Poetry series features translated works
Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 23, 2012 22:04
“In any language you’re screwed from the get-go,” Andrew Zawacki said at a recent poetry reading, referring to his work as a translator of literature.
Zawacki and the French poet whose work he translates, Sébastien Smirou, visited Miami as part of the Poetry in Translation Series, a new undertaking by the English Department to expose students to an international perspective.
Smirou, an award-winning poet in France, and Zawacki, a poet and professor of literature in the United States, teamed up to translate Smirou’s latest work. Mon Laurent is an experiment with words and numbers and draws upon the artwork in the Medici family, an Italian Renaissance family of art patrons.
“The books are two different books in different languages,” Zawacki said after he and Smirou read the work in French and English. “I had a lot of liberty with the translation, [My Lorenzo].”
After reading the two poems, La Bataille and La Phrase, Zawacki and Smirou performed a live translation of one of Smirou’s poems. The two debated the best translation of idiomatic expressions while preserving the sound and rhythm of the language. At one point they discussed how best to translate the distinct Quebec accent of Francophones into something an English-speaker would recognize.
Brandon Kelley, a senior English literature and creative writing double major with a focus in poetry, attended the reading and said he particularly enjoyed the live translation.
“For me it’s just an essential problem – in the best possible sense – with communication and the different modes of thoughts that exist in different cultures,” Kelley said. “We’re very mentally isolated in America and I don’t think that’s good.”
Kelley said he is glad the English Department plans to continue the series in the fall.
“People just need to have their perspective complicated a little bit,” Kelley said. “It’s a way of understanding difference without assuming superiority.”
According to Cathy Wagener, associate professor of creative writing, Kelley’s view of translated poetry matches well with the goals of the English Department.
“We want students to develop an international perspective on writing,” Wagner said. “We hope it will turn into classes and maybe a capstone about translation.”
In addition to the English Department, the French and Italian Department and the Humanities Center provided funding for this year’s Poetry in Translation readings. In the fall, when the English department plans to orchestrate a symposium with a number of international authors, the Havighurst Center and the department of German, Russian and East Asian languages will also lend their support.
Students can get a taste of this series before the fall 2012 semester at an upcoming event. Canadian poet Lisa Robertson will be visiting 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Bachelor 337. Widely respected for her writing, Robertson has won numerous awards and currently lives in France.