Journeys in Translation 30 September 2017 write-up

The event had a simple plan: have a poem read in English and then the same poem read/performed in translation. There were 14 poems and 14 translations which would be included on posters displayed at the event. In addition display books would show further translations for audience members to browse through. We hit two problems before the event started: the venue couldn’t find a working microphone (which had been booked in advance) and a working replacement couldn’t be found even after an hour, and one of the translators didn’t turn up without sending apologies or giving a warning. Fortunately, one of the poets was able to provide a working microphone which we were able to use on the night. However, the German translator’s absence was still a problem. Had the microphone problem been resolved sooner (or a working microphone provided in the first place), I might have had chance to ask another translator to read in place of the absent translator.

We had an audience of at least 40. I gave an introduction explaining that “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” had only sought poems in English, a language common to all three co-editors, because we’d prioritised raising funds and wanted the anthology to be published quickly. It is currently on its third edition. At last year’s Everybody’s Reading, we’d selected 8 poems and printed them as postcards which were given out at Leicester Railway Station. These proved so popular, we ran out of postcards by the fourth day. This year, we decided to build on the success of the postcards and invite translators to translate some of the poems. To keep the project manageable, we started with 12 poems which have expanded to 14 and tonight we were going to have readings of the poems in English and one translation (there were 101 poems in “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge”.)

Journeys in Translation Event during Everybodys ReadingRod Duncan read his poem “but one country” and the Shona translation was read by Ambrose Musiyiwa.

Malka Al-Haddad read her poem “Children of War” in English and I read Dania Schüürmann’s German translation. Luckily I’d brought the display books so was able to read Dania’s translation from the book and got chance to rehearse it in my head while the first two poems were read. My written German is reasonable, but my spoken German is very rusty.

Chrys Salt read “The Insurrection of Poetry” and a University of Leicester PhD student from Syria (who doesn’t wish to be named) kindly read Ghareeb Iskander’s Arabic translation. Ghareeb hadn’t been able to attend and two people translating a poem into the same language would still use different phrases or words so reading someone’s else’s translation is not straightforward.

I read Lydia Towsey’s poem “Come In” and Giacomo Savani read his Italian translation.

Pam Thompson read “Dislocation” and Elvire Roberts performed her British Sign Language translation.

Marilyn Ricci read “Framed” and Ambrose Musiyiwa read his Shona translation.

Carol Leeming read “Song for Guests” and Malka Al-Haddad read her Arabic translation.

Unfortunately, as I was acting as master of ceremonies, I didn’t have chance to also read through my German translation of my poem, “Stories from ‘The Jungle’”, so had to make the decision to drop it. In hindsight, I wish I’d at least read one stanza of the translation.

I read Siobhan Logan’s “The Humans are Coming” and Antonella Delmestri read her Italian translation.

Ambrose Musiyiwa read his “The Man Who Ran Through the Tunnel” in English and Malka Al-Haddad read her Arabic translation.

I read Liz Byfield’s “Through the Lens” and Giacomo Savani read his Italian translation.

Kathleen Bell read “Waiting” and Ambrose Musiyiwa read his Shona translation.

I read Penny Jones’s “What’s in a Name?” and Antonella Delmestri read her Italian translation.

Trevor Wright read “Yalla” and Elvire Roberts performed her British Sign Language translation.

After the readings, we rearranged the chairs into a circle and had a discussion about translation, including whether multilingual people find that using a different language offers different perspectives or logic, why some bilingual writers only write in one language and don’t translate their own work into their other language, whether rhyme and rhythm can be translated into sign language, how translating different writers in a relatively short space of time prompted one translator to think about different approaches taken to writing the poems and the careful reading required to translate made one translator think about the poems she was translating and made her realise that the stories being told by refugees weren’t so different from her own story and how any of the refugees could have been her.

For more information about Journeys in Translation, see the Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/316952552020172/


Leicester Writers Club Everybodys Reading event flyer

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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

Journeys in Translation – update

but one country Rod Duncan showing English original and Shona translation by Ambrose MusiyiwaJourneys in Translation is seeking translators to help translate 13 poems from “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” (Five Leaves, 2015) from English into other languages for an event being held in Leicester on International Translation Day, 30 September 2017, as part of Everybody’s Reading. During the event the original poems and translations will be read and displayed.

So far the 13 poems have been translated into Bengali, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Shona, Spanish, Turkish and Welsh with assistance from 16 translators (translators working in a group have been counted as one translator) who have translated at least one poem each. The most popular poems to be translated have been Pam Thompson’s “Dislocation” and Rod Duncan’s “but one country”. Translators have said they picked these because they felt it would be challenge, particularly because “but one country” is a verbal mirror image poem and, like the original, translators have been ensuring their translations also work in a mirror image.

One translator has commented, “The process of translation always involves a certain degree of what is known as ‘translation loss’. There are certain ideas, objects or experiences that can never be satisfactorily translated because they simply do not exist in the target language’s culture. For example, the phrase ‘a present from Skegness’ in the poem ‘Framed’ by Marilyn Ricci carries connotations for the UK-based reader, but will be lost in translation for the German reader. I imagine that sometimes when refugees try to describe the lives they left behind, the equivalent words are simply not available, which therefore means that on top of all the others losses there is a further loss on a linguistic level… this sense of powerlessness through the loss of communication tools can feel extremely uncomfortable. I found that when focusing on the words and stories within the poems I started to really focus on the human aspect of the refugee crisis, which I had not perhaps really appreciated until this point. Suddenly all those news images and statistics took on a more personal meaning.”

At the start of the project, coordinator Ambrose Musiyiwa held a workshop in Leicester with further workshops planned at the Soundcafe and local community centres.

We look forward to more translations into more languages and to working with people from everywhere.

Anyone who would like to have a go at translating the poems can join the Journeys in Translation Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/316952552020172/) or contact one of the organisers.

“Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” is being sold to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Leicester City of Sanctuary and Nottingham Refugee Forum. Copies of the anthology are available from De Montfort University Bookshop (Leicester) and Five Leaves Bookshop (Nottingham).

Journeys in Translation: translating poems

Stories from the Jungle by Emma Lee poem postcardJourneys in Translation is intended to build on the success of the Journeys Poem Pop-up Library which took place during Leicester’s Everybody’s Reading last October. We took 8 poems from “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge”, printed them on postcards and gave them out at Leicester’s Railway Station. We had allocated an hour each day but ran out of postcards on the fourth day. Doubtless some would have taken a postcard thinking it another promotional leaflet and less hassle to accept and move on rather than try and refuse, some of those postcards may have been read before being recycled. The library was about sharing poems. One of the drivers of the original anthology was to reach out and share stories, hopefully enabling others to share theirs.

The practicalities of a quick publication turnaround – the call for submissions went out on 3 September and the anthology was launched on 1 December – meant that we had to request poems in a language common to all three co-editors so the poems could be selected, typeset and proofed in a timely manner for the printers to deliver by the launch date. Raising funds towards practical help was given priority. I feel that was the right decision.

Journeys in Translation gives an opportunity to overcome some of the disadvantages of the monolingual “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge.” The 8 poems have been expanded to 13 and the idea is to encourage people to have a go at translating one (or more) of those poems into another language. There is a Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/316952552020172/ and a couple of Journeys in Translation workshops have been held in Leicester where participants were encouraged to have a go at translating one or part of one of the poems and discuss any obstacles to translations or the nature of translation itself. We’ve asked for literal translations so there is no pressure to make a poetic translation (i.e. to try and shape the translation so it reflects the original rhythms and/or sound patterns/rhymes in the English poems). We are also exploring how to translate the poems into British Sign Language – this will probably be done as a video with someone reading the original poem alongside another signbut one country Rod Duncan showing English original and Shona translation by Ambrose Musiyiwaing it.

We plan to have an event on 30 September 2017 (International Translation Day) in Leicester where the original poems are read along with some of the translations. There will also be posters on display showing original poems and translations. Most of the original poets are based in or near Leicester. However, it is open for translators not local to Leicester to hold similar events or workshops in their own locality. Our focus currently is on our Journeys in Translation event but we are thinking about how to make the poems and translations visible after the event.

 

 

 

 


This blog is included in Matthew Stewart’s Rogue Strands’ Best Blogs of 2016. Do have a read of his article and explore the listed blogs – all worth a read.  With thanks to Matthew for listing this blog.