The Three Polis: Scots and Intralingual Translation

Our collaborator Bill’s reflection on Saturday’s translation panel at Newcastle Poetry Festival and thoughtful exploration on issues of translation relating to Scots, and English in our experiment.

gairnet provides: press of blll


The panel I took part in on translation at last week’s Newcastle Poetry Festival raised a number of issues of equal fascination to both poets and translators, and, one would hope, readers of both. I found myself as excited by the far-ranging nature of the discussion, and the diversity of approaches of the panel, as I was impatient to think through how it related to my own practice.

From Jean Boase-Beier’s intense engagement with the text, usually solitary, usually focussed on the work of dead poets, trusting to etymology to deepen her investigation, to Erica Jarnes’s discussion of the responsibility of the translator to engage with and represent work outside the Grand Old Men of European heritage – thinking in particular of the Poetry Translation Centre’s representation of the poetry of minority, usually, immigrant, cultures within that European context; from Fiona Sampson’s subtle distinction between the meaning of the words…

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Translation as Collaboration | Call for submissions


Translation as Collaboration

Call for submissions

Opening up the theme of translation to broad interpretation, The Poettrio Experiment are commissioning collaborative translations from all creative disciplines: writers, translators, artists, musicians, filmmakers…

Find a collaborator and translate each other’s work within or across different media.

Translate a text into an image, an image into a text, an Instagram picture into a poem, a Tweet into a film, an object into a short story, a poem into a composition…

Translate between different languages or translate between Englishes: translate an ‘English’ poem or prose into your English voice filled with your experience, or Scouse, or Scots or a Diasporic English. You could change the location, the scenery, the slang, the voice but somehow… translate.

Translate from a language you don’t know: read it like code and carry its graphic patterns into a new translated text or medium…


Performances of texts, films and compositions should last no longer than 5 minutes.

Public performance open to all in Newcastle University on

Thursday July 20th 2017 

DISCUSS your translation process on a new podcast for translation & creative disciplines at the University of Newcastle. 

Email queries to:

Twitter: @poettrios 

If you want to participate but don’t have a collaborator, contact us and we will find you one! 

The Poettrio Experiment is an AHRC-funded project researching translation trios based at Newcastle University, with The University of Roehampton.

Translation at Newcastle Poetry Festival w/ Bill Herbert, Fiona Sampson, Sophie Collins, Erica Jarnes and Joan Boase-Beier

‘All translation is only a provisional way of coming to terms with the foreignness of languages.’

Walter Benjamin

Discussion: Poetry and Translation

During Newcastle Poetry Festival, two members of the Poettrio Experiment, poets Bill Herbert and Fiona Sampson, will be taking part in a panel discussion about translating poetry with Professor Jean Boase-Beier from UEA, poet, editor and translator Sophie Collins who produced the groundbreaking volume of translated poetry Currently and Emotion: Translations, and Erica Jarnes writer, composer and managing director of The Poetry Translation Centre. 

Come along!

15:00–16:00 | Northern Stage, University of Newcastle | Stage 2 | FREE


The Poettrio Experiment begins…

Follow the progress of our investigation into poetry translation trios here!

Coming up 30th May- 2nd June we have workshops in Rotterdam at Poetry International Festival where poets and project co-investigators Bill Herbert and Fiona Sampson and poet Sean O’Brien will be working with three Dutch poets Elma van Haren, Hélène Gélèns and  Menno Wigman and language advisors Karlien van den Beukel, Willem Groenewegen and Rosemary Mitchell-Schuitevoerder to translate poetry collaboratively, in real time.

The poets, who are not experts in the source languages, will choose which of each other’s poems to translate, and work together with the language advisors to produce translations. Afterwards they will be interviewed about the process of choosing the poems and translating them. 

There will be a public presentation performance at the end of the week in Rotterdam of the poems translated in the workshops. More details soon!

Sergio Lobejón Santos X Fionnghuala Sweeney

Poet, translator and research associate on the Poettrio Experiment Sergio Lobejón Santos worked with Newcastle academic Fionnghuala Sweeney  to produce translations and versions of Sergio’s poetry.

Watch the performance 

Fionnghuala could not be present but sent in the following recordings of two translated ‘versions’ produced in response to Sergio’s poems.



Swan Song:


(Sergio Lobejón Santos)

Cuadros emborronados desfilan

sobre un muro de tela porosa.

Tratan de romper su estatismo

en un alud cromático de fotones.


Son sólo juegos de luces, lo sé,

pero aun así no dejo de pensar

que esos actores de la inacción,

esos parajes ya abandonados,

son tan míos como las puertas

de las que intento huir cada día.



(Translation by Fionnghuala Sweeney)

Blurred pictures parade

On a wall of porous fabric.

Static ceremony

In a chromatic avalanche of photons.

They are just games of shadow, I know,

But I still cannot stop thinking

That these artists of inaction,

Those places already abandoned,

Are as mine as the doors

Through which I try to flee every day.



(By Fionnghuala Sweeney)



pictures figure the wall

and yet,

in all the pageantry

of impervious text, breaking


in lost logic;

in the fall of metaphor



a game of light,


in knowing mastery of the glance

at the site of inscription –

the door of escape

to shallow civility

all ready already for i

with my needle

to sew into ground

– a stitch in the ditch

where the bones and the stones once laid

side by aside, for

so much depends, doesn’t it,


that you have wandered

on the greyness of stones,

the certainty of lapse, the slight weight of memory, only

a gram or two,

or three – enough, at least, to frame

an ending that is mine


to forgo

the absolute of your singularity,


(a turco, for all i know, a dog),

further west than even suspicion would allow

chromatically curtailed

in the crook of an eye,

the turn of a tongue.

no blue here.

no easy cradling.



(Sergio Lobejón Santos)

Parado frente al mar,

afina sus ojos para observar

las fuerzas que dan forma

a esa masa furibunda

que no conoce a nadie.


Las olas saltan al compás de Selene,

poniendo fin abrupto a su camino

al romper contra la roca desnuda,

gramófonos de aguja caprichosa

que degustan melodías polvorientas.



Los promontorios se elevan orgullosos,

aun en su impotencia, como testigos mudos

que acusan con pruebas a las mareas

de incontables años de desgaste.


Pesqueros abandonados reclaman un puerto

en el que poder soltar su cargamento

de reproches y suspiros sin razón ni dueño,

de agravios que ya nadie recuerda si acaso serían suyos.


En la orilla, un canto rodado se separa

con violencia de una sombra diminuta,

deslizándose por la superficie

mientras busca un lugar

en el que recuperar

su momento

de inercia,

como si ignorase que el único camino posible

conduce a la fosa abisal, última parada a la desidia.


El océano no conoce a nadie.

Jamás hará distinciones

entre visitas primerizas,

viejos amigos que, en su fidelidad,

siempre terminan regresando

a su cadencia sincopada,

entre quienes están de paso

pero jamás volverán.



(Translation by Fionnghuala Sweeney)

Standing in front of the sea,

Sharpen your eyes to remark

The forces that reshape

That furious, unknowing mass.


The waves start to the compass of Selene,

Abruptly ending their path

In the break of bare rock,

As gramophone needles

taste dusty melodies.


The promontories rise proudly,

Even in their impotence, mute witnesses

To the tides accused

with the evidence of countless years of wear.

Abandoned fishermen claim a port

To release their cargo

of reproaches and sighs

without reason or title,

of grievances unremembered even in the heart.


On the shore, a stone skips

Along its tiny shadow,

Sliding across surface

looking for a place

In which to recover

Its moment

Of inertia,

As if to deny that the only possible path

Draws downwards, an idling last stop.

The ocean knows no one,

never making distinctions

Between first visits,

Old friends who, in their fidelity,

Always end up coming back

To its syncopated cadence,

Among those passing through,

never to return.


SWAN SONG (Fionnghuala Sweeney) 

Sea eyes

seek the splash of monsters, the furtive

power of ‘here be’

mapped in anticipation –


Beneath, Elatha, still playing

the line, til three turns down it comes to a stop

and a generation of flesh

breaks on barren rock

– in the spent fury of tide on feathers

a song worn mute through

years of wear,

as, in the dust of a note

the promontories rise, the cliff edge

sharpening to accusation


and the pride of countless years

waits again on time and tide-


In the face of this new quickening


fishermen claim a port,

forsaking that cargo

of reproach,

of grievance unremembered

400 years and its over

in a blink, in the sigh


of the shore, where, out of sight,

a grain of sand

sheds its shadow –

A break in time


in search of a surface

a surfeit in which to recover

its moment –

What do you want, sibyl?

Not what you think. Not at all.

Not that inertia, that paid for innocence

Is mise en abyme

the last stop –



Comments on the collaborative process by Sergio Lobejón Santos:

These poems are taken from a collection of poetry and short stories written between 2010 and 2013. Each story is complemented by a poem exploring similar motifs. The two poems chosen for this presentation, “Frames” and “Ocean Caves” are part of a series linked thematically by the ideas of individual identity and loss. The translation was negotiated between the two collaborators, establishing an agreement in which the translator would have the freedom to insert her personality and style into the text. Rather than doing that purely via translation, two sets of texts emerged from that process. On the one hand, the translator rendered the two source poems into English, with feedback from the original author. On the other, she created new poems based on the source texts, turning some of the imagery and wordings in them into purely novel compositions reflecting her idiosyncratic style. Just like the original creation, both the translated texts and the new poems complement and expand each other to create a textual landscape in which the personalities of the two authors appear interweaved.

Comments on the collaborative process by Fionnguala Sweeney:

Sergio’s work has an intimacy of articulation that makes it a pleasure and a challenge to encounter. I am very grateful to him for his generosity in trusting me with his beautiful work. And in being willing to tolerate what will inevitably be an act of violence. This because the movement across languages is always a breach of some kind of contract, and any encounter is an act of intimacy and of course of interpretation.

The translation, the interpretation, is always provisional, dependent and unstable; while the original work is always itself, always prior, always the maker of meaning, always at the hub of every dialogue in what may in effect be an infinite number of poetic conversations.

We are presenting two of Sergio’s poems today, but I was lucky enough to be able to read and begin to translate many more, and to read some of the short stories they sit alongside. The scale of the body of work available inevitably, and rightly, inflects what will become of meaning in translation. It also provides a clue to the interior of the poem, or the intention of its writing: to the understanding of desire and the operations of metaphor.

These things are of course entirely untranslatable, and it is only in conversation with the poet that the structures of thought that sparked the words can sometimes come to light. In this regard, translation itself is always metonymic – partial, often half baked, and always in some way completely missing the point, because it produces its own metaphors and they resonate across the host language in uncontrolled and unanticipated ways. Translation is its own metonymy – it makes language subject to the desire of the translator, and this is irrespective of how close the translation cleaves to the original.

The first poem here, Fotogramas/Frames, I met, because it is so long since I have used Spanish as a language of intimacy, as a wall of words. Because of this, the objectness of the words was always present, and the act of translation, which revealed their subjective qualities, was a surprise.

The improvisation is an attempt to engage again with to qualities – the metaphor as it re-materializes in translation, and the object-ness of the words of the original as matter that is somehow irreducible. There is a stolen line from William Carlos Williams.

The second poem, Grutas oceánicas/Ocean Caves was, despite an apparently greater simplicity, more difficult to unpick. I made several mistranslations. It is still somehow impervious to assault in this English version.

The improvisation tries to tackle the problem of naming and the ways in which the poetic somehow takes shape mythically around the utterance of a name. How may myth and the nomenclature of myth be translated? The improvisation tries to think this through, by considering translation also as a mode of historicization, as marked by the inscription of meaning and the loss of some kind of symbolic integrity – in the translation, of course, not the original.

Denise Saul X Di Zhao

Poet Denise Saul and translator and writer Di Zhao collaborated between English, Mandarin and visual translations.

Watch Denise and Di present their work


Other Flowers

“If we wait in silence for a while, we should see the apples that you talked about,” I say to Eris. She nods. The afternoon does not arrive in the way that I hoped. She points at the tree. Yesterday, and this morning, she kept on repeating the same word but I did not understand why she would mention fruit when the tree was bare. I met Eris at a conversation group last week where she talked about apples. I sit with her on the lawn and watch wood pigeons. “I still can’t see them,” I tell her. I sip a cup of green tea. She talks about persistence, daisies and other flowers.




                                  Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 22.34.47



Explanation of collaboration


Denise Saul is a writer, poet and visual artist. She is a PhD in creative writing researcher at University of Roehampton. Denise is currently poetry pamphlet selector for Poetry Book Society. She is the founder of Silent Room: A Journey of Language, a collaborative video poem project funded by the Arts Council. 

For the first ‘translation as collaboration’ text, Di sent me her untitled poem and also her iconic translation of that poem.  The first poem written in Cantonese ‘mirrored’ its iconic translation, both written by Di. I felt that another translation of these texts ‘from text to text’ or ‘poem to poem’ would create further distance between myself and her poems. My decision to photograph an object, that is, a shoe, allowed me to create a closer relationship between a visual image and Di’s work.  

Di Zhao’s translation of my prose poem, Other Flowers was my first experience of collaborating with a translator. Our collaboration involved a lot of trust as I cannot read or speak Mandarin Chinese. I was interested in Di’s interpretation of my creative work. Her initial response was to create an iconic translation of Other Flowers, a prose poem written in response to my experience of my late mother’s speech disability, aphasia. The new shape of my poem translated by Di, captured the prominent theme of language breakdown as well as the restriction and also freedom of language between the carer and the individual who is cared for. 

I am the founder of Silent Room: A Journey of Language, a collaborative video poem project funded by the Arts Council. I work with filmmaker,  Helmie Stil and  individuals who have the speech disability, aphasia, to create video poems using prompts, writing and hand gestures. So, my creative approach to translation has changed a great deal during my collaboration with Di. For the ‘Translation As Collaboration’ project, using a photograph to translate’ a text or poem was a new experience. 


其他的花(qí tā de huā)is a combination of visual art and poetry, translated from Denise Saul’s Other Flowers.

The original text was a prose poem, whose intention was ambiguous when the context was not given. I decided to literally translate it to preserve all the possible interpretations. Furthermore, since Denise is a visual artist, I chose to reshape the translation to form an image.

The most challenging part was the interpretation of the original text. Her intention was to respond to her late mother’s speech disability. However, I decided not to limit the possibility of other interpretations. It was a very beautiful poem, leaving room for imagination.

The productive part was the combination of visual art and poetry of course. The original text was not a concrete poem, so I chose the image that first popped up in my mind after reading this poem. It was also the most fun part reorganizing the Chinese characters, which was like building a Lego castle.

I had translated several English novels into Chinese, in collaboration with other Chinese translators, but this translation experience was brand new. It was more of a creation rather than rewriting, so I was able to fully express myself instead of hiding my existence.





Kate Sweeney X Christy Ducker

WATCH ‘Vaccine‘ 3min 49sec. UK. 2016 |  Directed and animated by Kate Sweeney | Poem by Christy Ducker | Spoken words from Dr Mohamed Osman | Soundtrack by Caroline Mary

‘Vaccine’ is a short film by Kate Sweeney, made in collaboration with poet Christy Ducker. ‘Vaccine’ was written as part of Christy Ducker’s residency at York University, working alongside scientists at The Centre for Chronic Diseases. ‘Vaccine’ explores the power of narrative and how the dialectical image works in a poem. The film begins with a recording of a conversation with Dr Mohamed Osman about his research and fieldwork in Sudan. His words are accompanied by free flowing animation. The film moves from this loose conversational style to draw on the imagery and the rhythm of the poem using stark black and white ink drawings.

The film-making process is one of translating the space between words and language into a visual representation or interpretation that allows the poem to breathe within the film. The poem itself is a distillation of language and imagery encountered by Ducker in the laboratories and in conversation with the scientists, whose research centres around the search for a vaccine against the leishmaniasis disease that ravages parts of Africa. Translational medicine is biomedical research translated into a syringe containing a vaccine – something that can be used. It is often referred to as a ‘bench-to-bedside’ approach.


Kate Sweeney is a visual artist and video-maker using animation and drawing in her work. She has a collage-like approach to editing and making videos and tries to utilise video’s capacity to bring together various technical and creative mediums and approaches. She works collaboratively with poets, writers and musicians. Kate has screened and exhibited nationally and internationally including Sydney International Film Festival,  London Lesbian and Gay film festival, Zebra Film Festival in Berlin,  Manchester Animation Festival and The International Poetry Festival, London.

She is currently undertaking a funded PhD at Newcastle University. Kate teaches and facilitates art, film and animation in a variety of academic and education contexts.

Christy Ducker is a poet and tutor. Her first full-length collection, Skipper, was published in 2015, and includes work commended by the Forward Prize judges. Her pamphlet, Armour (2011) was a PBS Pamphlet Choice. Her commissions include residencies with Port of Tyne, English Heritage, and York University’s Centre for Immunology and Infection. Her most recent publication is Messenger (2017) and she is currently a research fellow at Newcastle University’s Institute for Creative Arts Practice.