Two Words: The Blog of the Center for the Art of Translation

TWO VOICES: Robert Hass, Greg Delanty, and Michael Matto Discuss Anglo-Saxon Poetry

Posted on December 15, 2011, 01:11:00 PM by Scott Esposito

A copy of this podcast can be downloaded here. You can also subscribe to all of the Center's audio on iTunes, or in RSS.

This event brought together editors, poets, and translators Robert Hass, Greg Delanty, and Michael Matto to talk about some of the great richness of Anglo-Saxon poetry. Delanty and Matto are coeditors of The Word Exchange, which features over 70 contemporary poets (Hass included among them) translating a wealth of Anglo-Saxon verse into modern English. In this audio you can hear Hass, Delanty, and Matto read in both English and Anglo-Saxon while discussing these poems.

Delanty started the event by talking about the process of translating from Old English into modern English. Part of the question with translating from a historic language like Old English is the degree to which a translator should stay true to the original, versus trying to find equivalents in modern English. Another difficulty, which Hass and Matto discussed later on, was balancing between the sound of the Old English and the meaning of the translation.

Matto then discussed what exactly Old English is and where this poetry comes from. Pride of place was given to the year 1066, in which William the Conqueror ("also known as 'William the Bastard,'" explained Matto, "not just because he was an illegitimate child") brought the French language to England, initiating a cross-fertilization that was hugely important to Old English. Matto also discussed how Old English literature was very much oral—many, many poems in The Word Exchange were never written down until they were codified by scholars. He went on to note the great similarities between the poems known to be oral and the ones known to be written, and he discussed the various kinds of meter and form found in Old English poetry.

As Matto explained, the poems read here show "the range of diversity" in interpreting from the Old English verse. To demonstrate this, he read one of the various maxims, noting the differences in interpretation. For instance, here's Brigit Kelly's translation of a maxim:

Frost must freeze, fire melt wood earth bear fruit, ice build bridges, and, most wonderful, water put on a glass helmet to protect the earth's sprouts. . . .

And then a different approach to another maxim, by Mark Halliday:

To live well is to do what needs doing. If you have wise counsel, speak it clearly; but when secrecy is wise, write silent words. If you have a song, sing it. When you must judge, then judge. The day for action is always today. . . .

Hass than talked about his history with Old English and the poetry that he translated for The Word Exchange. He discussed the "dance" of influences from which Old English was made, and he noted that for many years the survival of Anglo-Saxon literature was dependent on "hobbyists" until renewed interest in the literature by scholars after Shakespeare's time. Hass made stirring remarks about the use of violence in Old English poetry, declaring that many of the great works of Anglo-Saxon poetry falls into a European poetic "celebration of violence in a world dominated by wars." He situated Tennyson's famous "Charge of the Light Brigade" as the last in this lineage of poetry, being the final time anyone could "get away with" senselessly glorifying violence as Tennyson did.

The event concluded with a particularly energetic question and answer session, with Delanty, Hass, and Matto interjecting among one another on questions including the best translation of Beowulf and the tradition of violence in Anglo-Saxon poetry.

Favorite Translation Covers of 2011?

Posted on December 13, 2011, 11:39:00 AM by Scott Esposito

I was a little disappointed to see that only one translation (The Selected Canterbury Tales) made it up on Publishers Weekly's 10 top covers of 2011 list. As Matt Rowe put it on our Facebook page:

I think Melville House, Archipelago, Europa, Open Letter, Dalkey Archive, and New Directions all do great jobs with their covers, often with the advantage that the publisher or series is immediately recognizable at a glance. PW seems to prefer covers that stick out, though I don't get some of their choices.

We agree, and in the sprit I've corralled some 2011 translated book covers that I think exemplify great design. Tell us your favorites! Email me at sesposito AT catranslation DOT org.




This is a great example of a powerful, understated cover that works perfectly with the title and substance of the book. Props to Dalkey Archive on this one!




Here, Melville House used their longstanding "Art of the Novella" design in an intriguing new way, putting together 5 books all titled The Duel that were released on the same day. And 4 of them are translations.


Here's a fun cover that captures the feel of the book and makes the most of the fact that, yes, this is a book from a foreign place being sold in the English market.


All of Open Letter's titles have a great unity of feel, even as each cover is distinct. This one uses a nice layering of words and visual effects to play off the key word of the title.


Here's a great work by a classic Spanish author. The cover perfectly embodies what the title tells you, and the black fade on the orange backround really stands out.


Apply for a Banff Residency by Feb 15

Posted on December 12, 2011, 10:41:00 AM by Scott Esposito

The Banff Center translation residency is accepting applications through Feb 15, 2012. If you are a translator with a project in progress, you simply must do this! It's an incredible experience, a great addition to any resume, and it's co-directed by the amazing translator Katie Silver.

Details on the application process here. And here's a description of the program.

Inspired by the network of international literary translation centres in Europe, the Banff International Literary Translation Centre (BILTC) is the only one of its kind in North America. The primary focus of the residency program is to afford working and professional literary translators a period of uninterrupted work on a current project, within an international community of their colleagues.

The program is open to literary translators from Canada, Mexico, and the United States translating from any language, as well as to international translators working on literature from the Americas (both the North and South American continents). Since the inaugural program in 2003, the Centre has hosted translators from approximately 30 countries translating work involving nearly 40 languages. The annual BILTC residency program has places for 15 translators.

Translators may request a joint residency of up to one week with the author they are translating. Most guest authors come from Canada, the United States, and Mexico, but the program is sometimes able to bring authors from farther away. Consultation with the program directors and experienced translators serving in residence as advisors is also available. Three or four times a week participants meet for informal presentations, workshops, and readings, and to discuss their work in progress with the group.

And as Three Percent notes:

This year’s faculty will include Roberto Frías, Russell Scott Valentino, Lori Saint-Martin, and others. And anyone planning on participating should plan on arriving in Banff on Sunday, June 3, 2012, and departing on Sunday, June 24, 2012.

TWO VOICES: Translator Natasha Wimmer in Conversation with Daniel Alarcón

Posted on December 6, 2011, 02:11:00 PM by Scott Esposito

A copy of this podcast can be downloaded here. You can also subscribe to all of the Center's audio on iTunes, or in RSS.

In this audio, celebrated author and Guggenheim fellow Daniel Alarcón talks with Natasha Wimmer about her translators of Bolaño's masterworks, The Savage Detectives and 2666. The audio was originally recorded on October 7, 2009.

They start the conversation by discussing why Wimmer got into translation to begin with. As she notes, translation is often seen as the closest form of reading, and "we become translators because we love to read." She opposes the reading done by translators—done "at the slowest possible pace"—to the reading we did as children, which was a very speedy and immersive kind of reading.

Wimmer than talked about her first translation, which she described as being a very hard book to translate. It was the Dirty Havana Trilogy by Pedro Juan Gutierrez, a noted Cuban writer who counts Charles Bukowski and Raymond Carver among his literary inspirations. Citing Gutierrez as a very unadorned and idiomatic author, Wimmer expressed her opinion that "the more lyrical [a book] is the easier it is [to translate]." In conjunction with this, Wimmer talked about the tension between making a text feel natural versus retaining something of its foreignness.

Wimmer and Alarcón also talked about two of the other great translators of Latin American fiction: Edith Grossman and Gregory Rabassa. Wimmer explained her thoughts on Rabassa's surprising contention that he rarely reads the books he translated before he translates them, as well as on Grossman's magisterial work. The conversation then turned to how Wimmer came to join this lineage along when Chris Andrews, the translator of a number of Bolaño's other works, declined the chance to translate The Savage Detectives and 2666. While also discussing Latin American writers, Wimmer talked about Bolaño's relationship to the Latin American Boom writers—although Bolaño made extremely acerbic, dismissive remarks against them, he also admitted that they taught him much. The Boom writers were writers of exile, explained Wimmer, whereas Bolaño transcended the question of exile, posing as more of a post-national figure.

The conversation also of course included Wimmer's work with The Savage Detectives and 2666. While translating these books she spent some time living in Mexico City in order to absorb the Mexican Spanish that Bolaño frequently uses in both works and pick up cultural clues, like "El Santo," a famous Mexican wrestler who appears in The Savage Detectives. Here, Wimmer and Alarcón talked about two of Bolaño's most famous slang words: simón and simonel. Wimmer broke down the difficulty of having to translate this word that Mexicans understand to mean yes/no, and which has no direct equivalent in American English.

As a bonus, you can hear Wimmer read from The Savage Detectives in this audio presentation and see her and Alarcón in conversation at our YouTube channel.

TWO LINES ONLINE: December 2011

Posted on December 5, 2011, 11:20:00 AM by Scott Esposito

This month at TWO LINES ONLINE we offer two pieces of fiction: Straight Lines by Yuan Qiongqiong, translated from the Taiwanese by Kevin Hsu, and How I Started Shouting in My Sleep by Miljenko Jergović, translated from the Croatian by Stela Tomasevic and David Williams. The latter is from the book Mama Leone, which will be published in full by Archipelago Books in 2012.

Here's a quote from Straight Lines to get you started:

Whenever she felt her mind was in disarray she would began drawing straight lines. It had been about four or five months since this began. Whenever she began to feel balled up, she would find a piece of paper and, with great care, began drawing straight lines. Holding the pen, she made a line straight across, leaving a trail of a long, somewhat quivering and crooked line. Even those quivering lines could calm her. She was drawing straight lines. Without distraction, she stared at her pen, connected to her wrist and her palm, as if it were a slender fingertip that had sprouted from the extremity of her body and flesh, leaving trails of long, frail moan-like lines. Of course, only ink flowed from out of the pen's tip, black ink, but she would always feel as if something would flow, too, out of the inside of her body, something vital, black, which evidently was her blood. Perhaps the blood inside of her had two colors, red and black, like some sort of cocktail, with a red layer and a black layer next to each other, never mixing, as if they had talked it over one with the other, to follow their own paths, only barely touching. Yes, she firmly believed that these two kinds of blood must flow through her body, the black being from him, having been polluted by him. Therefore when she drew straight lines and watched the black lines frailly but firmly trickling out from the extremity of her body, she would feel an indescribable sense of liberation, and an indescribable sense of joy.

She had never done this in front of him. She could not do anything else simultaneously while she was talking to him. She had to really concentrate, like if she did not focus all of her attention, the entire world would gradually, like liquid, melt and seep away . . .

And here's one from How I Started Shouting in My Sleep:

Throughout the summer and autumn, while he was getting ready to die, Grandpa kept uttering his last words. To Isak Sokolovski, his bridge partner, he said: “I know each and every card, and that is why I’m leaving.” He spun his hat on his index finger, cleared his throat for the last time in Isak’s life and left. He said to Grandma: “You sleep, I’m fine. I’ve been fine for a long time now.” She could not sleep a wink again until the day he died. He said to Mom: “There’s no one left, just the two of us and darkness.” Then, he promptly died. Mom closed his eyes, and wrote the words down on a box of laxatives. I was at the seaside at the time, with my Aunty Lola, Grandma’s sister. I marked a cross on my calendar next to the date. It’s only then that Grandpa’s death became real. Actually, no, I did it so they would realize that I knew my Grandpa had died.

That day Aunty Lola made some cakes, put an entire plateful before me, sat across from me, placed her elbows on the table and said: “Eat, my child.” I kept eating, afraid that she would tell me that Grandpa had died . . .