Wednesday, December 09, 2009

An Interview with Pevear and Volokhonsky

At The Millions, an interview between Anna Clark and the preeminent modern translators of Russian classics, particularly Tolstoy, Richard Pevear and Anna Volokhonsky: 'There are two questions that it might seem quite proper for a translator to keep in mind, but that in fact will spoil the translation. The first is, “What will the reader think?” And the second is, “How do we say that in English?” A good writer does what he or she has to do in the writing so that it “goes right,” as Robert Frost put it. There is at least as much intuition as intention in the process. A good translator has to follow that process far more consciously than the writer and yet come as close as possible in the new language to the instinctive “rightness” of the original. The greater the writer, the closer you want to come. That is both the challenge and the joy of it. But exactly what that “rightness” is remains undefinable, which is why there is no such thing as a definitive translation.'

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On Amelia Rosselli

Daniel E Pritchard writes:
At the Center for Art of Translation blog, Scott Esposito introduces us to Amelia Rosselli (1930-1996), 'one of the most important experimental Italian poets of the 20th century, often associated with Gruppo 63 and the Italian avant-garde. First trained as a composer and musicologist, she turned to writing in her early twenties. She was fluent in Italian, French and English, and in her early writings, such as Diario in tre lingue (”Diary in Three Languages”), she reflected this linguistic background by switching from one language to another. Later, Rosselli’s poetry came to reflect this multilinguality in a more nuanced way: she began to write primarily in an idiosyncratic Italian that pushed the boundaries of the language to encompass her particular vocabulary. She incorporates syntactical traces of French and English in her Italian verse, and is famous for employing what Pier Paolo Pasolini called a “lapsus”: a slippage between languages that makes her poetry strange to the Italian ear.'
[cross-posted from The Wooden Spoon]

Friday, November 20, 2009

Online Certification with Dalkey Archive

Beginning in January of 2010, Dalkey Archive Press at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign will initiate a new and ambitious certificate program designed to help translators at any point in their early careers, and that will result in the publication of their first book-length translation. This program represents a unique opportunity for young translators to gain invaluable experience as well as produce a translation that will aid them in gaining future work with Dalkey Archive and other publishers.

The program is intended for translators who are at a point in their careers where they are ready to undertake professional translation work but do not know where to go next, and especially for those who need a flexible schedule because of geographical limitations and other commitments.

During the course of the yearlong program, translators will have the opportunity to complete one book-length literary translation to be published by Dalkey Archive Press, with an emphasis on literary fiction; books to be translated will be selected by Dalkey Archive Press in consultation with the translator. Editors at Dalkey Archive Press will be assigned to train applicants via email on a one-to-one basis. Occasional meetings at Dalkey Archive Press’s offices or videoconferences may also be organized.

The program is highly competitive and is intended for promising translators who are at an early point in their careers, but who have already achieved the skill level to undertake professional translation work. Ten students will be selected based on the strength of their application materials, and the relevance of their background to the kind of literature that Dalkey Archive publishes.

Translators interested in applying should send the following materials to as early as possible: a CV, including employment history; a letter of intent detailing qualifications, knowledge of the historical roots of the literary aesthetic represented in Dalkey Archive book, a list of the applicant's favorite authors and those authors the applicant is most interested in translating, and evidence of a substantial reading background in the applicants’ chosen language(s); and 3 sample translations of fiction from the applicant’s language(s) of specialization.

Samples should consist of the first pages of a published novel or short story only, and should not be from books that have already been translated and published in English. Each sample should be 5 to 10 pages long. Do not include the original-language versions of your samples.

Complete applications, including all abovementioned materials, should be sent via email as a single .pdf file only (no other formats will be read) labeled with the applicant’s name (i.e., lastnamefirstname.pdf). Within this file, application materials should be ordered as follows: CV, letter of intent, 3 samples, 3 letters of recommendation. Letters of intent should not be sent in the body of the email, but should be part of the application file. No substantial information should be included in the body of the email.

Emphasis will be placed on readiness to benefit from this online program rather than on academic experience or degrees. Applicants who have in-depth knowledge of Dalkey Archive’s books and general aesthetic will be given preference. A $5,000 will be required at the time of acceptance. This fee will be partially or fully offset by grants awarded by funding agencies for enrollees who complete a publishable translation.

Admissions announcements will be made within two weeks of receipt of applications. Any questions or requests concerning the application process and program should be sent to Jeremy Davies at

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Found in Translation" reading at UMass

The public is invited to attend "Found in Translation," a program of staged readings by the graduate students of Harley Erdman's graduate workshop in theater translation with a discussion led by Jean Graham-Jones (CUNY) on Friday, Dec. 4, at 8 pm.

Jean Graham-Jones is a professor in the graduate program at CUNY, author of Exorcising History: Argentine Theater under Dictatorship, and editor/translator of Reason Obscured: Nine Plays by Ricardo Monti, one of Artentina's greatest living playwrights.

The reading will take place in the Rand Theater, in the UMass Amhert Fine Arts Center, 151 Presidents Drive, Amherst, MA. 01003 (click here for directions). The event is made possible by a Visioning Mini-Grant from the College of Humanities and Fine Arts. A reception will follow. For more information, please contact Penny Remsen at

Monday, November 16, 2009

Demand for niche translation growing (as is the risk for gaffes)

During a March meeting in Geneva, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton presented a gag gift to her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. It was a red button with a word written in Russian that State Department translators thought meant "reset." The idea was to remind Russia of America's hopes for resetting the nations' tense relations. But when Lavrov opened the box and peered inside, he told Clinton the word on the button, peregruzka, translated to "overcharge" -- not the message the U.S. wanted to send.
-- the best part of an article in the Los Angeles Times about the growing demand for niche translators with unusually specializaed technical knowledge

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pritchard on Gass on Rilke

William H. Gass, again in Reading Rilke, writes, “translating is reading, reading of the best, the most essential, kind,” and that a translator must find the poem that the poet “would have written had he been English.” Held against these standards, Snow’s translations in The Poetry of Rilke are largely a success. He transforms the originals into a fluent English — mostly eschewing archaism and ornamentation.
[from the new issue of The Critical Flame]

Friday, October 30, 2009

McWhorter on the world's dwindling stock of languages

... the going idea among linguists and anthropologists is that we must keep as many languages alive as possible, and that the death of each one is another step on a treadmill toward humankind’s cultural oblivion. This accounted for the melancholy tone, for example, of the obituaries for the Eyak language of southern Alaska last year when its last speaker died.

That death did mean, to be sure, that no one will again use the word demexch, which refers to a soft spot in the ice where it is good to fish. Never again will we hear the word 'ał for an evergreen branch, a word whose final sound is a whistling past the sides of the tongue that sounds like wind passing through just such a branch. And behind this small death is a larger context. Linguistic death is proceeding more rapidly even than species attrition. According to one estimate, a hundred years from now the 6,000 languages in use today will likely dwindle to 600. The question, though, is whether this is a problem.
On behalf of the editors of Pusteblume, with whom I've long discussed this issue, I can answer McWhorter's question affirmatively: the loss of languages is a problem. Whether this loss amounts to a problem depends upon the values of the person considering the loss. Some are untroubled by the destruction of texts, the attrition of cultural practices, and the homogenization that accompanies globalization. Even as we welcome improvements in, say, economic equality, we mourn the loss of what we consider to be irreplaceable. If languages were ready substitutes for one another -- if they were in practice replaceable -- the work of the translator would not be quite as subtle, demanding, and improbable as it is.
"Preservation [...] is what we do to berries in jam jars and salmon in cans. [...] Books and recordings can preserve languages, but only people and communities can keep them alive.” -- Nora Marks Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer, Tlingit oral historians
Luisa Maffi writes, "it is a human right for language communities to keep or reclaim their languages, and that this right is in no way dependent on the evidence from these research questions." I'd say that the concept of human rights entails human responsibilities. If we want to live in a world of diverse traditions and experiences, where human rights are respected, we have to accept the responsibility to support the exercise of those rights. With regard to language, our responsibility is to show value for and provide support to the living use of endangered languages. In other words -- conversation, cultural engagement, classroom use and academic study, publication and translation. Every word in a language, and every grammatical tricks employed by that language to use that word, represents the solution to some problem of expression. We are all better off having access to more solutions, rather than fewer; and as such solutions are only the product of many generations of language evolution, we can most efficiently maintain the stock of linguistic solutions by preserving the living communities in which those languages are spoken.

In The Tree of Meaning, Robert Bringhurst reflects often on the value of languages and oral literature, and on the significance of their loss. In an essay from the collection, ""Oral Literature and the Unity of the Humanities", Bringhurst writes:
Every normal, healthy human being, once past the stage of infancy, speaks and contributes to a languages. And every normal, healthy human language -- no exceptions -- speaks and nourishes a literature. It is harder, most of the time, for human beings to restrain themselves from telling stories than it is for them to keep from shedding tears. Perhaps that is why human beings keep on going, even when anyone can see they ought to stop and weep."
This insight captures something of my feeling of the value lost when a language is lost.

Read more:

Lone Pine by George Raab

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Contest Announcement for Translators of Japanese

First Annual Jeremy Ingalls Poetry in Translation Award. A prize of $1,000.00 and publication of a single poem in Japanese and English by a woman, awarded to a woman translator. Judge: Sawako Nakayasu. Deadline: NOVEMBER 15, 2009. Winner will be announced in early 2010. For more information, please visit the website of Kore Press.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Two Lines seeks submissions

Information provided by Two Lines below:


two lines World Writing in Translation publishes original translations into English of writing from any literary genre. Translations from any language will be considered, and works from outside Europe are especially sought.

· Previously unpublished work only.

· The translator cannot also be the author of the piece unless it is a co-translation.

· We generally publish one to four poems from a single submission, but we will read up to a maximum of ten pages.

· The average prose submission is about 2500 words, but we do publish shorter and longer pieces (1000–4000 words). Short stories are preferable to novel excerpts. However, novel excerpts will be considered if thoughtfully excerpted to stand as independent pieces (to the extent possible).

· In order to be considered, submissions must include a brief introduction (400–500 words) with information about the original author, the background of the piece, and unique issues that the translation process presented.

· All submissions must include a copy of the original text.

Translators are expected to acquire copyright permission for all work not in the public domain.

For electronic submissions, please save your documents as RTF (Rich Text Format) and send to submissions@ catranslation. org. For hard copy submissions, please mail to the postal address below. If you would like your materials returned, please send an appropriately- sized SASE.

two lines
35 Stillman Street, Suite 201
San Francisco, CA 94107

We highly encourage everyone who submits to two lines to read a copy before submitting. Translators will be notified of editorial decisions by February 2010. We offer a complimentary copy of two lines as well as a nominal honorarium to translators whose work is chosen for publication.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Conference: ALTA 2009, "Continental Drift"

November 11 - 14, 2009

The 2009 ALTA Conference Committee invites you to join us in Pasadena for a celebration of the confluence of cultures and languages that characterizes Southern California. Greater Los Angeles is the home of the world’s second largest Mexican population (after Mexico City), the most populous Korean community outside of Korea, and a center of Arab, Armenian, Central American, Chinese, Iranian, Jewish, Russian, Vietnamese, and countless other ethnic groups. LA is a place where continents truly do collide, even when our infamous seismic activity is at a lull! And who facilitates this metaphorical continental drift more effectively than literary translators?

This year’s ALTA conference will feature the intersection of translation and the entertainment industry, including film, legitimate theater, and music. Additionally, we will take a close look at the pedagogy of translation and the increasing visibility of literary translation in academia.

Of course, you can expect the usual complement of provocative panel discussions, as well as an exciting selection of bilingual readings, expertly coordinated, as always, by Alexis Levitin. We’re happy to report that Barbara Paschke will once again be in charge of Friday night’s ever-popular Declamación. And we’ve invited three prominent keynote speakers associated with Latin American, Asian, and European literature in translation, respectively.

But look for a few unusual twists this year. For example, you won’t want to miss the pre-conference reception, co-sponsored by Red Hen Press, on Wednesday evening, from 7-9, at the beautiful Pacific Asia Museum. The museum is located just steps from the Hilton. All galleries will remain open for our enjoyment. John Balaban will read his exquisite translations of Ho Xuan Huong's poems from his book, Spring Essence: The Poetry of Ho Xuan Huong and the talented Le Pham Le will recite the Vietnamese originals in this unique setting. As a tribute to Los Angeles’ rich theatrical traditions, we have a special event in store – a production of Jaime Salom’s Behind the Scenes in Eden, directed by Chris Kidder of Commedia Beauregard.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Near East, and Far East

Those of you based in Cambridge, MA, may be interested in a reading coming up this Sunday. As part of the Longfellow Summer Reading Series at the Longfellow National Historic Site, Michael Archer, the editor of Guernica: Magazine of Art and Politics, will be interviewing Nathalie Handal, one of the editors of the new anthology Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Near East, and Far East.

This 784-page anthology, published by Norton last year, features work by hundreds of poets based in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and America. Poems are translated into English from more than 40 different langauges. Publishers Weekly and Booklist have lauded the scope, ambition, and range of the project, the former describing the book, with its sections featuring whimsical titles like Bowl of Air and Shivers as "more an esoteric journey than a systematic reference."

On Sunday, in addition to the interview with Nathalie Handal, Boston- and Cambridge-based poets Martha Collins, Diana Der-Havonessian, Fred Marchant, and Afaa Michael Weaver will read from the anthology on the East Lawn of the Longfellow National Historic Site. The event is free and open to the public, and -- assuming the weather holds -- it should be a pleasant day to spend out on the green and leafy lawn.

Sunday, August 23rd, 4:00 p.m.

East Lawn, Longfellow National Historic Site, 105 Brattle Street, Cambridge

*Free and open to the public* 617-876-4492

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

George Szirtes' Blog

I highly, highly recommend that you skip right over to poet & translator George Szirtes' blog now. I could spend all day reading up on the back posts. From today's:

"I am doing a lot of Márai posting at the moment because I am deeply immersed in translating him, that is in between others, like Krasznahorkai and various poets. I do far too much of this sort of thing and I wake in the morning, saying to myself: Stop it and write your own grands oeuvres! and I think I will, I actually will stop it, once I have cleared the decks, taking on nothing more for two or three years. [Carries on talking to himself...]

Ah, Márai on poverty. The fascination of Márai is the sheer intensity and articulacy of his intellect. He feels everything and tries to describe it the way an explorer might describe a voyage. It's what makes him a thrilling read. I don't mean that his mind is a 100% original mind. In many ways he is a man of his time, a self-confessed bourgeois-cum-citoyen, but there is all this substructure and superstructure that is perfectly heroic in scale."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cheesecake and Translation Tonight

Dear Boston-based translators, tonight a few stalwart members of the Boston Poetry Union are gathering for a pleasant evening of translation and tasty treats at the Cheesecake Factory in Boston's Prudential Center at 6:30 pm tonight. Feel free to RSVP here if you wish to join us and share your own original translation of another author's work, to read some of your favorite translations by others, or simply to talk about poetry in translation while eating mountains of food. I, for one, may bring in a few translations of sonnets by French Canadian sonneteer Pamphile LeMay.

We will be meeting in the lobby of the Cheesecake Factory at 6:30 sharply to determine numbers and get a table.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Introduction to Translation E>S, new online

The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Translation Program is offering a course in Introduction to Translation English to Spanish online this fall, beginning September 2 and ending December 14. For more information, please contact Lorerna Terando at

Monday, July 20, 2009

Translate in the Catskills

The Translate in the Catskills workshop from August 21-23 in Maplecrest, NY will be helping freelancers use target language writing skills to rise to the top of the market. The workshop is aimed particularly at EN > FR and FR > EN translators, but other languages are welcome too. Program details and information on the course leaders can be found at Places are limited, so potential attendees are encouraged to sign up early.

Sassan Tabatabai in PEN Translation Slam

Sassan Tabatabai, a contributor to and supporter of PBJ since the journal's inception, is being featured in the first of a series of online Translation Slams organized by PEN American Center. His translation is of a political slogan devised by protesters who took to the streets of Iran this year after results of the June presidential elections were announced. From the PEN American site:
The slogan refers directly to an insult levied at protesters by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who referred to them as khas-o-khaashaak, meaning dirt and dust, scraps and bits. The structure of this slogan -- I am / you are -- recalls a ghazal included in the collection Divaan-eh Shams by Rumi, the classic 13th century Persian poet who is generally considered one of the foremost figures in Iranian literary history and is known for celebrating love in his poetry. That slogans in the current protests in Iran are being based on poems bears witness to the extent to which poetry plays a role in the Iranian upbringing and consciousness.
Tabatabai's version of the protest slogan ends with a statement of resolute determination: "I am brave, I am bold, I am the lord / of this land." Both translations -- that by Tabatabai, and the other by Niloufar Talebi, director of The Translation Project -- can be seen beside the Persian/Farsi text of the protest poem at the PEN American Center website.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Le Clézio in English Translation: Sale!

Boston publisher David R. Godine has let us know that they are offering two novels from Nobel Prize–winning author J.M.G. Le Clézio at 30% off the cover price, until August 1st:

DESERT, translated from the French by C. Dickson
The Swedish Academy, in awarding J.M.G. Le Clézio the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature, praised Desert as Le Clézio's "definitive breakthrough as a novelist." Published in France in 1980, Desert received the Grand Prix Paul Morand from the Académie Française, was translated into twenty-three languages, and quickly proved to be a best-selling novel in many countries around the world. Available for the first time in English translation, Desert is a novel composed of two alternating narratives, set in counterpoint. The first takes place in the desert between 1909 and 1912 and evokes the migration of a young adolescent boy, Nour, and his people, the Blue Men, notorious warriors of the desert. Driven from their lands by French colonial soldiers, Nour's tribe has come to the valley of the Saguiet El Hamra to seek the aid of the great spiritual leader known as Water of the Eyes. The religious chief sends them out from the holy city of Smara into the desert to travel still further. Spurred on by thirst, hunger, and suffering, Nour's tribe and others flee northward in the hopes of finding a land that can harbor them at last. The second narrative relates the contemporary story of Lalla, a descendant of the Blue Men. Though she is an orphan living in a shantytown known as the Project near a coastal city in Morocco, the blood of her proud, obstinate tribe runs in her veins. All too soon, Lalla must flee to escape a forced marriage with an older, wealthy man. She travels to France, undergoing many trials there, from working as a hotel maid to becoming a highly-paid fashion model, and yet she never betrays the blood of her ancestors.

From the Reviews:
In scenes of shimmering intensity, Le Clezio contrasts nature's stark and majestic clarity, from scouring sand to the incinerating sun and the vast gleaming net of stars, with the chaos, toxicity, and injustice of human life. A long time coming for English-language readers, Le Clezio's incandescent masterpiece couldn't be more relevant.
— Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

THE PROSPECTOR, translated by Carol Marks
The Prospector is the crowning achievement from one of France's preeminent contemporary novelists and a work rich with sensuality and haunting resonance. It is the turn of the century on the island of Mauritius, and young Alexis L'Etang enjoys an idyllic existence with his parents and beloved sister: sampling the pleasures of privilege, exploring the constellations and tropical flora, and dreaming of treasure buried long ago by the legendary Unknown Corsair. But with his father's death, Alexis must leave his childhood paradise and enter the harsh world of privation and shame. Years later, Alexis has become obsessed with the idea of finding the Corsair's treasure and, through it, the lost magic and opulence of his youth. He abandons job and family, setting off on a quest that will take him from remote tropical islands to the hell of World War I, and from a love affair with the elusive Ouma to a momentous confrontation with the search that has consumed his life. By turns harsh and lyrical, pointed and nostalgic, The Prospector is "a parable of the human condition" (Le Mond) by one of the most significant literary figures in Europe today.

From the Reviews:
Le Clézio's prose is so sensual and rhythmic it's hypnotic. — Boston Phoenix
A novel of intense beauty. — Review of Contemporary Fiction
A remarkable work. — Booklist, starred review

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

News and Reviews to Peruse this July

In the summer, a young translator's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of summer reading. There are plenty of new books in translation out there, along with reviews and reviewers giving their yay or nay.

Scott Esposito, editor of The Quarterly Conversation, has a review of J.M.G. Le Clézio's Desert up at The Critical Flame. This is the second of the French Nobel Prize-winner's work to be published in the United States. Esposito particularly admires the slow, deliberate pace of the novel and ends his review with praise:

Desert is a dramatization of certain things that Western civilization doesn’t — and won’t — get. That Le Clézio can make these things seem beautiful and precious without preaching or succumbing to petty romanticization makes it all the more unfortunate that he had to be awarded a Nobel prize before English-language readers could learn what he had to say.

Meanwhile, over at Three Percent, translator and bookseller Margarita Shalina reviews The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Russian novelist Victor Pelevin. This novel transforms the Russian folkloric archetype of the fox and the wolf into their modern guises of the sex worker and the government secret agent. Shalina concludes her review with the suggestion that "Pelevin is attempting to relay that Russians have been living their lives in a perpetual state of moral ambiguity going back as far as the ancient folktales. In such a state, why shouldn’t a fox or a wolf or a sex worker or an FSB agent aspire to evolve into a higher being?"

Lastly, for your listening pleasure please do visit Poetry International Web, which, for a limited time, is featuring audio clips of talented poets from all over the world reading at the Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam, recorded by Radio Netherlands Worldwide from the 1970s onward. Listen to poems by Mahmoud Darwish, Pablo Neruda, Wole Soyinka, Joseph Brodsky, Inger Christensen, Derek Walcott, Ernst Jandl, and others. They won't be up there forever, so listen now!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

To the NYTimes: Remember the translator!

Ezra E. Fitz, of Brentwood, Tenn., reminds the editors of The New York Times that without the diligence and skill of translators, world literature would largely be inaccessible to English-speaking monoglot readers:
Gerald Martin’s “Gabriel García Márquez: A Life” (June 7) is certainly chock-full of savory facts and hearty commentary, but it is also notable for its near-total lack of another, equally vital literary nutrient: the translator. You can count the references to Gregory Rabassa and Edith Grossman on one hand.

Your reviewer, Paul Berman, notes that García Márquez studied Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner and Proust “in Spanish translation,” but when he raves about the “gorgeous sentences” in “The Autumn of the Patriarch,” lauding it as “a heroic demonstration of man’s triumph over language,” he neglects to mention whether he read those sentences in Spanish or English.

Martin himself reads “The Autumn of the Patriarch” with close scrutiny, counting the number of sentences in each chapter and noting the subtle changes in narrative voice, before ultimately concluding that the novel “stands as the decisive oeuvre of García Márquez’s career” because “it encapsulates all his other works.”

Let us remind ourselves that García Márquez’s gorgeous sentences have been encapsulated in English variations thanks to the unheralded work of his translators.

Monday, June 01, 2009

New Russian Poetry at Jacket

Привет. Jacket Magazine 36 devotes a substantial chunk of space to new Russian poetry in translation, compiled by Russian poets and translators Peter and Tatyana Golub. In a preferatory essay, Peter Golub explains,

I selected the great majority of the poets in this anthology because they belong to the category of newcomers who are not disposed to enter the cycle of simple reproduction, i.e. to recognize the old hallowed literature and do likewise. Many of these poets bring with them dispositions that clash with prevailing norms and expectations.

The poets he chooses are in their 20s and 30s. What marks this generation of poets, Golub argues, is that they "cannot simply resist the dominant field, because the dominant field no longer consists of official Soviet literature, but of legitimate literary figures like Osip Mandelshtam, Gennady Aigi, and Joseph Brodsky, and living writers like Kolya Baitov, Evgeny Rein, and Elena Schwartz." The younger poets' "task is to add new space to the existing field, to carefully balance respect for the older authors and also to challenge the establishment with a call for new literature. This means playing by the rules of the field, and facing competition from its established figures, while trying to be catalysts of change."

In addition to the poems in translation -- and I will leave you to discover the young Russian poets yourselves -- Jacket's special feature includes a handy list of links to organizations promoting new Russian literature, including Argo-Risk projects and press and Interpoezia bilingual poetry quarterly, as well as an interview with Russian literary scholar and editor Mikhail Aizenberg, and essays on poets Anastasia Afanasieva and Nina Iskrenko.

Friday, May 29, 2009

More wet floor signage

At this late date we have a follow-up to one of our most heavily trafficked blog posts, "The Example of the Wet Floor Sign." In that post we gave as an example of the difficulty in obtaining both semantic and rhythmic equivalence in the transfer of meaning from source language to target, the problem of wet floor signs (native to supermarket aisles and institutional corridors). "Caution: Wet Floor" being an insufficiently musical translation of "Cuidado: Piso Mojado," our PBJ crew suggested "Caution: We're Washin'." Now, Ilya Gutner, our New York City correspondent, suggests an alternative rendering:

Don't forget,
Floor is wet.

This is the nitty-gritty, nuts-and-bolts of translation, folks. It doesn't get more real than this.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Kirsch on new translations of ancient Chinese poetry

In his twofer review of David Hinton's anthology of classical Chinese poetry and David Young's Du Fu: A Life in Poetry, Adam Kirsch gestures dramatically and divertingly toward the historical and cultural depth which often goes under-appreciated of Chinese poetry in translation. He reminds us of the dubious and charismatic authorships, subversive quality, and truly penetrating clarity and perception (among other qualities we forget are not exclusive to poetry written after 1900) that drew Pound to this literature and which will reward new readers. I would be drawn to the books in any case, but Kirsch's review, informative and erudite as it is, enhances the appeal. One just wants quickly to dig in:
Reading commentaries on Chinese poetry--notably, Stephen Owen's The Great Age of Chinese Poetry, which deals with the High T'ang period of Li Po and Tu Fu--one begins to get an inkling of how many layers of meaning even the simplest, most imagistic poem contained for its original readers. Each genre of Chinese poetry had rules about rhyme, line length, and parallelism so intricate as to make the English sonnet look like free verse. Then there were conventions about how poems should start and end, and what images they could use, and what register of formality was appropriate to different subjects and different readers.
Now, I do take as challenge and invitation Kirsch's claim that many of the expressive features of Chinese literature -- e.g., the immediacy with which single-character ideograms communicate meaning; the shadings available to a tonal language; the paratactic grammar; and, as Kirsch notes, the relative scarcity of grammatical helpers like pronouns -- "are totally untranslatable into English." Tentatively scheduled but enthusiastically hoped for, in the Spring 2009 issue of Pusteblume, is new translation from contemporary Chinese by Eleanor Goodman. Look for the essay paired with these texts, to deflate the familiar argument that in translating Chinese, though something lovely may be transformed into English, much must be left behind.

Friday, May 01, 2009

BU Translation Prizes ceremony

Winners will be announced and awards presented at the ceremony for the 2009 Boston University Translation Prizes, the Shmuel Traum Prize and the Robert Fitzgerald Translation Prize.

When: Monday, May 4, 2009, at 2 PM
Where: School of Theology Room 625, 745 Commonwealth Avenue

For more information, contact

Sunday, April 26, 2009

LeClezio to read at MIT on April 28th

Talk and reading (in English) by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, "The Writer and the World: Reflections of an Author."

Date: Tuesday April 28, 2009
Time: 6:00-8:00 PM
Location: MIT Stata Center, 32 Vassar Street, Room 123

In more essential, Boston-based reading news, 2008 Nobel Prize winner Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio will be reading at MIT's Stata Center on April 28th, from 6 to 8 p.m. Few of Le Clézio's works are available in English as of yet; Boston-based press David R. Godine published a translation of Clézio's novel The Prospector in 1993. Listen to an audio clip of Christopher Merrill discussing the novel at PRI's "The World".

Tuesday's talk is sponsored by the Foreign Languages & Literatures Section, Contemporary French Studies Fund and The French Cultural Services in Boston, MA.

Bernardo Atxaga and Ilan Stavans to read on Monday May 4

Reading at BU Photonics Center
8 St. Mary's Street, 9th Floor
on Monday, May 4, at 7:00 p.m.

Bernardo Atxaga, a Basque novelist, poet, and short story writer who writes in the Basque language (Euskara), will be reading along with Mexican-American cultural critic Ilan Stavans as part of BU's Institute for Human Science's "Imagining Europe" project. The talk will be moderated by Mark Feeney of The Boston Globe. According to the project's website, the intent of the public fora is to "ask artists and writers inhabiting different cultural circles, so to speak, to reflect as Europeans on such questions as what constitutes the European 'we,' what keeps 'us' together, and where do “we” want to go in the future."

Transcripts of the series of conversations -- including Atxaga's and Stavan's contributions -- will be published in a volume by Zephyr Press. Monday's reading will also kick off the launch of AGNI 69 (despite the fact that neither speaker features in this issue). After the reading and discussion at the BU Photonics Center, there will be a tapas dinner at AGNI's offices.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dr Johnson, making no bones about it

From today's Wordsmith mailing:
Poetry, indeed, cannot be translated; and, therefore, it is the poets that preserve the languages; for we would not be at the trouble to learn a language if we could have all that is written in it just as well in a translation. But as the beauties of poetry cannot be preserved in any language except that in which it was originally written, we learn the language.
-Samuel Johnson, lexicographer (1709-1784)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Translating a Moving Target: Poetry of a New Romania

Poetry reading and discussion with Romanian poet Liliana Ursu and her American translator Sean Cotter. Moderated by AGNI founder Askold Melnyczuk.

Liliana Ursu is an internationally acclaimed Romanian poet, prose writer, and translator. Ursu's first book in English, The Sky Behind the Forest was translated by Ursu, Adam J. Sorkin, and Tess Gallagher. It became a British Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation and was shortlisted for Oxford's Weidenfeld Prize.

Co-sponsored by the BU Center for International Relations and AGNI, in cooperation with the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA), and Zephyr Press. A reception will follow.

Thursday, Mar 26, 2009, 6:30-8:30pm
Photonics Center, 8 St. Mary's Street (9th floor)
Open to General Public; Admission is free

For more information, contact Elizabeth Amrien:

Monday, March 16, 2009

New Paul Valéry biography

As an accomplished poet, philosopher, and essayist, Paul Valéry is the quintessential Man of Letters, or--as The Guardian would have it--"the ultimate French intellectual."

Michel Jarrety has put together a new biography, published in French by Editions Fayard. In an interview on the publisher's website, Jarrety discusses Valéry as a poet and a man of science, and his great circle of acquaintances, and the process of writing his extensive biography.

Paul Gifford at The Guardian observes:

Valéry’s circle of contacts remains dazzling. He was intimate with leading poets and writers (Mallarmé, Gide, Rilke); he worked alongside Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Thomas Mann, Gabriele d’Annunzio, John Galsworthy and Stefan Zweig; he exchanged ideas with André Malraux, Jean Giraudoux, Colette and Paul Claudel (but also with George Meredith, Arnold Bennett, H. G. Wells and Aldous Huxley); his lectures at the Collège de France were an influence on Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, Michel Tournier, Yves Bonnefoy and Paul de Man. Who else with such a profile could also have had Einstein as trusted interlocutor and colleague, discussed atoms with Niels Bohr, or the crisis of representation in sciences with the likes of Paul Langevin and Émile Borel; compared notes with Ravel and Stravinsky, Degas and Picasso; collaborated with Bergson and Sir James Frazer; interacted with both Pétain and de Gaulle; interviewed Mussolini and crossed paths with an entire gallery of Europe’s interwar power-brokers? To say nothing of the cast list of princesses, duchesses, countesses and other denizens of the cosmopolitan, high-society Paris salons who provided the writer with dinners, contacts, funding, entertainment, country-seat vacationing, confidantes and lovers.

Jarrety's biography can't but be interesting focusing on a busy polymath like Valéry, and it covers the scope of both his public life and his private (love) life extensively.

As of now, Paul Valéry is only available in French and is priced at 52 Euros.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Upcoming readings sponsored by the Institute for Human Sciences

Dear poets and translators,

In the next few weeks, the Institute for Human Sciences is holding a few interesting looking readings by translators and Turkish-German and Romanian poets and writers at Boston University. Below is the schedule:

Thursday, March 19, 2009 6:30 PM
Poetry reading and discussion: Poetics between Languages: The Turkish-German Experience with ZAFER SENOCAK and ELIZABETH OEHLKERS WRIGHT**

Born in Ankara in1961, ZAFER SENOCAK has been living in Germany since 1970, where he has become a leading voice in the German discussions on multiculturalism,national and cultural identity, and a mediator between Turkish and German culture. The widely published poet, essayist, journalist and editor has won several prestigious literary awards in Germany.**

ELIZABETH OEHLKERS WRIGHT has been translating Zafer Senocak and other contemporary German poets for years. *Door Languages*, a selection of Senocak's poems in her translation was published by Zephyr Press in Fall 2008.**Moderator: ASKOLD MELNYCZUK*Founder and former editor of **AGNI*,* professor at UMass Boston and in Bennington's MFA program, and author of the new Europe-trotting, gripping, noirish family mystery** The House of Widows*

6:30 PM Boston University Photonics Center8 St. Mary's Street, 9th floor
Free and open to the public
Reception to follow

Thursday, March 26, 2009 6:30 PM
Poetry reading and discussion
Translating a Moving Target: Poetry of a New Romania with LILIANA URSU and SEAN COTTER**

URSU is an internationally acclaimed Romanian poet, prose writer, and translator. Ursu's first book in English, *The Sky Behind the Forest* (Bloodaxe Books, 1997), translated by Ursu, Adam J. Sorkin, and Tess Gallagher, became a British Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation and was shortlisted for Oxford's Weidenfeld Prize.**

SEAN COTTER has translated several books of Romanian poetry, including*Goldsmith Market* (Zephyr Press, 2004) and the forthcoming *Lightwall* (Zephyr Press,2009)**

Moderator: ASKOLD MELNYCZUK* Founder and former editor of **AGNI*,* professor at UMass Boston and in Bennington's MFA program, and author of the new Europe-trotting, gripping,noirish family mystery** The House of Widows*Boston University Photonics Center 8 St. Mary's Street, 9th floor

Free and open to the public Reception to follow

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Verse Falls in the Forest

The Irish Times has an interesting article today on the most recent batch of Irish-language poetry prizes. Given that few people speak the language, even in Ireland itself, the question was raised whether these poets feel they're writing in a vacuum. Áine Uí Fhoghlú, who won the Michael Hartnett Poetry Award for her collection An Liú sa Chuan, responds "sometimes you wonder if there's anybody out there. But like any art form [writing poetry] is not something you particularly set out to do. It kind of comes over you. For me personally, it's as if a poem comes in spite of me and it's my job to shape that into something that I consider art. So it's something that happens. It's like a well that bubbles up and you can't stop it and if you plug it up it comes out somewhere else." It shows an almost Kierkegaardian faith, a propulsion to expression, that could be said to reside in all poets. But the question remains: what can one make of contemporary poets in languages such as Irish? And even more pressing, I think — what happens when the most giften translators of this language pass away?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Translation Fellowships at Vermont Studio Center

For those of you who are interested, the Vermont Studio Center and Zoland Poetry will be offering month-long fellowships for translators at the VSC's international retreat center in Johnson, Vermont. Applications should be filled in by February, 15. Details are available at:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Call for Submissions from Washington Square

We've just had word from Martha Collins through a translators' mailing list that Washington Square, the student-edited and -produced journal at New York University’s Graduate Writing Program, is now accepting submissions for its Summer/Fall 2009 issues. They are looking for previously unpublished English translations of (non-English) poems and short stories of serious literary intent.

Manuscripts must be received by March 1, 2009, and accompanied by a SASE and cover letter with author’s name, address, phone number, email address, and title(s) of submission(s). Poetry submissions should not exceed 10 pages/5 poems. Fiction submissions should not be in excess of 20 pages.

Submissions may be sent by post to the attention of the 'International Editor', Washington Square, Creative Writing Program, New York University, 58 West 10th Street, New York, NY 10011, or as attachments by email to

Monday, January 05, 2009

A Round-up of Translation News

Poetry International Web has some new writers up for January: Jūkichi Yagi, a "twentieth-century Christian poet" from Japan, Maria van Daalen , a Dutch poet interested in Haitian Vodou, as well as a few Colombian writers: Luz Mary Giraldo and Federico Díaz-Granados--both poets and literary critic--and Myriam Montoya, a Colombian poet based in Paris.

Over at Three Percent, Chad Post is highlighting a book a day from their Best Translated Book of 2008 Fiction Longlist over the next couple of weeks. Today's book: The Taker and Other Stories by Brazilian writer Rubem Fonseca, translated from the Portuguese by Clifford Landers.

At Slate, Adam Kirsch reviews Burton Raffel's new translation of The Canterbury Tales from Middle to Modern English. Kirsch claims the "one big virtue" of this new translation is its utter comprehensibility--taking the "chore" out of muddling out the Middle English on one's own. Kirsch writes:

For those readers who are absolutely unwilling to puzzle out Middle English spelling, or spend time getting acquainted with Chaucer's versification and syntax, Raffel's edition will be a useful substitute. But even Raffel, a poet who has translated everyone from Cervantes to Stendhal, seems a little curious why anyone would bother reading The Canterbury Tales in ranslation. "Native speakers of English, as recently as the first half of the twentieth century, were not particularly uncomfortable with Chaucer's difficulties," he writes in his introduction. Since the English language has not changed much in the last 50 years, he clearly believes that the problem lies with its speakers—that we have gotten lazier and more provincial. No one who embarks on reading The Canterbury Tales, however, can be all that lazy, and any reader who compares the original with Raffel's version will surely agree that the extra effort is worthwhile. For Raffel's translation loses the original's music without finding a music of its own; he is wordy where the original is pithy and bare where the original is lush. Chaucer is in many ways the progenitor of English fiction—he is closer to Dickens than to Keats—but he is also a great master of English poetry; and since poetry is what is lost in translation, why not take the trouble to read the original and avoid the loss? Besides, as the Pardoner says, "lewed peple loven tales olde;/ Swiche thynges kan they wel reporte and holde."

Friday, January 02, 2009

Kafka's Amerika

I, for one, am looking forward to reading the new translation of Kafka's third--and least read--novel, alternatively called The Missing Person and Amerika. The novel was originally published in 1927, after Kafka's death, by his literary executor Max Brod. A new translation, by Mark Harman, is being published by Shocken Books. Adam Kirsch gives an overview of Amerika--not Harman's translation, as such, but Kafka's story in general--in The New York Times Sunday Book Review.

N.B. In the same NYTSBR, Sarah Fay reviews Tokyo Fiancée by Belgian writer Amélie Nothomb--a semi-autobiographical account of a young Belgian woman teaching French in Japan and falling in love with her student.