John Oliver Simon, Artistic Director of the Center's Poetry Inside Out program, is interviewed in THIS Literary Magazine. Amongst remarks on translation and poetry, John talks about the different PIO has been making at Bay Area schools:
PIO began as a Spanish bilingual program, teaching Latino and immersion kids to translate from Spanish to English. Spanish-dominant classes became an endangered species as schools hustled everybody into English so they would do better on our important national objective of filling in the correct bubbles. Our niche shrank. And then it occurred to us that translation is larger than Spanish. Robert Hass doesn’t know Polish, yet he translates Milosz. Our Poetry Inside Out students are now translating from 28 languages (more are added constantly; last month we taught our first poem in Serbian).
In seventeenth-century Japan, a frog hurtles into still water and startles the poet Basho:Furu ike ya
mizu no oto
The particle ya in the first line is particularly “untranslatable”: it serves to draw attention to what has gone just before, like a backward-facing colon: in this case, 古池 Furu ike, “old pond.” Armed with a glossary, fifth-graders Willie (fluent in Chinese) and Jesús (fluent in Spanish) take a shot:Ancient pond alert,
frog catapulting in pond,
sound of the water
— Willie Qiu
frog flies into
sound of water
— Jesús Fragoso
When I ask a class which of these versions is correct, they know immediately what I’m getting at with my trick question. While the standardized test machine teaches that all problems have one right answer, translation teaches that any problem has a variety of interesting solutions. We do 16-session residencies in each classroom, and culminate with a published anthology and public reading of student work.
As of early 2012, we have ten instructors doing Poetry Inside Out in Bay Area schools and reporting to me. I am so pleased at this stage of my life to have a full-scale opportunity to mentor young writers-in-residence. Demand for our PIO workshops is rising rapidly. I think many folks in the schools are (finally) getting it that drill-skill kills and what kids of all skill levels need is interesting, engaging work with a component of playful imagination. Over 80% of our students are children of color, mostly immigrants and African-Americans. PIO sometimes makes a dramatic difference in their lives.
Some recent news from the translation sphere—first up, the University of California at Berkeley's French Department will be offering a lecture on March 2 on an issue dear to many translators: trying to find a place for the discipline in higher education. Here's the description from Cal's website:
The Observer’s Robert McCrum declared 2011 a “boom year” for translation. It saw the anniversary of the King James’ Bible, the flourishing of literature in translation (Stieg Larsson, Haruki Murakami) and a new English version of the Roman missal. At the beginning of 2012, we may all be familiar with Google Translate and David Bellos’ much- celebrated book on translation. Where translation is not flourishing, however, is in higher education. In this lecture, I argue that translation deserves a more central position in higher education in the United States. I begin by considering the place of translation today: why is it considered old-fashioned as a pedagogical tool? Why are there so few courses and programs in translation? Why should it be accorded a larger role in higher education? The main section of the lecture focuses on translation from the perspective of a language instructor. Translation can offer significant theoretical insights. We will explore what it can reveal about languages, people, culture and texts. It also has many practical applications. We will consider its use in the language classroom and how it can be incorporated into language programs. The final section looks to the future: What do new media, social networking and globalization mean for translation?
And secondly, earlier this week the nominees for the National Book Critics Circle's 2011 awards were announced. Two of the five "Criticism" nominees deal quite deeply with translation. David Bellos' book Is That a Fish in Your Ear? is all about translation, and Dubravka Ugresic's Karoke Culture is a translated work, published by the wonderful Open Letter Press.
On January 26, we're co-hosting Perry Link, whose new translation of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo was just called a "new book whose reading should be of urgent and essential importance" in the New York Review of Books. The book is No Enemies, No Hatred, published by Graywolf, which is doing more and more translations these days.
First the event details:
Mechanics Institute Library
57 Post Street, San Francisco
FREE for members of the Mechanics Institute, the Asia Society, or Center mailing list subscribers
Now on to the review. It's a rather remarkable review and it shows why we're excited to be having Link for the event. It starts out by saying:
Bookshops are now submerged by a tidal wave of new publications attempting to provide information about China, and yet there is (it seems to me) one new book whose reading should be of urgent and essential importance, both for the specialist and for the general reader alike—the new collection of essays by Liu Xiaobo, judiciously selected, translated, and presented by very competent scholars, whose work greatly benefited from their personal acquaintance with the author.
The review is worth a read, as it gives a fascinating history of Xiaobo:
At that moment, Liu Xiaobo was in New York, having accepted an invitation to teach political science at Columbia’s Barnard College. Like many Chinese intellectuals before him, Liu had first idealized the West; however, his experiences, first in Europe and then in the United States, soon shattered his illusions. During a visit to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, he experienced a sort of epiphany that crystallized the turmoil of his latest self-questioning: he realized the shallowness of his own learning in the light of the fabulous riches of the diverse civilizations of the past, and simultaneously perceived the inadequacy of contemporary Western answers to mankind’s modern predicament. His own dream that Westernization could be used to reform China suddenly appeared to him as pathetic as the attitude of “a paraplegic laughing at a quadriplegic,” he confessed at the time.
And it makes the book of essays sound really interesting:
Some of the essays focus on specific events, from which the author draws deeper lessons; others address broader sociopolitical and cultural issues, which are then illustrated with examples drawn from current incidents.
A good example of the first type is provided by an important article exposing the horrendous case of the “Black Kilns.” (Later on, at Liu’s last trial, this was one of the six essays adduced as evidence of his criminal attempt at “subversion of state power.”) In May 2007, parents of children who had gone missing in Henan province reported their disappearance to courageous local television journalists. It turned out that operators of the brick kilns in Shanxi province had organized large kidnapping networks to supply their kilns with slave labor, and local authorities in two provinces had apparently been complicit in these criminal rackets.
The police proved singularly inept in their attempt to dismantle these abominable networks: only a small number of children were found and rescued—10 percent of the more than one thousand missing. Penal sanctions, which are usually ruthless in dealing with dissent from Party authority, were glaringly perfunctory and superficial: ninety-five Party members and public officials were involved, but they were merely subjected to “Party discipline,” and not to criminal charges. Higher officials only received “serious warning from the Party.” Liu concludes: “The mighty government, with all of its advantages and vast resources, is not ready to do battle with the Chinese underworld.” The main concern of the Communist Party, he writes, is to maintain its tight monopoly over all public power. Officials at every level are appointed, promoted, or dismissed at the exclusive will of a private group: the Party itself.
As reported at Three Percent, translator Khaled Mattawa has received the 2011 Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for his translations of Syrian poet Adonis:
Khaled Mattawa’s translation of this selection of Adonis’s poetry is destined to become a classic. It is a monumental piece of work, a long-overdue compendium of works by one of the most important poets of our time, a contribution to world literature that demonstrates the lyricism and full range of Adonis’s poetry. The translations are supple and fluent, flexible yet accurate, consistently sensitive to the poet’s nuances, and beautifully render into English Adonis’s modernist sensibilities. Anglophone readers will gain a new appreciation of why Adonis has so often been likened to TS Eliot and Ezra Pound, with the freshness of his lines and imagination liberated from the self-conscious archaism of other translations, and allowing his unique reworking of the legends of East and West, the arcs of love and death, to spring forth. This book should ensure that Western readers recognize the significance of Adonis’s contribution to world poetry.
These translations can be read in Adonis: Selected Poems, published by Yale University Press
This is great news for Mattawa and great news for TWO LINES as well, which published some of Mattawa's translations in 2009, before they were available in book form. Those translations are available along with over 30 others in Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed, purchasable from the Center right here.
One of the cool things about publishing TWO LINES is getting to see the people we publish in there then pop up in other places as their work gains momentum in English. As far as TWO LINES alumni appearing elsewhere goes, it's been a pretty good week.
First off, Mikhail Shishkin, whom we published in Marian Schwartz's translation in Some Kind of Beautiful Signal (TWO LINES 17) has an article dedicated to him as Russia's "best-kept literary secret." That article starts: Mikhail Shishkin has won all of Russia’s major literary awards, but his work is only just now being translated into English." And then it says
Shishkin’s own novels transcend the narrowly political, exploring instead the underlying human narratives of history. His works are in every sense long overdue for translation, and the time is finally here: Shishkin is the only novelist to have won the Russian Booker, Big Book and National Bestseller awards, as well as a legion of other prestigious prizes, and yet his work remains almost unknown in the English-speaking world.
Shishkin has been compared to numerous great writers, including Anton Chekhov, Vladimir Nabokov and James Joyce. He laughs at critics’ need to find literary similarities, but admits that Chekhov has been influential, along with Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Bunin, from whom Shishkin said he learned not to compromise as an author. “If you say to yourself ‘I will write for such-and-such a readership’ – you immediately stop being a writer and become a servant,” Shishkin said in explanation.
Adding to the Shishkin excitement is that Open Letter will be publishing his Maidenhair in 2013, but if you can't wait you can order a copy of Some Kind of Beautiful Signal, which, incidentally, also has stuff from Roberto Bolaño, Inger Christensen, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and tons more.
Our second piece of the week comes from Claire Sullivan, who translated some Zapotec poetry for Some Kind of Beautiful Signal. She has just published a piece on Zapotec poetry for World Literature Today titled, "The State of Zapotec Poetry: Can Poetry Save an Endangered Culture?" You can get an idea of the challenge of translating the poetry:
One of the complications that arises when sharing Zapotec poetry with the rest of the world originates in the complexity of its sound. Like classical Greek and Latin, Isthmus Zapotec has both long and short vowels. Importantly for poetry, this means that syllables will vary in length. And, unlike Spanish or English, Zapotec is a tonal language with three pitches: low, high, and ascendant (the movement from a low to a high tone). In spoken language and in poetry, however, the stress does not necessarily correspond to a high or ascendant tone, nor does it always take place on a long syllable. Therefore, sound becomes much more complicated than in Spanish or English where the poet only needs to match consonant and vowel patterns.
By way of comparison, in a Shakespearean sonnet, sound is governed by the rhythm of iambic pentameter and by alternate end rhyme. In Zapotec poetry, such patterns must also be accompanied by the repetition of syllabic duration and tone. Carlos Montemayor offered a single verse from the poem "Beeu" (Moon) by Víctor Terán as an example: "gucagasi, nanda." This verse has six syllables of equal length (short), but the sound gets interesting when one compares the accented syllables to their tones. The stress falls on the first, third, and fifth syllables, while the tones are as follows: low (l) on the first syllable; high (h) on the second, third, and fifth; and ascendant (a) on the fourth and sixth.
On November 9, 2011, the Center for the Art of Translation celebrated the release of Counterfeits, its 18th annual anthology of world literature, with a star-studded event in New York City. You can listen to the audio from that event right here.
The event occurred at the wonderful McNally-Jackson independent bookstore and was co-hosted by the largest translation-only events series in New York City, The Bridge. Luc Sante, who co-edited Counterfeits with poet Rosanna Warren, MC'd the event, getting the evening started off with some introductory remarks about the importance of translation.
From there, it was on to the readers, who, in addition to reading from the authors they translated, also offered contextual information and insight into their work:
Congrats to TWO LINES contributor Damion Searls, who will receive the 2011 Austrian Cultural Forum Translation Prize for his translation of Austrian playwright and novelist Elfriede Jelinek’s essay "her not all her (on/with Robert Walser)."
The work Searls translated is dedicated to the Swiss writer Robert Walser, who has become a star-in-translation lately. As fate would have it, we hosted Walser's main English translator, Susan Bernofsky, for a Two Voices event, which can be listened to at this link.
We've just published the January 2012 installment of TWO LINES Online, featuring 8 poems by two major writers of international literature: Uruguayan poet Eduardo Milán (pictured to the left), and French poet Marie-Claire Bancquart. It's all right here.
Milán is an author we've featured previously in TWO LINES, publishing John Oliver Simon's translations of his poetry in Counterfeits. He's the author of over a dozen books and has received the prestigious Premio de Poesía Aguascalientes.
Bancquart has received a number of awards (including the Grand Prix de critique de l’Académie française, Grand prix de l’Association internationale des critiques, and prix Sainte-Beuve) and is the author of over 20 collections.
Go ahead and get started on these poems right here.