Translation Study Day with MPT

I had an amazing day at the Queen’s College, Oxford on Saturday, 14th May, taking part in Modern Poetry in Translation‘s Study Day to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the magazine.

In the morning participants could choose two, from eight, workshops, then there was a break for lunch (and delicious it was, too).

It was extremely difficult to choose but I plumped for Patrick McGuinness‘ ‘The Permissions of Translation: How Fake Translatons Can Be Real Poems’ and Carolyne Larrington and Debbie Potts’ ‘Old Norse’ Poetry Workshop (also called ‘Regurgitating the mead of OÖinn’!)

Katerina BracPatrick introduced us to the works of Andreas Karavis, Gopal Singh, Katerina Brac and Sion ap Brydydd, new poets to me, I’m ashamed to say, but Patrick thoughtfully provided texts and revealed that these poets were, in fact, the inventions of David Solway, Derek Mahon, Christopher Reid and Michael Donaghy.  I thought that the’biographies’ of the fictitious poets by Mahon and Donaghy were poems in themselves:

The fictitious Hindi poet Gopal Singh was born in Kashmir in 1959 and lives in Delhi, where for many years he was Arts Editor of the monthly ‘New India’…

Sion ap Brydydd (d.1360) was a contemporary of the undisputed master of classical Welsh poetry, Dafydd ap Gwilym, and it is in the shadow of Dafydd’s achievement that Sion’s significance has been so unfortunately obscured…

Patrick described these poems as ‘experimental’ rather than ‘hoaxes’ although, it seems to me, readers would need to be in on the ‘experiment’  if they weren’t to feel hoaxed.  For that reason, I warmed more to Mahon’s Gopal Singh, as his fictitiousness was immediately revealed, but I’m attracted to all of these poetry inventions and the idea of faking a poet and translating their work!

In the workshop, we did just this.  I was only able to come up with a character and a back story (although I surprised myself with how detailed this was and I’m pleased with the material I produced) but others wrote poems in the voice of their inventions.  It was huge fun and completely liberating to create poems in this way.  Some fantastic work was produced and I think this will be a brilliant means to write about different personas and identities.  I’ll definitely be using some of the new material from my notebook.

After a short coffee-break and a chance to catch up with various people I knew, either from real life or social media or a combination, it was time to start Workshop Two.  Carolyne Larrington and Debbie Potts introduced us to different types of Old Norse poetry; Eddic Poetry (to do with sacrifice, spells and seduction), Skaldic Poetry, and Kennings, and our celestial bodies of the brain (eyes) absorbed various translations of ancient verse before we became destroyers of the the hunger of wolves (warriors) and attacked our own free-translations.

Read more about Viking Poetry here. (site curated by Debbie Potts).

Some of the group translating a poem about the whale-house (sea):

After such poetic deliberations we were all ready for some healing wave of all strife (gin) but enjoyed, instead, chicken curry and summer pudding in the rather grand dining hall.  Sorry not to have taken many pictures!


After lunch, there were readings from Centres of Cataclysm, the anthology published by Bloodaxe Books as part of MPT‘s 50th anniversary celebrations.  Centres of Cataclysm features poems, letters and essays from the magazine’s fifty-year archive and I can’t recommend it highly enough.  As well as the poetry, informative footnotes and short introductions provide valuable historical context.

It was wonderful to hear current and former  MPT editors, Sasha Dugdale, David and Helen Constantine, talk about the mammoth task of editing the anthology – “We could have published several anthologies” – and then to hear poets and translators read their work aloud.

Snippets that have stayed in my memory include Ulrike Almut Sandig saying everything has its opposite and sometimes opposites are part of the same thing; Nicola Madzirov talking about the death of his long-term translator “Rather than saying I have lost my other voice, it is that I have lost my other self;”David Constantine telling us, separately, although I have conflated these two ideas, that reading is an act of translation and that the voice of the translator must always be heard; and Pascale Petit‘s powerful reading of her poem ‘At the Gate of Secrets’ which she wrote after reading Ted Hughes’ translation of Ferenc Juhasz’s poem.

There was a short break in the sunshine

then it was time to listen to a fascinating talk by David Constantine and Tom Kuhn about translating Bertolt Brecht’s poetry, and a fabulous musical performance by composer Dominic Muldowney and performer Claire Brown, directed by Diane Trevis.

The final event of the day was the launch of a new microsite dedicated to the first issue of MPT, developed by MPT‘s Web and Communications Manager, Ed Cottrell, with support from Queen’s College, Oxford, Pembroke College, Cambridge, and King’s College, London.  You can now read all the original content of the first broadsheet issue edited by Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort, as well as a series of responses and reflections by contemporary poets and translators.  More information on the MPT website.

A magical, thrilling, fascinating day.  I was exhausted by the end of it!  I really hope there are more events like this, combining workshops, reading, talks and performances.

Clarissa Aykroyd has written a great blog about the day here.

MPT bag
I love my new tote!

Footnote: If you’re interested in translation, you might like to know there will be a ‘Translation Duel’ between translators of German poetry Karen Leeder and Iain Galbraith which will take place at Winchester Poetry Festival on October 8th.

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