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Bringing together languages, ideas and people at Translating Poetries

By: Astrid Alben

Very little poetry gets translated into English. Let me spare you the details exactly how little but imagine an even lower percentage than you already had in mind, then subtract another 2% and as if by magic you will end up with an idea of how little poetry gets translated into English from languages from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, South America and Oceania. Step in the Poetry Translation Centre, which focuses on poetry translated into English from these very parts of the world, in recognition of and to celebrate that England is more than a homogenous Anglo-phonic society but one that is by its very nature dynamic, and beautifully and mind-bogglingly diverse. 

To continue to mark the 15th anniversary of the PTC we will be hosting the Translating Poetries Symposium at SOAS University London on September 12-13. This is the ideal location, since SOAS is where the PTC was started by Sarah Maguire in 2004 with the help of a small group of translators and academics in a concerted attempt to ‘fill in the gaps’ in poetry in translation.

SOAS is also our co-organising partner for the symposium, in the shape of the formidable Dr. Martin Orwin, one of the translators and academics who stood at the cradle of the PTC and hence ideally placed to help us shape the programme. This symposium will be the first of its kind in the UK in bringing together over fifty translators from almost as many languages. The Translating Poetries symposium will also be hosting their editors, publishers and all those people, expertise, skills and trades that are required in order to get poetry translation into print and to a wider audience. 

Over these two days we will be discussing all aspects of translating poetry from Africa, Asia, South America and Oceania. What do we decide to translate? How do we approach the process of translation? How do we publish and make translations more widely available? All of this and more will be addressed. 

Each day is divided into sessions most of which comprise panels of speakers who will present topics ranging from detailed presentations on translating from one language or even one poet to more general issues. The aim is for the presentations to prompt our thinking and for us all to bring our thoughts to bear during the meeting as a whole, so we invite and encourage everyone to take an active part in the symposium as a whole. 

We are at full capacity but there are still seats left for the event on Thursday evening (12 September). You are more than welcome to come along to what promises to be a thrilling ride through Translating Possibilities.

My personal hope is that the Translating Poetries symposium and the Translating Possibilities event will offer plenty of opportunities for old friends to reconnect, for new connections to be made, ideas and working methodologies to be explored and shared, and for new friendships to be forged. After all, in the words of Sarah Maguire, ‘poetry translation is the opposite of war’. I can’t wait!