Journeys In Translation Leicester 30 September 2017

Journeys in Translation Event during Everybodys Reading“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Nelson Mandela

With the Journeys in Translation event on the horizon, I’ve been thinking a lot about translation and in particular the challenges in translating poems. Journeys in Translation took 13 poems from “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” and via a Facebook Group and local call-outs asked people with knowledge of one or more languages than English to translate one poem into another language. Some translators were happy to translate more than one poem. So far the poems have been translated into 22 different languages, Arabic, Assmanese, Bengali, British Sign Language, Chinese, Danish, Farsi, Filipino, Finnish, French, Gaelic (Irish), German, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Shona, Spanish, Turkish and Welsh. Not all poems have been translated into all 22 languages, but every poem has an Italian, German and Portuguese translation. At the Journeys in Translation event, the original poem will be read along with one translation. There will be displays of posters featuring original poems and translations.

One translator commented that usually she translates into English rather than from English (her mother tongue) which put her outside of her comfort zone. She felt this led her to understand the frustration of not being able to instantly find the words she needed which gave her a “sense of powerlessness through loss of communication tools”. This prompted her to think about refugees trying to describe the lives they’d left behind, particularly where equivalent words aren’t available, and the further loss this creates. However, the close reading needed to translate a poem prompted her to think about the human aspect of the refugee crisis and how normal and comparable the refugee’s stories were.

There were examples of words for which there was no equivalent in the target language. For instance, apples are not native to Bengali so there is no word for ‘apple’, which led to a discussion about whether to leave the English word in the poem or use a Bengali word for another fruit, e.g. pomegranate instead. Did the original poet intend the focus of the line which was being translated to centre on the apple or on the act of a brother and sister sharing food? Would losing the word ‘apple’ create any loss of cultural significance? In the Biblical story, apple was the fruit that Eve ate so, in some contexts, an apple isn’t simply something to eat. In Shona, there is no direct word for astronaut, which presents a challenge when translating a poem about a girl who wants to be an astronaut.

Some poems presented other challenges. “but one country” is a speculum or verbal mirror image poem and some translators deliberately chose it to see if they were up to the challenge of recreating the form. Some translators altered the title from “but one country” to “only one country” which is more grammatical but ignores the way the original title makes the reader sit up and think because it’s not the expected word order. Translating the poem is not as straightforward as translating one line and moving on to the next, because each line has to work in both stanzas. The shape offers an additional test because the lines have to fit into their place in the poem’s shape otherwise the shape is distorted. In some translations, the original globe shape became more like a mountain looking at its reflection.

Some translators stuck to literal translations but others wanted to try and use the rhymes, internal rhymes and other sound patterns from the original poems into the translations. Occasionally that meant substituting alliteration and assonance in one place with alliteration and assonance in another.

Colloquialisms presented another challenge – did the translator use plain language as in the original or try and poeticise the language to make the translation look more like a poem? Metaphors need care in translation. Even though tigers don’t make dens (they take over a cave or hollow or smiliar natural shelter), one translation used “den” rather than “cave” to sustain an animal metaphor. The English sense of “alien” for “other” frequently doesn’t have a direct equivalent in other languages. In prose, there is space to offer an explanatory translation rather than a direct one, but poems don’t offer that space. However there were also benefits when translating some words: the Spanish word for ‘waiting’ includes the concept of hope, which enhances its context in the title of the poem “Waiting”.

After the Journeys in Translation event, there are plans to display all the translations on a blog.


Leicester Writers Showcase Ella @ 100

Leicester Writers Club Everybodys Reading event flyer

2 Responses to “Journeys In Translation Leicester 30 September 2017”

  1. louisa humphreys Says:

    Hi Emma-what were the criteria for chosing the poems translated? I remember being asked for permissio to have my poem translated so why were only someof our poems translated when you asked everyone for permission ? And will the intended translated book ever happen?

  2. emmalee1 Says:

    Hi Louisa

    You’re confusing two separate projects. One “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” contributor had plans for an Arabic translation of “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” so we asked all contributors for permission to translate their poem into Arabic. As I understand it, this is still ongoing, but the speed/progress of this project is not under the control of the co-editors or Five Leaves although we can pass queries onto the contributor who drew up the plan. Translation is not a straightforward process and takes time and at the moment, not all the poems have been translated into Arabic so the translated book is still some way off.

    “Journeys in Translation” grew from an event during Everybody’s Reading last year where we handed out poems at Leicester’s Railway Station. We used the same poems as a starting point for “Journeys in Translation.” We asked translators to translate one or more poems. Translators (including me) have been providing translations on a voluntary basis and we would never ask one person to voluntarily translate all 101 poems from the original anthology. More details at https://www.facebook.com/groups/316952552020172/.


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