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

April 3: See Murakami's Translators Next Week

Posted on March 27, 2012, 03:09:00 PM by Scott Esposito

Next week we'll be hosting Jay Rubin and J. Philip Gabriel who, collectively, have translated the majority of Haruki Murakami's books into English. Among other things they'll speak about 1Q84, which they co-translated—a first. We'll be selling copies of 1Q84 there, and you can get yours signed.

Here are the details. You can also get all the info on our Facebook page, invite your friends, and let us know you're coming. (You should also sign up for our newsletter, to stay informed about all our events, audio podcasts, books, and news):

  • Venue: 111 Minna Gallery
  • Address: 111 Minna Street, San Francisco (map)
  • time 12:30 - 1:30 PM
  • cost: FREE

To entice you, here's an interesting bit from a long discussion the two had on translating Murakami. These two guys can really geek out on translation stuff:

Some additional thoughts on translating from Japanese to English -- in general, the Japanese have a far more sensitive and sophisticated awareness regarding food than most Americans. The number of food-preparation shows on TV--PRIME TIME--is amazing. So when a Murakami character makes himself an egg salad sandwich, Japanese readers are going to feel something a little different from what American readers are going to feel about it. There is no way to convey the cultural context regarding that sandwich in a translation, except perhaps through scholarly footnotes, which would only succeed in destroying anyone's enjoyment of the text. So you just have to have the character make his sandwich in English and figure it's not going to be THAT different. The fact that the word "sandwich" is written in a phonetic script reserved for recording foreign terms, that the Japanese reader's eye travels vertically down the page to take in that word and the other words of the sentence, that the Japanese word for "cut" has a tiny picture of a sword in it: all these facts about the Japanese writing system are fascinating but are of interest only to foreign students of the language and are no more exciting to a Japanese reader than the snake-like shape of the "s" in the word "sentence."

Poetry Inside Out Success Story from Manzanita SEED

Posted on March 26, 2012, 12:58:00 PM by Scott Esposito

With Poetry Inside Out now teaching translation and poetry in numerous schools throughout the Bay Area, we thought we'd offer some reports from the field. Here's one from Manzanita SEED Elementary in East Oakland, where students were translating Dante.

The third graders at Manzanita SEED are always especially interested in the poet’s biography (one student inevitably calculates the poet’s age when he/she died) and today was no exception. “I think the path is lost because Dante was forced to leave his home. I think that’s what this poem is about,” Luna realized after we discussed Dante’s political exile. We all agreed amidst oooohs and aaaahs.

Isabela’s translation, which tonally and thematically informs her original poem, shows an emotional understanding of exile. Isabela is quiet when she writes—she rarely brainstorms with other students or asks for help/for me to read what she has so far. Today, however, she was the first to volunteer for “Author’s Chair,” which we have been doing at the end of certain lessons. She patiently waited until everyone got situated on the carpet. Once everyone was listening, she recited her poem, and it blew everyone away—all the students were completely silent (a rare occurrence) for a moment while they took it in.

By the halfway point of the journey of my life
I found myself in the savage wilderness
because the rightful trail was lost.

—Isabela (translation of Dante)

When love turns to hate I feel all hope is lost.
When happy turns to sad I feel all feelings are lost.
When I turn to you I feel all personalities are lost.

In the middle of the journey of my life,
I fell. I fell into the sea of
dark dark death.

I want to live with meaning.
I want to live with harmony.
But sadly that is not life.

Tell me why there is not a place
where no one hurts and no one
kills so we can live with life.

—Isabela (original poem)

THAT OTHER WORD: Episode 1 | March 2012 | Lorin Stein

Posted on March 20, 2012, 03:11:00 AM by Madeleine LaRue

“That Other Word,” a collaborative podcast between the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris and the Center for the Art of Translation in San Francisco, offers discussions on classic and contemporary literature in translation, along with engaging interviews with writers, translators, and publishers.

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 first episode, Daniel Medin and Scott Esposito chat about the accidental poetry and reasonable plausibility of César Aira’s Varamo, the miraculous strangeness of László Krasznahorkai’s Satantango, and the hopping city at the heart of Robert Walser’s Berlin Stories. They also mention recent and upcoming events at their respective centers, including the CWT’s publication of the latest in The Cahiers Series, A Labour of Moles by Ivan Vladislavić, and the upcoming visit of Jay Rubin and J. Philip Gabriel, translators of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, at the Center.

Afterward, Scott Esposito is joined by Lorin Stein, editor of The Paris Review and former senior editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. They discuss editing the English version of Jean-Christophe Valtat’s 03 (translated by Mitzi Angel), procuring the rights to Roberto Bolaño’s works and editing Natasha Wimmer’s translations, failure and what separates translation from other kinds of writing, "living with books," and why The Paris Review publishes what it does. The conversation concludes with Edouard Levé, touching on his aphoristic influences, his humor, his suicide, and his book Autoportrait, which Stein has recently translated from the French.

Table of Contents

INTRO: Daniel Medin and Scott Esposito

1:00 That Other Word’s origins and ambitions

2:35 César Aira’s Varamo

4:27 László Krasznahorkai’s Satantango

8:13 Robert Walser’s Berlin Stories

12:48 Recent events at the CWT: Helen DeWitt, Cynthia Haven, Ivan Vladislavić’s A Labour of Moles

13:58 Recent and upcoming events at the CAT: Perry Link, Richard Howard, Jay Rubin and J. Philip Gabriel, Sergio Chejfec

15:45 Scott Esposito introduces Lorin Stein

FEATURE: Scott Esposito interviews Lorin Stein

16:30 Introductions and editing translations at FSG

21: 26 Jean-Christophe Valtat’s 03

28:23 Roberto Bolaño’s The Third Reich

30:10 The work of translating

31:20 Editing 03

34:49 Discovering, translating, and procuring the rights to Roberto Bolaño

44:40 Trends in American literature

51:00 Work at The Paris Review

55:00 Edouard Levé

Six Poetry Inside Out Students Finalists in River of Words Poetry Competition

Posted on March 19, 2012, 09:42:00 AM by Scott Esposito

A record six Poetry Inside Out (PIO) students have been chosen as finalists in the national River of Words contest, judged by former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass.

We at the Center would like to extend a hearty congratulations to the students and the instructors who have worked so hard to make this possible. The six finalists are: Patricia Fong, Karissa Wong, and Matthew Yamamoto, all from Monroe Elementary in San Francisco; Emmalee Wong and Abdul Tawil, from Sutro Elementary, also in San Francisco; and Kamala Rose, from West Marin Elementary in Point Reyes Station.

This year sees the largest number of PIO students to have ever have been chosen as finalists, reflective of the program's increased reach and the hard work of the growing team of PIO instructors. This year’s awards bring to 39 the total of PIO students who have been honored as River of Words finalists since 2002. PIO has also had four Grand Prize winners.

Founded by Hass and writer/activist Pamela Michael, River of Words is a network of poetry-lovers around the world who are committed to teaching the art and poetry of place to young people. Its annual contest draws more than 10,000 poems from K-12 students nationwide. This year, 100 finalists were selected. One Grand Prize Winner in each age group will go to Washington, D.C., to read his or her poem at the Library of Congress.

Poetry Inside Out is the Center for the Art of Translation’s literary arts program that empowers imagination and builds creative and critical literacy skills through the translation and composition of poetry. PIO students delve into the words, lines, cadences, and structure of a poem as they translate. Following the immersion that comes with translation, students become empowered to compose their own creative works. The synergy of translation and poetry composition allows students to experience the power of language while building essential literary skills.

Kamala Rose’s poem was inspired by translating “Ciudad de cielo, a las cuatro,” by Paraguayan poet María Luisa Artecona. Abdul Tawil’s poem is a creative mistranslation of a Latvian folk-charm, “Lai bij värdi.” Patricia Fong’s poem came after translating Dante Alighieri from the Italian. Karissa Wong’s bilingual poem utilizes a structure suggested by Cuban poet José Martí. Matthew Yamamoto’s 14-liner was written in response to the tsunami in Japan. Emmalee Wong’s poem was written after translating Panamanian poet Héctor Collado.

PIO's six finalists will be honored, and will read from their work and sign copies of the ROW anthology, in a gala awards ceremony at Soda Hall, St. Mary’s College, Moraga, at 2:00 p.m., Saturday April 28.


Finalist Poems

For a Second

For a second
I am mist
For a second
I am water
For an instant
I am orange flames
If only the moon holds me
If only the moon hugs me

I keep in my heart
a flame of wisdom
and a drop of courage
as I sleep under
the blazing stars
while the owls look
after me as I sleep

For a second
I am silver
For a second
I am fur
For a moment
I am feather
If only the moon holds me
If only the moon hugs me

— Kamala Rose, age 10
Poetry Inside Out
Inverness, California
Teacher: Brian Kirven


Write the Words

Write the words, write the words
Very very invincible words
Dinosaurs going to Mr. Language,
Who are you? I don’t know you.

Three pieces of crunchy walnuts
A retired oak-tree
Poisonous snake, bee bite
Old leaves on the ground.

— Abdul Tawil, age 12
Sutro Elementary School, San Francisco
Teacher: John Oliver Simon


In the Middle

In the middle of an ugly jaguar’s body
I found myself decomposing.
In the middle of a dark and spooky
closet I overheard an evil plot.
At the middle of a donut
there is a hole.
In the middle of that dark hole
I got swallowed up into
a volcano full of fire.

— Patricia Fong, age 10
Poetry Inside Out

San Francisco, California
Teacher: Tehmina Khan


El espíritu del pájaro

Yo soy el espíritu del pájaro
con plumas del viento
volando por el aire
buscando un árbol

Yo quiero ser real
para morir,
para comer,
para cansar.

Yo sé la ruta del viento,
sé el pensamiento del halcón,
sé el hogar del
ganso y el pato.

Yo vengo de todas partes
y a esas partes voy,
juego con el viento,
y bailo con el agua.

Yo he visto cuántos mueren
en las guerras del amor
yo he experienciado
el dolor de todos pájaros

— Karissa Wong, age 11
Poetry Inside Out
San Francisco, California
Teacher: John Oliver Simon


Spirit of the Bird

I am the spirit of the bird
with feathers of wind
flying in the sky
seeking a tree.

I desire to be real
to die,
to eat,
to tire.

I know the route of the wind
I know the thought of the falcon
I know the home
of goose and duck.

I come from all places
and to those places I go
I play with the wind,
and dance with the water

I have seen many deaths
in wars of love
I have experienced
the pain of all birds

—Translated by the author


The Waters

The waters flee the shore in Sendai, Japan.
The waters rise over the city in Sendai, Japan.

The waters roll into the buildings flooding the streets.
The waters roar crashing boats against cars,
cars against buildings.

The waters tower over the houses
as the waters break through like a cracked dam.
The waters flow far away from the sea, far away.

The waters howl back into the ocean
taking everything with them.
The waters wipe the last of our city.
The waters destroy everything but our hope.

The waters flee the shore in Sendai, Japan.
The waters rise over the city in Sendai, Japan.

— Matthew Yamamoto, age 11
San Francisco, California
Monroe Elementary School / Poetry Inside Out
Teacher: Tehmina Khan


A Poem

A poem isn’t a lion
but rather the lion’s roar

A poem isn’t taking
but giving

Isn’t a globe
but the real world

Isn’t a bird
but helping the bird

A poem isn’t thinking
but speaking

Isn’t blending in but standing out

— Emmalee Wong, age 10
San Francisco, California
Poetry Inside Out
Teacher: John Oliver Simon

TWO VOICES: Peter Constantine on 3,000 Years of Greek Poetry

Posted on March 15, 2012, 04:28:00 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, translator Peter Constantine argues passionately against the notion that there is a past to Greek poetry and a present, but no middle. Here, Constantine offers ample evidence of all the great Greek poetry written between the ancient and modern eras.

As the editor of The Greek Poets, a mammoth collection of 3,000 years of Greek poetry, Constantine is certainly in a place to know. He immediately dispelled notions of Greek poetry fitting into a simple before and after, naming at least 9 different periods of Greek poetry and pointing out that The Greek Poets required the work of four editors and hundreds of translators, each of whom had to master of the various nuances of different time periods.

Here Constantine speaks in-depth about pens and pentameters, explaining many of the challenges of translation old and ornate verse. He also talks in-depth about the Byzantine era, which he specialized in for The Greek Poets. He talks about his translations of Clement of Alexandria, a second century convert to Christianity who strained to find the right words to explain his newfound love of Christ. Constantine also explained about the great poetic battles that raged across the Byzantine empire during the centuries after Christ's birth. Furthermore, he talks about how the Byzantines attempted to break out from the mold of Homer—Constantine explains how he saw this post-Homer verse as an attempt at a bright and new idiom. To illustrate that point, he read a spirited passage in which it is Paris, and not Helen, who is seen as the object of beauty:

Helen raised the latch of the welcoming hall
Crossed the palace courtyard and saw Paris, resplendent at her door
She hailed him and led him to her innermost chambers.

The event concluded with Constantine discussing recent work in contemporary Greek verse and then some Q&A. Questions included one about the interplay between contemporary Greek poets referring to previous generations in their work, "official" poets versus non-state-sanctioned poets (and the consequences for translation), and the proper place of annotations in translations.


Poetry Inside Out Documentary

Posted on March 15, 2012, 11:59:00 AM by Scott Esposito

The documentary that filmmaker Joyce Lee made about the Center's Poetry Inside Out education program has been picked up for KQED's Truly CA Shorts series. You can see it on that station's webpage here.

Below, we've embedded the documentary for your viewing pleasure.

Pura López Colomé at Three Percent

Posted on March 15, 2012, 10:48:00 AM by Scott Esposito

The Three Percent blog from Open Letter Books has a review of with Mexican writer Pura López Colomé's latest book of poetry, Watchword, and an interview with her translator Forrest Gander.

The Center did an event with López Colomé and Mexican novelist Carmen Boullosa in fall 2011, which you can hear at the link. You can also read one of Gander's translations of López Colomé's poems at TWO LINES Online: "Prism."

The interview and review at Three Percent are well worth your time. Here's a snippet from the interview:

GB: Watchword is a continuation of the translation work you’ve already done—another Pura López Colomé title is No Shelter, a selected poems volume you translated. How does Watchword fit into her oeuvre in general and the selected poem volume specifically?

FG: My first inclination was to say that Watchword is even more intense. But then I think of those bleak poems of hope in No Shelter, its fierce fidelities to the transformative power of language, its spiritual hunger, and I think that No Shelter is just as intense. But Watchword is more concentrated—the gravity of her illness had a lot to do with that—and Pura’s techniques are more honed. There is also a resuscitative joyousness in her focus on friends and family in Watchword. The whole book is like a life flashing before the reader’s eyes.

Poetry Inside Out Success Story from Emerson Elementary

Posted on March 8, 2012, 02:46:00 PM by Scott Esposito

With Poetry Inside Out now teaching translation and poetry in numerous schools throughout the Bay Area, we thought we'd offer some reports from the field. Here's the first, with Poetry Inside Out instructor Sophia Kraemer-Dahlin discussing students' translation of poet Venús Khoury-Ghata's "Le soleil s’interposait entre nous à la moindre querelle."

Conversations with Mrs. Taylor’s class at Emerson Elementary often take a philosophical bent, allowing for a sophisticated engagement with the poetry we translate. When I brought them this elusive contemporary poem by Venús Khoury-Ghata, they were excited by the ambiguous imagery. One student asked what was meant by “we would hit one another for a speck of shadow.” I was trying to steer them toward the idea that it meant “we would fight over nothing,” but several more interesting theories arose. One student, Jailah, said she thought shadows were worth fighting over. “Your shadow is yours, it can only be yours, it’s made out of you getting in between the sun and the earth so it’s like a blackout of you on the earth.” I was amazed, and I reminded them of the first line: “the sun came between us in all of our quarrels.” I had Iris stand up and asked them to imagine that the two of us were fighting (everyone laughed) and that the sun came down between us. What would happen to our shadows? Ibrahim raised his hand: “they would separate!” Ooooh, said everyone.

Le soleil s’interposait entre nous à la moindre querelle
On s’empoignait pour une parcelle d’ombre
Un caillou à deux faces
Une plume d’oiseau mohican
Le frère jurait sur l’honneur de la famille ne s’être jamais marché sur le pied d’une abeille
La mère tenait son rang parmi les marmites respectées
Notre garde manger regorgeait de bavardages copieux
Nous étions opulents       nécessiteux
Tristes         facétieux
Parcimonieux et grands seigneurs

—Venús Khoury-Ghata

The sun got between us during all our quarrels
We would hit one another for a speck of shadow
A rock with two faces
A plume of a mohican bird
The brother swore on the honor of the family that he never
stepped on the foot of a bee
My mom stayed in lines of the admired pans
Our fridge was full with lots of gossip.
We were rich       poor
Sad    silly
Cheap and great royalty.

translated by Deja Burns, 3rd Grade, Emerson

March 13: Lit&Lunch with Peter Constantine

Posted on March 6, 2012, 10:08:00 AM by Scott Esposito

Join us next Tuesday, March 13, for translator extraordinaire Peter Constantine as he takes us through 3,000 years of Greek poetry. It takes place at 111 Minna Gallery in downtown San Francisco (map here), starting at 12:30 sharp.

Peter will mostly be talking about the book The Greek Poets: Homer to the Present, which he co-edited and which includes translations from a veritable who's-who of poetry translators: Robert Fagles, James Merrill, and W. S. Merwin, Paul Muldoon, and Alicia Stallings among them.

As far as translators go, Peter is pretty incredible. He's translated over 20 books from Russian, German, and Greek, was awarded the PEN Translation Prize for Six Early Stories by Thomas Mann, and received the Koret Jewish Literature Award for the complete works of Isaac Babel. That book was raved by James Wood as "a triumph of translating, editing, and publishing. Beautiful to hold, scholarly and also popularly accessible, it is an enactment of love."

TWO LINES Online: March 2012

Posted on March 5, 2012, 12:45:00 PM by Scott Esposito

We've just published the March 2012 edition of TWO LINES Online: 6 poems by the French-language poet José-Flore Tappy, in John Taylor's masterful translations. Here is how Taylor described Tappy for the journal Asymptote:

Born in Lausanne in 1954, the Swiss poet José-Flore Tappy has written five volumes of poetry that have drawn increasing critical attention to her work. Her first collection, Errer mortelle (Wandering Mortal), won the Ramuz Prize in 1983. Already encouraged at this stage by the poet Anne Perrier (who also deserves to be widely known in the English-speaking world), Tappy has slowly but surely produced four new collections since that auspicious début: Pierre à feu (Flint, 1987), Terre battue (Beaten Earth, 1995), Lunaires (Lunar Poems, 2001), and Hangars (2006). The latter volume won the Schiller prize for the best Swiss poetry collection of the year 2006. Because of the quality of her short, fragmentary, discretely lyrical, and haunting poems, Philippe Jaccottet recently included her as the youngest poet in his highly selective bilingual anthology of Swiss francophone poetry, Die Lyrik der Romandie (2008). In his commentary on her work, Jaccottet defines her particular kind of lyric expression as "possessing the force of stones, the dryness of bones, and an iron sharpness." He highlights the "necessity" underlying her inspiration. Tappy constantly sets her readers before this same necessity: that of a "struggle," to quote Jaccottet once again, "not to fall, not to sink." Tappy has not been prolific, but each sequence of poems—the formal arrangement that corresponds most readily to her sensibility—results from an essential creative act.

But already

Posted on March 5, 2012, 10:55:00 AM by José-Flore Tappy

But already
between earth and air
a world is whirling the scattered grass
strips off all confidence
when the wind rises
before evening
turns us over like an hourglass José-Flore Tappy is the author of five volumes of poetry. She has won two prest... [more]

Dressed in paper

Posted on March 5, 2012, 10:54:00 AM by José-Flore Tappy

Dressed in paper
a silk page
or even less
slipped beneath shadow José-Flore Tappy is the author of five volumes of poetry. She has won two prestigious Swiss literary awards: the Ramuz Prize for Errer mortelle and the Schiller Prize for Hangars. In John Ta... [more]

Grasp the too brief light

Posted on March 5, 2012, 10:53:00 AM by José-Flore Tappy

Grasp the too brief light
the tiny side street
sun poured into a mold the day hardens
like a fruit pit
cradled in your palms José-Flore Tappy is the author of five volumes of poetry. She has won two prestigious Swiss literary awards: the Ramuz Prize for Errer m... [more]

Luminous shears cut through the darkness

Posted on March 5, 2012, 10:51:00 AM by José-Flore Tappy

Luminous shears cut through the darkness the drowsy eye whets itself
bowl becomes beak
against the circular backdrop of night in a distant confusion of stirring sheets and linen
a hand unbinds
the grassy laughter of morning and the light
between the... [more]

The first flights of birds

Posted on March 5, 2012, 10:46:00 AM by José-Flore Tappy

The first flights of birds
poke the day’s embers stir them up
above the harpoons of the pine trees atop the highest branches
where the magpies hop about
I am drunk on ground-up wood
and sing
hanging from an invisible trapeze on the wing of the wind [more]

The fresh water

Posted on March 5, 2012, 10:38:00 AM by José-Flore Tappy

The fresh water
of your voice flows
into my thirsty throat
and the windy morning enters
the smoothly combed sky José-Flore Tappy is the author of five volumes of poetry. She has won two prestigious Swiss literary awards: the Ramuz Prize for Errer mortelle and th... [more]