AALITRA, in association with CO.AS.IT., presents
TRANSLATING POETRY: A SYMPOSIUM
CO.AS.IT., 199 Faraday Street, Carlton
Thursday 28 September 2023, 3-6pm
Free event offered in person and in Zoom mode
Registration essential here
Topic: AALITRA Symposium
Time: Sep 28, 2023 03:00 PM Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney
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Robert Frost is credited with the saying ‘Poetry is what gets lost in translation.’
But what if it was more accurate to say: ‘The poetry in a poem is what gets
saved (or even strengthened) in a good translation’?
Peter Boyle – Translating a poem into a poem
Stephen Nagle – Translating mood: Rilke, The Heartfelt,
and Celan, The Conscience of the Damned
Judith Bishop – Translating poetry-in-prose:
the case of Philippe Jaccottet
Translating a poem into a poem
Robert Frost is credited with the saying “Poetry is what gets lost in translation.” But what if it was more accurate to say: “The poetry in a poem is what gets saved (or even strengthened) in a good translation”?
By the “poetry in a poem” I don’t mean the fact that it rhymes or is in alexandrines or has a lot of alliteration or clever word play. When we value a poem it isn’t just because of stylistic features or the poem’s paraphrasable message, if it has one. What counts, the poetry in the poem, is the unity of emotion, sound, rhythm, breath, a stance towards the world, the way it embodies a personality, and the lure of a meaning that always slightly escapes us. A poem is like a journey through a musical structure where emotion and thought are unified in a way that strikes us as both true and new, irreducible to what we’ve heard said before.
So what is it that a translator seeks to hold on to when translating a poem? I would argue it is the translator’s intuition of what is most valuable in the specific poem, the unique poetry it alone offers, and the way the poem, as an art object, unfolds in time. Crucial to this task is finding an equivalent in a different language for the tone of voice, the imprinted personality, of the original poet, their stance towards the world.
In this talk I will explore these ideas by reflecting on my experience of translating three very different poets — the Venezuelan Eugenio Montejo, the Cuban poet José Kozer and French poet René Char.
Translating mood: Rilke, The Heartfelt, and Celan, The Conscience of the Damned
Both Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) and Paul Celan (1920-1970) grew up in cultured enclaves where high German was the language of philosophy and poetry, but not the language of the street. Rilke was born into the Prague of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and Celan the long standing Jewish community of Czernowitz, Romania – a place where “people and books used to live”, said Celan. Rilke was a gifted poet and a social butterfly. Celan was witness to the Holocaust and challenged immediate post-war German intellectuals to take responsibility.
Translating poetry-in-prose: the case of Philippe Jaccottet
Philippe Jaccottet’s Truinas, le 21 avril 2001 was published by La Dogana in 2004, after a three-year struggle to complete the work. In this short book, Jaccottet describes the burial of his close friend, the contemporary poet and fellow admirer of Friedrich Hölderlin, André du Bouchet. Truinas was translated independently by John Taylor (Les Brouzils, 2018) and myself (unpublished, 2006). The sinuous lines of Jaccottet’s poetry-in-prose make the act of translation feel like an undulating and rather risky flight. Despite Jaccottet’s despairing assessment of the work, it bears all the technical hallmarks of his most exquisite poetry. Linguistically, there is the expert deployment of syntactic rhythm, semantic association and lexical choice, while prosodically, there is the building and release of tension through the devices of white space, dashes, asides, inverted commas, colons and ellipses. I will consider key differences in the translation of a central passage with reference to these aspects of Jaccottet’s art.
Dr Judith Bishop is the author of two award-winning poetry collections, Event (Salt, 2007) and Interval (UQP, 2018). A third collection, Circadia, is forthcoming from UQP in 2024. In 1995 Judith completed an MPhil in European Literature at the University of Cambridge with a focus on post-World War II French poetry.
Peter Boyle is a distinguished Australian poet and translator of poetry from Spanish and French. He has ten books of poetry published and eight books as a translator. His most recent poetry collections are Ideas of Travel and Notes Towards the Dreambook of Endings.
As a translator his books include Anima by Cuban poet José Kozer, The Trees: Selected Poems of Eugenio Montejo and Three Poets: Olga Orozco, Marosa Di Giorgio and Jorge Palma. A bilingual Selected Poems of José Kozer is due out this year from Puncher and Wattmann. His translations of French poets René Char, Pierre Reverdy and Max Jacob have appeared in journals and anthologies in the US. In 2013 he was awarded the New South Wales Premier’s Award for Literary Translation.
Stephen Nagle lived in Germany and Switzerland in the 70’s and 80’s. He worked as a language teacher and technical and medical translator in Hamburg, then West Germany. More recently he has taken to poetry and translating Rilke and Celan from German to English. He has a NAATI Level 3 certification.