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 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…
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.
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!
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.
(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.
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
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
the absolute of your singularity,
(a turco, for all i know, a dog),
further west than even suspicion would allow
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
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
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)
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 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.
Poet Denise Saul and translator and writer Di Zhao collaborated between English, Mandarin and visual translations.
Watch Denise and Di present their work
“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.
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. http://www.silent-room.co.uk
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.