The Poetics of Translation: Miami University’s Annual Translation Symposium

“Isn’t English good enough for you?” Charles Bernstein asked in a 2010 interview with translator Erin Mouré. It’s a question that leads me to reflect on the emotional investment of the translator. What can she offer as a poet to a work that she is translating? How can she retain the original connection the author had with the words of his native tongue in this new language? Why are translated works so crucial to the literary world?

All of these questions and more will be taken up at Miami University’s Annual Translation Symposium, Monday September 21st and Tuesday September 22nd. The two-day event will open with a panel at 4:00pm on Monday September 21 (followed by a reception), then a 6:00pm reading from translated works. Both the panel and the reading will take place in the Bachelor Reading Room (337 BAC). On Tuesday night, the poets will read from their own work at 7:30pm in the Miami University Bookstore, Shriver Center. The featured translators are Erin Mouré, Rachel Galvin, and Rosa Alcalá.

These writers share more than a love for translation; they are all distinguished poets in their own right.

Erin Mouré’s work has been placed on several shortlists including the 2014 Best Translated Book Award for White Piano, a work she translated by Nicole Brossard, from the French. Her most recent project, Insecession (a dual book with Secession by Chus Pato), was released in 2014 and is an exploration of poetry through the acts of reading, writing, and translating. More translates works from French, Galician, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Rachel Galvin received her PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton University. She has authored a collection of poems called Pulleys & Locomotion as well as a chapbook called Zoetrope. Her translation of Raymond Queneau’s Courir les rues (Hitting the Streets), has received significant critical acclaim. Her poems and translations have appeared in many magazines, from The New Yorker to Drunken Boat to McSweeney’s.

Rosa Alcalá has authored the chapbook Some Maritime Disasters This Century and the selection of poems Undocumentaries, among other books. Her work has been published in magazines including the Barrow Street, Brooklyn Rail, tripwire, Kenyon Review, and Mandorla. Her most well-known translations are from the work of Cecilia Vicuña, Lourdes Vázquez, and Lila Zemborain. Some of her translated poems appear in The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology.

These three women are poets whose interests and talents span across language barriers. How would each of them answer Bernstein’s question— why not stick with English, why pursue other languages? Perhaps they would all answer as Erin Mouré: “But the other languages are a part of me,” an answer which inspires us not only to explore what speaks to each part of our soul, but to consider what other languages it may be speaking.