers and symbolic daughters (age not dependent) to support and validate each others’ lives ‘among but independent’ of men: a lived embodiment of Luce Irigaray’s critique of the symbolic register defined the Father, the phallus.  To entrust oneself, co-founder Luisa Muraro wrote, meant to “tie yourself to a person who can help you achieve something which you think you are capable of but which you have not yet achieved.”

A heartening show of awareness that translation is an important means of cultural advocacy and mediation (in the wake of the inward-turning Brexit vote) is the British Library’s gesture outwards to the world by appointing its first ‘translator in residence’ for two years, co-funded by the AHRC’s ‘Translating Cultures’ project. Jen Calleja who translates from German, is a published poet and is working on her own first experimental novel (as well as playing in numerous punk bands) is making her first move in the new role, the ‘Translating Gay Identities’ event, in September. A panel chaired by Calleja, with Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, who translated the first Arabic book to be launched in a gay bookshop, and Lawrence Schimel, a writer and translator of queer prose and poetry from Equatorial New Guinea, Spain and Zimbabwe, will explore the ethics of translating sexual identities.

Arts Council England has also put its money where its mouth is in the most recent round of grant allocation, just announced, by funding the Poetry Translation Centre for another four years. Activism is at the core of the Centre’s practice, which focuses on translating, publishing and touring poets from Africa, Asia and Latin America. In particular, its regular workshop series brings new poets from countries like China, Mauritiana, Georgia, and Jordan into English through non-specialist collective sessions, facilitated this season by poet Clare Pollard. These workshops are free for refugee or unwaged and inexpensive for the rest, and participants work collectively to produce translations. In doing so they challenging traditional ideas of the sovereign, solo authorial voice. The results, including the original text and literal and collective translations, are published on the Centre’s website, creating a huge archive of work, free to read. Visit their podcast too, to listen to readings of translated poetry and discussions of the translation process.

Two more books to look up. Published last year by Test Centre, Sophie Collins’ Currently and Emotion: Translations , edited and with a theoretical Preface, is an exploration of the possibilities of poetry translation. Including Anne Carson, Lawrence Venuti and Yoko Tawada alongside emerging practitioners, the volume sets out to challenge dominant concepts of the translation as a literary service that facilitates access to foreign texts, instead foregrounding the translator. The selection privileges work by and from female translators, and tends towards work that reveals the complex power dynamics in each act of translation, negotiating them in innovative ways.

Forthcoming in September from the London-based publisher Fitzcarraldo Editions is The Little Art by Kate Briggs. Part essay and part memoir, Briggs draws in a history of controversial translations of writers from Thomas Mann to Andre Gide, and puts forward a case for understanding the history of translation as a form of domestic, feminine labour.

Finally, there’s the project that I am involved in as a researcher, the AHRC-funded “Poettrio” project based between Newcastle and Roehampton Universities. We (me, and colleagues Dr Francis Jones, poet Professor Fiona Sampson, poet Professor Bill Herbert and Dr Sergio Lobejon-Santos) are constructing translation laboratories in Rotterdam and Newcastle and placing high profile Dutch and English poet-language advisor-poet trios together and to see how they work, how they feel and the kind of poems they produce. Results – assessed qualitatively and quantitatively through some serious analysis of data TBC.

As a further part of this project, I’m curating a Translation-as-Collaboration event on 20th July in Newcastle, where practitioners from across the UK will present collaboratively translated work across media (film, music, art) and even within languages (e.g. a feminist English, a Scouse English, diasporic Englishes), posing the question: when you translate – what are you bearing across? I am particularly excited to see artist/researcher Heather Connelly’s (of Translations Zones) and academic Gabriela Saldhana’s performance exploring the embodied position of the translator, problematising the process of speaking for another and through another. All welcome!

 

Poettrio Performance

Newcastle Presentation Poster A4 final final final (2)