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 

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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

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The Poettrio Experiment at Poetry International, Rotterdam

For the 48th Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam, we took The Poettrio Experiment’s British poets, Sean O’Brien, Fiona Sampson, and Bill Herbert over to the Netherlands to carry out translation laboratories with Dutch poets Menno Wigman, Hélène Gelèns, and Elma van Haren and language advisors Karlein van den Beukel, Willem Groenewegen and Rosemary Mitchell-Schuitevoerder.

Over three days, the British and Dutch poets worked with language advisors in threes to translate the British poetry into Dutch. We filmed and recorded the trios working together, with researchers (Dr Jones, Dr Johnson and Dr Lobejón Santos) sitting in and observing how the trios worked to resolve ‘untranslatables’ and ambiguities, teased out the nuance in the British poems and interacted personally. 

After each day’s translating, we interviewed trio participants about their experience of that day’s trio – as the next day, they’d be working in a new trio. 

The trios produced a lot of exciting translations and we gathered a large amount of data about how the trio structure worked, as well as how the laboratory worked – remembering that people’s bodies were as important as their minds. Heat, hospital visits, appetites and seating positions all became factors in how trio participants felt that the translation process worked.

As part of the festival programme on Friday, the Dutch and British poets read a selection of their translated poetry, and one trio of Professor Fiona Sampson, Dr Karlien van den Beukel and Hélène Gelèns discussed the process of working together.

Principal Investigator Dr Francis R. Jones and Research Associates Dr Rebecca May Johnson and Dr Sergio Lobejón Santos discussed the trio laboratories with Jan Baeke on stage in front of an audience of festival attendees, commenting on the kind of quantitative and qualitative data we’ll be looking at for our analysis. 

See a link to our Poetry International Festival page here. Video of our presentation to follow. 

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.

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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

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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…

DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS: 1st July 2017

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: rebecca.johnson3@newcastle.ac.uk

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!