Translating The World for 15 Years!

By: Erica Hesketh

Happy birthday to the PTC! Today we celebrate 15 years of translating and championing contemporary poets from Asia, Africa and Latin America. On 1st June 2004 our founder, poet Sarah Maguire, put on the first ever PTC poetry reading, featuring visiting poets from six countries alongside their translators. Since that amazing night we’ve published 28 books of poems, invited dozens of incredible poets to visit the UK, worked with established and emerging translators from 30 languages, and translated over 500 poems into English at our regular workshops which are open to anyone interested in the craft of translation, whether they can speak a second language or not.

15 is a funny age; for humans it’s a time when you are beginning to work out who you are, looking both inside yourself and around you for the foundations of your next stage of life. You may have worked out the things you are good at, and your core values, but you’re still growing and changing all the time. You’re also probably thinking about the world you live in and how you want to change it for the better. Family and heritage are important at this time. So too are friends and teachers.

At the PTC we are proud of everything we’ve achieved in our first 15 years, and glad to look back on the many beautiful projects and relationships we’ve made along the way. But we’re also reflecting on our future as an organisation, and the future of the sector and country we find ourselves in. We’re thinking about Brexit and what comes next, about the funding landscape for literary translation, about internationalism in British culture in general, about diasporic identities, representation and integration, and about the role of poetry within all this.

For our 15th birthday year we are launching several new projects to focus our minds on these ideas, and hopefully open up wider conversations with friends and colleagues as well.

In April we published the first book in our brand-new World Poet Series - short bilingual books that showcase contemporary poets from Asia, Africa and Latin America together with their bridge- and poet-translators, with specially commissioned afterword essays by UK poets. We want this new series to put more international poetry into the hands of English readers, of course, but also to feed into the conversation about what poetry and translation can be, what ‘English’ poetry looks like, and who can and ought to occupy space in the contemporary canon. The first book in the series was the hammer and other poems by Brazilian poet Adelaide Ivanova, translated by Rachel Long and Francisco Vilhena; later in the year we will publish selections by poets from China, Somaliland and Turkey. You can pre-order all four books here. Please tell us what you think!

In May, July and October we are touring three wonderful poets from Brazil, China and Cuba. All three are women under 40 and making hugely original work that challenges poetry norms as well as the politics of today’s world. We are teaming up with the Octavia Collective, Writing Squad and Poet in the City’s Young Producers programme to build events and online activity that takes this work to new, younger audiences and sparks new conversations. We’re also working with the Stephen Spender Trust and Shadow Heroes on iterations of our translation workshop format that are appropriate for school-aged children, particularly those from diasporic backgrounds. All of this is as much about our learning as it is about promoting excellent poetry; we want to understand better what poetry and translation really mean to people right now, especially young people, and also to sharpen up our events and workshops so we can keep improving for the future. We’d love to see you in person at an event or workshop this year - please check our ‘What’s on’ page for the latest, or you can sign up our emails to get the information straight to your inbox.

In September we are hosting a major symposium on translating poetry together with SOAS University of London. This two-day event will bring together 50 leading translators from a huge range of languages and translation approaches, to discuss where we are at with this most challenging and varied of crafts. We’ll be discussing form, ethics, orality, endangered languages, and a host of other issues both on and off the page. We are looking forward to learning A LOT from the gathered delegates, and hopefully facilitating new connections and friendships for everyone who comes along. The application window for the symposium is now closed, but towards the end of the year we’ll be releasing lots of great audio and written material arising from the discussions… Watch this space!

We hope our 15th birthday year will be a year of learning and growing, of sharing ideas and experiences, of celebrating young poetry and translation talent from across the UK and around the world, and of remembering our roots. I’ll finish by saying how delighted I am that the PTC is delivering the Translating Poetries symposium together with SOAS University of London - the institute which hosted that very first PTC event 15 years ago. There’s nothing like a homecoming to prepare you for the next chapter of life. Here’s to our next 15 years!