Clare Pollard on facilitating her final PTC workshop

By: Clare Pollard,

This week I am facilitating my final workshop for the Poetry Translation Centre, as Ed Doegar will be taking over. I’ve been leading the PTC workshops for the last five seasons, and it’s been one of the most enjoyable jobs I’ve ever had. Thinking about why this is, I suppose it’s because I’ve been able to occupy a strange, hybrid position – half-teacher, half-student – during the classes. Each week a translator has come in and introduced me to a new poet; a new culture; the music of a new language. Only after I have absorbed a mini-lecture and listened to the poem in the original language have I had to stand up and begin my work – getting the workshop participants to pick through the poem line-by-line, producing a new translation that sings in English.

It has been a poetic education then. I’ve been fascinated by a Swahili form that rhymes mid-line; have heard experts talk about the ghazal and the tanka. I’ve learnt about the Chinese ‘Lower Body Poetry’ movement and the Hebrew ‘Ars Poetica’ school. I heard how Thai often doesn’t use articles so you might say ‘go school’ instead of ‘I’m going to school’ (Mui Poopoksakul said it can be ‘almost like a bullet’); that Georgian is a ‘synthetic language’ where everything happens in the verb; that Chinese poetry has three sorts of ambiguity that make it difficult to translate into English (ambiguity of number, of tense and of subject). Every week poets have made us see global headlines from a human perspective - the Fukushima disaster; Brazilian ‘black bloc’ activists; trans rights; the destruction of cultural treasures by Isis; dryboarding at Guantanamo.

But it has not all been serious. We have also had a lot of fun, learning interesting trivia about Polish chairs and Korean barbecue bacon (apparently ‘the best dinner in the world’); speculating about shows on HBO; listening to cheesy Zanzibar pop-songs. A group of regulars has slowly been building, and certain phrases have gained currency between us as potential T-Shirt slogans ( ‘Melted in all the hatred of existing’ by Debra Yatim is a frontrunner) , or are occasionally shouted out by PTC Communications Manager Bern at the end as he tries to take our photo for the website - “Say: ‘Fuck you, train.’”†

There has been a sadness, I should say, over the time I have been doing these classes, as it also coincided with the illness and death of Sarah Maguire who established these workshops. It was Sarah who had the remarkable vision to see that translation could be a communal, collaborative process. In these dark times, meeting every other week to translate with other people who are curious and generous about the world has felt not just uplifting but urgent. After I had been doing it for six months, I saw her at the TS Eliot awards, where she was showing everyone her operation scars and still sparkling. ‘I’m glad you’re doing the workshops, Clare,’ she said, as we were hugging goodbye. ‘Because I know you’ll enjoy it. It’s such fun, isn’t it?!’ And it was.

† From ‘White Trash’ by Legna Rodriguez Iglesias.