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”.)
Rod 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/