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

TWO VOICES: Aron Aji on Bilge Karasu

Posted on December 17, 2012, 12:07:00 PM by Scott Esposito

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Aron Aji began his presentation on Bilge Karasu's A Long Day's Evening with a substantial statement: he called Karasu's project as an author both an attempt to develop a new Turkish literary language and an attempt to develop a readership for this language. However large a claim this was, by the end of this event Aji had borne it out.

Aji noted that in order to even begin translating Long Day's Evening, which he said took him 6 years to complete, he had to first immerse himself in Karasu's work, translating two of his other novels, The Garden of the Departed Cats and Death in Troy. To give some idea of the complexity of the task of translating Karasu, Aji stated that for the graet Turkish author "literature is the memory of language." He went on to reinforce the great importance of A Long Day's Evening to Turkish literature, making the staggering claim that "no book since this book has been written independent of this book."

Karasu was not only a great writer but a great reader: Aji explained that as part of Karasu's project he developed a university course on reading—the toughest course he taught—that has become standard throughout Turkish universities. This was all toward Karasu's great work of forging a new kind of Turkish suited to the new realities the nation found itself in amidst a changing world abroad and a modernizing world at home.

Aji then spoke about how he established his very personal investment in Karasu's work. He explained that he first became "mesmerized" by Karasu when he saw a photo of the author grasping his head in his hands in conjunction with his obituary in The New York Times. He continued in this personal vein, explaining that everything he has done since with Turkish literature is an outgrowth of his encounter with Karasu's work. For Aji, Karasu is not just a special author but also a great reader and a great translator, a true man of letters who was a force for change and development in Turkish literature.

Aji concluded his general remarks about Karasu by explaining how important the author has been for his practice as a translator. For Karasu, "meaning materializes in and through language." His very concerns and aims as a writer—balancing between loss and capture—touches on the exact themes dear to the translator's art: both strive for the most authentic reality through thoughts. Thus, Karasu has been for Aji a "great tutorial" in the art of translation.

After concluding his general remarks about Karasu, Aji began to speak specifically about A Long Day's Evening. He started by noting the book's strange structure—two long sections about Byzantine monks in the 8th century followed by a short, 15-page code set in the present day (the 1960s at the time of the book's writing). Aji explained that this was a very characteristic move for Karasu, saying that his books are held together more by a particular "mindset" than a "plot."

Each of the book's first two sections comprise just a couple hours, and the last section covers only five minutes, said Aji. "What Karasu is doing," he claimed, was "slowing down consciousness to see its workings." To do this Karasu both pushed Turkish to its limits and invented new properties for the language. Aji had to learn to mimic in English how in Turkish sound and sense echo one another, as well as how thoughts "tangle and untangle" more by "instinct" than by "reason," as Karasu's work more often works by association than by logic.

From here Aji spoke in depth about the plot of A Long Day's Evening and read sections of his translation. A Q&A session concluded the event, with Aji answering questions about the importance of an exterior narrative and historical fact backdropping the main action of Long Day's Evening, the book's correct genre and its implications for the translation, its overlap with Karasu's other translated literature, and the author's "untranslatable" "performative" novels.

Poetry Inside Out afforded me opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise had

Posted on December 13, 2012, 11:11:00 AM by Erin Branagan

Audrey Larkin, now a college student in New York City, was a Poetry Inside Out student in San Francisco for many years. This summer, she wrote us this letter:

When a teacher from Poetry Inside Out walked into my fourth-grade classroom in 2003, I could never have imagined the profound influence this program would have on my life. Lured in by poems about butterflies, elephants, and artichokes, I looked forward to each lesson. I still remember the thrill of taking a field trip to a nearby park to write haikus, the satisfaction of coming up with a clever line, and the excitement and endless possibilities that came of thinking in two languages.

Poetry Inside Out afforded me opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. I grew beyond the world of bunny rabbits and dancing flowers that so captivated me as an eight-year-old and went on to win River of Words, a national poetry contest.

When I was 12, I stood in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., about to read the poem that had somehow won me a smile from the Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Robert Hass, a trip to the nation’s capital, and the grand prize for my age group in River of Words. Public speaking did not come easily to me, and as I started reading, I hoped only to force my quiet voice into an audible pitch and push through my nervousness. Slowly though, I began to enjoy myself, taking pride in lines that made the audience pause for a second, lines that suddenly felt strong and solid and worth speaking.

My interest in literature and language continued to grow. In high school, I received a scholarship to spend a school year in Zaragoza, Spain, where I read Don Quixote, traditional medieval ballads, and contemporary Spanish poets in the original Spanish. Without the confidence in my Spanish and love of language that Poetry Inside Out had taught me, I doubt that I would have had the courage to apply for the scholarship, let alone the linguistic competence win it. Now at Barnard College, I plan on majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing and a minor in Spanish. Poetry Inside Out has truly shaped my academic interests. Yet even more importantly, it has given me the sense that I can create something startling, strong, and meaningful out of language.

This summer, I worked in the Poetry Inside Out office as the managing editor of Zebras Got Swag, a student anthology featuring the best of Poetry Inside Out for the 2010–12. It has been a pleasure to read student poems and discover their new and deeply moving work based on the same models that I learned from. It is heartening to see that this program is still helping kids boost their writing skills in more than one language, help them find their voice, and get them to tap into powers they didn’t realize they had.

Poetry Inside Out Training for Prospective Instructors

Posted on December 10, 2012, 10:36:00 AM by Scott Esposito

San Francisco
Saturday and Sunday, January 26-27 (10-4 pm)

Poetry Inside Out (PIO) is conducting a training for prospective instructors in San Francisco on the weekend of January 26-27, 2013. Poetry Inside Out, a program of the non-profit Center for the Art of Translation, builds creative literacy skills through the translation and composition of poetry. Since 2000, Poetry Inside Out has conducted teaching-artist residencies in K-12 classrooms throughout the Bay Area.

PIO’s unique curriculum works to exercise and empower the muscle of the imagination. We teach poems in a wide variety of languages reflecting the diversity of the area’s population. As they work together through the process of translation, PIO students delve into the words, lines, cadences, and structure of the world’s great poems, until they become inspired, capable, and adventurous enough to compose their own creative works. Because of increasing demand for our program, we are hoping to add to our roster of instructors.

Interested candidates should have classroom experience, a deep background in poetry, and interest in literary translation. They need not be fluent in any particular language, but familiarity with various languages and world poetry is a plus. Flexibility in scheduling is also helpful, as we must work within the schools’ schedules.

Training will be held at the Center for the Art of Translation office (near Montgomery BART) on Saturday, January 26 and Sunday, January 27, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Participants must attend both sessions. Attendance will be limited to a maximum of ten prospective new instructors, and the cost is $150 per person.

To inquire, send a resume and cover letter to Poetry Inside Out Artistic Director John Oliver Simon at

December 2012 TWO LINES Online

Posted on December 6, 2012, 11:54:00 AM by Scott Esposito

We've just published the December 2012 edition of TWO LINES Online. Therein you will find:

Three poems from Spanish poet Benito del Pliego's abecedarian, translated from the Spanish by Forrest Gander. They're short, so I won't excerpt them here, but they are titled "The Horse," "The Spider," and "The Fly."

A poem by the Taiwanese poet Hsia Yü, translated from the Chinese by Stephen Bradbury.It begins:

Leaping past “the calamity of love and
the aloneness of not loving” and all manner of other for instances I meander
back to the corner grocery and see
five syllables on a wall—“Fresh Cuttlefish Roe”—then off I go again

to the arts and craft supply store to buy
50 oil pastels 50 individually wrapped colors that each
emit a tiny sigh as it passes
through the register I listen
to the sound of each color passing the sorrow

And lastly, Valzhyna Mort's translation of "Summer, Landscape" by Shamshad Abdullaev. It begins:

Sunstuck, a boy on a red-hot square, light
and shadow. Beads
in the hand of an old woman. A bird
with lilac feathers screams, flies up, and from afar
whispers its quiet curse. It’s sunny and stuffy, as if at this moment
a young half-naked butcher, holding
his breath, were waiting for blood