Tag Archives: translation

Je Ne Sais Quoi: Miami’s Third Annual Translation Symposium

Translation, as mentioned by Kinsey Cantrell in the previous post, is generally seen as a service instead of an art, where the translator is simply rendering a poem into a different language. The assumption is that translation is as much an art as transcribing the words of someone else. However, as English Ambassador Abigail Mechley notes in her great article for the English Department, the practice of bringing a piece of writing from one language to another “insists on stretching language to its limit”.

Rosa and Erin1

Guest speakers Rosa Alcalá and Erin Moure, respectively.

The Miami University Symposium on Literary Translation brought two distinguished speakers to campus for a two-part event – a Panel on Literary Translation, followed by a reading from their translated works. They, too, echoed the importance of translation. “I realized that there was a world that I understood through Spanish language that wasn’t being expressed in English, a way of thinking and a way of being in the world, and I wanted to capture this in English,” said Alcalá. Moure agreed, noting that translation is an ethical responsibility that allows readers to see their language and the world differently.  A huge thank-you to our guest speakers, and to everyone who attended the symposium!
To read more about the 2016 Miami University Translation Symposium, click here

Claudia Keelan: Female Troubadours and Feminism


As a Creative Writing major, I’ve written poems, plays, prose. As an Italian minor, I’ve studied language extensively, including literature in other languages. Despite that, before studying it in my poetry workshop, I’d never given translation much thought. I never considered translation a form of creative writing; if the original was the creative writing piece, the translator seemed to be merely the messenger.

However, studying translation and the work of Claudia Keelan gave me a new perspective. Keelan takes the poems of the trobairitz, the female troubadours of the 1100s and 1200s, and translates them into modern day English, bringing them into this century with words like “swag,” “dude,” and “girlfriend” featured prominently. Clearly, these are not direct translations of poetry from the 12th and 13th centuries. A lot of choice and intentionality goes into translating a poem – aside from the liberties one can take with diction, there are line breaks, punctuation, and a rhyme scheme or lack thereof to consider. For Keelan, one of her major focuses was maintaining the musicality of the pieces, and so rhyme and rhythm characterize the verses.

Her passion for the topic made both the poetry and the reading compelling – when she spoke to our poetry class, she referred to the trobairitz as her “sisters” and lamented that she “missed them.” Interesting, given that when she was introduced to the poems, Keelan didn’t like them and felt they were flat and bland. After some research, however, an initial disdain turned into a twenty year endeavor. In the end, she wrote the poems of the trobairitz in a period of about six months, but the preparation and language learning took much, much longer. Keelan mentioned that she feels she “participated in a canonical American English translation,” given that the poetry of the troubadours has been translated into music countless times. However, the trobairitz, the female troubadours, have not been translated as frequently.

And that’s why these translations are important. Claudia Keelan took these young women from a distant time, these women so defined by the social systems they were forced to work with, and revitalized their voices. From a “feminist” point of view and a “heretical Catholic – as in, no one’s going to define my Catholicism” point of view, Keelan greatly respected what the trobairitz had to say about their places in society and their “religion of love” at a time when marriage was seen as a social transaction and marrying for love, as is the social norm today, was a nonexistent concept. Though the male troubadours used more wit and vocabulary in their poems, Keelan commended and admired the trobairitz for their honesty. When asked why she chose to modernize the language, Keelan explained that “their problems, difficulties, pains, and happinesses are modern.” And so they are. Claudia Keelan took those modern sentiments, that raw honesty, and reworked them into terms and a language we are able to understand. Her decisions make these translations uniquely hers; her commitment to this art enabled the trobairitz’ voices to reach new generations.

Thanks to Claudia Keelan, I now understand the difficulty of translation, the art, the originality, the creativity – and, perhaps most importantly, the sheer power.

Kinsey Cantrell

The Poetics of Translation: Miami University’s Annual Translation Symposium

“Isn’t English good enough for you?” Charles Bernstein asked in a 2010 interview with translator Erin Mouré. It’s a question that leads me to reflect on the emotional investment of the translator. What can she offer as a poet to a work that she is translating? How can she retain the original connection the author had with the words of his native tongue in this new language? Why are translated works so crucial to the literary world?

All of these questions and more will be taken up at Miami University’s Annual Translation Symposium, Monday September 21st and Tuesday September 22nd. The two-day event will open with a panel at 4:00pm on Monday September 21 (followed by a reception), then a 6:00pm reading from translated works. Both the panel and the reading will take place in the Bachelor Reading Room (337 BAC). On Tuesday night, the poets will read from their own work at 7:30pm in the Miami University Bookstore, Shriver Center. The featured translators are Erin Mouré, Rachel Galvin, and Rosa Alcalá.

These writers share more than a love for translation; they are all distinguished poets in their own right.

Erin Mouré’s work has been placed on several shortlists including the 2014 Best Translated Book Award for White Piano, a work she translated by Nicole Brossard, from the French. Her most recent project, Insecession (a dual book with Secession by Chus Pato), was released in 2014 and is an exploration of poetry through the acts of reading, writing, and translating. More translates works from French, Galician, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Rachel Galvin received her PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton University. She has authored a collection of poems called Pulleys & Locomotion as well as a chapbook called Zoetrope. Her translation of Raymond Queneau’s Courir les rues (Hitting the Streets), has received significant critical acclaim. Her poems and translations have appeared in many magazines, from The New Yorker to Drunken Boat to McSweeney’s.

Rosa Alcalá has authored the chapbook Some Maritime Disasters This Century and the selection of poems Undocumentaries, among other books. Her work has been published in magazines including the Barrow Street, Brooklyn Rail, tripwire, Kenyon Review, and Mandorla. Her most well-known translations are from the work of Cecilia Vicuña, Lourdes Vázquez, and Lila Zemborain. Some of her translated poems appear in The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology.

These three women are poets whose interests and talents span across language barriers. How would each of them answer Bernstein’s question— why not stick with English, why pursue other languages? Perhaps they would all answer as Erin Mouré: “But the other languages are a part of me,” an answer which inspires us not only to explore what speaks to each part of our soul, but to consider what other languages it may be speaking.