Miami Takes on the Art of Translation

Translation Symposium 2016 Photos and article by Abigail Mechley, English Department Ambassador

On September 12th, Miami University held the third annual Symposium on Literary Translation, an event that highlights the work done by translators to bring prose and poetry from other languages and cultures into English. Translation of literature from one language to another is often more complex than changing the text word-by-word; it is intellectually challenging work that requires the translator to convey the nuances the original text possesses, a practice that insists on stretching language to its limit.

Cathy Wagner, Director of Creative Writing, organizes the annual event. She recognizes the value provided by translators: “Literary translators are the creative points of contact between languages and cultures; they can give us particular insight into the ethical tensions and aesthetic possibilities that cross-cultural work can generate.” In an era of international communication and connection, translation makes accessible these global perspectives, stimulates curiosity, and invites readers to approach a deeper understanding of cultures outside their own.

Erin Moure

This year, the Symposium brought together two skilled translators for a two-part event, beginning with the Panel on Literary Translation and ending with a Reading from Works of Translation. We were joined by Erín Moure (photo on right), whose work in poetry and translation has received the Governor General’s Award, the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, the A.M. Klein Prize, and has been a three-time finalist for the Griffin Prize (twice for work in translation). She has published 17 books of poetry, in addition to translating 13 volumes from French, Spanish, Galician, and Portuguese into English, and in 2014 she published Insecession, a biopoetics echoing Chus Pato’s Secession.

Moure said she entered the field of translation “to share readings; I discover these things that are exciting and I want to talk about them with someone, so I have to translate them." As she became more involved in  translation, she realized that “all these folds and peaks in and of any language intrigue me… It’s very fulfilling to bring poetry into English from these other languages, especially poetry that stretches the capacity of its own language and makes me stretch the capacity of mine.” To an even greater extent, Moure said, translation is an ethical responsibility, meant to “bring into the field of poetry in my language, poetries that allow us to see the sinews of English and the world differently.” Poetry reveals different experiences to different people, with “many different readings of a given text, so that each of us as readers sees along different axis at work,” and by encouraging the development and communications of these interpretations, the foundation of understanding is formed.

The second speaker was Rosa Alcalá (photo below), a poet and translator originally from New Jersey. An Associate Professor in the Department of Creative Writing and Bilingual MFA Program at the University of Texas-El Paso, she has published two books of poetry with a third, M(y) Other Tongue, on the way.

Rosa Alaca

Translation came to Alcalá in a different manner; she had grown up bilingual, and felt pressured in her role as a translator for her Spanish-speaking parents. But as she grew older and more dependent, she was encouraged by a professor to consider 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.” She decided to translate on her own terms, keeping her poetry and her translations separate. But translation also has its own flavor and methods: “When I’m translating [poetry] to English, I’m trying to think of two things at once; how is the original making the Spanish strange already… [and] how to identify in the language textile the moment that there’s a fray, there’s a break from that smooth surface of language, and you have to really know the language well to know when that’s happening.” 

After the panel was over and refreshments were had, Erín Moure and Rosa Alcalá returned to read translations by poets of interest to them. Moure read excerpts from Secession/Insecession (2014), a two-book publication featuring biopoetics from Galacian poet Chus Pato and Moure herself, including a moving piece on Pato’s visit to the museum near Auschwitz. Alcalá read from portions of Cecilia Vicuña’s extensive work, including SABORAMI (1973), a book of poetry that had been written during the Socialist Democracy of the Allende Government in Chile.

The 2016 Symposium on Literary Translation was sponsored by the Miami University Creative Writing Program, the Marjorie Cook Fund, and the Humanities Center.