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

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.

Celebrating with Stanzas: Poetry Inside Out Student Showcase

Posted on February 3, 2015, 01:43:00 PM by Sarah Coolidge

When justice is served
freedom and fairness blossom
Justice is water
–Emerson Elementary 5th Graders


On Wednesday, January 28th, 3rd and 4th grade students from Emerson Elementary School in North Oakland took the stage to showcase their poems and translations in front of an audience of teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians, and fellow students. The event marked the end of the fall Poetry Inside Out program at Emerson. Poetry Inside Out instructor Tai Rockett served as the master of ceremonies.

In their classes this fall students read and translated poems by haiku masters Matsuo Basho and Mizuta Masahide. One group of 3rd graders eagerly took the stage to act out Basho’s 17-syllable poem about a frog hopping into a pond. Another group recited a Masahide poem in its original Japanese with accompanying stomps and gestures. Tai Rockett said that the students were drawn to the biography of Masahide, who was a samurai as well as a poet. They decided to incorporate samurai techniques into their choreography of his poem in order to capture the poet’s culture and identity (check out the video to see their samurai moves).

Over the course of the presentation students came up to share “Who Am I?” haikus, giving out clues to a flurry of eager hands as their classmates tried to guess the names of the animals that were described. Instead of merely adhering to the haiku’s strict syllable count, several students added similes and metaphors to their poems, playing with language like the great poets they had read and translated.

“After our lesson I continued to use metaphors and similes with the class and have them point out when I did,” Tai told me. “I’d be shooting hoops with the kids during recess, and I’d say ‘Wow, you are quick like a cheetah on the court’ and things like that. Students would chime in, ‘Simile, simile!'"

"If you want the students to feel comfortable using metaphors and similes the lesson has to continue outside the classroom.”

Although some of the students performed alone, most of the presentations were collaborative, reflecting Poetry Inside Out’s emphasis on group work.

Many of the students said they connected personally to the stories they uncovered through translation, including that of Daisy Zamora, the Nicaraguan poet who was exiled from her country before immigrating to San Francisco.

“She looks like me,” one fifth-grader proudly told me, her classmates nodding along.

With these stories in mind, and in conjunction with their unit on Martin Luther King Jr. this month, the students wrote longer poems and, of course, haikus (their favorites!) on justice, freedom, and peace. “Justice is water,” as they put it.

Students received copies of the Poetry Inside Out creative writing workbook at the showcase.

On Turning 21

Posted on January 20, 2015, 03:37:00 PM by Olivia Sears, Center Founder and President

The debut of Two Lines 21 this last fall marked our 21st issue as well as the beginning of our 21st year. The idea that reaching the age of 21 marks the entry into adulthood harkens back to English common law when a man could enter the knighthood — and of course this milestone was only relevant to men, and men of a certain class.

But 21 has been very good to women at Two Lines. In addition to the numerous impressive women translators in our pages (as always!), I'll draw attention to two fascinating women writers we feature in Two Lines 21.  Chika Sagawa, the pen name of Aiko Kawasaki, was born in 1911 in Hokkaido, Japan. One of Japan's first female Modernist poets — as well as a prolific translator of Joyce and Woolf during her brief lifetime — her strange and vivid poems were posthumously collected in 1936, but only now brought to English by Sawako Nakayasu. Unlike Sagawa, the award-winning dystopic writer Hon Lai Chu has lived to see her work published widely; the award-winning Hong Kong writer has twice had her novels counted among the 10 best Chinese novels. Here translator Andrea Lingenfelter brings to English “Lin Mu yizi” (“Forrest Woods, Chair”), the story of a man who aspires to be the perfect chair. It is a strange world we live in.

2014 was a great year for books by women at Two Lines Press, too, where we had the opportunity to publish the astounding Naja Marie Aidt, whose stories in Baboon evoke the dark forces lurking in our everyday existence — and Marie NDiaye, whose Self-Portrait in Green proves her mastery of the slippery and unreliable nature of reality. (read excerpts of Baboon and Self-Portrait in Green here)

But there is only so much one can do to rectify the mistakes and crimes of history; most of the poetry anthologies published in Italy, for instance, include no more than 10% women. At the 2014 American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) conference, a prominent editor of poetry from Latin America told me that he struggled to find enough poetry by women from certain nations to balance his anthology.

Then again, this week we learned that Lydia Davis (whose translations will be featured again in Two Lines 22 this March) has been named Officer and Chevalier of the French Order of Arts and Letters for her writing and translation. (That's right: she's been granted knighthood.)

All of this is to say: we strive to honor the vision of women writers of the past. And to you women writers and translators of the present: keep it up! We need you.

3 Ways to Give Back This #Giving Tuesday

Posted on December 2, 2014, 09:22:00 AM by Erin Branagan







In case you missed it after Black Friday and Cyber Monday, today is Giving Tuesday. Created just three years ago as a way to counteract the growing commercialism of the holidays, it’s a great way to give back to the more than 10,000 non-profits (like us!) that are working to solve problems and enrich our lives.

Please join us—-here are 3 ways to give back:

1. Give Time
Many non-profits are understaffed and need volunteers to deliver vital services. But many others (like ours) are always looking for board members and can benefit from business or technical expertise in the legal, financial, or organizational development areas. Contact us for more information about getting involved.

2. Give Money
Non-profits depend on the many supporters who provide the resources for us to do our work. Any donation you make is an investment that pays huge dividends—instead of just a financial return, you’ll know that you’ve played a part in making a better future. For us, that means building a vibrant literary center that will connect local and international audiences for literature in translation. And bringing poetry and translation to younger generations. Your gift today gets us closer to that goal.

3. Share Your Story or an Unselfie!
Why do YOU support the Center, or your other favorite non-profits?

Maybe you share our conviction that great literature changes lives.

Maybe you’re passionate about the transformative potential of arts education.

Or you’re a fan of literary events with international writers and translators.

Whatever your cause or your reason, tell us! You can post your comments on our Facebook page or Twitter (@CAtranslation), and share an “unselfie”—a photo with your favorite book in translation or a message about why you support the Center.

Happy Giving Tuesday!