Tag Archives: literary translation

TransARTation! more events

 6 May 2017  2-4pm The Shoe Factory Social Club, Norwich, UK

Translation as Collaboration: hidden messages and unsolvable jigsaws –  by Dr Anna Milsom (University of Leicester).


Anna Milsom discusses translating Poema Invertido, Verónica Gerber Bicecci’s response to Poema Plástico by Mathias Goeritz. 

Verónica Gerber Bicecci’s Poema invertido begins with a question: could Mathias Goeritz have left a message in his Poema plástico that no-one has noticed? Goeritz once described the piece as “a lament set into the most luminous wall at the Museo Experimental el Eco”, the art museum in Mexico City he conceived as a sculptural manifestation of what he called “emotional architecture”. Becoming obsessed with the idea of trying to decipher the unknown language that Goeritz invented, Gerber Bicecci asked a number of different people to help her interpret his poem. From the four responses received, she extracted words and ideas that ultimately became “the pieces of an unsolvable jigsaw puzzle” in her own Poema. For TransARTation!Poema invertido has entered a new phase: drawing on notions of ‘thick translation’ whereby a text is located within a web of other texts and translation is seen as a positive form of rewriting rather than in terms of loss, literary translator Anna Milsom offers English versions, handwritten into the original document. The Spanish and English texts co-exist alongside one another in Inverted (&Translated) Poem, taking one more step in the chain of responses that started with Mathias Goeritz’s visual poem embedded in a museum wall.  This event is free, but do let us know if you are planning to come. ​

6 May 2017  6 pm The Shoe Factory Social Club, Norwich, UK

Artist Simon Starling’s in conversation with Anna Milsom 

Come and listen over a glass of wine to former Turner  Prize Winner Simon Starling on the importance of translation in artistic practice and the visibility of the artist.

20170413_153815This event is free, but you need to register here:


Attendees to the talk can also see Simon Starling’s installation, a new “talk work” shown in a cinema-like cubicle, which has been devised specifically for TransARTation!  A Talk takes as its starting point an image of the Scottish actor Stephen Clyde standing at an improvised lecture podium while playing the role of the artist at the Glasgow debut of Starling’s 2016 play about the mistranslation and reinvention of Japanese Noh theatre in avant-garde Europe during World War I, At Twilight: A play for two actors, three musicians, one dancer, eight masks (and a donkey costume). Once again voiced by Clyde and drawing on a number of lectures made by Simon over the past few years, this richly illustrated presentation investigates both the role of the artist’s talk in Simon’s practice and his continued interest in the relationship between translations, transformations and transpositions.

For information on the exhibition and associated events please click here
For directions to The Shoe Factory Social Club click here

A poem for our times

the train of migrants

The train of migrants


The migrant’s luggage

is neither big nor heavy…


A bit of earth from my village

makes me feel less lonely.


One frock, one loaf, one fruit,

that’s all I put in it.


But my heart, no, I didn’t bring it.

In the luggage it wouldn’t fit.


My heart was too sad to leave,

beyond the sea it wouldn’t dare.


In the land where I can’t eat,

as a loyal dog, it chose to remain:


in that  field, just over there…

no more I see it, too fast goes the train.


‘Il treno degli emigranti’, di Gianni Rodari, taken from Filastrocche in cielo e in terra (1960).

Translated by Manuela Perteghella, 2016, with thanks to Eugenia Loffredo for her suggestions.

Some thoughts on multivocality in translation

Literary translation, as we understand it, occupies both a ‘space’ and a ‘time’ of possibilities, of different readings and their subsequent rewritings.  What we have been seeking, to some extent, and for some time now, is to pinpoint the liminal place where the translator positions herself or himself, this exhilarating ‘in-betweeness’ of the existing text and the soon-to-happen text. But not only. We have also tried to reflect on the translator’s privileged – paradoxical – status, as standing on both sides of the ‘threshold’, between the ritual reading and the fertile writing, but above all between the translator’s own literary and cultural identities and those of the ‘other’ author.

A translator’s reading, in its uniqueness – to read in order to write – will of course generate new embodiments of the text. This translational reading already incorporates the tension between the translator’s ‘experience’ of the text and the expectations of the target readership, a tension which eventually becomes verbalized, drafted, created into another language. But this language is not just one’s own  mother tongue, it also includes one’s own particular literary idiolect and, most importantly, one’s own voice – intended here not only as the uniqueness of the writing style (the lexical and stylistic preferences), but also equipped with sonority and materiality (as in Barthes) and (almost in an ethnographic way) the translator’s subjectivity, attitudes, gender, culture, education, ethnicity, identities: her or his personae.

2016-04-22 17.33.32

So that in the act of translation, the translator’s voice emerges from the interstices and strata of the text, to become more audible, and, therefore, necessarily (inter)acts with the vocal dimensions of the text (narrative, poetic, dramatic), and especially with the distinctive voices of their authors. This conversation, engendered by the translational reading, can be defined as multivocality, which we intend as the multi-voicedness  present in the text of departure, in the translation process and, finally, in the translated text. Further, something multivocal can be expressed in different words, and therefore is layered with pluralism, with ambiguity, change, transiency. ‘Voice’, therefore, is sonorous, oral/aural, individual, embodied or disembodied, but also unfixed, changeable, and context-bound.

Furthermore, the uniqueness of the translational reading does not necessarily entail privacy or isolation. On the contrary the richness of a particular reading opens onto echoes of other work the translator has written or translated before, and these memories feed into the new rewriting (more vocal layers to take into account). Some may still consider the reading phase as a private affair, yet, living in an intertextual, dialogical dimension means that every reading from its inception entails and contains another reading, a previous conversations with other texts.

2016-04-22 16.23.58And, translation, by engaging with more than one vocal subjectivity, becomes a sort of collaborative project, or communal space, where intimacy and solo-writing give way to cooperation and partnership.  Cooperation between two writers is thus present in the translation process, in which the conflation of their voices creates new meanings. Each translation then can be seen as a collaborative project which manifests itself in the voice of, one, the source text author, two, the translator,  and three, the possible, some may say ‘unavoidable’, intertextuality in which both  the source text and  its translation are dipping.  In our past study of translation as a creative form of writing, rather than lamenting the death of the author, we celebrated the birth of the translator essentially as co-author. This idea of co-authoring can be intended as nothing other than the perceptible quality of multivocality, of conflation of distinct, relative voices (the translator’s and authors’ styles, idiolects, sonority and personae) within the target text, even of different vocal narratives and perspectives within the text. Of course, this idea of translation as a collaborative project, and the translator as co-author, is from an ethical point of view problematic insofar as it can generate a dialogue full of tension, with the translator seeking control of meaning over the author, and that meaning needing to be continuously negotiated among all the subjectivities involved.

Finally, and most importantly, each translation despite being a fairly intimate and personal dialogue with the source text does not exclude, but rather calls for, the ‘other’ reader to lend her or his voice to the text and to continue this conversation, to add to the ambiguity, cacophony and renewal in this multivocality. The reader then is invited to explore further the new textual, temporal spaces opened by the translations, and enticed to step onto theses space (and time), to create new meanings.


Barthes, R. (1977) ‘The Grain of the Voice’, in Image, Music, Text, translated by Stephen Heath, (London: Fontana Press).

Perteghella, M. and E. Loffredo (eds)(2006) Translation and Creativity. Perspectives on Creative Writing and Translation Studies, (London and New York: Continuum 2006).

Guest Post: A Report from the Creative Translation Class: Reconceiving Andreas Embirikos

by Paschalis Nikolaou 

There is good reason for deploying creative writing exercises within the teaching of literary translation, even more so at postgraduate level and once those (often contradictory) conventions, contracts between reader, author and language mediator have been established with some clarity in students’ minds. This is not so much an innovative didactic approach but simple confirmation of text generation within literary history: from ‘poetic translation’ to interpreters and translators featuring as characters within fiction (Borges always comes to mind first) or film (from Star Wars’ C-3PO to The Interpreter), the meeting points of writing creatively and rendering literary expression in another language have proven fruitful across the centuries. Even though fables like that of a well-known Menard to Michael Marshall Smith’s The Gist (2013) may at first appear as curia, infrequent events and hybrids inside a gray zone, they can arguably be traced to the core of literary production; to essential psychologies and imperatives bringing together both creative writers and literary translators. Recognizing the part varied textual practices or frames, from Cervantes’ legendary pseudotranslation to the meaningful self-translations of Samuel Beckett or Vassilis Alexakis play within shared environments of literature demands workshop enactments of what takes place in the mind of poet and translator. Certain common spaces in the teaching of literary translation, as well as creative writing, are necessary: practitioners of both stand only to gain from awareness of what their other, does.

At the Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting of the Ionian University a concerted effort started from the 2014-2015 academic year, to bring creative writing closer to the experience of students of (literary) translation. A more detailed report on this development and on adjustments to course programmes in Corfu should occur after a few of years, with all components firmly in place; yet a brief description may be given here, followed by discussion of just one exercise at postgraduate level. In the coming academic year then, there will be an optional creative writing workshop in the Spring semester for students also following literary translation courses at undergraduate level (typically during the final two years of the degree offered at the Ionian University), in one or two small groups between 7-12 participants, around twice a month. The idea is for this to also extend to guest seminars and regular invitations to writers (and certainly, poet-translators). Especially at MA level, the meeting of worlds, regularly hinted at undergraduate classes, is more confidently simulated. One of the non-compulsory modules taught in the autumn semester is now titled Λογοτεχνική Μετάφραση και Δημιουργική Γραφή (‘Literary Translation and Creative Writing’). Again, a more detailed description of the unfolding syllabus, the progression of examples and exercises is not a matter for the present. Suffice to say, in these classes we attempt to explore the range of creative possibilities between original and translation, and in ways that indeed confirm limitations as well as freedoms, too; the real-world necessity of ‘translation proper’ is also part of this picture, just as categories and emphases of translation activity are better understood at the moment boundaries are transgressed. Meanwhile – fictional translators, poetic occurrences, the value of imitation, the manifold regions of originality as well as evolving ideas about them across time; the effort is to relay to postgraduate students a picture as complete as possible while searching, in the course of ten 2-hour classes, for voices from the field, closely attending to the ever-shifting dialogue and dynamic between authors and translators as they influence each other.

In this particular context, practical engagement produces better understanding of the conditions engendering such texts. How to open a discussion of the creative potentialities in literary translation, the range of possible movements or actions beyond fidelity? Among the approaches adopted is a direct request to ‘translate creatively’ following class discussion – and the choice of text here again is key: Αι Λέξεις (‘The Words’) is a prose poem by Andreas Embirikos (1901-1975), a key proponent of surrealism and psychoanalysis in Greece:




        στον Νάνο Βαλαωρίτη

Όταν καμιά φορά επιστρέφομεν από τους Παρισίους και αναπνέομεν την αύραν του Σαρωνικού, υπό το φίλιον φως και μέσα στα αρώματα της πεύκης, εν τη λιτότητι των μ,ύθων – των σημερινών και των προκατακλυσμιαίων – ως σάλπισμα πνευστών, ή ως ήχος παλμικός, κρουστός, τυμπάνων, υψώνονται πίδακες στιλπνοί, ωρισμέναι λέξεις, λέξεις-χρησμοί, λέξεις ενώσεως αψιδωτής και κορυφαίας, λέξεις με σημασίαν απροσμέτρητον δια το παρόν και δια το μέλλον, αι λέξεις «Eλελεύ», «Σε αγαπώ», και «Δόξα εν υψίστοις», και, αιφνιδίως, ως ξίφη που διασταυρούμενα ενούνται, ή ως κλαγγή αφίξεως ορμητικού μετρό εις υπογείους σήραγγας των Παρισίων, και αι λέξεις: «Chardon-Lagache», «Denfert-Rochereau», «Danton», «Odeon», «Vauban», και «Gloria, gloria in excelsis».


And here is a translation into English by Maria Margaronis:



Sometimes when we return from Paris and breathe in the breeze of the Saronic Gulf, under the friendly light and in the scent of pines, in the simplicity of myths – both modern and antediluvian – then, like a peal of trumpets or the tight, pulsating sound of drums, particular words leap up like shining fountains, words of prophecy, words of supreme and overarching union, words of immeasurable significance for both the present and the future: the words “Elelef”, “I love you”, and “Glory in the highest”; and suddenly, like swords that, clashing, join, or like the clangourous onrush of a train arriving in Parisian subterranean tunnels, also the words “Chardon-Lagache”, “Denfert-Rochereau”, “Danton”, “Vauban”, and “Gloria, gloria in excelsis”.


As they prepare for their own English version, a personal history with the original is disclosed to the students: Oktana (1980), the posthumous collection where Embirikos’ poem can be found, was one of the first books for poetry I owned; the translation, one of the very first I ever attempted. Yet it has remained unfinished since the mid-90s, for a host of reasons: at first my abilities were limited, then the right tone and equivalences within the English poetic tradition couldn’t quite be found, then a fine translation by someone else was discovered after all. Regardless, my attachment to the poem was such that the project had to mutate, gradually, into experiment: towards integrations of visual language, typographical variances, hyperlinked, constantly multiplying online presentations, forking paths and translational roads not taken. It still is a work-in-progress, perhaps aptly so: untangled from the prospect of a finished, proper English existence owed to poem and poet in this case, ‘the words’ become a field of intentional non-finality where alternatives are imagined every time the draft translation is revisited. Some of these alternatives are now perhaps as surreal as some of the original’s components. ‘Embirikos’ Words’ as my version’s title, is about the only decided thing at this point.

The above comments already point to how suitable Embirikos’ poem can be for such an exercise, given exactly the surrealist frame that prompts towards a similar freeing of choices and associations in translation, a conscious extending of the mode of composition to the mode of processing literary text in another language. Combined with self-referential elements beginning with the very title, particular thematic attention to how (foreign) words and experience are linked, this is a poem where translation is recognized embedded in the very fabric of its telling.

At the same time, the sharing of my own, somewhat ambiguous, relationship with the original involves students in a process where this is certainly not just another poem to be translated, despite it not being a ‘talismanic encounter’ of their own, an individual choice. Yet they do discover personal entry points within group discussion, also while a reading of the poem by Embirikos himself is played in class, and later on, working from the solitude of their own desks. Existence of published translations is mentioned so they worry less about adhering, aspiring to or competing with them (nevertheless the one by Margaronis which can be found in The Greek Poets: Homer to the Present is handed out to them in the following weeks and once their own creative responses have been produced). Some unintentional ‘reverse psychology’ was interestingly noticed when these were handed in: despite a brief of working freely with Embirikos’ text as starting point for something radically new even, several of them compartmentalized their response to the assignment – producing a relatively faithful version alongside, and before proceeding to engage with more creative textual formations.

Rewording and reconceiving ‘The Words’ was one among the ways of making creativity and translation come closer together. A selection from the work of postgraduate students at the DFLTI can be found filed under Translations and other writings.

© (Paschalis Nikolaou) 2015

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.

Guest Post: Al Fresco Translation

by Rosalind Harvey

   I am a literary translator. I spend a large part of my day sitting in front of a screen, grappling (with varying degrees of success) with strange and wonderful words in Spanish and in English, and attempting to perform what has been described as the generous act of transforming the beauty of a text in one language into another kind of beauty in another language. I love it, and most of the time would not have it any other way. However, woman cannot live by literary translation alone… And so, after I finished my three-month residency at London’s Free Word Centre in late 2011, I added another element to my portfolio career (as any of us who don’t have a ‘proper job’ are now obliged to describe our working life). This was *events* – a hitherto terrifying word I mainly associated with gregarious types fond of derring-do. So I was mildly alarmed to discover that I actually rather enjoyed planning and running events, at least enough not to dissuade me from ever running one again.

Wordkeys was the most ambitious (read: crazed) and exciting event I had the pleasure of devising for Free Word, and consists of a real-world game about the joys and challenges of translation and foreign languages. Although I couldn’t have predicted this beforehand, happily it functions both as a way for adults who may have left the concept of play far behind in their childhood to get down and dirty with words and strangers (not like that!), and a glorious metaphor for the ways translation and languages can bring people together, as well as for how every translator approaches a text differently yet comes up with a viable solution, utterly different to another’s, equally viable, solution. How so, I hear you ask? Allow me to explain…

I worked with David Finnigan of brilliant games designers Coney, who was instrumental in the design of the game. I told him I wanted it to involve teams of people moving around an outside space, preferably a market (initially my idea was for it to take place in and around the stalls of Exmouth Market, just around the corner from Free Word’s Farringdon home), and to somehow involve translation. I had a vague image in my mind of people going up to stallholders, persuading purveyors of crêpes and lahmaçun to translate cryptic clues directing them to the next stage. He came up with the finer details – the structure, the materials and the brilliant denouement – and not only did it work, but it seems to have legs. After the initial version on Brick Lane, I have now run it at the London Book Fair two years running, at Europe House for two separate groups of schoolchildren (primary and secondary), and again over the recent May bank holiday weekend as part of London Literature Festival at the Southbank Centre.

Wordkeys begins with me dividing players into two teams, red and blue, to each of whom I then give a locked box – one red, one blue – a phrasebook containing several clues in foreign languages plus their translations, and an envelope containing a small amount money with the first clue printed on the outside, also in a foreign language. The ‘phrasebooks’ are actually antique travelogues purchased in a Charing Cross bookshop, doctored with the translation of the clues players need to complete the game, plus several ‘dummy phrases’ that serve to distract players, and which I lifted from real phrasebooks – some of the funniest include ‘We got legless,’ ‘Be careful, it’s contagious!’ and (my personal favourite, and surely ever-useful in dodgy Mediterranean nightclubs) ‘Thanks, but I’m with my boyfriend.’ After I explain the rules  – no talking to or approaching the other team unless specifically instructed to, and no using smartphones to translate clues (‘or we WILL throw them in the river!’ as one of my brilliant helpers at the Southbank threatened) – the teams set off, using their phrasebooks to figure out what the first clue says. The clues are a combination of directions and just a dash of poetry: ‘climb the yellow stairway to heaven until you see a silver giant’ – in this case, a set of yellow steps leading up to an enormous silvery sculpture by the QEH bar.

David and I ran the game about four times on its first outing, and every single time, players interpreted our clues differently, which, I have to admit, I found absolutely terrifying. What if they couldn’t figure it out? What if they ‘did it wrong’ or ‘failed’?? I needn’t have worried. At one point players find a clue that is in a language not in their phrasebooks, and so have to use their imagination. They have a number of choices: they can either hold up the clue (written in large letters on a huge piece of coloured card) so that the other team (who by this stage are – hopefully! – more or less visible across the street from them) can read it and translate it using their own phrasebook; they can somehow swap clues, or phrasebooks, using perhaps a willing passerby to ferry the object/s across the market; or they can find a stranger who happens to speak the language their mysterious clue is in and get them to translate it. Depending on the option they go for, they end up with a key that is either for their own locked box or that of the rival team, at which point they either open their own box or have to do another swap, this time of the key. Some teams lob the key across the street, much to the confusion of passersby, others ask bemused tourists to pass it over to the other group, others do a sort of hostage-style swap, laying the keys down on the ground then retreating rapidly. The final stage of the game is my favourite: both teams open their boxes and inside each one finds one half of a large piece of card that has been ripped in half (ie, ‘expertly’ cut by yours truly with a large pair of scissors). When put together, it says ‘Find the other team and form an arch – the game is over when a strange passes through!’  So although teams have been primed from the start to behave as bloodthirsty rivals, the final instruction they receive now reveals that they must co-operate in order to ‘win’ – if you wanted to assign an educational message to the game, it would be that working together is more productive, co-operation leads to rewards for all, and (more importantly), it doesn’t seem to matter where you are, if a bunch of excitable strangers form an impromptu archway, there will always be a stranger game enough to stroll through it for no apparent reason or remuneration (oh, apart from the drunk guy on Brick Lane who politely demanded a quid in return for staggering through, to gleeful applause).

I think this all functions as a rather brilliant metaphor for how literary translators work: we all approach a text from our very different backgrounds, coming up with different solutions to the same initial clue/text, and we all succeed, despite the huge variations in our approaches. There is no ‘right or wrong’ way to do it, and two of the most important aspects of being a translator (subjectivity and playfulness) are also key in this game. Perhaps the scariest (for me!) and yet most enjoyable aspect of the game, which is possibly not applicable to translation, or at least the published kind (it’s different in academia, where you can play all you like) is that failure doesn’t matter – it’s the process that counts. Play has no end goal, no desirable outcome, other than that fun is had.

I’ll be running Wordkeys again as part of this year’s European Day of Languages in an around South Kensington, involving various cultural institutes (the Goethe Institute, the Institut Français, the Italians and the Spanish), as well as some of the museums, galleries and public spaces in the area. Meet at 12pm outside South Ken tube on Saturday September 28th, and follow @Rosenkrantz for updates!

© (Rosalind Harvey) 2013

Rosalind Harvey lives in Bristol where she translates Hispanic fiction. In 2011 she was one of the first translators in residence at the Free Word Centre in London. Her translation of Juan Pablo Villalobos’ debut novel Down the Rabbit Hole was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize, and her co-translation of Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas was shortlisted for the 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Her translation of Juan Pablo Villalobos’ second novel, Quesadillas, is out now. She is a committee member of the Translators Association, a founding member and chair of the Emerging Translators Network, and also runs regular translation-related events in and around London.