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

More Notes From a Poetry Inside Out Classroom

Posted on April 14, 2015, 02:27:00 PM by Lilian Autler

(Read Part 1 of Lilian's Poetry inside Out adventures here) The next time I met with the fifth graders at Peralta Elementary School, they were ready to take on a new challenge. While we translated our next poem, “Dos cuerpos” by Mexican poet Octavio Paz, I asked the students, what are these two bodies? The poem contains many evocative images and metaphors for the “two bodies, face to face” mentioned in the first line without ever explicitly saying who or what the bodies are. The students’ responses were as varied as they were creative: the moon and the earth, two lovers, the earth and the sky, Adam and Eve at the beginning of time, anybody from dogs to angels.

Here is one student’s translation of the poem:

Two spirits
Two spirits face to face
are at moments two waves
and the night is their ocean.

Two spirits face to face
are at moments two stones
and the night is their desert.

Two spirits face to face
are at moments roots
within the night that intertwines them.

Two spirits face to face
are at moments a knife
and the night, a spark.

Two spirits face to face
are two stars which fall
within the hollow sky.

The students had enjoyed the tableau activity so much that we did it again, but on a more ambitious scale. The classroom teacher prepared an extra-long session during which the students worked together in groups to “translate” one stanza of the poem into different media.

Each group created a tableau: they painted backdrops, arranged their bodies into physical sculptures of the poem, and read the stanza aloud in both Spanish and English, drawing from their translations. During that 90-minute class, the students created vivid performances that represented their visual, kinetic, and literary interpretations of the poem.

Essential to the activity’s success was the discussion the students had at the outset about how they would collaborate to accomplish this task. The classroom teacher suggested they assign roles within the group (director, artist, actor, etc.), but the students were not convinced. So she facilitated a conversation about the pros and cons of different ways of working together, and they ended up agreeing that they did not want pre-assigned roles, but instead preferred to work it out themselves.

Collaboration is one of the most challenging and constructive aspects of Poetry Inside Out. If we want students to have rich discussions and innovative ideas, we need to take the time to talk about and support collaboration. Once we do that, it’s amazing where their imaginations can take them.

Notes From a Poetry Inside Out Classroom

Posted on April 7, 2015, 03:32:00 PM by Lilian Autler

Our class is large and lively: 29 ten and eleven year olds packed into Portable D. At this small, dynamic school in North Oakland, creative teachers integrate the arts into their classrooms and curriculum every day. As a Poetry Inside Out teaching artist, I spent the fall working with fifth grade students as they read and translated poems from around the world.

Together, the students and I talked about poetic translation and experimenting with its possible forms. Translation from one language to another, yes, but also translation from words to images, translation from the page to our voices and to our bodies.

During our second week, the students translated Salvatore Quasimodo’s short poem Ed e súbito sera from Italian to English.

Here are some of their translations:

Along with the stars suddenly comes nightfall
Everyone is alone in the heart of the earth
Pierced with the brilliant light of heaven
Swiftly dusk has gone and a new day has arisen.

And it is suddenly twilight
Everyone is from the center of the earth
Stabbed by a source of light
And it is suddenly twilight.

And so it is nightfall
All solo, from the core of the earth
Pierced by one ray of sun
And it is night.

Suddenly dusk
Everyone is of the heart of the world
Scarred by a ray of sun
And it is suddenly dusk.

The students loved the poem’s imagery, so we decided to translate the poem further from English into tableaux, physical sculptures in which their bodies represented the objects and sentiments of the poem.

While we were discussing the poem as a class, the students kept returning to the word “twilight,” one of the possible synonyms for the Italian word sera. Some of the students weren’t sure what it meant, and others were finding it difficult to explain. This collaborative effort to define “twilight” led to a fantastic outpouring of metaphors and similes, and the classroom teacher was so impressed that she asked the students to illustrate the words they had come up with.

A Look Back at Arts Education Month

Posted on March 28, 2015, 10:54:00 PM by Sarah Coolidge

Starting off the month, the Huffington Post reported that Arts Education is making a comeback in big cities across the country. We’re hoping that we can keep up the momentum in 2015 and add San Francisco and Oakland to the arts education race!

We were blown away by the group of Worcester, Massachusetts high school students who presented their research on bilingual education and Poetry Inside Out in Philadelphia earlier this month! The six students explained how the collaborative process of translating great poetry from around the world changes how bilingual students learn inside and outside the classroom.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania has been having its own conversation about the achievement and funding gap

Of course, arts education wouldn’t be possible without the extraordinary teachers who have fought for its survival. NPR turned our attention to Afghanistan to tell the story of one such teacher, Aziz Royesh, who founded a school in Kabul that encourages class discussion, critical thought, music, and arts.

Lawmakers continue to disagree over the No Child Left Behind Act. “No bill is better than a bad bill,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) this month.

And here in the Bay Area, Poetry Inside Out started back up for the spring session, bringing poetry and thoughtful discussion to classrooms throughout Oakland and San Francisco.

And don’t forget, next month is National Poetry Month!

infographic credit

From the Two Lines Press Blog: PEN Translation Awards Longlist and Two Lines Release Party Photos

Posted on March 17, 2015, 03:22:00 PM by Erin Branagan

We were amazed—-and humbled—-to learn today that two Two Lines Press 2014 books are on the PEN Translation Awards longlist. Baboon, by Naja Marie Aidt (translated by Denise Newman), and Marie NDiaye’s Self-Portrait in Green, translated by Jordan Stump, are in the company of titles from publishing heavyweights like Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NYRB Classics.

Read about it on the Two Lines blog.

From now until March 30, get both longlisted books, PLUS two more Two Lines Press titles, for only $30! With your order, you’ll also get a limited-edition letterpress broadside, so don’t wait!

Also on the Two Lines Press blog: in case you missed last week’s release party, you can check out photos and see copies of the erasures made from pages from Two Lines issue 22.


(erasure by Betsy)

The party featured readings by local translators and authors Daniel Levin Becker, Yael Segalovitz, and Andrea Lingenfelter, plus Two Lines’ own Production Editor Jessica Sevey. Read more here,

 And don’t miss this Thursday’s Two Voices Salon about the books of Elena Ferrante with translator Ann Goldstein and Editor Michael Reynolds.

Because There is No One Right Answer

Posted on March 17, 2015, 02:24:00 PM by Sarah Coolidge

The University of Pennsylvania Annual Ethnography in Education Research Forum is host to ethnographers, educators, and academics presenting the latest research and papers. But last month’s meeting saw Poetry Inside Out high school students in the spotlight as well.

Six bilingual students from Worcester, Massachusetts traveled to Philadelphia to share their findings about the program. After being part of Poetry Inside Out workshops over the past few years, the students were asked by a team of faculty from Clark University to conduct their own research on the program's impact on themselves and their classmates.

Through interviews, recordings of classroom discussions, and outside research, the student-researchers delved into the inner workings of Poetry Inside Out’s poetry and translation based literacy curriculum and discovered that they had a lot to say about the program.

“I learned a lot about myself,”
summed up Safa.

“In Poetry Inside Out, self-expression is encouraged. This leads to safe and open communication”
one slide boldly proclaimed. Individual students spoke about the importance of the supportive Poetry Inside Out classroom environment. Once they understood that their diversity was an asset, they made the translation process a collaborative investigation into language and meaning.

“Listening to others helped me clarify my own ideas,”
Elvis explained to the audience.

Safa felt similarly. “I learned how to be open and caring for people’s ideas, experiences, and understanding for things that I might never knew before,” she shared. “I learned to be patient and love myself so I can love and understand others.”

This led the students to another observation: through partnerships based on finding meaning and understanding each other, we practice a "special" listening.

The process was more fruitful, they found, when each student brought something unique to the conversation. In one spectacular moment, the students talked about the difference between “listening” and “hearing.” As Elvis described, “We looked at ‘listening’ and ‘hearing’ from all of our languages--Arabic, Spanish, French…” As the group expert in his or her own language, each student had to figure out how to describe the subtlety of the words’ meaning to each other, collaborating in order to come to consensus.

Because there is no one right answer in Poetry Inside Out, there can be discussions on deep issues like identity, love and religion.

Besides looking at individual words, students discuss the larger meaning of the poems they translate and work to understand what the poet was trying to communicate with certain lines. The poems’ themes push them to reflect on their own understanding of identity and the world around them.

As Elvis told the conference audience, “I learned that bilingual students have a lot to share about themselves.”

We wish them luck as their research continues and congratulate them on their work so far!

Feature: Albanian Poetry in Translation

Posted on March 9, 2015, 03:17:00 PM by Sarah Coolidge

With the Two Lines Launch Party fast approaching, we’re whetting our poetic appetite with some Albanian poetry. In the newest Two Lines issue–issue 22Wayne Miller and Anastas Kapurani reveal excerpts from their beautifully crafted translation of Albanian poet Moikom Zeqo’s Zodiak collection of poems.

Born in 1949, Zeqo lived the majority of his life under the oppressive regime of the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania. Until the dissolution of communism in the 1990s, many of his poems were banned because they challenged government ideology.

But Miller and Kapurani are not the only translators of Zeqo’s poetry. Their collaborative effort mirrors that of the many elementary and middle school students who have similarly taken on the momentous task of translation as part of the Poetry Inside Out program. Here is another of Zeqo’s poems–“Cili?”–followed by student translations into both English and Spanish:


Jam njeriu pyll,
njeriu zog,
njeriu det,
dhe njeriu peshk.

Cili i ngjajshëm si unë
do më qëllojë me shigjetë?

Cili—me thoni
më ka futur në rrjetë?


I am the human forest
human bird
human sea
and human fish.

Who like me is going to shoot me
with an arrow?

Who—tell me who—
trapped me in the net?

—Lakevionia, 5th grade PIO student


Yo soy una selva human,
Pájaro humano,
mar humano
y pez humano.

¿Quién, como yo
me va a tirar una flecha?

¿Quién, me diga,
me va a atrapar en la red?

—Estefanía, 5th grade PIO student

If you're in the Bay Area this Wednesday, March 11, stop by the Two Lines launch party at Viracocha in the Mission and get your copy of Two Lines 22 with admission, which includes Wayne Miller and Anastas Kapurani’s translation of Zodiak!

photo credit

Why Language Matters

Posted on March 4, 2015, 08:48:00 AM by Sarah Coolidge

When Poetry Inside Out instructor Brian Kirven asked his class of 6th graders at West Marin School why in the world they would even attempt to read and translate a poem from the Mayan language Tzotzil, a student responded, “so it doesn’t disappear.”

It’s true: languages are disappearing quickly, and, alongside them, culture: songs, stories, dances, rituals, and histories. As the Wall Street Journal estimated in its article published in January, the number of languages spoken on earth will likely drop from 6,000 to 600 in the next hundred years. That means losing an average of 54 languages every year!

Earlier this year, when the Center hosted the launch of documentary filmmaker David Grubin’s latest film Language Matters, organizations from around the Bay Area met at San Francisco’s Exploratorium in order to discuss the pervasive threat to endangered languages. Now streaming on, Grubin’s latest film examines how three languages in particular are struggling to survive, with varying degrees of success. The documentary’s host, poet Bob Holman, who was at the Exploratorium event, traveled to Aboriginal Australia, Hawaii, and Wales in an effort to demonstrate why language matters.

Among the speakers at the event was Vince Medina, who spoke passionately about a language rarely talked about but particularly relevant to all of us here in the Bay Area: Chochenyo. Chochenyo is the native language of the East Bay, one of many Ohlone languages that were suppressed through force as immigrants expanded westward into California. The language was thought to be lost until Medina revived it. His story is truly inspirational: he listened to audio recordings, talked to community members, and began using his ancestral language in his daily life, despite the fact that nobody spoke it fluently anymore. Thanks to him, the language is no longer considered extinct, and Medina teaches Chochenyo to children and other community members throughout the region.

Back at West Marin School, Kirven’s students are grappling with the unfamiliar words of “Bolom Chon.” Not only do Kirven’s students realize the potential cultural loss, they understand that they can play an active role in its revival.

Like Medina, the students bring movement and life to the words, chanting them, discussing them, and deciding on their meaning. One group of 6th graders translates the title as “Jaguar Jig,” while another decides on the title “Tiger Talk”. Earlier on in the process, the students acquainted themselves with not only the poem but Maya culture. Kirven tells me, “A community member of Tzeltal Maya descent lent us a couple of jaguar masks, and gave me a rundown of the ‘Bolom Chon’ dance.”

With these visual representations the students are able to contextualize the poem, recognizing the cultural importance of jaguars and the ritual of the dance. Through true engagement, they make personal connections to the poem. “One student felt a kinship with this chant,” Kirven remembers, “and chose a black jaguar for the subject of her own poem, associating its hide with the night and its yellow eyes with the sun.”

We know that language matters. So let’s do something about it.

An Editor in France

Posted on February 26, 2015, 04:59:00 PM by CJ Evans

Stuck in traffic in the cab from the train station to our new apartment in Aix-en-provence, France last May, my wife pointed out the window, laughing. Next to us, in a diminutive, early-nineties Renault was a young man shifting from first to second as the traffic picked up, his eyes never leaving the novel he was holding with the hand that rested on the steering wheel.

I’ve now been in Aix—a small but culturally rich city about a half hour north of Marseille—for nine months, and I’ve seen three reading drivers. One of them was even packing and lighting a pipe at the same time (the French are still quite committed to smoking).

As much as San Francisco is a "wired" city, where on the sidewalks, BART, and in cafés, screens dominate, Aix is a city of books, and representative of a larger reading culture that seems much more engaged and diverse than the U.S.’s. The cafés are full of readers (and not an e-reader in sight); bookstores not only have more work in translation, they usually have small sections of literature actually in other languages.

I went to the Frankfurt Book Fair for the first time this year, and had many (many) meetings with European publishers. The dominant feeling I got from them was that the U.S., while a valuable market purely for its size, is not nearly as important for their books as sales in other parts of Europe. Sample translations were made in German or French more often than in English. Europeans read American authors, much more than Americans read European authors, but I really think that’s a symptom of the Europeans just reading more.

America’s showing at Frankfurt is abysmal compared to the lavish and beautiful displays from countries from all over the world. Some of that is because we don’t have a centralized governmental organization that is putting money and effort into disseminating our books, but some of it, I think, is just malaise.

In our small community of translators, publishers, and readers of international literature, we complain about how little translated literature is getting into the United States. It’s interesting to see, though, the relative indifference our government and larger publishing houses have in exporting American work abroad—there seems to be an assumption that American cultural dominance will continue. That “exceptionalism” is seen to the world, more and more I fear, as provincialism.

I’m not advocating that we read while we drive, certainly. But I wonder whether, if we continue to ignore the importance of this huge conversation about literature throughout the world that we’re not really a part of, we’re going to realize, perhaps too late, we are not on the inside letting those we want in, but actually on the outside without an invitation.

Notes From a Poetry Inside Out Classroom Part 2

Posted on February 24, 2015, 03:57:00 PM by Erin Branagan

Last week’s post mentioned a poem by Nicaraguan poet Daisy Zamora that Poetry Inside Out students were translating. We wanted to share the original poem and a student translation to give you a sense of the poems that Poetry Inside Out students study, debate, and translate every day.

Our students are incredibly diverse: more than half are immigrants themselves, and many speak a language other than English at home. The poems they study come from more than 20 languages and countries, intentionally chosen to reflect their own cultural heritage and experience.

Zamora is a Nicaraguan poet who grew up under the Somoza dictatorship and was a participant in the Nicaraguan Revolution during the1970s. Because of her activism she was exiled, but continued to fight for the cause from abroad. After the revolution she became Nicaragua’s Deputy Minister of Culture. Zamora's poetry focuses on the human rights of women, children and the poor.

La inmigrante

Se despierta extrañada
desconociendo el cuarto.

¿Adónde se fue el padre,
dónde la madre
que hace un momento apenas
la acompañaban?

Se levanta y suspira.

Este cuarto extranjero
y la luz indiferente
de una mañana cualquiera
que la hiere.

Desde la calle
los ruidos de la vida entran.
Y el suelo queda estrujado
como un pañuelo.

The translation by 5th grade Poetry Inside Out students:

The Immigrant

She wakes up banished
in an unfamiliar room.

Where did her father go,
where is her mother?
Barely a moment ago they were

She stands up and exhales.

This foreign room
and indifferent light
of an ordinary morning
wound her.

From the street
the noises of life enter.
And the floor stays all wrung out
like a handkerchief.

Notes From a Poetry Inside Out Classroom

Posted on February 19, 2015, 08:43:00 PM by Poetry Inside Out teaching artist Tai Rockett

Poetry Inside Out is taught by teaching artists who lead lessons during the school day, and by classroom teachers who integrate the program into daily language arts instruction. We recently asked current Poetry Inside Out instructors to share some of their most memorable classroom moments. Instructor Tai Rockett is a poet who has taught Spanish and media and performance arts in Oakland schools and has worked with youth in communities in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. She says “my deep love of storytelling and my own empowerment has encouraged me to teach poetry and literary arts to youth.”

Group work is what I love most about bringing Poetry Inside Out into the classroom. When I go into a class, I have a general idea of what I want to happen. Group work brings that plan alive. But I could not plan the authentic connections students make with each other about the works they translate.

The truth is, group work is messy. Sometimes I see students cringe when I first tell them to get into groups. It takes a lot of planning and training, but the end result always outdoes what I had in mind.

One student in my fall classroom in Oakland’s Emerson Elementary School shared her family's immigration story with her group after translating the poem “Inmigrante” by Daisy Zamora. She told me the next session that so many students came up to her with follow up questions. She exclaimed, "I didn't even think that story was so important! My parents are always so happy, I never knew how hard it was for them. When I told them what Daisy Zamora wrote, they told me about other experiences immigrants have."

That lesson sparked a deeper interest in translating poetry. And I could tell that the students were beginning to really listen to each other. I could see this by walking around and sitting in on some of their conversations. When students shared with the entire class, they now shared what their group members said in addition to their own thoughts.

As the sessions went on, we decided to focus on individual skills they had to offer their groups. The mood around group work shifted drastically when the students decided to present a showcase of their work for the closing of the Poetry Inside Out session. Students chose their own groups for the event and decided on leadership roles based on their skills. They took pride in their roles. One student was chosen as the head choreographer because he was really good at coming up with moves. In the final showcase he was placed at the center. The group decided on this together, explaining that he was the smallest and the best.

Through group work I witnessed students see their own voices and the voices of their peers as integral to learning and experiencing the joys of poetry translation. When we first started, many students pleaded to work by themselves. Towards the middle of our unit students couldn't wait to take the poem to another student. My favorite thing to hear a student ask another student is what do you think?

The most inspiring part was that even though we messed up (a lot) along the way, students were able to see the progression. We would have a not-so-good class one session and I would come back the next session cheering them on. I would say, "We have another chance to try our best." They were able to see how we were getting better. I learned so much: that students want the chance to try out new ways of learning, and they want to feel safe enough to not get it right the first few times. Most importantly, they need to hear how they are getting better, even if they still have a ways to go.