Guest Post: Translation and Avant-garde: Beyond National Literatures

By Clive Scott

For me, the notion of avant-garde in relation to literary translation means three things. First, it means that a translation must always be ahead of its original, not merely in the sense of updating it, but in the sense of projecting it deep into possible futures, imagining its formal and expressive potentialities. Second, in order to make that projection, translation must draw on all those graphic, typographic, dispositional, multi-medial innovations that avant-gardes have made available as expressive resources over the last century and more, and which ‘standard’ literature tends to eschew. Third, and consequently, translation must seek to be avant-garde in relation to national literatures. In other words, translation must not be afraid to create a literature of its own, a literature which challenges national literatures to look outwards, beyond their own linguistic frontiers, and to adopt those universal languages already referred to, I mean the languages of image, of lay-out, of typeface and font, of graphism, of acoustics. By way of indicating what I mean, I attach two translations, one a modern musical account of Goethe’s ‘Über allen Gipfeln’ (written 1780) (Fig. 1) and the other a photo-poem, that is, a photographic transcription of lines 71-76 of Apollinaire’s ‘Zone’ (1913) [Now you’re walking in Paris among the milling crowds/Herds of lowing omnibus drive by close to you/Love’s pains contract around your throat/As if you were bound never to be loved again/If these were days gone by you’d join the brotherhood of monks/Shame takes a grip when you catch yourself in prayer] (Fig. 2). This photo-poem is designed not only to suggest the content of the lines, but also their original French rhythms.

(To view the translations click here)

© (Clive Scott) 2014

Guest post: Russian Futurist Velimir Khlebnikov – the First Chairmain of the World – and a translation challenge for you!

Are futurist poets notoriously untranslatable?

Russian translator Veronika Bowker has shared with us the translations of two poems by futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov, which you can read in the Translations & other writing page.

This is the way she introduces Khlebnikov:

“In their early pamphlet ‘Slap in the Face of Public Opinion’ Russian futurists called themselves chairmen of the world. They unanimously considered Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov (1885-1922) to be the first among them. This was a person who not only created art of and for the future but lived the life of a futurist. Khlebnikov came to literature through natural sciences and painting. Throughout his short life he was formulating universal laws of history which would demonstrate the futility of all wars. Osip Mandelstam called him a ‘citizen of all history’ (‘гражданин всей истории’).  He was also creating a language which would transcend surface meanings and enable all people on the planet to understand each other. He called it ‘заумь’ [zaum’ – za/beyond + um/ intelligence] – a supraconscious language.

In view of the above Khlebnikov is notoriously difficult to translate and often is considered untranslatable. Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English (2000) edited by Olive Classe doesn’t even mention his name (though it doesn’t mention Mayakovsky either). Probably the best Khlebnikov in English can be found in R. Chandler’s translation in his forthcoming Anthology of Russian Poetry for Penguin.

Comparison with more well known futurist Vladimir Mayakovsky may give the translator an idea of the formal features of Khlebnikov’s writing. Initially Khlebnikov learnt a lot from Mayakovsky’s verse form, later Mayakovsky was influenced by the way Khlebnikov appropriated it. His language of ‘zaum’ developed into a complex and diverse phenomemnon rooted, on the one hand, in linguistic and literary sense (combination of folklore and neologisms), and in historical and ideological perception of the world (reconstructing future), on the other. Whilst Mayakovsky dealing with epic themes remains a deeply lyrical poet, Khlebnikov is epic even in a very short poem. Zaum is always a constituent part of any of his texts, it defines the context of a poem and places it in the universal context of  the whole human reading experience.”

Veronika Bowker


A translation challenge for you, our reader!

Back to our initial question ‘are futurist poets notoriously untranslatable?’ We invite you to take up the challenge to translate the following poem by Khlebnikov. You don’t need to know Russian to do it. Veronika Bowker has provided a word-for-word translation and a transliteration. We encourage you to be as creative as possible and defy the untranslatability belief. Finally, we would be delighted to receive your translations and post them on our blog. Please email your translation(s) as attachments to 


Khlebnikov, 1913

О достоевскиймо бегущей тучи!

О пушкиноты млеющего полдня!

Ночь смотрится, как Тютчев,

Замерное безмерным полня.


Word-for-word translation

Oh, dostoyevskijmo (Dostoyevsky + pismo/writing) of running cloud!

Oh, pushkinoty (Pushkin + krasoty/beauty) of melting midday!

Night looks (at itself) like Tyutchev*,

Filling immeasurable (beyond measure) with immense (unmeasured).

© (Veronika Bowker) 2014

Transliteration  (stressed vowels are unerlined)

O dostoyevskijmo begushej tuchi!

O pushkinoty mleyushevo poldnya!

Noch smotritsa kak Tyutchiv*,

Zamernoje bezmernym polnya.


*(Fyodor Tyutchev (Федор Тютчев) (1803-1873) – Russian poet, worked as a diplomat in Germany and Italy.

Veronika Bowker says more about this poem:

“The first two lines demonstrate Khlebnikov’s typical method of creating neologisms which he explained through the method of pointilist painting when ‘two pure colours applied next to each other from the distance create a shimmering sense of a third one’.

This is a portrait of Russian literature represented by the names of its most important figures against the landscape of a fleeting change of early morning, midday and twilight/ night in the space of one day. Literary figures and parts of the day give meanig and light to each other: Dostoevsky with his ‘White Nights’, Pushkin – ‘the Sun of Russian poetry’, Tyutchev and his theme of twilight of life…

The last line places this portrait/landscape within the context of immense art enriching  the eternal universe.

This an early poem.  Russian futurism strongly denied symbolism but at its early stage in many aspects continued its legacy. Tyutchev and Verlaine were two sacred names for Russian symbolists.

It is intersting to see the parallels between Khlebnikov’s poem and an extract from Verlaine’s ‘Art poétique’:

C’est des beaux yeux derrière des voiles,
C’est le grand jour tremblant de midi,
C’est par un ciel d’automne attiédi,
Le bleu fouillis des claires étoiles!

My English version above is just an explication of the inner workings of the original. I would be interested and grateful if anybody would like to take it as a challenge and offer their own reading and possible version/s in English”.

Guest Post: Between Opacity and Transparency: Surrealism in Translation

By Elise Aru

What is Surrealism? These key words that spring to my mind are: the unconscious, dreams, free associations, collage, marvellous, psychoanalysis, the exquisite corpse game and André Breton. For the past few years, I have mainly been working on the translation of Surrealist poetry including poems by André Breton, Paul Eluard, Salvador Dalí, and Joyce Mansour.

What I particularly enjoy when working with Surrealism is the variety of practices involved in their production, some of which display the most extraordinary associations of verbal and non verbal elements. I am interested in ludic practices, games played to initiate Surrealist writing, the practice of collage derived from automatism and free association, and their numerous displacements of phrases, objects and works of art, all of which have encouraged me to adopt an experimental approach to translating Surrealist works.

To illustrate my approach to translating Surrealism, I decided to present here my translation of one of André Breton’s dreams, ‘Rêve II’.[i]

Surrealist poets, many of whom studied medicine, often under parental pressure, were influenced by the emerging field of psychoanalysis, particularly by Sigmund Freud’s theories and publications including Pierre Janet’s L’automatisme psychologique (1889). At the time, Freud was not yet translated into French which means that many Surrealists discovered his work through references in the work of others, for instance in the summary of his theories put together by Dr Régis in his Précis de psychiatrie.

Psychoanalysis was a rich resource for the Surrealist poets and artists who wanted to be free from reason and have access to the unconscious. The definition that they gave to Surrealism states:

SURREALISME, n. m. Automatisme psychique pur par lequel on se propose d’exprimer, soit verbalement, soit par écrit, soit de toute autre manière, le fonctionnement réel de la pensée. Dictée de la pensée, en l’absence de tout contrôle exercé par la raison, en dehors de toute préoccupation esthétique ou morale.

[SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express – verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner – the actual functioning of thought. Dictated thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.] [ii]

This definition was initially published in the Manifeste du Surréalisme in 1924 and outlined the group’s activities and practices. In an interview with Judith Jasmin on 27th February 1961, André Breton explained that the definition of Surrealism had not changed since the day it was first formulated.[iii]

Derived from psychoanalysis and its use of dream material, dreams for Breton are key poetic resources – an idea which he explores, argues and demonstrates in Les Vases communicants. Dreams infuse the Surrealist poetic language through marvellous and unexpected word association. Breton acknowledges Freud’s influence, but explains how his approach is different by suggesting that dreams act as a bridge between the unconscious and reality as the Surrealists see it. The ‘surreality’ results from the interpenetration of dreams and the ordinary reality. [iv]

Below is a GIF file presenting my translation, which is made up of a rectangular vase measuring 19,5cmx14,5cmx9,5cm inside of which there is a rolled up 16mx10cm pharmaceuticals cotton crepe bandage. On the vase, a white sticker reads ‘Rêve II/Dream II’, André Breton. What I propose here is not only an interlingual translation but also an intersemiotic translation: I provide a new medium for the poem.

Rêve II GIF - Elise Aru

The text is entirely translated from French into English and is written with a blue felt pen on the cotton crepe bandage. I was not able to write but rather I had to stain the text onto the bandage. These stains in the shape of letters and words will be the remaining traces of the experience that dreaming is. Recounting a dream consists of rendering not exactly the dream but the memory of the dream that remains with the dreamer in the morning.

Readers must put their hand in the vase to seize the rolled up bandage. While they gradually unfold the strip of bandage, the narrative of the dream unravels and reveals itself. After having translated the text, the setting of the glass vase and the bandage cloth quickly sprung to my mind and I drew it in the notebook I use for my translations. I only made sense of these materials when I started reflecting on dreams and their fascinating multiple layers of meaning.

The glass refers to the first layer of a dream’s meaning, which is accessible to all. With this dream, the narrative is easy to follow: André Breton is sitting on the Parisian metro where a woman addresses him with this unexpected phrase, “vegetative life”. He decides to follow her and at the top of stairs finds himself in a meadow, with another troubling character. A football player talks to the woman who then disappears. The football game starts again, Breton tries to catch the ball but he is not very successful.

The rolled up bandage refers to the subsequent layers which nobody will ever be able to fully grasp. Indeed, first of all there is no context and no footnote. It is the account of an experience a posteriori: a moment during which Breton most certainly organised his dream, and this is clearly visible in his abundant use of punctuation for instance. In the section of ‘Notes et variantes’, Marguerite Bonnet reflects on the possibility of analysing the dreams published in Clair de Terre and reminds us of Freud’s reply when Breton asked him to contribute to Trajectoire du rêve (1938). On the 8th December 1937: “Un recueil de rêves sans associations jointes, sans connaissance des circonstances dans laquelle on a rêvé, ne me dit rien, et je peux avec peine me représenter ce qu’il peut dire à d’autres.” [A collection of dreams, without the connected free association, without knowledge of the circumstances under which one had these dreams, does not mean anything to me, and I can barely imagine what they can mean to others].[vi] Thus, several dimensions of meaning remain obscure.

While for some literary texts, analysis and interpretation are crucial elements in the understanding and transcribing processes of the translator’s work, with this text, I was more interested in reflecting on the text type, dream, which is also its title. The collocations with the word ‘dream’ vary from language to language: you say “to have a dream” in English, “faire un rêve” [to make a dream] in French, and [to see a dream] in the Japanese phrase “Yume wo miru” (Romanji) 夢を見る”. These various verbs used in conjunction with the term ‘dream’ attest to the difficulty of verbalising the manifestation of the dream, as well as to the cultural differences in expressing this experience. Do we have a dream, make it or see it? The readers of Breton’s dream do not have, make, or see this dream, but they receive it.

In my translation, before the readers start reading the dream, the rolled up bandage is very manageable, it can be held in one’s hand. As the reader unfolds the cloth and reads the dream, the dream takes more and more space; it is a 16 meter long strip of cloth. After finishing reading, the reader does not know what to do either with the cloth or with the dream. The dream remains a poetic moment, an excursion into someone else’s world without being able to remain there. Indeed, this dream in the source text is inserted in a short section with four others before a poetry collection. The dream stops at the end of the bandage and the readers are sent back to their own dreams and ‘surreality’.

© (Elise Aru) 2013

[i] André Breton, ‘Rêve II’, in the section ‘Cinq rêves’, Clair de terre, in Œuvres complètes, edited by Marguerite Bonnet, volume I, (Paris : Gallimard La Pléiade, 1988), p.150

[ii] André Breton, Manifeste du surréalisme in Œuvres complètes, volume I, p. 328

The translation is from: André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism trans. by Richard Seaver and Helen R Lane (Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 1972), p.26

[iii] ‘André Breton, pionnier du surréalisme’, interview with Judith Jasmin, 27/02/1961, can be found on YouTube:

[iv] Breton’s approach is also anchored on Marxist theories on social protest which I will not describe here. André Breton, Les Vases communicants, in Œuvres complètes, vol. II pp. 101-215.

[vi] André Breton, Œuvres Complètes, volume I, p. 1192. The following extract from Freud’s letter is published in ‘Notes et Variantes’ of Trajectoire du rêve. The French translation is by Etienne Alain-Hubert, the English translation is mine.

Elise has been translating for several years. She completed an MA in Applied Translation Studies at the University of East Anglia in 2007. She then started her Ph.D. at University College London, focusing on the creative and ludic translation of Surrealist poetry, which she completed in 2012. In 2010, she published an article in Opticon1826 on a ludic approach to translation titled ‘When translating becomes a ludic activity’. In November 2013, her article ‘The Ludic in Surrealism and in Translation’ was published in Essays in French Literature and Culture. Elise also co-published, with Delphine Grass, several translations of Delphine’s poems in A Verse (autumn 2010, spring 2012). She is currently working on the publication of a monograph which will present several of her translations.


LES TOURNEURS DE LANGAGES – a translation project from Quebec

We would like to publicise a new intriguing translation project launched by a Quebecois artist, exploring the construction of meaning traversing more than one language. Josiane Roberge is inviting translators to embark on this translational journey. Here is her invitation.

trans proj


Dear translators,
I am a Quebec artist currently on a creation residency at the artist center LA CHAMBRE BLANCHE. I am working on a project revolving mainly around the notions of interpretation and translation. I am asking the following questions: will a message formulated in a specific language, keep it’s meaning after being translated in many other languages? And if the message is transformedthrough out the many interpretations, what exactly is the nature of these?

In recent months, I have developed a website as an artistic proposal around these questions. My wish is to create a space allowing for short texts from Quebec (short-stories, parts of novels etc.)to get in contact with different languages so their poetry is in constant change over thetranslations. My proposal is for each of these texts to be translated between five to fifteen times (e.g.: French to German, German to Czech, Czech to Russian, Russian to Mandarin, etc.) by several professional translators and finally translated back into their original language; French. This project is a way to discover what emerges from the transformation of these sentences passing through us and traveling throughout our different cultures and our individuality.

Obviously, the project is based on the collaboration of enthusiastic literary translators willing toparticipate in this experience! I therefore appeal to your beautiful community to breath life intothis idea by bringing together motivated people. You are invited to communicate your interestat: (the sooner the better. It will allow me to start mapping linguistic itineraries). Please, do not hesitate to communicate with me if you have questions!

I seek to create or reveal privileged experiences between individuals, through a humanist and artistic approach. I would be honoured to have you collaborate in this project.

Josiane Roberge


We are pleased to announce our next theme on translation and the art of text making. For the next few months the Creative Literary Studio is going to explore the translation of  the avant-garde.


What does it mean to engage with and translate such literature? Which are the voices in fiction, poetry, theatre or other genres and artistic practices, emerging from these movements? How are, and how can, these voices be translated, re-made, textured, re-experimentedFurther, we are very interested in publishing projects which apply avant-garde practice to contemporary translations.

The Studio  strongly invites anybody to join this experimental, journey. If you translate and/or interested in the literary and artistic avant-garde movements in past and current times, do share with us your ideas and what it means to translate these special, innovative texts.

Indeed, to explore new perspectives in translating this kind of texts, we invite you to try out a creative approach. You can post your own experimental translations of avant-garde texts, to be publisged on this blog to These could be a poem or an extract from a play or a novel, as well as creative non-fiction, art manifestos or  an artwork exploring different verbal and non-verbal channels.

Finally, if you would like to share a theme-related published text in translation, you can send your review to This will appear in our ‘Book Reviews’ page.

Notes on the art of text making

by Manuela Perteghella

Literary translation is here understood to be a highly creative and artistic practice, through which texts are read and imagined, created and made. With the following notes, I want to zoom in on the process of translation as ‘text making’, exploring what it means to translate creatively, and ultimately offering new ways of understanding the unique, multivocal and privileged relationship between translating and translated writer, between the translator-writer-maker and the text.


Note number 1. Translation as a literary genre

Translation is a literary practice, which makes texts.  And translators, in the words of writer Michèle Roberts, are ‘truly writers, truly makers’ (Roberts 2001, p. xv). The poet Pierre Joris also sees the act of translation as a literary writing act per se ‘Questioning the possibility of translation means to question the very possibility of literature, of writing, of language, which is always already a translation, i.e. is both an act of translation and the result of such act’ (Joris 1995, p. 34 quoted in Loffredo and Perteghella 2008, p. 67).

I want to argue further that literary translation is not literary just because it engages with and makes literary texts, but rather as translator and academic Clive Scott has clearly put it, ‘it encourages us to explore and initiate new forms, to create new spaces’ (2000, p. xi). Scott indeed presents a refreshing view, that of not limiting the idea of literariness only to the source and target texts – to translate a literary source text by making a literary target text – but to extend this literariness to the process of translation itself, calling translation ‘a literary language’ (Scott 2000, p. xi).

The act of translation therefore would necessarily develop new literary spaces, or ‘textual landscapes’, use available resources, but also experiment with new forms. Therefore  the idea of translation itself as a ‘literary genre’ slowly emerges promoting the notion of translated literature as a new literary and artistic composition.

Note number 2. Translation is personal

The choice of what text to translate, even whether to accept a commission or not, is mostly, I would like to argue, a personal one, which supersedes even financial reasons.  We may have an affinity at a certain point in our life with a particular writer. Some of you will be familiar with the Earl of Roscommon, who back in the seventeenth century, put it like this: ‘Seek a Poet who your way do’s bend, And chuse an Author as you chuse a Friend’ (The Earl of Roscommon 1685).  There can be for example, a connection with the literary ecology that the foreign language writer has developed, which in turn may find echoes in the writer-translator’s own work, his or her own narratives and themes. Further, the translator, by translating certain texts, becomes intimate not only with that particular text but with the writer’s own poetics. Susan Bassnett even talks of ‘falling in love’ and ‘falling out of love’ with a specific writer and their work (Bassnett 2006, p. 177) at distinct times in a translator’s life.  She gives the example of her translations of Pirandello when she was in her twenties, and whose intellectualising appealed to her at that stage of her life. Then she fell out of love with him. More recently, another bond developed, that with Argentinean poet Alejandra Pizarnik. ‘I discovered another writer, a very different writer, whose moods chimed with my own in some inexplicable way’ (Bassnett 2006, p. 178). As intimate readers of texts we interpret them and find affinities, reflected perhaps in our own life experiences. These particular texts generate certain emotions which spur us to translate them, but also to translate these in a particular way, to live intimately with them, to inhabit them for a while. It’s really a love affair.

Note number 3. Translation as dialogue

Translation is the visible engagement with the source text, its words, its stylistic devices, punctuation, in other word with its material language, but also the immaterial emotions, imagery, nuances, that the use of this materiality create. Scott observes that this engagement ‘offers the translator the opportunity to write his response to a text, to embody an experience of reading’ (Scott 2000, p. xi).  I have discussed elsewhere (Perteghella 2013) how the ability to respond to a text, and to write this response, even from a different, alternative and experimental perspective, provides a further development in the relationship between translator and text, translator and creative writer, that of entering into a ‘dialogue’: this dialogue can be full of tension, the voice of the source text writer interacting with that of the target text writer (Loffredo and Perteghella 2008, p.14).

The translator, positioned in a dialogic context, becomes a participant, a speaker that speaks back to the source text poet. Translation as this resourceful intervention is therefore not seen as unethical appropriation of the source text, nor as a cannibalistic practice, nor as a gratuitous textual manipulation but rather a dialogic exploration of the text, which leads to its eventual transformation. It is the ability to respond, to enter into a dialogue in a more creative and critical way.

There is also another argument. The responsibility to a text, as both the ability to write a response to it and the answerability of the translator-writer-maker to the creation of the new text, also means, as Jean Boase-Beier clearly puts it ‘to understand how the poem works’ (Boase-Beier 1999, p. 82). Boase-Beier goes on to maintain: ‘without this, there can be no translation. Understanding how the poem works means understanding the nature of poetic language as language in which there is a special relationship between form and meaning’ (p.82.). It is with a process of understanding that translation is able to begin and later to develop into a dialogic model. This understanding starts the process of translation by unwrapping the textual meanings, identifying the stylistic devices used, although not necessarily reproduced at this stage. It is a stage of ‘opening up’, of reading aloud, of sketching what we think this word may mean, of retracing how the writer has developed his or her text. But also, of incorporating our response and initiating a conversation with the text/writer. We translate certain words with words that have been impressed in our psyche and tongue by our familiar usage, with words found often in our own idiolect, but also by the other texts that we read and have translated. The poet and classical translator Josephine Balmer notices how other texts we read at the time of writing become ‘subsumed into the poem as a more contemporary point of reference’ (Balmer 2006, p. 192).

In our first draft multiple choices for words are evaluated, and this dialogic first attempt can be made visible on the page, the draft behaving at times like a gloss, where foreign and familiar language are positioned side by side, or where multiple possibilities pop out on the page in text boxes, comments, parentheses, brackets, and so forth. The possible intertextual references in the source texts are also researched and made visible and commented upon. The text fragments, comments, questions, blank spaces, acts as what Ron Padgett calls ‘an interlinear commentary’ (Ron Padgett 2008, p. 106), that is reading or revision notes which externalise the dialogic aspect of translation itself, and that may be incorporated later on, in subsequent drafts. But why show these fragments in the first draft? Why externalise the internal, mental dialogue on the page? In his own experimental translations, Scott incorporates ‘manuscript marginalia’ because:

The marginal space is … the guarantor of the here and the now of enunciation, of spontaneous association, metadiscourse, unworked possibility, unpremeditated response … We begin to imagine a textualization of the pre-textual, the textual and the post-textual all in one (Scott, 2006b, p.108)

More to the point, the notes on this first draft act also as a dialogue with the reader, of what the translator has done to the text and why. These could be used as a sort of hypertext to the poem, so that the reader could choose whether to follow or explore these notes further or not.  Below there’s an example of such first draft, the opening up of the textual, literary and cultural dialogue which I made of Traversando la Maremma toscana, (Crossing the Tuscan Maremma) by the Italian poet Giosuè Carducci. Carducci was brought up in the Maremma and wrote the sonnet many decades later, in 1887, after crossing this landscape on one of his train journeys from Livorno to Rome. The poet is moved to see again the places where he spent the happiest years of his life, his childhood and youth, when he had dreams that he thought would be fulfilled. And while the familiar aspect of this land, suddenly recognized through childhood memories, brings smile and perhaps a tear or two of joy, it also brings regret with it, as the comparison with his present life raises feelings of sadness and resignation. Indeed, only death is certain and possibly nearby. Yet, the beauty of the land, the fog wrapping the hills, the green of the plain, the smiling, benign nature, also brings an unexpected peace to the poet:

 first draft_0001

The presence of Italian language in my first draft is a visible link to the text of departure, and of course it also presents complex words and concepts which must be recreated in English. The possible intertextual reference to Dante is  commented upon. There are also two textual fragments which I have translated from another of Carducci’s poems, ‘Davanti San Guido’, where again the poet is on a train on one of his journeys, and sees his childhood landscape, this time tall cypresses who invite him to stay with them, as only nature is able to soothe, albeit temporarily, his internal struggles. In this first draft therefore intertextual references to Carducci’s other texts (and my own reading/memory of Carducci’s work) are also activated. Most importantly, the process of translation itself, some of it perhaps traditionally happening only mentally, is instead made visible, embodied in the writing.

Note number 4. Translation as shapeshifter

Michèle Roberts sees translation as a form of magic capable of ‘metamorphosis’(Roberts, xvi),  one text gets changed into another, where the subjectivity of the translator will be more or less visible, but never absent. As we have seen above, Scott believes that translation encourages us to explore new forms (Scott 2000). For example, the juxtaposition of verbal and non-verbal texts in experimental translations allows us to explore different channels in which to express or contextualise our response of the text, even opening up a dialogue between modes, such as verbal and pictorial composition.

Furthermore, the cultural context in which we translate is one influenced by a multimodal culture, in particular an increasingly visual culture. So, while the drafting period has mostly focused on the textual, paratextual, intertextual or even hypertextual levels, translators should be ready to explore and transform texts by using, mixing, and experimenting with different media to express these textual levels.In poetry, because of this genre’s inherent multimodality, besides the verbal channel, its oral, aural and in some cases visual channels can and should also be activated (Loffredo and Perteghella 2008, p.17). A translation of a poem could therefore be accompanied by moving images and texts, as  used in the filmic poetry genre

Note number 5. Translation as movement

Movement in translation is expressed through progression through time, through the drafting process, but also different translations of the poem. In the drafting process, the ensuing corrections, alterations or restructurings can be perceived as acts of self-writing, ‘whereby the ‘self’ writes and rewrites itself’ (Loffredo and Perteghella 2008, p.97); the linearity implied in the drafting process can instead give way to what Scott calls ‘a whole bundle of virtualities’ (Scott 2006c, p. 35) that is the virtual spaces of reading which enact (different) possibilities on the blank page. Indeed, rather than choosing one ‘final’ version, all the different readings, with their changes and restructurings, can be made visible at once, offering the reader a complete experience of the textual possibilities. Translation also embodies movement in the sense of the metaphorical and actual journey of the text border-crossing cultures, personalities, and, of course, languages.  

Note number 6. Translation as creative practice

The literary translation envisaged here advocates translation not solely as a linguistic skill and/or a powerful cultural practice, but essentially as a creative writing practice, shapeshifting, moving around borders, working with materials and materiality, travelling through genres, zooming in at the process itself and at the translator’s subjectivity marked and visible within the ‘new’ text and in the different drafts this subjectivity produces (Loffredo and Perteghella 2006). Creativity explores new spaces, negotiates, invites the writer-translator to experiment with a variety of modes (the verbal, the visual, the oral, the aural). The shapeshifting, moving power of translation can be seen for example in Eugenia Loffredo’s visual and verbal translation of How To Face Death’ by Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade. Our collaborative translation of the myth of Galatea ‘Written on her Ivory Skin‘ also opens up not only a textual dialogue with its previous verbal translations (Dryden’s and Hughes’) but also with a visual mode spawned by the textural descriptions of the source text.

Below follows my recent creative translation of another of Carducci’s poems ‘Ancient Lament’ (Pianto antico) composed in 1871 in memory of his three-year old son, who had died the year before.  The Italian poem is structured in four quatrains, with rhyming scheme ABBC. Its rhythm recalls that of a lullaby, though its subject matter, the death of a child, creates a contrast with the soothing effect. Thus, the poem is sweet and harrowing, calming and desolate at the same time. The pomegranate tree the child used to play with, has become alive again in the heat of the summer (the poet uses nouns such as ‘light’, ‘green’, ‘warmth’), yet the garden has become silent, lonely, as the boy is now buried in the cold, black earth, where he can never feel the June sunshine again or be awaken by parental love. Death is for Carducci definitive and hopeless; there are no religious undertones. Having first read this poem as a child (and learnt it by heart too) I wanted to keep that lullaby rhythm, but also recreate the vivid imagery of the tree and its red pomegranate fruit in my mind as I first read it (and imagined it)  many years ago. I also felt I needed to highlight the role of the garden as both playground and grave of the child, as this particular feature is what stayed with me for so long. The result is a mixed media text using the techniques of collage and watercolour on watercolour paper:

Ancient LamentCopyright © Manuela Perteghella 2013

Naturally, ethical issues towards the reader, in particular the non-specialist reader, are raised in these creative, experimental translations often of non-experimental texts. Such translations, some have rightly argued, cannot be intelligible, or fully understandable ‘without reference to the original’ (Procter 1999, pp.12-13) and therefore ‘these texts, then, can only be appreciated by those who in actual fact have no need of them’ (Procter 1999, p. 13). Indeed, our ideal reader would be someone who first of all is aware of the translator’s inevitable subjectivity within the text, of the dialogic quality of language and creativity, and trained in reading experimental texts.

Of course, one way of including the non-specialist reader into understanding and enjoying creative translation is in fact to show its literary gestation, the drafting process, without being obsessed by the illusion of the ‘polished, finished’ product, and to encourage readers to read and view multiple versions of the same text. This clearly entails an understanding of how translation evolves and changes – shapeshifts – by literary publishers too.  Further, the proliferation of e-books and digital reading devices could aid the publication of multimodal translations.

Then there’s the argument of fidelity towards the source text and its writer. To see translation as the personal ability to respond to a text is, perhaps, one of the ways forward. To redefine fidelity is another. But this means we must go back to the core issue of what translation is or should be. And definitions of translation, as well as of fidelity and faithfulness, are subject to change and differ widely from culture to culture, and from group to group.

By working within contemporary notions of translation as a creative enterprise, we can attempt a definition of our own idea of translation as a literary process of text-making whereby we are able to reimagine texts, transform them, even using different modes, if our response to them take us there.

I delivered an extended version of this paper at the conference ‘Reading the Target: Translation as Translation’, University of East Anglia, 23 March 2013.


Bassnett, Susan (2006), ‘Writing and Translating’ in Susan Bassnett and Peter Bush (eds) The Translator as Writer (London and New York: Continuum) pp. 173-183.

Boase-Beier, Jean (1999/2000) ‘Translating Poetry’ In Other Words, Autumn/Winter 1999/2000, no. 13/14, pp.82-86

Loffredo Eugenia and Manuela Perteghella, ‘Introduction’ in Eugenia Loffredo and Manuela Perteghella (eds) Translation and Creativity. Perspectives on Creative Writing and Translation Studies (London and New York: Continuum 2006), pp.1-16.

Loffredo Eugenia and Manuela Perteghella (2008) (eds), One Poem in Search of a Translator: Rewriting ‘Les Fenetres’ by Apollinaire, (Bern: Peter Lang).

Padgett, Ron (2008) ‘A Note on Les Fenêtres’ in E. Loffredo and M. Perteghella (eds), One Poem in Search of a Translator: Rewriting ‘Les Fenetres’ by Apollinaire, (Bern: Peter Lang)pp.105-110.

Perteghella, Manuela (2013) ‘Translation as Creative Writing’ in G. Harper (ed.) The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Creative Writing, Blackwell.

Pope R. 2005. Creativity: Theory, History, Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

Procter, A. H. (1999) ‘Is an ‘ethics of difference’ ethical? A consideration of the rights and responsibilities of the translator with reference to feminist translation’ in P. Papoutsaki et al (eds), Norwich Papers, Literary translation: Theory and Practice, vol. Vii, Sept 1999, pp.7-18.

Roberts, M. (2001)’Introduction’, Rearranging the World, the British Centre for Literary Translation, pp.xiii-xviii.

Roscommon, Earl of (1685) ‘An essay on Translated Verse’ in T.R. Steiner (ed) (1975) English Translation Theory, 1650-1800 (Assen: Van Gorcum), pp.77-78.

Scott, Clive (2000) ‘Introduction’ in David Mollett, Paschalis Nikolaou, Anna Watz (eds) Norwich Papers, Studies in Literary Translation, Translation and Creativity, vol. 8, Sept 2000, pp.ix-xvi.

Scott, Clive (2006a), Translating Rimbaud’s Illuminations, Exeter: Exeter University Press).

Scott, Clive (2006b) ‘Translating the Literary: Genetic Criticism, Text Theory and Poetry’ in Susan Bassnett and Peter Bush (eds) The Translator as Writer (London: Continuum, 2006), pp.106-118.

Scott, Clive (2006c), ‘Translation and the Spaces of Reading’ in Eugenia Loffredo and Manuela Perteghella (eds) Translation and Creativity. Perspectives on Creative Writing and Translation Studies,(London and New York: Continuum), pp.33-46.

A visual translation of shifting views: ‘How To Face Death’ by Carlos Drummond de Andrade

by Eugenia Loffredo

Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902–1987) is regarded as one of the major representative of Brazilian literature and indeed the major contemporary poet in Portuguese language of the 20th Century. He is also considered to be the initiator of the second phase of Brazilian Modernism.

His literary work, which received numerous prestigious awards including the Nobel Prize, spans over a long period of time and has been divided in different phases. The themes explored in his poems include the individual and its relation to society, his native land, family, and more universal themes such as existence, truth, love and death, as the poem I chose to translate: ‘Como encarar a morte’, ‘How To Face Death’.

The profundity of his reflections in this composition is expressed by a lyric ‘simplicity’ (also making use of free verse and not depending on a fixed meter) which relies on a plain, everyday lively language. However, images are assembled in such a way that surprise the reader with their complexity and insight. Also, these images generate an intense sense of immediacy and make this universal theme concrete and tangible.

 ‘Como encarar a morte’ is part of a collection called Corpo, published in 1984. Corpo belongs to a later phase in which eroticism becomes not only a new theme for poetic investigation, but indeed a new optical lens through which ponder on a variety of universal themes, as in this case, death – also a reminder that the bond between Eros and Thanatos is indissoluble. I think that humour, which characterises most of Drummond de Andrade’s work in different degrees, from ironic to cynic, is still present in this poem somehow re-elaborated by the idea of ‘the ways’, or better ‘the positions’, in which one can face death. And, for this reason I never felt the topic overwhelming or as taking me to a more grave stance during the reading and translating of the poem. In other words, the irony seems to be produced by the friction of two contrasting planes summarised in the lyrics of a Cazuza’s song, a Brazilian composer and singer: ‘Senhoras e senhores, eu trago boa novas: eu vi a cara da morte e ela estava viva!’ (Ladies and Gentlemen I bring good news: I saw the face of death and she was alive!).

The reflections on death are articulated in a series of scenes defining at each time a different ‘position’ from which, and in which, one can face death (‘from faraway’, ‘from halfway’, ‘sideway’, ‘from inside’ and ‘out of sight)’.  Each scene provides a new slant, apparently increasing our understanding of death, or rather an essential element of our ‘humanity’, which is summarised in the last line ‘e, mais sabido, mais se ignora’, ‘and, the more it is known, the more it is ignored’. This sentence, however, does not express a lack of respect for death or a state of self-denial, but rather a rethinking of death through popular wisdom. Whether death is like a dream or despite the inevitability of the arrival of nameless traveller, the poem extols life and – Back to Eros and Thanatos bond – pushes forth an ‘optimism against all odds’ which ultimately celebrates life. The progressive moving and the getting closer is a reminder that life is transitory. Yet, we are always travelling and the journey, or better making most of the journey, is more important than the destination –even when we do get to the point of ‘out of sight’.

My translation, which you can find in Translation and Other Writings page, strives to convey the simplicity of the Portuguese language, both at lexical and at syntactical levels. It was actually difficult not to fall to the temptation of elevating the register and over-poetising such a ‘noble’ subject as death.

An intriguing choice concerns the genderisation of death. The nearer we get to death the more distinct its features are. And, where in Portuguese there is a possibility of avoiding specifying the subject, in English the pronoun is required. Since death has many faces, I felt that giving ‘it’ a different gender identity in different stanzas could produce an interesting and unexpected turn to the poem. Also, as its status changes and becomes fuzzier and fuzzier, the neuter ‘it’ is introduced. Finally, this sense of humanity and universality inherent to death, which goes beyond gender distinction, is reinforced with words such as ‘humankind’, instead of ‘mankind’.

Although the verbal translation may stand on its own, it is primarily intended to interact with visual images. The idea of ‘positioning oneself’, ‘points of view’ and ‘perspective’ seemed as if urging experimentation with the visual. Therefore, I created five digitally manipulated images functioning as backdrop to the verbal presentation of the stanzas, the two interacting to enhance the reader’s experience of the translation.

The images attempt to reproduce and ‘reflect’ the shifts of perspective of the various ‘positions’. Likewise, the interplay of light and darkness, the shifts from colour to black and white, and from the neatness to the blurriness of contours, these all attempt to replicate the changes of the status of death in the ongoing movement that is our life- which is indeed a metaphor for the act of reading itself, the journey through the poem to a final ‘non-knowledge’ of our destination.

Do send us you comments and thoughts on this visual translation!