Translation Days in London

LONDON – Translation Days, the annual event held by the Translators’ Association and the University of East Anglia-based British Center for Literary Translation (BCLT), crammed lots of good things into two days again this year (September 19-20). Held at the Voice Box in London’s South Bank Center, the event brings together translators from around the world to discuss their craft, practice it in hands-on workshops and celebrate fine translations. Translation Days culminates in the Sebald lecture, this year given by Mexican author Carlos Fuentes, who spoke on «Mexico in Translation.» Ulysses overseas Josephine Balmer, Joe Brooker and A.P. Markham started proceedings by looking at the very different ways three writers have dealt with the legend of Ulysses. Homer’s «Odyssey,» «the original of all originals» said Balmer, «has proved an endless source of inspiration to translators and creative writers alike,» and she offered a number of reasons for the work’s timeless allure. Noting that while we tend to recall the iconic episodes of the hero’s journey, these in fact comprise only three of the 24 books. Balmer suggested that one reason the poem has lived on is that it’s the first «to explore the way of telling as well as the tale itself.» Quoting Odysseus in Book 9, extolling the pleasures of a tale well told, she said the poem chooses «life over death [and] also the narrative of that life; not just experience but its re-experience through creative art.» A.P. Markham looked at a very different use of the same myth by the Caribbean poet Derek Walcott in his 1990 poem «Omeros.» Walcott «creolized the myth,» he said. «The journeying is more reflective and symbolic that in the original.» Joe Booker examined elements of style in James Joyce’s «Ulysses.» He used examples ranging from sentences packed tight with multiple meanings, to deceptively simple recountings of fact and an excerpt from a 50-page stretch of cliches, to demonstrate his claim that Joyce’s work was a «reinvention of prose and a laboratory of language.» Pablo Neruda Poetry offers special challenges to the translator, and the following session raised all the questions. Readings of Pablos Neruda’s poetry in Spanish and English, the latter translations by different hands, offered fertile ground for discussion. Monday started with workshops. Kathimerini English Edition attended Ros Schwartz’s hands-on session with writer Emmanuel Moses, whom she dubbed «a translator’s dream» for his proficiency in English as well as his native French. The group got their teeth into the first few pages of his work «Adieu Le Winter» (Editions Denoel), trading techniques for dealing with textual challenges. Sharing a task usually performed alone and learning from the varied approaches of one’s colleagues and their combined experience was invaluable, as always. But to do so in the presence of the author – and one prepared to explain the thinking behind each sentence, his own preference for rhythm and sound over sense, and who will countenance minor alterations that retain the original spirit – was exhilarating. Greek crime writer Petros Markaris and his English translator David Connolly, both familiar to readers of this page, entertained an afternoon workshop with the finer points of rendering Greek vernacular in English. Other sessions dealt with German and Flemish literature in translation. The organizers deserve congratulations for bringing into the open, as it were, some of the fine work that goes on out of sight, linking writers and readers from different languages and raising the profile of translators, supporting the profession and celebrating its achievements. The 2004 Translation Awards Translation Days celebrated individual achievements in the award ceremonies for the 2004 Translation Awards at Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 20. The Scott Moncrieff Prize for translation from the French went to Ian Monk for his gleefully grim rendition of Daniel Pennac’s «Monsieur Malaussene» (Harvill). Martin Chalmers took the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for translation from the German with two volumes of Victor Klemperer’s diaries: «I Shall Bear Witness: 1933-1941» and «The Lesser Evil: 1945-1959» (Weidenfeld and Nicolson) from which he read moving excerpts earlier that day. The TLS – Jewish Council Porjes prize for translation from the Hebrew, awarded every three years, was shared by Nicholas de Lange for Amos Oz’s novel «The Same Sea» (Chatto and Windus) and Barbara Harshav for Hanoch Levin’s «The Labor of Love: Selected Plays (Stanford University Press). Harshav read some ribald extracts with a relish her audience shared. The John Florio Prize for translation from Italian went to Howard Curtis for his rendition of «Coming Back: Diary of a Mission to Afghanistan by Edoardo Albinati» (Hesperus), which captures the clear, declarative style of the author’s tale of the time he spent in Kabul helping refugees for the UN High Commissioner. Anne McLean’s translation of Javier Cercas’s «Soldiers of Salamis» (Bloomsbury) took the Premio Valle Inclan for translation from Spanish.

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