Greatest Women in Translation: Rosmarie Waldrop

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Rosmarie Waldrop was nominated by Cole Swensen.

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1. When you were 10 years old, you spent half a year acting with a traveling theater. That is quite interesting! Could you tell us a bit more about that experience?

It was the summer and fall of 1945. In Germany. My hometown, Kitzingen am Main, had been severely bombed. There was no school. The adults were busy finding food, which for my family meant bicycling to the farms in the vicinity and bartering what possessions we had. We kids were running wild. When a local theater group announced an audition for children, my mother took me there immediately. The theater had managed to get an American army truck (we were in the American Occupation Zone) in which we traveled from village to village, from stages in town halls to improvised spaces in restaurants. In the afternoons we played Snow-White and the 7 Dwarves; evenings, The Love Potion, where I played the son of a Russian nobleman. (I thought the farce was by Chekhov, but have not been able to find it among his works.) It was exciting to be away from my always fighting parents, with adults very different from them and a pack of other kids (dwarves!). I was thrilled to be paid the same (very small) Gage as the adults, a kind of validation I had not expected. But I also got bored with doing the same thing every day. I remember catching hell and a lecture that, no matter how often you’ve done it, each time you perform you give it your all. A big lesson in discipline. Nevertheless, I was relieved when school reopened in January 1946, with its more varied challenges.

2. In 1961, you and your husband, also a poet and translator, launched Burning Deck Magazine, which later evolved into Burning Deck Press, one of the most influential publishers for innovative poetry in the United States. Could you tell us a bit more about the story behind the magazine and the press? Why did you decide to create them?

The press was Keith Waldrop’s initiative. He wanted a poetry magazine and, as we were penniless graduate students, decided the only way was to print it ourselves. The early 1960s happened to be the moment when print shops all over the country dumped their letterpresses. We were able to acquire one with all the accessories for a mere $100. It took a little while to learn to print, but we did. Burning Deck Magazine was slated to come out 5 times a year. Instead it came out only 4 times in 5 years! Keeping a fixed publication schedule was clearly too much, so we shifted to printing chapbooks of poetry, which would appear whenever we could manage. Full books came later. And finally our branching out into publishing translations from French and German.

So much for the material side. The impulse behind the magazine was “the war of the anthologies.” In 1961 there appeared two anthologies of American poetry 1945-1960: Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry and what was known by its editors’ names as “the Hall-Pack-Simpson.” They represented the opposing camps labeled ‘beats’ and ‘academics.’ Not a single poet appeared in both. Burning Deck magazine disregarded this split, so that on occasion an author complained of being published in the company of such-and-such! For the press, however, we soon realized that with our limited means it made more sense to narrow our focus to exploratory, experimental poetry which was our chief interest. The impulse to throw bridges survived in the two translation series (French and German).

My initial skepticism quickly gave way to taking pleasure in the “material practice” of printing which I found a good counterweight to the more abstract work of writing and reading. More than that, the extremely slow process of setting type by hand brought home poetry as “slow language.” I haven’t read any poems as thoroughly as those I set by hand. Hand-setting also made me very aware of any “fat,” any unnecessary word, and made for concision in my own writing. The labor was enormous, but the pleasure of holding in my hands a book I had physically made was ample compensation. Another pleasure of having a press or magazine: it creates community, puts you in touch with other writers. Perhaps more important for poets who live, as we did, in Ann Arbor, Michigan than for those in New York, but in any case a good balance to the essentially lonely work of writing.

3. How did you get into translation?

It came out of my personal situation as an immigrant to the U.S. I had started to write poems in Germany, but once I was in Ann Arbor, immersed in English, thinking and dreaming in English, I found it impossible to write in German. I turned to translating poems by Creeley, Stevens, etc. into German. Then, when I gradually mustered the courage to try writing poems in English I also turned to translating into English.

4. In this article on Poetry Foundation, you say translation was one of the ways you found to improve your poetry. How is that?

Writing and translating are much the same process, with translation just having an extra constraint in the original text. They definitely cross-fertilize each other. But the space between two languages is a space open to potential/possibility. It taught me to navigate without fixed course, to trust the (seeming) boundlessness.

Or, let’s say: when we write we tend to be focused within ourselves whereas translating is always conversation–with a text, an author, a culture, a society. So the habit of translating has helped my writing process to stay open, stay in conversation with what is outside my little self even while concentrating on what seems most personal. Collage has also done this for me.

In practical terms, translating has added perspective. Translation kills the illusion that a relation of word to “thing”/signified is “natural” and therefore the only one. Knowing it could always be some other way makes me test more possibilities, work harder. This ends up stretching, transforming, improving what I started out with. 

5. In 1970, you spent a year in Paris, a turning point in your career, right? Why

There wasn’t any career yet! But it was certainly a break-through in my writing. For one thing It was the first time that I had a long space just to concentrate on writing, without also being a student or teacher. I worked on the sequence “As if we didn’t have to talk,” which has a double set of analogies: “you” is to crowd as line is to open space and as utterance is to code. But the analogies are never stated. They are pushed into the background as structure and matrix for the poems. I also started pushing at the boundaries of the sentence by letting the object of a phrase serve also the subject of the next one.

Then came crucial encounters. First, the poets Claude Royet-Journoud and Anne-Marie Albiach. Smack in the middle of Claude’s first book is a manifesto, on a page by itself: “Shall we escape analogy.” Without question mark. I was electrified: here was a clear statement of what I’d been groping toward in an intuitive way! There followed many all-night discussions, translations, a clearer direction for my writing, and a deep friendship.

When Claude learned that I had begun translating Jabès’s The Book of Questions he ran to the phone to arrange our meeting. I had sent a 50-page sample with description and review excerpts to many US publishers, most of whom replied: no thanks, we have always lost money on translations. On reading these pages Edmond Jabès said, he recognized himself in the rhythm. Then I of course dropped everything to continue translating while I had the chance to ask him questions. I eventually translated 14 volumes of his work. Jabès was overwhelming through the power of his work and his presence, the way he lived The Book, lived the constant questioning of his writing. He was also funny, which I hadn’t expected. Our friendship also remains a treasure for me.

6. In this article on Foundation for Contemporary Arts, you say “The linguistic displacement from German to English has not only made me into a translator, but gave me a sense of writing as exploration of what happens between. Between words, sentences, people, cultures.” How is that so?

I have a strong affinity with the word “between.” It is the title of my earliest poem in English, when I felt still very much between my native Germany and my newly adopted country, between “not all here/ or there/ a creature with gills and lungs.” But it isn’t just my personal situation. Our whole reality is no longer substances, but relation between things, quanta, words, etc. The space between two languages provides an incomparable experience of the between as the essential locus of relation, encounter, communication. I would call it a model for living.

But let’s not get too solemn. I recently ended a poem:

“The space between two languages is not between mirrors, but curves along the great wall of error, a refined form of adventure.”

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

Sawako Nakayasu

Só precisamos de oportunidade

Começo este texto já fazendo um pequeno disclaimer: sou negro de pele clara, adotado por uma família branca que sempre se esforçou para que não me faltasse nada e me deu todo o apoio necessário para eu crescer e me desenvolver pessoal e profissionalmente. Porém, nada disso impediu que eu também sentisse o preconceito na pele, se não no âmbito do trabalho, durante a vida e nas relações sociais, fossem elas breves ou duradouras. Com esse aviso dado, dou continuidade ao que venho falando em palestras, bate-papos e outros eventos para os quais fui convidado nos últimos anos para comentar, sempre do meu lugar de fala, a situação da comunidade tradutória negra no Brasil.

Escolhi o título deste texto breve, pois acredito com firmeza nessa frase como uma chave que pode reorientar nossa relação com a realidade precária de profissionais da tradução que se empenham para alcançar um lugar ao sol, mas que, por conta da cor da pele sentem muito mais dificuldade em avançar do que os demais profissionais que não enfrentam esse problema. E quando falo de oportunidade, não estou falando daquela que é oferecida quando o profissional já está formado e dando os primeiros passos. Falo de muito antes, da chance de ter uma educação de qualidade ­– direito de todos, não apenas das pessoas negras –, um lar acolhedor, apoio familiar, estrutura emocional não abalada pelos preconceitos que sofrem, enfim, uma série de situações que acabam determinando a trajetória de gente talentosa mas ferida no que há de mais importante, que é o orgulho de ser como é.

Tempos atrás, em uma quase brincadeira, pedi para que profissionais da tradução editorial que se identificassem como afrodescendentes respondessem a uma postagem no Twitter que fiz por ocasião do mês da consciência negra. Pedi também para que outros profissionais indicassem colegas que estivessem nessa categoria – que enxergassem em si as dores e as delícias da negritude. Na época, contei cinco profissionais. Em um ambiente com muitos profissionais atuantes em vários níveis. E, infelizmente, essa questão não muda muito quando se trata da tradução técnica. E esse cenário sistêmico é bastante preocupante, visto que trabalhamos com a diversidade e teríamos que defendê-la ao máximo, mas não é o que acontece.

Em muitos momentos já me perguntaram: “Você contrataria para um trabalho um profissional negro em detrimento de um profissional branco mais qualificado por conta da cor da pele de ambos?”. Já fui muito resoluto em dizer que não, de jeito nenhum, profissionalismo acima de tudo, e muitas pessoas devem estar fazendo que sim com a cabeça no momento da leitura desta frase. Porém, hoje talvez eu tenha uma visão um pouco diferente, pensando lá na frase que abriu esse texto. Só precisamos de oportunidades. E se eu enxergar um potencial naquela pessoa que está buscando uma oportunidade, ainda que possa me dar um pouco de trabalho no início, talvez eu hoje – e a ênfase no talvez é proposital, pois cada caso é um caso e toda decisão depende de um contexto – desse essa oportunidade para profissionais afrodescendentes que me mostrassem que valeria a pena o investimento. Talvez fosse uma maneira de eu trabalhar a igualdade desigual no meu microuniverso, ou seja, dar um pouco de protagonismo a quem nunca teve para que essa pessoa possa se aproximar de outros profissionais que alcançaram com mais facilidade o que ela, por tudo o que acontece no mundo, inclusive o preconceito, teve mais dificuldade de ter acesso.

E sinto já muitos narizes torcidos neste momento, pois a gente sempre pensa no que nos parece mais justo quando temos tantas justiças ao nosso lado. Porém, se pensarmos nas injustiças que os outros sofrem, muitas vezes por conta da cor de sua pele ou por qualquer outra circunstância que leva muitas pessoas às margens, talvez consigamos enxergar, mesmo que entre uma névoa de desconfiança, como uma oportunidade dessas pode mudar a vida de uma pessoa negra, enquanto para a pessoa branca poderia ser apenas mais um trabalho para o currículo. Acesso é muito importante, e está na hora de ele acontecer com mais frequência, está na hora de todos nós estendermos a mão e sermos mais solidários com quem realmente precisa. Em épocas de pandemia e à beira de um caos social e econômico, precisamos abraçar a todos, mas, principalmente, aqueles para quem a sociedade costuma virar as costas. Como fazer isso? Apoiando causas em que você acredita de verdade, mas não sem antes se aprofundar nelas, entender por que elas existem, entrar em contato direto com as militâncias e participantes. Apoiar iniciativas que podem dar oportunidade de entrada no mercado de trabalho para profissionais das minorias socioeconômicas, não necessariamente com dinheiro, mas também com tempo de monitoria, acompanhamento, treinamento e afins. E praticar a empatia o tempo todo, pois ela é importantíssima para qualquer profissional da tradução. A gente traduz o outro. E passa pelo exercício da alteridade entender o outro, abraçá-lo e trazê-lo para perto.

Petê Rissatti nasceu em São Paulo, no propício Dia Nacional do Livro. Bacharel em Tradução Inglês-Português pela UNIBERO e especialista em Tradução Alemão-Português pela USP, trabalha com textos desde 1998 e já atuou como revisor, gerente de projetos de tradução, preparador de textos e tradutor técnico, até se apaixonar pela tradução editorial. Tem mais de 80 livros traduzidos publicados, entre eles obras de Franz Kafka, George R. R. Martin, Stefan Zweig, John Scalzi, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Samuel R. Delany, Felix Salten, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Tomi Adeyemi e Veronica Roth. Também é professor de práticas de tradução literária e escrita em diversas universidades e cursos livres. Para mais informações, visite: http://peterissatti.com.br.

Greatest Women in Translation: Cole Swensen

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Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

Our interviewee this month is Cole Swensen, nominated by Marcella Durand.

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1. Let’s start by briefly introducing yourself and what you do, with special focus on translation.

First, thank you so much for inviting me! And thank you for establishing this blog and for doing all the work to maintain it—it’s an amazing and useful document. And thank you, Marcella Durand, for nominating me. 

Also, initial note—I’ll be using they/them as the universal pronoun system throughout the following text. I’ll also be grappling, as we all do, with some specific translation terminology. I tend to use “language of departure” and “language of arrival” when discussing the two poles inevitable in any translation, but I acknowledge that it’s an open question and that any answer to it is at best provisional and at worst a chute into yet another rabbit hole. 

I’m both a poet and a translator—for many years, most of my poetry has been engaged with the visual arts and with the relationship between people and land; these two interests often converge, for instance, in pieces that address land art, landscape art, landscape architecture, land and technology, and the politics of formal gardens and of public parks. My translations, on the other hand, are not at all thematically determined; rather, they’re engaged with certain formal, ideological, and historical questions, particularly questions of materiality, rooted in the fusion of Modernism and Wittgensteinian philosophy around the notion of the word as action/actor. I began translating as a mode of deep reading—there really is no deeper way to read a text, and it’s unique way of reading in that it not only requires that you dive down into it and take apart every little piece, but also that you stand back from the text, that you step outside it in a way that someone considering it in their own language can never do. 

Those comments apply to my poetry and cross-genre translations. I have a very different practice that entrances me just as much, and that’s translating art texts. I work for a couple of galleries in France and Belgium, and from time to time, I translate essays and other materials for art catalogues. Its pleasures and fascinations are completely different from those of literary texts in that, in a certain way, it’s nothing but language. Ironically, because it’s entirely a matter of conveying content, I can, and in fact I need to, put all my attention on phrasing. In other words, though it seems that the content of such documents “goes without saying”; in fact, the saying is the only thing that’s going on. It’s the opposite of poetry, and I love that range and that contrast.

I find myself often thinking of translation of all sorts as a 3-D crossword puzzle—or a 4-D (because time so definitely comes into it), a multi-dimensional crossword puzzle like a Rubik’s cube that has grown extra faces.

2. You are founding editor of La Presse Poetry, a nano-press that publishes books of contemporary experimental French writing translated by English language writers. Could you tell us a bit more about it

La Presse began in 2006, funded by a generous grant from the Tamaas Foundation, a Franco-Maghrebian-American arts-based not-for-profit organization that works in poetry, film, performance, and multi-media to support a wide range of community projects—I urge everyone to check them out.

That said, La Presse is now closed down. I ran it as a single-person operation; I did 20 books, almost all of them by writers who are or had been principal participants in an effort to reassert language as an artistic raw material, to liberate it from its status as a sheerly or even predominantly referential vehicle, and to, instead, foreground its formal and material properties. The books range in genre from poetry to prose, but many of them fall somewhere on the continuum between, in some sort of hybrid form. They were all translated by English-language poets or poet-critics, and they’re all available through SPDbooks.org.

3. In a book of essays you have written, you approached the relationship between translating and writing: “[T]ranslating is in itself writing, and the translator must, therefore, also be a writer.” Could you please kindly elaborate a bit more on this idea?

Yes—I don’t mean that translators must be people who sees themselves as writers and have writing practices outside of their translation practice—though I respectfully acknowledge that there are those who do—but no, I want to underscore that translating is, in itself, writing—to translate well, you also have to write well. It might be considered a genre of writing, in a sense, and if we want to think of it in that light, we might briefly and artificially break it down into two stages: one has to translate out of the language of departure and write into the language of arrival. The second gesture, even though it may feel one with the first is essentially different in that the writing into must be writing not translating if the text is truly going to arrive in the welcoming language. And I think that music plays a large role here. It’s at the level of music that the element of writer overtakes the element of translator. (And here I’m using the terms musicality and materiality somewhat interchangeably—wanting to underscore the inevitable sonority of language, underscore that the principal material quality of language is sound, and that that quality is never not foregrounded in the reader’s experience, whether they realize it or not.) And I’m not just talking about poetry, but about the element of musicality that must hover under and over even the most prosaic text if it is to hold together. 

And so, one must translate with the ear as much as with the mind to avoid allowing the semantic to override all other dimensions of signification, and particularly that of sound. And not only does the translator have to engage the element of music, they have to grasp the music specific to that text, grasp the particularities of that music, which, as it’s necessarily based on the physical attributes of the departure language, may pose great problems in the language of arrival. It’s the grappling at this level that is crucial—the translator must not only also be a writer, but they must also be a musician. As all writers must be.

4. In another essay, you praise error: “[W]henever a message is transferred from one side to another, […] there’s always the chance that […] [it] will become altered in the transmission. We tend to think of such alterations as damage, but […] [they] are not necessarily bad.”Could you also elaborate a bit more on this idea?

The underlying paradigm here is that of self-organization from noise, which is a principle that has informed both information sciences and evolutionary biology. In the latter case (and no doubt grossly, but perhaps useably, oversimplified), information transferred from point X to point Z through channel Y may arrive 100% intact, 0% intact, or any percentage between. While in the transmission of a message or in the copying of a gene sequence, less than 100% accuracy can have unfortunate to disastrous results (the message is indecipherable; the embryo is not viable), it can also have positive effects. In translation, such errors can result in a text that is different but perhaps not degraded if the differences add something positive. This is true with genetic errors as well—it is only such errors in the copying of DNA across generations that have enabled evolution. It was an error in the copying of DNA that first got us started on the opposable thumb. But to return to translation, perhaps it’s a matter of attending to the spirit of a departing text, of listening very deeply, so that when one makes the inevitable errors—as in errant—when one cannot keep to the right path—when one cannot convey a nuance, when one cannot express a fine and essential shade, the offset, the mis-take, though a loss, might also bring something new along with it that might be wholly in line with the overall movement of the piece. And though errors are inevitable and can result in enrichments, I am thinking above all of the errant, as in the deviant routes the translator must at times take and of the wonderful places those deviations might take us through—an openness to the detour, the digression, the deviation seems essential if translation is to be recognized as something more than an attempt at perfect servitude, an attempt that will always fail. If we don’t embrace that failure and see it as also an invitation to err in the most explorative and inventive of ways, we risk producing a cardboard cut-out of the departure text. 

5. In your opinion, “[t]ranslation, in a sense, is always emergent, in that once it has fully emerged, it’s no longer translation; it’s a text.” Could you elaborate a bit more on that beautiful idea? 

It does seem that a translation is a transition; it’s a being in the process of metamorphosis, shifting out of one form and coming into another. As soon as it begins to shift out of the departure language, it begins to emerge into the arrival language. Perhaps the most excellent translations never lose that sense of emergence; they seem to continue in a condition of becoming even as we’re reading them printed on a page. But another way to look at it is to think of the process as having an end, to think of the translation as finally arriving, but once arrived, it is now truly elsewhere—it’s no longer part of the departure language; it’s now a text embedded in and belonging to the arrival language. Looking at the issue in that way stresses the translated text as independent, self-sufficient (as much as it’s possible for any text to be), rather than as a stand-in, crib, or place-holder for something that’s really happening somewhere else, back in that other language. A poem translated into English must become an English-language poem, now entirely free and having no remaining relation to a poem in any other language.

6. Also according to your well-put words, “[a] translation is a ghost: it goes out into another world in all its perfect viability, it causes disbelief, while on the other hand, it sets up an echo, very faint, in the original, so that the original is now haunted by a separate voice that continues to separate.” Care to elaborate more on the idea of translation as a ghost?

One thing that’s always interested me is how a translation effects the translated. While it would be impossible to trace, I’ve always sensed that a translation reverberates backward and establishes a kind of presence in the version in the departure language—it doesn’t do anything—it just sort of hovers over it, emanating its differences, and therefore emanating the potential of difference in general. It unleashes differentiation as a principle and as action, re-activating the surface; the ghost of translation crazes the surface of the departure text with all the innumerable other things and ways and phrases that that text could have been or could be. But below and beyond that, it operates as an occupation; the translation, while careening always forward, also whips backward to occupy the original in an almost colonizing sense. And I do think that we have to be very aware of and careful with that colonizing potential. Both haunting and colonizing are ways of occupying; the former marked by always insufficient evidence, the latter marked by always too much. Can a good translation strike a balance that rests more like a guest, gracious, grateful, and temporary? While I think most can manage the gracious and grateful, I have my doubts about the temporary—I think the ghost remains, and reciprocally—the ghost of arrival constantly haunting the ghost of departure, but also vice-versa, creating a network of hauntings as a work gets translated into more and more languages. 

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

Rosmarie Waldrop

Guest post: Qual é o valor do seu trabalho?

Bem-vindos de volta à série de convidados do blog!

A convidada deste mês é a Laila Compan, do Tradutor Iniciante.

ValorImagem fornecida pela autora

Muito além da tarifa

Olá, tradutores! Tudo bem com vocês?

Vamos conversar sobre um assunto que vai um pouco além daquilo que nós estamos acostumados a ouvir, e que temos que demonstrar ao cliente da melhor maneira possível: o valor do nosso trabalho. E só para começar, quero fazer uma pergunta que tenho feito bastante lá no Tradutor Iniciante: qual é o valor do seu trabalho?

A pergunta parece fácil, mas não se trata da sua tarifa por palavra, lauda ou minuto. O valor do nosso trabalho vai muito além do preço que cobramos por ele, e é justamente demonstrando o seu valor que o cliente vai decidir se vai aceitar pagar aquilo que você está cobrando ou não.

Já parou para se perguntar por que o cliente contrata o seu serviço e não o do seu colega, já que todos nós fazemos praticamente a mesma coisa? Ou por que um cliente aceita pagar por um serviço sem pedir desconto?

Antes de continuar, vamos definir o que é valor. Segundo o dicionário, valor pode indicar, sim, o preço de alguma coisa, mas também significa o “conjunto de qualidades excepcionais que atraem respeito e consideração do outros”, ou seja, o valor não é apenas aquilo que as pessoas estão dispostas a pagar. Dinheiro, número, está relacionado a preço e não ao valor. O valor só existirá se o produto ou serviço apresentar algum benefício para o cliente, e é o próprio cliente que tem que perceber isso.

Vou dar um exemplo bem simples: por que uma pessoa prefere jantar no restaurante X e não no Y, mesmo sabendo que no primeiro terá que enfrentar fila, além de ser mais caro, sendo que no segundo é só chegar, sentar e comer e, no final, a conta ainda será mais barata? Geralmente, porque o ambiente do primeiro restaurante é mais acolhedor, o atendimento é melhor ou qualquer outra justificativa que a pessoa, o cliente, possa encontrar. O restaurante vai oferecer algo além da comida para criar valor e o cliente aceita pagar aquele preço, mas para isso acontecer, o cliente precisa perceber esse valor.

Para conseguir mostrar o valor do seu trabalho ao cliente, primeiramente, você precisa conhecer o tipo de serviço que presta, entender por que está cobrando determinada tarifa e o que tem a oferecer ao seu cliente. Isso envolve autoconhecimento e conversa com o cliente, e não apenas “tiragem de pedido”.

Faça um checklist de tudo o que precisa analisar:

  • Conheça o seu trabalho e o que você tem a oferecer ao cliente
  • Procure inovar na sua oferta e naquilo que você entrega (para fazer isso, é preciso conhecer o cliente e o que ele precisa)
  • Mostre para o cliente que ele só tem a ganhar contratando o seu serviço
  • Confie em você e no seu trabalho

Esse último item é o mais importante, porque se você não confiar, se não souber o que tem a oferecer ao seu cliente, não vai conseguir conquistá-lo.

Somente quando o cliente consegue enxergar o valor do produto ou serviço que lhe é oferecido terá a sensação de que a aquisição, independentemente do preço, foi um bom negócio. Por isso, é importante escutar o que o cliente deseja, identificar suas necessidades e então relacioná-las com o que temos a oferecer. Assim, ele conseguirá perceber o valor do que será feito.

Sobre a autora
Foto 2019Laila Compan é tradutora de espanhol, especialista em legendagem e tradução para dublagem, professora de legendagem, palestrante e idealizadora e criadora de conteúdo do Tradutor Iniciante.

Greatest Women in Translation: Marcella Durand

^3BD2FAACEAC897D21BE68030808476304DC722B6E37A1C22D8^pimgpsh_fullsize_distrCreated by Erick Tonin

Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

This month, I talked to Marcella Durand, nominated by Nina Parish and Emma Wagstaff.

Marcella DurandCreated with Canva

1. You translated a book by one of our previous interviewees, Michèle Métail, Earth’s Horizon. Could you share your translation experience with us?

I first encountered Métail’s work, including Les Horizons du Sol (CiPM, 1999), when doing research for an anthology project. The anthology project didn’t work out, but Métail’s work stayed with me. I was caught by the geological content of Les Horizons du Sol—not many writers delve so deeply or so experimentally into geology. Les Horizons du Sol was written in a precise form developed by Métail during a residency she held in Marseille, and the poem progresses through deep geological time into the human histories of Marseille, one of the oldest cities in Europe. Its language is incredibly complex, with a wealth of allusions to geological events and formations specific to the area, Provencal history, and poets such as Guillevic and Mallarmé. There was a lot in it to understand, so, in order to understand it better, I decided I needed to try translating it. At first, I didn’t follow the constraint that Métail had developed for the poem—48 characters per line, 24 lines per page—as I was primarily interested in the content, but after contacting her and discussing it with her, I learned how integral form is to content in her work—that to convey Les Horizons du Sol in its entirety, I needed to respect her intentions and carry the form into English as well. There is also no punctuation: the poem is one long continuous sentence, which relates to the geological/historical time of the book. The history of Marseille is at the end realized as the “perpetuity of an immemorial south.” This might describe the human histories of all our places—that our history has evolved continuously from a deep geology that we can barely comprehend within our limited human perception of physical time. Translation is also part of that continuous past-present: I will forever be translating Les Horizons; I never “understood” in the way I thought I might understand it. It is a truly experimental text that will challenge me forever.

2. You are also an author, and your latest book is The Prospect. How do you think that being an author helps you as a translator?

For me, translation is a form of reading, so I like to stay as close to the original text as possible. So I am probably not as creative or even original as some other poets might be when translating texts. However, that said, I rely utterly on poetic “tools” to shape the translation—poetry is how I select one word vs. another, how I pay attention to the “sound” of the poem while also conveying its sense (one of the most basic difficulties of translation—how to balance the original form with content), how I adjust the syntax to carry a sense of another language and culture while yet being comprehensible in American English, how I can carry the aesthetic interest of the original to the translation, and to comprehend the poetic purpose of the original. When I read translations, I am first attracted to those done by poets, even if sometimes their interpretations verge on outrageous. I prefer a translation that puts the creative and aesthetic intentions of the original first, which I think poets do.

3. In this interview, you say, “I am a white woman of indeterminate class, and there are many subtle (and not so subtle) ways my writing—and the reception of my writing—is affected by this.” Could you elaborate a bit more on this thought?

In the U.S., in order to maintain white supremacy, white people are taught that whiteness is the norm, and it is difficult (intentionally) as such to learn to “see” our own position of privilege and power. Poet Evelyn Reilly has written, riffing off an artwork by Anne Tardos, “having been brainwashed as children we must suspect ourselves always.” And so much has been elided—for instance, Suzanne Cesaire’s work. Author and translator John Keene wrote an essay in 2016, “Translating Poetry, Translating Blackness,” on the systemic racism inherent in what is translated and what is published, which has helped me think about my own choices in terms of what I read, what I write about, what I can write about, of course, whom I translate. I’m very uncomfortable with the fact that I am a white woman primarily translating another white woman. So, to educate myself, I have been reading a lot of contemporary translated African fiction, such as Doomi Golo, the first novel to be translated into English from Wolof. With this self-education (because it’s certainly not available for the most part in school!), I hope to progress enough to envision how I can expand my own translation horizons and develop another translation relationship that is more equitable and that will bring, ethically and non-extractively or exploitatively, much-needed voices and perspectives here to my very troubled country. I had hoped to recommend a Black woman poet translator for this series, but with by-now familiar horror, realized I don’t know enough. I need to educate myself more—again, what am I reading? Who do I “know” and why? What circles of comfort am I staying in? What are the privileges behind translating that are also barriers?

4. In your introduction to your translation of Michèle’s work, you say, “I don’t mind the slightly awkward tone of some translations—I liked having that sense of the original texture, rather than the sense of forcing something into (questionable) American vernacular.” In your opinion, what are the challenges when translating from French into English?

With Métail’s work in particular, the largest challenge is reconciling the lucidity and precision of French with the connotative and vague qualities of English. English is a more concise (some may say brutal) language with a lot of syntactical shortcuts, so in order to maintain Métail’s numerical constraints, I have to take “the long way” round, so to speak, and keep sentences a little more ornate than they would ordinarily be in American English. However, happily, I have discovered that many lovely, long, seemingly obscure words in French are similar or the same in English—for instance, I spent a long time trying to figure out how to translate “septentrional” when at last I realized it existed in English! (This was before I subscribed to the online OED.) As I mentioned earlier, another challenge is balancing the exquisite sound and form of French with its sense—so many French poets have never been satisfactorily translated into English because their form was so highly developed and translators couldn’t reconcile that form with content. The sonic structures of say, Apollinaire or Mallarmé, are so complex and rigorous, but when translated into English, they sound like simple old-fashioned rhyme, which clashes too much with the avant-garde content of a poem like “Zone.” I actually tried writing a long alexandrine of my own (Rays of the Shadow published by Tent Editions in 2017), in part to figure out why the alexandrine rarely “works” in English. There was something important in how this form is so important to French speakers and undergirds all French writing in some ways, and yet is close to unworkable in English—I wanted to get into that fissure. I’m not sure I found a definitive answer, but I think I will be returning to that space for a very long time in my own poetic explorations.

5. Later, you also say, “While I will never fully finish translating Les Horizons du sol, its essential incompletion leaves it open and evolving, I hope for all who read it too.” Do you think that we, as translators (and authors alike), are ever able to be fully satisfied with our translations to the point of considering it a “finished work”?

For me, the translation is never done. And I think that’s an important reason why translation is so important to keeping poetry alive—it is necessary to translate and retranslate texts as our culture changes around (and because of) them. The poet Caroline Bergvall created an amazing piece (VIA: 48 Dante Variations) in which she collected translations of Dante’s opening lines of The Inferno: each translation is so indelibly marked by its culture and era, and reveals how shifting and mobile and expressive our language is through time. I also love the spectrum of translation of supposedly “classic” texts, and I love translations that are very playful and maybe not so respectful—if you compare Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey with Alexander Pope’s, it’s mindblowingly exciting to see the differences, and inspiring.

6. This is a question I usually like asking: How did you get into translation?

I was raised by a French father who did not speak any English when he first arrived in the U.S. for my birth. I like to say we learned English together, but that also meant I did not speak French at home. Instead, I learned it very late in high school and college, so I am nowhere near fluent. It was often painful (and still is) when visiting relatives in France not to be able to fully understand them and to feel there is a kind of veil between us. So translation became a way for me to pull that veil away—translating helps me piece together the realities (which are, of course, shifting realities) of French and France. I also love French poetry so deeply—it is more of an influence on me as a poet than English poetry. And it seems that the American poets I love the most also found their first inspirations in French poetry. Rimbaud’s Vowels first grabbed me as a college freshwoman and turned me toward becoming a poet, followed by so many incredible French and Francophone poets, classic and contemporary.

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

I would like to nominate poet Cole Swensen because of her amazing work translating French writers such as Suzanne Doppelt, Jean Frémon, Olivier Cadiot and Pascale Monnier. She’s been an enormous inspiration both as poet and translator.

Greatest Women in Translation: Nina Parish & Emma Wagstaff

Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

This month we have two interviewees who work together and, therefore, were also interviewed together, Nina Parish and Emma Wagstaff, both nominated by Valentina Gosetti.

Welcome, Nina and Emma!

1. Why don’t you both start by telling us how you got into translation?

Nina: As an academic in French Studies, translation has been an important part of my training. I was taught translation as an undergraduate at Royal Holloway; I wrote one of my dissertations for a Masters in Aix-en-Provence on a translation of a poem by Blaise Cendrars by Dos Passos and now I have been teaching translation for a number of years at undergraduate and postgraduate level at the University of Bath and more recently the University of Stirling. It’s one of my favourite areas to teach – it’s such a good way of understanding and working really closely with texts and language. At Bath, I was Director of Studies for the Masters in Interpreting and Translating and this role taught me so much about the workings of this professional world ranging from the exhilarations of interpreting at the UN to the vital task of careful proof-reading.

Emma: I don’t have as much of a background in translation as Nina does, though I was thrown into the deep end on arriving in my current job where I had to teach translation theory, sometimes only being one week ahead of the students in the textbook! I also enjoy teaching translation: it’s popular with students for its practical side, and it’s an opportunity to discuss interesting and challenging texts. I have increasingly found myself thinking and writing about translation, because the French poets I have studied, including André du Bouchet and Philippe Jaccottet, were themselves translators and wrote fascinating reflections on translation and on the interrelationship between poetry and translation.

2. You run a poetry network together. Could you tell us a bit about it?

We ran a poetry network together – Contemporary poetic practice in French: an interdisciplinary approach – from 2012 to 2015. The website for this network is still up and running but we don’t update it as much as we’d like anymore. Thanks to funding from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, we were able to organize a series of six workshops on poetry, politics and philosophy at the University of Oxford, poetry and translation at the Centre international de poésie Marseille (CipM), poetry and new technologies at the University of Bath, poetry and visual arts at the University of Cambridge, poetry, music and performance at the University of Birmingham, and in conjunction with the Birkbeck Centre for Research in the Aesthetics of Kinship and Community, ‘Les Nouvelles écritures politiques: le poète dans la communauté’ at the University of London. We welcomed university academics and artistic practitioners from Great Britain, The Republic of Ireland, France, Belgium, Italy, and North America to these workshops which were also accompanied by poetry readings and performances, a translation workshop, an exhibition, and the composition of a new musical work for which we hosted the premiere (and at which Emma and I had our first terrifying experience of live interpreting at a public event!). We wanted to find out who was working on poetic practice in French and how they were going about it and it was a really rich experience. Translation was a common thread throughout these workshops – between different languages, but also different disciplines and forms – and the practical translation workshop that we organised at the CipM, led by Stephen Romer and Jennie Feldman, was a real highlight underlining the intellectual challenges of translating poetry but also the very human challenges of working collaboratively on this type of task.

3. You both have also co-edited an anthology, Writing the Real: A Bilingual Anthology of Contemporary French Poetry. Could you also tell us a bit about it, including how you worked together in writing it?

This anthology was an unplanned but very welcome result of our network. The volume was commissioned by Enitharmon Press and it was the writer and academic Jérôme Game (whose work features in the anthology) who put us in touch with Stephen Stuart-Smith at Enitharmon. Our brief was to include a few pages of text from each of 15-20 French poets who, if not young, were at least ‘young at heart’ and considered their work political. The texts included are not all overtly political in terms of content, but the poets would be clear that their writing is a political act.

We came to decisions about what to include through reading the poets’ work, in discussion with one another, and by asking the advice of people we know with extensive knowledge of the comptemporary scene. Eric Giraud, who was then working at the CipM, was particularly helpful. Some of the translations had previously been published in the US or the UK. We didn’t quite achieve our aim of parity between men and women poets, though the translators are predominantly female; there is work to be done on that disparity. With nearly half of the poets being women, our anthology stands out from recently anthologised poetry in France: there are fewer published female poets, and those women tend to resist attention being drawn to their gender.

The contemporary dimension of the anthology not only affected the choice of texts but also the process of translating and editing them, because we were able to consult the poets themselves (in all but one case) on the particular pieces to be included and follow up their suggestions for translators. The translators could then discuss their approach with the poets.

We took the decison to each translate the work of one poet: Emma translated Philippe Beck and Nina translated Anne-James Chaton. We also co-wrote the introduction which provides some context about the contemporary French poetry scene and introduces the various tendencies within it.

The anthology is currently sold out but it will be available electronically in the next months via the Enitharmon website.

4. Nina, I was particularly interested in your “work on representations of difficult history, the migrant experience and multilingualism in the museum space,” as stated on your page. Could you tell us a bit about it?

Questions around representation in museums in terms of both form and content has become a strong focus of the research that I now do. I’ve been fortunate to be part of some really interesting projects exploring these areas in the last few years.

I collaborated on the Horizon 2020-funded Unsettling Remembering and Social Cohesion in Transnational Europe (UNREST) project. With colleagues from the UK, Germany, Spain, Denmark and Poland, we tested a new mode of remembering – agonistic memory – through empirical fieldwork in war museums and sites of mass exhumations. Throughout the three years of this project (it finished at the end of March 2019), we visited a lot of war museums and spent a lot of time thinking about how to represent difficult history within the museum space. We even developed our own exhibition, Krieg. Macht. Sinn., which opened at the Ruhr Museum in Germany on 11 November 2018.

I’ve also spent time in Australia working with Dr Chiara O’Reilly from the University of Sydney firstly on a project to do with telling migrant stories in the museum where we compared how a range of different Australian museums, from federally-funded to volunteer-run, approached this kind of task. More recently we have been working on questions of memory and place particularly in relation to the centenary commemorations of World War One in Australia.

The modern museum, more often than not, is associated with sight, with the (male, heterosexual, European) gaze. But experiential new museology and innovative soundscapes as a key part of exhibition space mean that our relationship to sound and language within the museum space has changed. Our accoustic experiences of the world can be included, and when it comes to representations of language these will inevitably be multilingual. As a modern languages researcher, I am keen to find out how this multilingual experience has been and can be better represented in the museum.

5. Emma, you “teach on a range of courses in French Studies, with a particular focus on translation, modern texts and visual art,” as stated on your page. Could you tell us a bit more about how you combine all of them?

I’m not necessarily expected to combine them, but in fact I find that there are lots of overlaps. For instance, I have taught a specialist option for a number of years on the links between writers and artists in the modern period. Students engage very well with the notion of ekphrasis and sometimes suggest it is a kind of translation between media. I have also taught sessions on Pierre Reverdy in a cross-language course on European Modernism. This is delivered in English because students do not necessarily study French. I find that they are interested in discussing the implications of studying poetry in translation.

The research I have been working on recently – a book on André du Bouchet – considers his response to art by his contemporaries and artists from earlier periods, including engravings by Miklos Bokor, Nicolas de Staël, and the seventeenth-century Dutch artist Hercules Seghers. I devote a chapter to his translation practice, including in particular his translation of poetry by Paul Celan and his ‘Notes on Translation’ inspired by Ossip Mandelstam. Poets who edited or contibuted to the literary and cultural review L’Éphémère (1967-72), including Du Bouchet, Jacques Dupin, Yves Bonnefoy, Michel Leiris, and Louis-René des Forêts, created a review in which poetic texts in French sat alongside translated pieces and were interleaved with drawings and engravings.

In our poetry network, to which, as Nina says, translation became integral, we found that when crossing boundaries of genre and media, poetry quite naturally also moves between languages.

6. Valentina Gosetti, our previous interviewee, who nominated you both, told us your “collaborative work is brilliant” and you are “a constant source of inspiration.” Could you tell us a bit more about how you work together and why you think this collaboration works so well?

Nina: Valentina is too kind! Nearly all the work I do now is collaborative – I really enjoy working with people. But the collaboration with Emma is very special to me. We’ve known each other for many years – Emma is a friend too – we met as PhD students working on modern poetry in 1999 or 2000 – and have kept in touch ever since. We have quite different personalities which complement each other and that is very helpful when you’re working on projects which require a vast range of skills. We are able to divide tasks fairly and I never feel hard done by or under pressure when I work with Emma – that may well be because she is quietly doing most of the work! Emma is a brilliant, extremely erudite, very modest woman. She also has a good sense of humour which is crucial.

Emma: Nina, in turn, is too kind – and I certainly don’t do most of the work! One of the reasons it’s so easy and enjoyable to work with Nina is that we seem to understand each other, and are therefore able to divide up tasks between us while being aware that sometimes one of us will have other urgent priorities. Our friendship and partnership over the last twenty years have been enormously important to me: spending time with Nina is one of the main reasons I enjoy academic research, and she is a role model for women – and everyone – in academia for the energy and acumen she brings to any event or project. Our generation has seen a shift from the ‘lone scholar’ model in Arts and Humanities research to the requirement to work in new, collaborative ways, and it can sometimes feel hard to adapt to that way of envisioning research. I’ve found that working with Nina, and observing from outside how she has been involved in successful, innovative team-led projects, have helped me see the potential and benefits of collaborative research.

We should add that we also find Valentina inspirational in her enthusiastic promotion of poetry and translation!

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

Marcella Durand. We came across Marcella’s brilliant translations of Michèle Métail when we were working on a chapter about translating poetry and constraints. She was so generous and attentive to our questions that we look forward to working with her again.

Guest post: Uncertainties, new beginnings, and things in between

Welcome back to our guest post series!

Today, I have the pleasure of welcoming a great friend of mine, Mariana Sasso, translator, who is currently venturing into the freelance world.

Please note this post was written before the pandemic, so the running part applied to the pre-coronavirus reality. However, all her tips are great for our current reality.

Welcome, Mariana!

Source: Pixabay

When push comes to shove…

When something unplanned, unexpected, or incredibly awesome happens to us, like embarking upon an impromptu or unplanned trip to a fabulous place, or meeting someone fantastic for the first time, I’m sure any of us would be more than glad to experience these things with open arms. But, when the winds of change bring us “Lord Voldemort” instead of “Mary Poppins” (and by that, I mean: unemployment, disease, debt, last-minute emergency surgery, or the death of a loved one, for a few examples), it is not uncommon to feel like our world has crumbled like a tower of cards, or that the floor has vanished from under our feet – and, after going through what can only be described as an emotional tsunami over the past four years, I know this all too well and first hand.

Today, as I slowly pave the way of emotional recovery and search for a new and rewarding job, Caroline suggested that I make a list of things that might have helped me occupy my brain (hello, Black Sabbath) during this hiatus in my life. I loved her suggestion right away and hope that this can help – if not exactly inspire you in your own life (because, let’s get real: you won’t find anything revolutionary in my list below) – at least, make you feel comforted in knowing that we are all on the same boat, and that everyone has to struggle and fight in life, more often than we’d like to admit, in spite of what unrealistic social media posts would want us to believe. So, here’s my small (yet prolix) list of things I have been doing while I prepare for the next stage in my life:

Catching up with my reading: I guess you’re going to agree with me when I say that, after our souls were offered in sacrifice to the gods of Instagram, Netflix, Amazon Prime and WhatsApp, the number of books we all read has decreased exponentially, am I right? Personally, I’ve never gone too long without turning a page, but, after I got my first smartphone some years ago, I feel like my brain has been screaming for help, buried under a thick layer of dust and spider webs hanging from its four walls. So, now that I have been “in-between jobs” (which is a fancy way to say “unemployed”), I figured this could be the ideal moment to tackle this predicament with a twofold plan of action: 1) I stopped beating myself up for being a lousy reader, and accepted that I had to stop shaming myself for not reading books anymore if I wanted to have some self-respect and move on; 2) I did the only thing that would solve my not-reading problem: I chose something short to get me back on reading, instead of a long novel, for example. My go-to writer in these cases is David Foster Wallace. This American writer was very prolific in his production of short stories and essays, which have inspired me in my own writing and helped me learn new ideas, linguistic structures and vocabulary. Also, I can read one essay or short story per day, which is not much, but gives me a sense of achievement and continuing progress, which is a more than welcome feeling. Of course, the number of brilliant authors suggested here would be never-ending, but starting by David Foster Wallace’s short stories and essays has been working wonders for me.

Catching up with my physical health: As a freelance translator, I spend most of my hours just sitting on a chair, and the longest distance I walk on a daily basis is the one that connects my office to the bathroom or the kitchen. Here, once again, I know for sure that I am not alone in this, right? Our modern world has been perfectly designed to make us perform the highest number of tasks without having to move more than three fingers (hello, smartphones and all the apps). So, if I didn’t make a conscious effort to actually stand up and start moving, now that I have been spending so much idle time at home, I would only prolong this unhealthy state of sedentarism. So, “for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run” (hello, Forest Gump). However, in my case, it was actually a little walk – I just did exactly what Forest Gump did in the movie: I stood up from my chair, opened the door to the street, and started walking. I just went, walked around the block, and came back home. I didn’t allow me to get caught up in thoughts of buying a new pair of sneakers, changing into leggings or gym suit, or setting a playlist up for the journey. For me, all these preparations, however important and healthy they really are, were only making me find excuses not to do any exercise at all. So, I decided to just stand up and go! Eventually, I was exercising every day, for as long as it felt relevant and pleasant to me – no charts, no rigorous schedules, no self-beating for not overachieving, no self-blaming or any other reproaching feeling. Now, I exercise because I love my body and want to make it feel good, healthy and prepared for when I start working again, and not because I have to or because I need to punish myself. Important: The idea here is to be inclusive of all types and shapes of bodies, including those with disabilities. No one needs to do more than what we can do to be healthy, and doing the best possible with what we’ve got is more than awesome!

Catching up with my mental health: I cleaned up my Instagram feed, so that I would stop seeing unrealistic images of body types and lifestyles, that, exactly because they were unrealistic, unreasonable, and unsustainable, were only making me feel like an underachiever. I started following only people (especially women) that I find inspirational in how they grab their daily bulls by the horns and in how they make me feel like getting up and joining them in doing the best I can with the tools I have on that day. Sometimes, at the end of the day, I am able to add a checkmark in front of every bullet added in my to-do list. Other times, I fail miserably and just have to deal with it. Either way, I make a conscious effort to respect myself and walk hand-in-hand with… me! I don’t always love myself, and I very often tend to fall prey to the trap of self-loathing, but I have been trying to make a conscious effort not to give up on myself. I am just hanging in there a day more, and, together, myself and I, with self-respect and patience, we can get to the end of the tunnel.

Catching up with my studies: Do you sometimes also feel like you know nothing, that you are a fraud or that you are lucky someone actually hired you? I hear you, my friend. Impostor syndrome is no joke, and it can hit you hard. So, what I decided to do is brush up my English skills the best way I could at the moment. The first thing I did was study for certification tests (like TEOIC, TOEFL and IELTS, for example). There’s plenty of either free or paid material online that we can download and study for a few minutes, or even some hours, depending on our purpose. I feel that it has helped me a lot, especially on my writing and reading skills. Another thing I did was to purchase an online English course with native tutors. This way, I practice for a few hours a week with a native teacher, who can correct my mispronunciation and help me knock some rust off my speaking skill. However, these courses can be quite costly, in which case there’s always the possibility of reaching out to a fellow translator or English teacher and establishing a partnership for tandem studying and mutual improvement. Another thing that I find has helped a lot improve my writing skills is keeping a daily journal. I just sit and write, at least one single sentence every day in my journal. Simple as it may sound, this can be a very challenging and productive self-improvement effort.

Catching up with social responsibility: Here’s where we look out of our “miseries” and see how much the world needs our active presence and involvement. I won’t make a list of things, people, institutions or places that would desperately need our active engagement, because it varies so much from place to place, country to country, and people to people, but I will say that there’s no better time to start volunteering than when your schedule is mostly free and flexible. All it takes is the first step; reaching our hands out just a tad, and a path of self-discovery, self-healing and extremely fruitful and enriching interactions will open right in front of us.

Now, to conclude, because I’ve come a long way in my grieving/sabbatical period, and because I feel a lot better now, I find myself in a place where I would like to wave my hand high at people who might be going through challenging or even devastating situations. I am not here to try and spread pearls of wisdom or dispense unrequested advice, but, rather, to remind you that things can, and will, eventually get better and that, with a huge help from our friends and family, and maybe a significant amount of medical treatment and medication, which was exactly my case, we can all get through tough times. Meanwhile, during this process, we can catch up on things that, for whatever reason, have been neglected along the way. You can count on me if you need encouragement or help. Together, we go farther!

Sobre a autora

Mariana Barontini Sasso has been a technical translator of English and Portuguese since 2008.

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.

Guest post: Adapting to our new reality

Welcome back to our guest post series!

Today, please welcome Virginia Katsimpiri, Greek translator, who will talk about how to turn your translation business into an online model.

Welcome, Virginia!

Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash

How to turn our translation business model into a virtual one so as to adapt to the new reality

When I was creating the slides for my presentation for the BP20 Conference on client-retention strategies and how to turn your existing clients into loyal promoters of your business previously this year, I could not have predicted the coronavirus crisis that would hit us all. As a result, I had to adapt the content of my speech to the current situation, which inspired me to think of methods of turning the strategies I was going to teach into online ones. And eventually our business model into a virtual one. 

Before getting into this article’s topic, I would like to mention that we, as translators and language professionals, are lucky enough to be able to practice our profession even the current situation or in the event of such a coronavirus crisis.

And I know you might be thinking, “What about us who work in-house, who are interpreters, or who are even legal translators that cannot go to the court under such circumstances?” Well, I repeat: We are lucky enough to be able to turn our business model into a virtual one, work as freelancers with clients from all over the world, or even as employees with teleworking.

I know that too many translators put all their efforts towards optimizing their sales funnels and forget about what comes after a customer makes a purchase. 

Did you know that gaining new clients is 25% more expensive than retaining your existing ones?

Here are some excellent strategies you can use not only to make loyal promoters out of your clients BUT also to turn your translation business model into a virtual one:

Engage with Your Clients Online

When you interact with clients online and show them that you value their opinion, your customers will think positively about your brand. 

This has become easier than ever especially nowadays that the whole world is connected online.

Online presence
With your website and your online presence through your social media accounts, you can interact with customers anytimeanywhere.

Direct contact
Reach customers by directly engaging with them. 
Use social media to publish posts that start a conversation, or questions that encourage customers to share their opinion. 

I totally recommend you respond directly to your customers’ comments, posts, questions, and even tweets.

High-quality content
It is very important to create high-quality content that is useful and informative for your ideal clients. They’ll appreciate your publishing content they can use, leading them to share it with their own network.

Diverse content
In order to get the best possible results, you can publish different forms of content, such as articles, videos, gifs, infographics. That way you can reach different audiences no matter what type of content they look for.

Interactive website
Set up an interactive website where your ideal clients can interact with you. How can you create an interactive website? It is simpler than you think: You can add a review section, a Q&A page, why not a live chat? All of these ways are effective when it comes to boosting your interactivity.

Hold Online Events 

One of the best ways to spread word of mouth about your business is by setting up events. Many colleagues among us know that very well and have been practicing that method for many years.

They can give you a chance to connect one-on-one with your potential customers.

The best way to have better results is to keep in mind your target market. 

Tip 1: Your clients will enjoy an event even more if it has content that fits their own unique needs and interests.

Tip 2: Your clients can help your brand reach a larger audience more effectively than you could on your own. 

Tip 3: In order to spur more participation, you can offer small giveaways for anyone who posts or tweets about the event. It can be a discount in project, or a printed calendar with your logo, for example.

Many of you have been asking me what those events could be. I always encourage my mentees to be creative and resourceful. For example, I started hosting lives on my translation business Facebook account every Monday to discuss issues my clients would be interested in.

Provide First-Class Customer Service Online

Customer service horror stories can spread in no time. It has been shown that complaints about a company’s customer service have twice as much reach as positive stories, on average. Can you imagine that?

Sometimes you cannot avoid complaints, but you can handle them the right way so each and every one of your clients feels like a priority. 

Personalised communication
Start by genuinely talking with your customers and addressing them by name. A personalized message is much more effective at engaging the recipient and building brand loyalty.

If there is a problem with one of your clients and/or projects, be respectful as you take steps to solve it. 

Valuable feedback
The more comfortable you make the customer feel, the more likely they are to appreciate your customer service and provide valuable feedback that helps you improve your business.

Always aim to go above and beyond in terms of service. Instead of learning about issues when customers complain, follow up with every customer to make sure they’re satisfied with their purchase. How you can do this? 

A very common and simple way is to use a free app/software/tool to create a survey online asking your clients to give you feedback about your work. You can send it as soon as you deliver a project. It’s an online process that builds trust between you and your clients, creating a long-lasting relationship with them. That is also a great way to ask for a testimonial that you can share later on your website or social media accounts.

Offer Freebies and Special Deals also Online 

As a great tactic, you can consider sending occasional gifts to your clients. It doesn’t have to be anything major – most of people will perceive it as a nice gesture.

I will never forget a very nice purple notebook I got from Caroline last year with her logo on it in Bologna during the BP 19 Conference as a nice gesture and also a great marketing strategy. 😉 I still have it at my office!

Customer loyalty programs and referral programs are beneficial for your business and build brand loyalty.

  • Loyalty programs lead to more sales and reward clients. You can offer a discount, for example, to loyal clients.
  • Referral programs help you build a larger customer base while rewarding customers who spread the word about your business. You can offer a percentage of the earnings to the person who refer you to potential clients, or hire a salesperson to do this professionally. 

Unexpected extras, even if it’s something as simple as an email with a discount offer or a personal letter, give customers a positive impression of your business. They’re also an easy way to keep your brand on your customers’ minds.

Final Thoughts

Sales are the lifeblood of your translation business but focusing entirely on your sales means you’re only considering short-term goals without seeing the bigger picture.

Nowadays, especially during this lockdown, we have the perfect occasion to start implementing the above-mentioned strategies to attract projects, if not now in the near future. This is the right time to be present online and remind our ideal clients about our brand.

To build a strong brand that continues growing, you need to develop a connection that makes customers want to promote your brand for you. How cool would that be?

 You can connect online through your web presence and with events. Make sure that you provide excellent service and the occasional bonuses that consistently make your customers happy.

Let me know if you have any more ideas that could help us transform our business model into a virtual one.

If you still struggle with finding clients, getting more projects and creating a steady workflow, I’ve got you covered: I created a 90’ free masterclass to teach all strategies that I’ve used and that helped me expand my business over the years, and triple my income over the last few years.

Register for free here now! It’s tomorrow, May 28, 5 pm CET!

I created this masterclass especially for these times of crisis we’re all experiencing.

About the author

Virginia Katsimpiri is an English & French to Greek Certified Translator, with more than 13 years of full-time translation experience in the following fields: law, finance & aeronautics/defence industry. She holds an ΜA in Translation & an Executive MBA. As a certified translator and coach, Virginia teaches and practices translator mentoring methods. For her MBA dissertation Virginia ran a qualitative research study on “Client Acquisition Strategies for Language Professionals”, while she helps other translators to attract clients and build their profitable business.
You can visit her website or LinkedIn | Contact: info@vmentoring.com & mail@virginiakatsimpiri.com

Life, translation, and the new normal

To begin with, I think it’s worth mentioning that, for me, life and translation are somewhat intertwined. Translation is my life, but my life is not all about translation. So let’s consider this reading from that angle.

But first things first: How are you hanging in there? I sincerely hope things are well, considering the circumstances, of course. But do share with me in the comments below how your life has changed with this new normal.

I’m on my 58th day of self-quarantine.

  • I’m single, I live by myself, no children.
  • I’m a freelance translator who has always worked at home, so nothing changed there.
  • I work in an area and with clients that have not been affected by the pandemic. (Come to IT, y’all!)
  • I’m an introvert (although it may not seem so; believe me, even I was shocked when my therapist told me so) and I love staying at home, watching TV (God bless Netflix!).
  • I live in a small town that has not been seriously affected (yet?).
  • I can shop online for most of the things I need.
  • If I really need to go out, I have a car.

Biggest changes in my routine: No weekly manicure (I’ll live), no yoga classes twice a week, no gym during the week, not seeing my nephews (this is hard!), no occasional meetings with friends to talk over a drink and laugh.

If this does not mean privilege, I don’t know what does.

I should be feeling gooood, right? I should be jumping in total bliss.

Well, one of the things COVID-19 is teaching us is that absolutely nothing is obvious, expected, and black-in-white.

Everything started in the beginning of my self-quarantine, when I came to the conclusion that my fully planned and paid-for vacation trip to Europe with my mom would have to be cancelled. Oh, the headache to cancel everything (which I’m still doing, btw)! Oh, the disappointment! Oh, the despair of having absolutely no idea when I’ll be able to take a vacation (something I religiously do at least once a year). After all, why take a vacation to stay at home, something I do every single day? And all of this while dealing with the dreaded COVID-19 reality. Oh, the fear! I lost it. I had a terrible week where I just felt like sleeping and crying, and didn’t feel like working (yes, me!).

Since then, it’s been like an emotional roller coaster.

It’s like I’m bipolar or something.

I had down-in-the-dumps, cry-my-eyes-out, let-me-sleep-forever moments, and then I’d have ok moments. I didn’t feel like posting on social media. I couldn’t even think about my podcast and blog. I hated every single live! I barely had the strength to work, so I saved all my energy to it, which was already a huge effort.

I miss going out with friends and travelling. I miss hugs. I still don’t feel like exercising at home. For me, it doesn’t make sense to exercise (a relaxing time) where I work (online). I need the human “contact” and presence. After all, it’s already a big deal working where I live. And being stuck at home, not being able to leave, makes things worse.

Since I’m an introvert by nature and I love being with myself, I’ve learned to recognize, understand, and question my feelings and behaviors. Now I’ve learned something else: Embracing them.

No matter who you are, what you do, and to what extent your life has been affected by the pandemic, it’s absolutely normal to feel sad, depressed, or not your usual self. We’re living in unprecedented times filled by fear. We have absolutely no idea what the future holds and when this nightmare will go away (if it will ever be completely gone). This reality, in itself, can really make we lose our minds.

So here’s what I have learned so far:

  • It’s totally ok to feel the way you are feeling. Learn to identify, understand, and question your feelings, but, most of all, embrace them. Think of yourself as a scared child who needs love, understanding, and a great deal of pampering. Treat yourself to whatever you feel you need.
  • You don’t feel like exercising in front of your mobile phone, computer, or TV? Then don’t! Someday, somehow, the feeling will come, or you will find something you feel like doing. Give it time.
  • Do you feel like eating everything and a bit more? Just do it! Again, someday, somehow, you will feel like eating healthier. Try to do it, of course, but don’t feel bad for not feeling like it. Do not judge yourself. Be patient and caring.
  • You don’t have to take all the free courses available, watch all lives, attend all webinars, read all books, learn all languages. Living and hanging in there during these difficult times are, by themselves, effort enough.
  • Try to shield and protect yourself from the crude reality as much as possible. If you don’t have to, why research every single detail and news about COVID-19? It won’t change anything. The reality is heartbreaking, and if we really think about all those people who are dying alone, those family members and friends who can’t even properly say good-bye to their loved ones, those who lost their jobs or who are suffering financial losses and going through tough financial difficulties, we will break. I did. Do whatever you can to try to help however you can, but don’t think about it too much, for your own mental sake. It’s not selfishness, as long as you don’t ignore the reality and do whatever you can to help those in need. It’s self-preservation. After all, we’re at war. Do your part, but prioritize yourself.

united-nations-covid-19-response-Chevon Beckley-unsplash

Photo by Chevon Beckley on Unsplash

I wanted to share my experience with you because I struggled to come to these conclusions myself. Lately, I’ve been having good weeks. I’m feeling more motivated and happier to revive my blog and podcast, and social media channels. I’m even participating in lives! I don’t know if this will last and for how long, but I have to leverage it.

Embrace your bad moments and take advantage of your good ones.

Live one day at a time.

Be safe.

Don’t be hard on yourself.

And know you are not alone.