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

Two Voices Salon Audio of Clarice Lispector Translator Katrina Dodson Now Online!

Posted on October 1, 2015, 04:27:00 PM by Erin Branagan

If you missed the first Salon of the season, we've just posted audio on the Two Lines Press website.

Last week translator Katrina Dodson--who dedicated year to translating the 80+ stories featured in The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector--talked with Two Lines Press' Scott Esposito about the project.

Their conversation included a reading from the book in English and Portuguese, a discussion of Lispector as an author and individual, her religious mysticism, and Dodson's favorite stories from the collection.

Listen to the entire conversation, and be sure not to miss any of our upcoming events in the Bay Area and around the world!


From the Two Lines Press Blog: On "White Blight"

Posted on September 24, 2015, 03:18:00 PM by Marthine Satris

Every print issue of Two Lines is accompanied by an online supplement—Two Lines Online—featuring prose and poetry that seems to us to have a character that would thrive in an online space. We asked Associate Editor Marthine Satris to review a piece in the current issue.

Jennifer Hayashida’s translation of “White Blight,” by the Swedish writer Athena Farrokhzad, has a visual presence that pops, so the choice to include an excerpt from the long poem in Two Lines Online this fall came very naturally. The poem also answers the present discussion of how Europe will respond to migrants from the Middle East by foregrounding the voices of those who have broached European borders before.

Two Lines Online’s selection from the long poem, which will be published in full this year by Argos Books, captures the poem’s key concerns. In a long poem, the accretion of reference is always a vital part of the form, and in taking just a sliver it’s impossible to reproduce that effect. Yet, the poem’s vision of family as both accuser and provider of succor, its chorus of voices, and the repeated references to darkness, light, white, milk, and night, are all present in the excerpt we chose to share with Two Lines readers, which hopefully will intrigue and delight those unfamiliar with Farrokhzad’s daring and dashing writing.

As a reader, it is “White Blight”’s insistence on the visual and spatial element of poetry that is most enlivening. While rhyme and meter often must be adjusted or abandoned in translations of poetry, Farrokhzad’s yawning gaps of blank space and her innovative use of white text highlighted in black carry across to the English without change, showing the potential visual and spatial elements of literature have to infuse the text with more than the denotative power of the words can hold.

Farrokhzad’s poem brings the voices of outsiders to the fore, highlighting her family’s origins outside of Sweden in the language of the poem while the form conveys the material fact of their otherness as Middle Easterners in a sea of polar light. In Hayashida’s translation, family members order the writer to tell their story in the right way:

My mother said: Write like this
For my opportunities my mother sacrificed everything
I must be worthy of her
everything I write will be true

Read the full post on the Two Lines Press blog.

Order your own copy or subscribe to the print journal or better yet, subscribe to the press and you'll get a full year--5 books!--of fantastic translated literature.

Two Voices Salon Season Kickoff: Clarice Lispector’s "The Complete Stories" with Translator Katrina Dodson

Posted on September 21, 2015, 02:01:00 PM by Erin Branagan

Welcome to the new season of Two Voices Salons, intimate conversations with authors and translators about the art and craft of translation! The first event features translator Katrina Dodson talking with our very own Scott Esposito about her work translating the hefty "Complete Stories" of Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector.

"The Complete Stories" was published this summer by New Directions and is getting so much attention, we decided to move the Salon from our office to the Book Club of California—only a few blocks away—to accommodate more people.

A quick intro to Lispector: born in Ukraine in 1920 to a Jewish family and raised in Brazil after the family fled anti-Semitic violence, Lispector published her first stories and journalistic writing while in law school. She gained instant fame when her first book, "Near To the Wild Heart", was published when she was 23. She spent the next decade and a half outside Brazil with her diplomat husband, producing her most celebrated works after her return to the country in 1959.

Between that time and her death in 1977, Lispector published several books which only added to her reputation as one of the best Brazilian writers, including "Agua Viva", "The Passion According to G.H.", and "Family Ties". She’s often compared to Virginia Woolf and was recently described in as “a genius on the level of Nabokov.”

Interest in Lispector was rekindled after the publication of her biography in 2009 and release of a quartet of new translations—each by a different translator--from New Directions.

Katrina Dodson will talk about the ins and outs of working with Lispector’s famously bizarre Portuguese. She’ll also talk about how Lispector’s art evolved through the years and why her writing has touched so many readers. We’ll have copies of the book for sale, or bring your own copy and come ready to join the discussion.

Complete event details are here, and you can RSVP to secure your spot.

"The Complete Stories", with its 80-plus stories, has gotten attention from The New York Times, Bookforum, and The New Yorker, among others. And you can watch a 1977 interview with Lispector and check out related articles.

Indonesian Author Eka Kurniawan in San Francisco This Week

Posted on September 15, 2015, 04:37:00 PM by Erin Branagan

Did you know that the Nobel Prize for Literature has never been awarded to an author from Southeast Asia? Some blame the region’s linguistic and cultural diversity for this, but the Center and our longtime partner Green Apple Books on the Park have teamed up to spotlight some of the great writing from this dynamic part of the world.

In just a few days, on September 17, we’re co-presenting an event with leading Indonesian writer Eka Kurniawan at Green Apple’s fantastic store just steps away from Golden Gate Park. He’ll be joined by his translator Annie Tucker and Center for the Art of Translation founder Olivia Sears for a conversation about contemporary Indonesian literature and translation.

Kurniawan is the author of two recent releases: Beauty is a Wound (New Directions) and Man Tiger (Verso).

He’s been described as the “brightest star in Indonesia's new literary firmament”, author of two remarkable novels whose sheer beauty, elegance, cosmopolitanism, and ambition have brought comparisons not only to Pramaoedya Ananta Toer, considered Indonesia's modern literary genius, but also to Salman Rushdie, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Mark Twain.

Publishers Weekly named Kurniawan a “Writer to Watch” for Fall 2015, and his books were recently reviewed in The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle.

Don't miss your chance to meet the author in person! Both books will be for sale at the event. RSVP to let us know if you’ll be there.

For more translations from Southeast Asia, check out a story by Thai writer Prabda Yoon and poetry from Vietnamese poet Ngo Tu Lap in Two Lines Online.

Arts Education Ushers in the New School Year

Posted on September 15, 2015, 12:06:00 PM by Sarah Coolidge

The fall fog is hovering over San Francisco and school is back in session. For about a month now, teachers and students have been readjusting to the sound of bells, the homework, the concepts, impossible locker combinations.

I remember September as a mass of anxiety mediated only by my excitement of the unknown. My brother and I would stand outside our red house in our first day outfits, backpacks on, and my mother would take a photo. But what began with my nervous smile and my brother’s insistence on wearing his bug t-shirt quickly transformed into a world of dissolving boundaries and crystalizing nuance.

In the coming months, a lot can happen. It’s amazing how quickly children develop their interests and knowledge. They go from scientists, to poets, to 100-yard sprinters, to historians–oftentimes all within the course of a single school day.

The arts, in their many forms, transcend the boundaries of school subjects, which is just another reason to celebrate them this week as part of National Arts in Education Week.

Coinciding with the start of the school year, Arts in Education Week is a good reminder to all of us of the importance of multidisciplinary education. The experiences, no matter how small, that kids have in the classroom greatly influence them and inspire them outside the classroom. It is important, too, to remember that Art is a broad spectrum, including many forms of creative self-expression, such as the written arts and, yes, translation.

The California Alliance for Arts Education has a Top 10 list of things to know about arts education, and the National PTA has a fact sheet about the benefits of arts education.

Here at the Center, we’re excited to kick off the school year with a Poetry Inside Out Teachers Workshop next week (Sept. 25-26) for Bay Area classroom teachers interested in bringing our poetry and translation-based language arts curriculum to their classrooms. Participants will learn the ins and outs of the program and join a community of likeminded practitioners passionate about diversity in education. Find out more about the workshop and register here!

And don’t forget to check out the Arts Education Resource Fair on Sept. 24 here in San Francisco!

From the Two Lines Press Blog: Two Lines 23 Spotlight

Posted on September 8, 2015, 03:56:00 PM by Sarah Coolidge

Two Lines 23rd issue is hot off the presses and will be on it way to subscribers—along with another fall title, Wolfgang Hilbig’s The Sleep of the Righteous—in the next few weeks!

While you’re waiting for your copy, here’s a preview of what you’ll find inside. We asked Poetry Inside Out Program Coordinator (and Two Lines editorial assistant) Sarah Coolidge to write about her favorite story. You’ll have a chance to read about her pick and Associate Editor Marthine Satris’ recommendation in the next few posts, which come to you from the Two Lines Press blog.

“One day, a strange man came along playing a flute, and all the children danced after him, drooling, their eyes wide and round as chrysanthemums.”

When I was in fourth grade, I decided to learn to play the flute. We had to choose an instrument to learn, and I thought that because it was the smallest of the orchestral instruments it must be the easiest. That’s how child logic operates sometimes. Needless to say, I was mistaken.

Unable to achieve the rounded notes of my teacher (and some of the naturals in my class that I copied with mounting desperation), I produced instead several squeaky, high-pitched peeps that must have been quite painful to listen to. With each breath of air, blown roughly through the “O” shape of my unnaturally pursed lips, I mastered the art of squeaking. Unfortunately, there was no place for squeaking in the school orchestra. The next year I gave it up.

Today, when I hear the rounded notes of a flute I remember the remarkable (dare I say magical?) way that our teacher guided us through a song, directing and obstructing air in a dizzying flurry of the fingers. This brings me to one of my favorite pieces from the upcoming 23rd issue of Two Lines. Told through 44 unique vignettes, Yoko Tawada’s “The Piper” is unlike any other fairytale I’ve read. Translated by Margaret Mitsutani, the story—if you can really call it a single story—is a contemporary and sharp-edged transformation of the tale of the Pied Piper.

Popularized by the Brothers Grimm, the Pied Piper has since been retold in verse and prose by Goethe and Robert Browning. The poet Marina Tsvetaeva, who lived through the “terrible years” of Russian history, which included civil war and famine, borrowed the tale as an allegory for Bolshevik propaganda. Fairytales are beautiful for their ability to adapt to their surroundings; authors consistently modernize them, and we delight in their soothingly universal relevance.

Instead, Yoko Tawada dives into the shockingly personal details left out by most fairytales. After all, in fairytales we speak in general terms. The community is grouped into vague cloisters of townsfolk and people, and even the protagonists fade into unanimity, often going by their titles alone: prince, fairy, piper, etc. And yet each character, under the thumb of the omnipotent narrator, hides a unique perspective behind his or her silence.

In “The Piper,” these perspectives are unleashed. Secrets are voiced that we almost regret having heard. The story of a mass kidnapping takes a carnivalesque twist. A pair of traveling entertainers is likened to a pair of fleas; children are continuously compared to rats; and the Piper, with his feathered red hat and magical flute, pops up across centuries and cultures. Tawada goes so far as to ask us to consider the rats: are they really guilty of carrying disease, or are they mere scapegoats for human filth and folly?

Read the full post, and buy your copy of the latest issue or subscribe to Two Lines Press!

You can also read exclusive online content translated from Thai, Hungarian, Slovak, Swedish, and more.

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.