The Translation Triangle: My Weekend with ALTA

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Dear Szymborskca, Dear Milosz, and Oh so dear Neruda, it has come to my attention that the countless nights I spent lying in bed relishing your tender lines were actually spent cheating on you. All this time I thought you were whispering in my ear. Instead, I find that I was really falling in love with the mastery of Ben Belitt, the execution of Jan Darowski, the creative literary rendering of Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak. Forgive me.

From the first moment I read Letters to a Young Poet to the time I spent with the latest issue of Poetry International, translators have been the ones rocking my world. This past weekend I had the pleasure of fraternizing with leading and emerging translators at the American Literary Translators Association Conference (ALTA). Though my translation skills are limited, participants in the ALTA conference roused my ideas about translation.

Translation holds a queer space in my reading life. On the one hand, the original text seems sacred and fixed within its origin language, bound to the confines of one linguistic audience. On the other hand, the work of the translator unbuttons that restrictive seem. The possibilities of communication extend past cultural and linguistic differences. New relationships and unexpected interpretations can emerge from successful translations.

But the strategies of translation are varied. Some translators feel the original voice is most preserved when they are loyal to the text and so, execute a transliteration. Others try to identify the tenor and tone rendered in the original language, refiguring the text to operate similarly in the target language as it did in the original language. Sometimes reading transliterations can be jarring. They don’t take into account the idiosyncrasies of the target language and the final product reads like my mother’s autocorrected texts.

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 Still I tip my hat to all you who practice this tricky trade. When I’ve tried to be the middleman in this strange game of telephone I always wreck my brain on the phrases and slang that seem to resist translation.

At Indiana Review we love receiving translations. So if you are translating a great piece, here are some things to consider:

  •  We only publish the English version. Works that take into account the target audience and dedicate themselves to the final product are the most effective and tend to get more attention from our editors.
  • We don’t have a translation committee so all submissions are read by our genre editors alongside all poetry, non-fiction or fiction submissions.
  • Although we discourage lengthy cover letters for general submissions, the translation cover letter is a great way to introduce our editors to the original writer and you as a translator. A little history is good. Tell us about the writer. Let us know why this is an important translation.

Attending ALTA renewed my interest in translation by revealing the way I want to be a part of the line of communication—as an editor. In this way, I get to stay on the receiving end of this intimate circuit. So I’m reaching out to you, dearest translators, send us work that whispers in our ears. Who do you see as the next best Mozambican poet? What’s the story that’s rocking the Bosnian literary charts? We can’t wait to read your new and updated rendering of German fables.

One Response to “The Translation Triangle: My Weekend with ALTA”

  1. Mark Allen Jenkins

    Having been fortunate to take a translation workshop and some poetry courses from professors who study and translate, they’ve pointed at that the best way to understand something translated besides reading it in the original language is to read multiple translations to see the choices each translator made in what to keep and what to abandon. Catherine Bervall’s 48 Dante Variations is a good example of this: http://blog.seattlepi.com/bookpatrol/2009/12/15/48-dante-variations-caroline-bergvall-reads-the-inferno/

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