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Christine Pagnoulle (University of Liege)

Mainstreaming minority cultures: Translating poems for the 'EmLit Project'

Initiated by Paula Burnett (Brunel University) and sponsored by the European Commission, the 'EmLit Project' offers literary texts, mainly poems, originally written in nineteen 'minority' languages spoken in parts of six West European countries, next to their translations into six mainstream languages. Though the EC had made money available, there was not enough to find competent translators who were also fluent in each of the minority languages we had selected. So I found myself translating from languages I have only a very flimsy notion of or not the slightest notion of. The intermediary texts in English or Spanish had either been written or revised by the poets themselves, which was partly reassuring. Yet in the case of languages I had access to, such as Walloon, I noticed the amazing lack of confidence poets had in the sheer possibility of their poems finding a satisfying equivalent in another language. This raises the recurring question of (un)translatability, or, less ambitiously, of what a translator can do with poems. I will comment on how I worked with two of the Belgian authors and explained how I proceeded with languages such as Welsh, Urdu or Gun. Whatever our misgivings concerning relay translations, our reluctance to bring the cultural diversity displayed by those many living languages into the mould of 'majority languages', our regret at all that had been left out, the EmLit project was worth our concerted efforts in that it gives readers (and listeners) the possibility to get some notion of texts that are otherwise too often ignored.

Christine Pagnoulle teaches English literatures and translation at the University of Liege. She has published scholarly articles and monographs on Caribbean, African and British authors, and edited books on translation issues. She has published translations of poems in anthologies and magazines since 1984; her latest translations (done in collaboration with her mother) are Words Unbound (Amay, L'Arbre à Paroles, 2005) and Walking on Water, a collection by Michael Curtis, to be published by Edition des Vanneaux. She translated or revised most French versions in the EmLit anthology (Brunel University Press, 2003). Convinced as she is that everything we do is inevitably political, she is passionately involved in the development, here and now, of an alternative way of living together that would promote a fairer share of (or free access to) resources and be mindful of our earth's future.

Vasilis Papageorgiou (Vaxjo University)

Translation as an act of affirmation

Translation could be an act of affirmation in relation to a broader and equally affirmative philosophical and ethical approach of literature and the world. How this affirmation can be explained and the way it can be applied while rendering a text into a different language will be the subject of my paper. My starting point is that the practice of translation has a lot to gain from having a theoretical frame to sustain it, and moreover a frame that is a result of a critical as well as creative broadening of a certain contemporary thinking, and of the idea of the contemporary itself. I will also discuss why this affirmative approach, and always in relation to a specific tragic awareness, is necessary in our times both for the literary work itself and the world it is written or translated for. My discussion here will be generated mainly by my work with the poetry of Sappho, C. P. Cavafy, Tomas Transtromer and John Ashbery.

Vasilis Papageorgiou was born 1955 in Thessaloniki. Since 1975 he lives in Sweden. He has written plays that have been produced and published both in Greece and Sweden, three collections of poetry in Swedish (in collaboration with the painter Lo Snofall), a novel in Greek and many academic texts. He has also translated into Greek books by Willy Kyrklund, Eva Runefelt, Magnus William-Olsson, Tomas Transtromer (Collected Poems) and John Ashbery. Into Swedish he has translated (together with different Swedish friends) Sappho (all the remaining poems and fragments), Konstantinos Kavafis, Odysseus Elytis, John Ashbery (six volumes), Kenneth Koch and Thanasis Valtinos. He is currently Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Creative Writing at Vaxjo University.

Edel Porter (Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, Ciudad Real, Spain)

Translating the Untranslatable: Strategies for Translating Skaldic Poetry into Spanish

The translation of medieval Icelandic literature into Spanish is a relatively recently phenomenon. Until the 1980s, none of the sagas had been translated into Spanish, and the only literature available on the subject was a handful of publications by Jorge Luis Borges. However, from the early 1980s on the number of translations, especially those of the Icelandic family sagas, grew steadily, and consequently the poetry embedded in these prose narratives was also translated. These eight-line (skaldic) stanzas are generally composed in the highly stylised drottkaett metre, which required strict adherence to rules of alliteration, syllable-counting, stress and internal rhyme. Another defining characteristic of skaldic poetry is its prolific use of kennings (a type of poetic circumlocution), poetic appellations and mythological references. The complexity and subtlety of this poetry make it notoriously difficult to render into other languages, leading to claims that this genre is 'untranslatable'. While this is patently untrue, any attempt to maintain the form of skaldic poetry, communicate the content, and, at the same time, convey its metonymic implications in translation inevitably results in lacunae between source text and translated text which are more marked than those which occur when rendering prose. In this paper I aim to show how an examination of these liminal spaces can discover both the strategies employed by one Spanish translator and the extraneous (cultural, economic, ideological) factors, which may have influenced the production of the translation.

Edel Porter currently teaches at the University of Castilla-La Mancha, Spain. She recently completed her PhD thesis 'Translating the Untranslatable: A Comparative Study of two Modern Language Translations of the Verses of Egils saga Skalla-Grimssonar' at the University of Leeds. She has previously taught at University College Dublin and the University of Leeds mostly within the field of medieval literature. Her research interests include: Old Icelandic literature and Viking Studies, Skaldic poetry, Old English poetry and Translation Studies.

Susan Porterfield (Rockford College)

Who's Zooming Whom: Lucien Stryk's Translations of Zen Poetry

Lucien Stryk, the editor and translator of many books of Zen poetry, including The Penguin Book of Zen Poetry as well as The Crane's Bill: Zen Poems of China and Japan (Doubleday), says that his early interest in Zen Buddhism prompted his desire to explore the poetry of Buddhist poets. His resulting translations of their work, then, are motivated by a profound, religious-like conviction. Consider the process. He didn’t begin to translate Zen poetry, because he was already trained in the language or due to scholarly interest. He studied the language in order to be able to read and translate the poetry, because he sensed that it could be important to him personally. His translations manifest his spiritual journey. Given that for those who practice Zen, their artistic production indicates their spiritual state, as Stryk has written, his work in translating Zen texts greatly affected how and even why he wrote his own poetry. He realized that as he tried to understand and to follow Zen principles, his own poetry would be affected. The relationship, in other words, between Stryk and the poetry that he was translating was neither one-sided nor objective. One could even argue that he gained as much if not more from the collaboration. Stryk has himself claimed that he would not be the poet he became, author of numerous collections of poetry, including two comprehensive collections of his work, if he had not translated Zen Buddhist poetry. For him, then, his role as translator of Zen Buddhist poetry was not casual but necessary. This claim I will support by presenting a study of Stryk's poetry positioned against the backdrop of his writings about the meaning of translation to him as well as on his translations of Zen Buddhist poets, including, most notably, the twentieth-century poet Shinkichi Takahashi.

Susan Azar Porterfield is the editor of Zen, Poetry, the Art of Lucien Stryk, and the author of articles about Stryk's poetry that have appeared in the Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association and Poets & Writers. She wrote the "Afterward" for a collection of Stryk's work, Where We Are: Selected Poems and Translations. She has a book of original poetry, entitled In the Garden of Our Spines and another book of poems, "Beirut Redux" is forthcoming later this year.