LITERARY REPORTAGE: National Poetry Day Translation Summit: The Future of Poetry Translation, Pathways and Practices

In response to the demands of a few Londoners, Oxonians, Romanians, and Floridians that asked me to slam the details of the conference, below is a condensation.

On the 4th of October 2018, which is National Poetry Day in the United Kingdom, I attended the National Poetry Day Translation Summit at Senate House in London.

The morning began with collaborative poetry translation workshops. Participants were divided into two groups. I was in poet Sean O’Brien’s group, working on a poem of Elma van Haren’s, who was also present at our table, along with Dutch-English language advisor Francis Jones. The other group was led by poet W.N. Herbert with Hélène Gelèns present both in person and in poem. The language advisor for this group was Willem Groenewegen.

As I attended Fiona Sampson’s multilingual poetry translation workshop at the International Literary Translation Summer School at UEA Norwich this past July (an article on this experience will come out on Asymptote Journal on the 21st of November), I was familiar with aspects of collaborative translation, but I continued to encounter new anxieties while simultaneously making an effort to build my confidence as a translator in the course of this workshop. I gained insight into the importance of repeated revision: as opposed to translating solo, I was much more critical with my own potential suggestions, even at the stage of draft one, aware that this would be, in a sense, in competition with the work of other members. Knowing that the stakes were high improved my concentration.

I must say that I was proud of myself for overcoming my shyness and holding up my point of view, regardless of mixed feedback. In fact, I concluded that digression in collaboration can be a positive element beyond determining me to remain firm.

This was also my first time working with a literal translation. My lack of knowledge of Dutch led me to produce what I considered to be much more of an interpretation than a translation of van Haren’s “Aan de overkant”, and in fact technical lacunae were ultimately filled with metaphors that I had intuitively deduced from the poem’s context. In this sense, I found the poet’s presence absolutely crucial – and she told me she liked my version!

The summit officially started after lunch with an introductory “Innovators” panel discussion composed of:

Seeing Jen again after the UEA Summer School reminded me of an observation she made then about translation being a fitting domain for those who struggle with shyness, and her consequent encouragement: she suggested that we attempt to break out of this hermetic tendency by communicating with each other and among institutions. I was amazed by how many opportunities English PEN has for translators. I will also try experimenting with the Polish Spotlight of the Stephen Spender Trust, as I was inspired by the workshop and intrigued by the promise of resources meant to aid translators through the process. I will also certainly be joining the International Book Club of the Translation Outreach Hub at Oxford. Importantly, Jenny Stubbs introduced us to the PoetTrio Project, a collaboration between two poets (one from the source language and one from the target language) and a language advisor: more details are available here.

All in all, I must say that I appreciated the lack of a bombastic attitude: I felt a constructive tone dictated the conversation, not a competitive one.

The following panel was entitled “Translation after Brexit”, in which representatives from cultural institutes assured us that translation will continue to flourish with their support regardless of political changes. These were:

– Aušrinė Žilinskienė, Lithuanian Cultural Institute

– Petra Freimund, Austrian Cultural Forum

– Gabriela Mocan, Romanian Cultural Institute  

– Fiona Sampson, PoetTrio Project

– Elaine Feinstein, Poet and Translator

These presentations were practical, less honed on the theoretical aspects of translation and more honed on its practical facets. Having worked with the RCI myself, I did know that grants were an active possibility, but I didn’t know how encompassing they were, and the same can be said for the other two institutes represented. It seems to be the most convenient pathway towards getting a translation to completion. It is also worth noting that cultural institutes can sponser poetry events, which I, for one, did not know.

I add that Elaine seems not to be officially affiliated with anyone but Marina Tsvetaeva, but that her perspective on how poetry in translation has progressed in the last few decades made for a thought-provoking context.

The final panel was entitled “From Page to Stage”, with a foundation focused on the performative aspect of poetry serving as the centrifugal point for quite lengthy conversations. Speakers were:

The remarkably intensive nature of this final discussion made it the culminating point of the day. I was particularly interested in learning that the MPIT website has been revamped and, enticingly for fellow critics, will likely include more book reviews in the future. I was generally pleasantly surprised by how many resources are available through the Poetry Translation Centre and, overall, how many projects have sprouted up as literary translation has become increasingly innovative. There are more and more possibilities to get involved with both performative and research projects. Remaining in the poetry network seems to be the best way to keep dialogue alive.

The evening closed with readings by:

– South Korean poet Jeongrye Choi

– Romanian-Canadian poet Diana Manole 

– and the Poets from the PoetTrio project; Fiona Sampson, Sean O’Brien, W.N. Herbert, Hélène Gelèns, Elma van Haren, and Willem Groenewegen reading the work of Menno Wigman.

As someone who would like to think of herself as inhaling poetry and exhaling translations, I’m genuinely enthusiastic about the boom of popularity in both literary realms that we are living in. I would love to hear your thoughts on translation, poetry, and translation of poetry!

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