Greatest Women in Translation: Valentina Gosetti

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Welcome back to our interview series!

I hope this post finds you and your loved ones well and safe, considering.

Please welcome our interviewee this month, Italian translator Valentina Gosetti, nominated by Michèle Métail.

Welcome, Valentina!

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1. Originally from Collio di Vobarno, a small Italian town in the province of Brescia, you are a native speaker of Bresciano. Could you explain what Bresciano is for us, non-Italians?

Bresciano is my first language, my mother tongue (for those who still believe in this concept…), or rather, as I like to call it, my “grandmother tongue”. It is the language my grandmother spoke to me while I was growing up and the language I still often speak with my mum when we videocall from the two ends of the world. Bresciano is often merely considered the “dialetto” of the northern Italian province of Brescia, in Lombardy, one of the most hit by this dreadful Covid-19 virus at the moment. Being a so-called “Gallo-Italic” language, it shares some sounds and words with French. It is one of the many lesser-spoken languages of Europe. Being able to speak it is a great richness. I consider it my nonna’s gift. These fast-disappearing languages are an invaluable cultural (and human!) heritage and it is our duty to preserve them and to hand them down to the next generations. I speak both Italian and Bresciano to my newborn son Roberto. I hope he’ll be carrying this heritage with him into the future.

2. You decided to revive your mother tongue by combining some of your passions: poetry and translation. How do you do that?

Some years ago, I was challenged by an Italian friend (Manuel) to translate a poem by the French poet Baudelaire into Bresciano. This seemed like an impossible task. Bresciano, being the spoken vernacular of a traditionally modest, hardworking, population, is a very down-to-earth language, which lacks abstraction. But with a little bit of creativity and poetic licence I managed to “transplant” one of the well-known Spleen poems into my native language. Unexpectedly, the splenetic soundscape worked remarkably well in Bresciano. This adventure encouraged me to keep translating more poems into Bresciano as a way of reviving this language and enriching it even further through poetic creation for the next generations of speakers. This is what led to the creation of my blog Transferre, which is an unapologetically multilingual blog hosting translations of poetry in verse or prose, from any language into any language, standard or not, with a particular focus on endangered local languages.

3. Speaking of which, could you tell us a bit more about your blog?

Although Transferre was originally created to host my translations into Bresciano, it has soon become a shared creative space to encourage poetry in translation for the preservation and the promotion of minority languages. It soon started to welcome submissions from all around the world. It now features a range of “guest translations” into languages ranging from Estremeñu to West Frisian, from Béarnais to Romanesco, from Galician to Romagnolo. Particularly dear to me are translations sent by high-school students who, hearing about Transferre, started to rediscover their grandparents’ languages through the means of poetry. Transferre is always open to new submissions from all around the world. For example, some years ago I had the great pleasure to receive a translation of Robert Frost’s poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ into Guarani from a group of students based in Paraguay. This encouraging story of language preservation was even featured in the national press in Paraguay.

4. How was translation introduced in your life?

Growing up in a non-English speaking country like Italy, reading has often meant reading in translation. My first encounter with the great international literary authors has often been mediated and facilitated by brilliant Italian translators. There are some books that stand out in my memory. One of the absolute highlights of my readerly youth was Leone Ginzburg’s translation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I tried to read it in English once, many years later, but to my ears it was not as authentic. My Anna Karenina will always be Ginzburg’s. Translation is also an integral part of TV watching in Italy. Everything is dubbed in a country where dubbing is a real art and career path. I remember being quite disappointed to hear Leonardo DiCaprio’s real voice for the first time as a young adolescent. I thought the Italian DiCaprio sounded more charming… 

5. What do you do as a translator

As a poetry translator I mainly read, re-read, and listen. I try and fail a lot. I go back on my steps in search of a mot juste that can be glimpsed, but seems to be just ever so slightly out of reach. Or that does come, but only fleetingly, before the next change of heart. What completes the translation of a poem for me is often an unnegotiable deadline. What I mean is that when I translate poetry, I could potentially re-write the same verse for ever, in a constant quest, which is the endless present of inhabiting another voice. I think that every translation is a sort of “selfie” in time, a selfie of our reading at a given moment of our readerly Bildungsroman. But this is a kind of selfie which is not at all individualistic or self-centred, it is a selfie where the self explodes and dissolves among all sort of otherness, all the voices, the encounters, the conversations, the mentoring that have informed our reading, thinking, editing throughout this process of (self)discovery. In a recent chapter, inspired by Loiterature,[1] Ross Chambers’s brilliant essay, I termed this process as “transloiterature”.[2]

The most enriching experience in my translation journey so far has been the prolonged work on the collaborative poetry anthology of French-speaking women poets from Romanticism to the Present Day I coordinated (Donne: Poeti di Francia e oltre. Dal Romanticismo a Oggi, Ladolfi Editore, 2017). As I wrote elsewhere, reading, selecting, and translating texts by so many different women poets has been a sort of ‘ventriloquist’ activity, to say it with Ross Chambers, it is an activity ‘that takes the time to know the other’, even to inhabit it, ‘a practice that calls into question the hard-and-fast distinctions – between sameness and otherness, between familiar and distanced otherness, and between the trivial and the significant’ (Ross Chambers, Loiterature, 35). Within this anthology, I selected and translated poems by contemporary, mainly living, poets. This has given me the unique chance to meet many of them either virtually or in person. I have since undertaken new translation projects with some of them, notably Michèle Métail and Katy Rémy. Every single encounter has greatly enriched my poetry translation practice as well as my personal journey on this planet.

6. You teach Translation and Translation Theory at the University of New England, in Australia, having won the School of Arts Teaching Awards for Teaching Excellence in the Languages in 2017. What does your experience as a translation teacher teaches your translator self?

The conversations with my students are an integral part of this journey. They are embedded in that explosion of the self which forms and informs my reading, listening, writing, and translation practice. Every translation workshop I have had the fortune to host has led me to discover new, hidden treasures, which were often invisible to me. In these workshops, students are peers. They are a collective conversation during which everything is up for discussion. When we are dissecting a text together all sorts of perspectives are potentially plausible and inexhaustibly enriching. Everyone comes to the text with their own “baggage”. The text acts as a crossroad where we all meet, mingle, sometimes change direction. The result is something new that creates its new exciting pathways for others. I often have the feeling that during a translation workshop I am learning much more from my students than they are from me. I am just another student. The real host is the text. 

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I’d like to nominate the great Nina Parish & Emma Wagstaff! Their collaborative work is brilliant and they’ve been a constant source of inspiration especially when I was working on my poetry anthology.

[1] Chambers, Ross. Loiterature (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999).
[2] Gosetti, Valentina. “Ross Chambers, Beyond Baudelaire: In Defence of (‘Transloitering’) Poetry” Still Loitering: Australian Essays in Honour of Ross Chambers, edited by Valentina Gosetti and Alistair Rolls, Oxford Peter Lang, 2020, pp. 145-168.

One thought on “Greatest Women in Translation: Valentina Gosetti

  1. Pingback: Greatest Women in Translation: Michèle Métail | Carol's Adventures in Translation

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