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

Who Is the Man of Pain?

Posted on August 17, 2015, 11:12:00 AM by Sarah Coolidge

This post is also available on the Two Lines Press website. It was written by Poetry Inside Out Program Coordinator Sarah Coolidge. In addition to her work with Poetry Inside Out, Sarah offers editorial assisatnce to the Two Lines journal, and she’s our in-house photographer for Two Voices events.

When I first searched the name Richard Weiner online, I found only a short Wikipedia article and a handful of blog posts by Slavic literature enthusiasts, clearly intended for fellow academics and speakers of Czech. I was intrigued but bewildered. Here and there I caught bits of information: passing remarks about the writer’s sexuality, France, WWI, and odd comparisons to Franz Kafka and Marcel Proust, amounting to mere fragments of a life lived and obscured for nearly a century. I wished I knew Czech.

After speaking this past spring to Benjamin Paloff, Weiner’s translator and a professor at the University of Michigan, I realized that Weiner was a contradiction of identities, much like his protagonists. “It’s no longer, and not yet, real; it’s the most beautiful moment he could ask of waking,” the narrator tells us in the opening pages of “The Game for the Honor of Payback,” the second part of The Game for Real. It seems that all of Weiner’s protagonists live in worlds in which they would rather not exist. In these worlds—I say worlds because Weiner’s universe is multifaceted and malleable—they are pursued, invaded, manipulated, ignored, accused, and shamed. And in this particular case, the protagonist is literally referred to as Shame...

Read the rest of the post here.

You can also listen to audio of our San Francisco event with Ben Paloff and our New York City event with Paloff and fellow translator Alex Zucker, and order a copy of The Game For Real.

Summer Learning for Philadelphia Teachers

Posted on August 2, 2015, 10:30:00 PM by Sarah Coolidge and Mark Hauber

On July 24th and 25th Poetry Inside Out took part in the Philadelphia Writing Project’s annual Invitational Summer Institute. Focusing on literacy approaches and key instructional strategies, the yearly Summer Institute works with a select group of teachers from the greater Philadelphia School District, equipping them with the skills needed to meet the needs of their students.   

Over the course of the two-day workshop, Poetry Inside Out’s Director of Curriculum and Research, Marty Rutherford, led the 36 participating teachers through the ins and outs of the rigorous poetry and translation curriculum. They went through the same process that their students will follow: learning the basics of literary translation and translating poems in small groups, discussing and defending their translations, and for a brave few, reading their translations aloud to the group.

The teachers were enthusiastic, united by a desire to educate and empower their students across a range of disciplines. One teacher told us afterward, “I think this will really help my students think deeply about words, word meanings, concepts--and life!” Another participant said, “Poetry Inside Out is a great way to build community in the classroom with all the diverse learners.” We also heard “multilingual texts in the classroom is an immense resource for giving a voice to English Language Learner students.” During the upcoming school year they’ll be bringing the program to their classrooms—stay tuned for updates!


Interested in becoming a member of a growing network of Poetry Inside Out teachers using creative and imaginative ways to engage kids in literacy learning?

Join us on Sept 25th and 26th for our next Poetry Inside Out Bay Area workshop. Interested teachers should contact Mark Hauber at mhauber [at] for further information and to learn how to register.

San Francisco Increases Funding to the Arts

Posted on July 23, 2015, 01:33:00 PM by Erin Branagan

The arts don’t just enrich our lives and our souls, they’re an economic force as well. They’re a large part of the economy of cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, employing hundreds of thousands of people. Artists and cultural organizations have always been at the forefront of creating vibrant neighborhoods and cities. That’s why we’re so excited that San Francisco—our hometown—has recently reaffirmed its commitment to the arts and arts funding, and significantly increased the budget for the city’s arts funding agencies.

A recent SF Station article about the increase in arts funding in the city’s new budget quotes Americans for the Arts’ data showing that San Francisco alone is home to more than 5,000 arts organizations that employ about 30,000 people. Incredibly, arts and culture tourism brings $1.7 billion of economic activity to the city each year.

But the Bay Area’s incredible economic growth is pushing out many arts organizations, and San Francisco recently responded by committing $7 million to the arts over the next two years. As reported in SF Station, the “Shared Prosperity for the Arts” package includes a $2 million enhancement to the San Francisco Arts Commission Cultural Equity Endowment Fund (a 50% increase) plus $1 million dedicated to Grants for the Arts. (Grants for the Arts supports individual artists and under-served communities, as well as small and mid-sized not-for-profits).

An additional $3.8 million has been set aside to make a capital investment in the city’s Civic Art Collection and Cultural Centers and for arts education. And a Community Arts Stabilization Trust was created to help small and mid-size arts organizations secure long-term, affordable space in the face of skyrocketing rents.

Two Voices author and translator events have been supported by the San Francisco Arts Commission and Grants for the Arts for years, and we’re thrilled at the recent 50% increase to Two Voices from these city sources.

The new funds will help us host more events with international authors and translators through 2016. Like Two Voices Salons and readings with Two Lines Press authors Naja Marie Aidt and Toni Sala; plus events in Berlin, Amsterdam, and New York with Isabel Fargo Cole, the translator of our upcoming book The Sleep Of the Righteous by Wolfgang Hilbig.

You can support the arts and the Center's literary programs by checking out our Events calendar--stay tuned for more details!

Poetry Inside Out In My Newcomers Classroom

Posted on June 28, 2015, 01:01:00 PM by Chuck Erdmann

This spring marked Poetry Inside Out’s second year working in partnership with Mills College’s School of Education and the Oakland Unified School District. As part of a semester-long course taught by Mills Professor Tomás Galguera, Poetry Inside Out staff helped run workshops for the sixteen participating teachers from fourteen Oakland schools. The teachers spent the spring learning about the program–both the theories behind it and how to implement it in their classrooms–and met weekly to reflect on their own teaching practices as they worked to promote literacy, participation, cooperation, and cultural diversity in their classrooms. Chuck Erdmann is a teacher at Alliance Academy and participated in the workshops.

For my Newcomer students, Poetry Inside Out was intimidating, challenging, and risky. And yet it was a challenge that they were not afraid to take on. If you can walk from El Salvador or Honduras to the United States, translating a poem or learning a language is nothing. As we all witnessed, the risk that one takes when reading an unfamiliar language, translating it, and creating a new poem builds a wealth of knowledge and a deeper understanding of language.
I first introduced Poetry Inside Out to a small group of eight 8th graders–four from my Newcomer program and four who were proficient English speakers. While reciting the poems was fun, the discussions were minimal and the translation process seemed very formulaic: find the word; translate the word; write the new word. Was I doing something wrong? Then I realized what needed to be done. The process in general was a challenge, but we had to challenge each other, asking questions like “Why do you think that?” or else just plain disagreeing. These were teenagers; they needed conflict.

Once testing week came around I had smaller classes and the experiment began. What if we went from Japanese to English to Spanish? Students used Google Translate and searched for images on their phones in order to identify the synonyms they wanted to use for their double translations. Students spoke in their native languages to develop a deeper understanding. Students with a deeper knowledge of English helped those with less. At times they were vexed. “No this makes no sense in Spanish,” Kevin cried one day. I realized that their previous exposure to poetry was minimal. They struggled to understand that a poet might skew the rules of sense and grammar in order to communicate meaning.

I decided that all my students needed to have this experience and, I asked myself, what better time than the end of the year? While introducing the poem to the group, I initially focused on the process of translation. Some students seemed bewildered. They couldn’t quite grasp how to use the Translator’s Glossary, which gives definitions and possible synonyms for each word, and were more comfortable using Google Translate on their phones. One thing did resonate with the whole class: the joy of reading poetry in another language. The Ethiopian students read Spanish, Salvadorans read Vietnamese, and everyone gave German (my favorite) a try. Participation was growing through the roof.

Students were excited, and it wasn’t until watching a video of my class doing a translation that I realized Jefferson wasn’t off topic when talking to Kevin; he was expressing his excitement for the language we were translating that day. There was something about Poetry Inside Out that went beyond the uncreative, thoughtless, point-and-say curriculum that programs like mine have unfortunately adopted.

Excitement drives me forward and keeps me thinking about my theoretical questions. I began with some doubts because of my students’ language limitations, disrupted educations, and their general placement in schools as "others." But what I did next surprised me: I dove in, I tried, I failed sometimes, but mostly I succeeded. Poetry Inside Out made me reflect on what I wanted my classroom to be: a place for students to learn and love language. Building basic English is important, but it has to be connected to something meaningful. Poetry Inside Out made me feel like we were doing just that.


Help us raise the funds we need to keep Poetry Inside Out in Oakland classrooms next school year! Your donation of any amount gives students the chance to experience the program.

Getting Through To Kids: A Teacher's Story

Posted on June 22, 2015, 02:24:00 PM by Erin Branagan

We recently received a letter from a teacher in San Diego who taught Poetry Inside Out in her 7th grade classroom. Her class was typical of most Poetry Inside Out classrooms: diverse in every way, with English-language learners and a range of learning and developmental issues. She felt especially challenged and told us what Poetry Inside Out meant to her and her kids:

        In seventeen years of teaching, I’d prided myself on never being one of those teachers. None of us knew what to do. I was running out of tricks.
        Until one day I had an email about “Poetry in Translation,” translating poems from world languages into English. “Impossible,” I thought. I nearly deleted the invitation, but a few days later I got the email again.
        I went. When I left after the first day of training, I thought, “If it’s as amazing as I think it may be, let’s try it in this classroom.”
       On Monday I told my class what I’d signed them up for. I thought they’d laugh, but there was stunned silence. Then I asked who’d ever had to translate or interpret for someone. And nearly all the hands went up. We shared our stories, eagerly, and suddenly they were listening to one another.
        That was when the magic began. When I asked for a Spanish speaker to read a poem, quite a few hands went up, but the one I noticed immediately was one I’d not expected. Rodrigo hadn’t raised his hand, used his voice, all year. From that day on he read every Spanish poem.
        Only two days in and already kids who ordinarily didn’t participate were, spontaneously. Willingly. There was a palpable shift in dynamics, almost a reversal of roles. Daniel said that translation “made me feel smart.”
        As a teacher I needed feedback, so at the close of the first week I gave a self-assessment. On the optimism scale, ten students were looking forward to more, eight were “confident and curious,” and five were “totally excited.”
        The tide had turned. We weren’t going to drown. We’d been at it for four days.
         In May, the Vice Principal said there was no way around it: they had to take the state assessment tests. So we trudged over to the computer lab. I tried to get them pumped up and excited. It didn’t feel like Stand and Deliver. It was hot and they were exhausted.
        All year we’d struggled with being on task and having a positive sense of ability, now we were doing it daily. All year I’d seen careless, sloppy work; now I was seeing attention to detail, increased reliance on one another for suggestions and peer editing. I hadn’t had to counsel or reprimand a student since the project began.
        Two days before school ended I could finally see their scores. The full impact of their accomplishment didn’t hit me until a week later: almost all the kids’ scores went up in both Reading and Language, but they also exceeded their goals by 200 and 300 percent.
        Poetry Inside Out made them gifted. The content was real and engaging and fresh. They were there for each other when they needed it, like training wheels on a bike. Tina said, “where else do you get to feel brilliant on a daily basis?”
        What we’d all thought was impossible wasn’t at all, it just demanded effort, concentration, the joyful humility and community of working together. At one point Bruce said he loved the way “we were all pushing together.”
        Someone else might look at the test scores and notice what incredible “bang for the buck” there seemed to be, and I don’t deny that measure. But I might reread the kids’ comments instead and come to rest on the one that says "Poetry Inside Out was the best part of 7th grade.”

We're winding up a fundraising campaign to make sure Poetry Inside Out stays in classrooms this fall! Please consider donating: your gift makes it possible for kids like Julio, Tina, and Rodrigo—who have little chance to experience arts or enrichment activities—to know the world of poetry, build vital reading and writing skills, and most important, begin to think of themselves as smart and capable. Any amount makes a difference!

Wrapping Up the Year With Poetry

Posted on June 11, 2015, 12:05:00 PM by Sarah Coolidge

A Butterfly Feeling

I am nature
I am a firefly that twinkles
like a star bright, glittery, and gold
I am sweet like just bloomed orchids
I bloom by cartwheeling up the sky
A shy white rose is breathing into the earth
a whole other dimension
I imagine many worlds blooming
            --Honora, Age 9, Emerson Elementary School, Oakland CA

With June well underway, students are growing restless for summer. Though their attention has shifted to the long summer days that await them, we like to look back at the spring and all they have accomplished. For the past few months the third graders at Emerson Elementary School have been translating poems inspired by nature. Their translations were a great jumping off point, “prompting passionate discussions about our world’s environmental issues, such as fracking, drought, pollution, violence against animals, and climate change,” explained Poetry Inside Out instructor Tai Rockett. The class ended their unit by reflecting on their own connections to nature, producing an anthology of original poetry and illustrations.

Up in the hills of Marin County, a fifth grade class spent their spring tackling the theme of identity. Zigzagging between Spanish and English, Gina Valdés’ “Where You From?” was particularly powerful for the students. Instructor Brian Kirven noted that several bilingual students “felt culturally split” after working with the poem, and that, in particular, “two students in a group interpret[ed] “zurda” as “contradicted,” an expression of the pain of growing up between two cultures.”

Now is your chance to make a difference in a kid's life! Your donation to Poetry Inside Out will keep the program in classrooms next school year.

Bay Area teachers interested in becoming part of a national network of Poetry Inside Out practitioners are invited to attend a workshop on Sept. 25 & 26. For more information, email Program Director Mark Hauber at mhauber [at]

On Dry Land: Fifth Graders Explore Angel Island

Posted on June 4, 2015, 12:14:00 PM by Sarah Coolidge

One of the poems carved into the wooden barracks on Angel Island begins with the image of a water dragon on dry land. Removed from their homeland, nearly one million immigrants from China, Japan, and other Asian countries entered this island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay between 1910 and 1940, spending months—sometimes years—living in the drafty barracks, awaiting news about whether they would be allowed to enter the United States.

This past April, seventy-five years after the station’s closure, a class of fifth graders from San Francisco’s Presidio Hill School hiked up one of the island’s steep hills to their campsite, pulling along two wagons full of camping gear and carrying anything else they might need during their overnight stay on their backs. The trip marked the culmination of their unit on the Angel Island Immigration Station.

Michelle Fix, the classroom teacher, explained that the entire unit was based on simulating the immigrant experience. The classroom was transformed, as it became first a steamship, then the station itself. The students held mock interrogations, in which they were given actual case files of family members who would have had to explain the incongruences in their paperwork. The class read several books and looked at photographs from the Immigration Station, asking: What’s going on? How are the people in these photos feeling?

According to Ms. Fix, besides the dedication and enthusiasm of the students, the most amazing part of the experience was the way in which several Bay Area organizations partnered to extend the lesson beyond the classroom. The students ventured to San Francisco Center for the Book, where they made journals so that they could write down their thoughts, impressions, and experiences throughout the unit.

Poetry Inside Out brought poetry into mixture, guiding the students through a translation of one of the anonymous poems that was carved on the barrack walls. Here the students delved into the actual language that immigrants had used to express their experiences. Translating the poem was not easy.

The students struggled with the characters and syntax of Chinese and had to work to guess meaning of the poem’s startling imagery. In particular, they debated the meaning of one troublesome line: was a tiger taunting a caged child or a child taunting a caged tiger? Ms. Fix remembers this moment well: “I remember when I translated the poem before our lesson, I assumed that the speaker as feeling like a child, powerless. It hadn’t occurred to me to think of the scene literally. It was another instance in which I learned from my students.

The final touch came in the form of a 65-foot sailboat. The group had the chance to enter the Bay from the Golden Gate Bridge and sail toward Angel Island, just as so many immigrants had. Aboard the Baylis, armed with their journals and poem pages, they listened to a man tell his grandfather’s story of arriving at the very station they were now approaching. Along the way, they also learned a bit about the ecology of the bay, testing the water quality and identifying plankton. When they landed, they took their possessions and set off up the hill toward their campsite for the night.

The next day, they walked to the Immigration Station. The pamphlets they were given outlined the different rooms of the barracks and listed the poems found in each room. One particular room on the first floor had been a bathhouse, then a storage room.

There they found a poem more distinct than the others. It had been covered for decades by shelves, and was therefore well preserved. Some of the other poems were extremely faded, though you could still make out the etched lines of the characters on the dusty brown walls.

The students’ desire to touch the poems was palpable, though that was not allowed. Tired and hungry, they wandered through the rooms with their journals opened to their poem pages and translations. At last, they came to the room where the poem they had translated was supposedly located.

It was not easy to identify the characters among the faded scratches on the wall, but when someone finally found it, the entire class gathered around to see the real poem they had discussed in their classroom. Ms. Fix described the moment as the perfect end to the lesson. As she said, “It brought the poem alive.”

Summer Reading Recommendations From Our Editors

Posted on May 29, 2015, 10:40:00 AM by Marthine Satris

What's in the tote bags that the Two Lines editors are filling up for our vacations this summer? You won’t find much in the way of chick lit or cozy mysteries, but if you want to bewilder everyone else on the beach this summer, read on!

What could be more apropos for a summer reading list than writing from the land of the midnight sun? Production Editor Jessica Sevey says, “I've been reading Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle: Book 1 (tr. Don Bartlett), and I just can't put it down! There's something universal about his experiences -- even though it's about his life in Norway.”

Jessica has also discovered a Norwegian poet she likes: Gro Dahle. Right now she’s reading her A Hundred Thousand Hours, which includes the original Norwegian and the English translation by Rebecca Wadlinger. Reviewer Melissa Dickey says that in Dahle's poems, "The house lives; the inanimate becomes animate; the domestic is an active, sexual, sometimes frightening sphere...." In other words, just the ticket for getting you out of the house and into the sunshine.

Associate Editor Marthine Satris recommends The Travels of Daniel Ascher -- a slim, beautifully constructed debut novel by Déborah Lévy-Bertherat, translated by Adriana Hunter. Delightful yet resonant, the novel (published by Other Press in May 2015) follows a young woman as she moves to Paris and uncovers the secrets her family has kept for decades. Returning to the children's adventure stories that made her uncle Daniel famous, Hélène discovers the loneliness and loss buried underneath his whimsy.
Marthine is also excited to spend some time this summer with Wave Books' new edition of Mallarmé's A Roll of the Dice. The long poem is recreated as a visual object by Robert Bononno and designer Jeff Clark, who collaborated on the translation (Jeff also designs our Two Lines journal covers, so we're dedicated fans of his work, to say the least). Mallarmé conjures the abyss through oceanic images, so in Marthine's opinion, it's a perfect fit for those long July days, their "gaping depth like the hull / of a ship / listing from side to side."

Scott Esposito, our marketing expert and maintainer of Two Lines’s web presence, plans to spend this summer with 2015 Best Translated Book Award winner Can Xue's Vertical Motion and Elfriede Jelinek's The Piano Teacher.

The stories in Vertical Motion were translated from the Chinese by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping, and the collection was published by Open Letter Books in 2011. “Trippy and surreal,” the novel will ease you into a “dream like trance” as the tide starts licking at your toes.

Scott delves further into the world of translation with Nobel Prize-winner Jelinek’s novel, published in English by Grove Atlantic in 2009. Translated by Joachim Neugroschel, it explores the outer limits of sexuality through the lens of a masochistic musician and her young, entranced student. The darkness at the heart of the Viennese story will give you shivers even on the muggiest of summer days.

So there you go! Some charming, disturbing, and entrancing reads to while away your vacation with, courtesy of the strange beings who occupy the offices here at Two Lines. Maybe you’ll even stumble one of us reading our recommendations if you’re walking on the foggy shore of the Pacific this summer. Until then!

Can Xue, Vertical Motion. Translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping.
Déborah Lévy-Bertherat, The Travels of Daniel Ascher. Translated by Adriana Hunter.
Elfriede Jelinek, The Piano Teacher. Translated by Joachim Neugroschel.
Gro Dahle. A Hundred Thousand Hours. Translated by Rebecca Wadlinger.
Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle: Book 1. Translated by Don Bartlett.
Stephane Mallarmé, A Roll of the Dice. Translated by Robert Bononno and Jeff Clark.

Your 2015 PEN Translation Award Winner!

Posted on May 14, 2015, 10:42:00 AM by Erin Branagan

If you haven't heard the news already, we are proud, delighted, and thrilled to announce that Denise Newman has won the 2015 PEN Translation Prize for her translation of Naja Marie Aidt's Baboon (published by Two Lines Press).

Here's an excerpt from the judges' comments:

“From its first line, Denise Newman’s translation of Baboon announces that its readers will be transported to unexpected, bewildering places, and that the journey will at times be abrupt, even disconcerting….If the reader’s transit into Aidt’s narrative world is often jarring, Newman’s agile and compelling translation of her prose into English provides steadfast footing. One can imagine the challenge of conveying the psychological depths just barely concealed beneath Aidt’s measured words, and Newman accomplishes this feat with remarkable skill. It is impossible to miss the urgency and deep humanity of each of these stories, even as the spare descriptions of extreme scenarios push the reader far into unfamiliar territory.”

You can read the full announcement on the PEN website, or check out one of the stories from Baboon.

If you haven't already, order your copy of the book now!

Read more reviews of Baboon on the Two Lines Press blog, and listen to Naja Marie Aidt and Denise Newman talk about translating the book.

You can also check out Naja Marie Aidt's recent review of another Two Lines Press title, Marie NDiaye's Self-Portrait in Green.

Don't miss out on future award winners from Two Lines Press! Subscribe now and get five titles for only $40.



From its first line, Denise Newman’s translation of Baboon announces that its readers will be transported to unexpected, bewildering places, and that the journey will at times be abrupt, even disconcerting. - See more at:
From its first line, Denise Newman’s translation of Baboon announces that its readers will be transported to unexpected, bewildering places, and that the journey will at times be abrupt, even disconcerting. - See more at:
From its first line, Denise Newman’s translation of Baboon announces that its readers will be transported to unexpected, bewildering places, and that the journey will at times be abrupt, even disconcerting. - See more at:
From its first line, Denise Newman’s translation of Baboon announces that its readers will be transported to unexpected, bewildering places, and that the journey will at times be abrupt, even disconcerting. - See more at:

Great Books for Cinco de Mayo

Posted on May 5, 2015, 12:33:00 PM by Erin Branagan

Happy Cinco de Mayo! (not Mexican Independence Day, the holiday commemorates the Mexican defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862)

How about celebrating with some great literature? We’ve got audio from our April 13 event with rising Mexican author Yuri Herrera in conversation with Daniel Alarcón, and you can check out Herrera’s stunning book Signs Preceding the End of the World.

Among our upcoming May Two Voices events, we’ll be hosting another Mexican author, Mario Bellatin, along with poet and translator David Shook on Monday, May 18 at the amazing Green Apple Books on the Park in San Francisco.

Let us know if you’ll be there, and read about our other events this month!

Go all out and listen to audio of a Two Voices reading with two of Mexico’s most vital women writers, Carmen Boullosa and Pura López Colomé. Boullosa’s new novel Texas: The Great Theft was recently released by fellow translation publisher Deep Vellum Press.

In our Poetry Inside Out education program, students have read and translated iconic poems by Mexican and Mexican-American poets, including David Huerta, Alberto Blanco, Elias Nandino, and Gina Valdés.

Perhaps the best-known Mexican poet is Octavio Paz, who fought in the Spanish Civil War and published more than eighty volumes of poetry and essays throughout his lifetime. Here’s a 3rd grade Poetry Inside Out student’s translation of Paz’s poem “Reversíble”:


In space
          I am
inside of myself
outside of myself
         I am
outside of myself
         in the space
        is this space
outside of itself
am I
        in the space
and forever going

photo still from the film
Cinco de Mayo: The Battle