The use of poetry in preserving endangered languages

December 1st, 2019 by Language is a powerful cultural and political tool which provides a major cultural unity in many countries. Poetry conceptualises and unites cultures and thoughts, manipulates ordinary language and in its effortless simplicity and diversity, touches minds and souls. A recent podcast by The Guardian explores the measures taken to preserve endangered languages globally through poetry, sparked by the fact that one language dies every two weeks. The podcast discusses the decline in minority languages such as those indigenous to New Zealand, but by contrast countries like Belarus whose minority language still survives Russian Soviet regimes. Here in the UK, we are facing an institutionalised resistance to learning languages in our schools entirely. So what exactly does it mean for a language to die, and how is poetry attempting to save this situation? During secondary education I had only ever sat through one lesson on endangered languages, and remember just one episode on TV about the indigenous British languages. It is so rarely talked about in our schools and society and yet there are around 14 languages indigenous to Britain, including Manx and Cornish. We seem accustomed to the presence of the Welsh language and in Scotland and Ireland, Gaelic and Irish still form a vital part of society and identity. Although most of these languages are in some form of decline in a global sense, there is a far more pressing and immediate danger to minority languages and cultures elsewhere in the world. When a language dies, a cultural connection, a history, and a way of thinking is erased. For many languages of the past, the erasure was brought about by an institutionalised political assimilation. The political enforcement of an outside culture often meant that the practice of indigenous languages was made illegal and this loss became more profound due to the vulnerability of those forced to conform. Read more: The Boar

For the first time, Chinese poetry is being translated into Kiswahili

August 30th, 2016 by Jidi Majia, a writer from southwest China, once described himself as a Chinese poet with an “African complex.” He emulated writers like Senegal’s Leopold Sedar Senghor, Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe, or Kenya’s Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, cheered for the end of apartheid in South Africa, and cried when Nelson Mandela died. “I embarked upon my literary career with what I would call African complex, in my unconscious, that is, an instinctive aping of African writing techniques and styles, fed [by] a deep love of African cultures and peoples,” he said in a 2014 acceptance speech given in absentia for a humanitarian award from the South African foundation Mkiva. Now, the poetry of a man who has never set foot on the African continent can be read in Kiswahili, in a new collection called Maneno Ya Moto Kutoka China or Words of Fire from China. The publisher, Twaweza Communications, says it is the first time a creative work of Chinese literature has been translated into the lingua franca of Kenya, Tanzania, and much of southeast Africa. Read more: Quartz

50 years of Modern Poetry in Translation

July 25th, 2016 by Selected by distinguished previous and current editors, this ample anthology celebrates 50 years of the excellent Modern Poetry in Translation. The magazine was originally conceived by Ted Hughes and George Theiner as a “rough” broadsheet, but its “roughness” was finely designed, like a branch of the alternative publishing of the 1960s that also gave us important small presses and underground publications. The core of the magazine’s early interests lay in poetry written behind the iron curtain or under nazism, work that, it seemed to Hughes and others, possessed an urgency and universality missing from the west. Among those the magazine has brought to attention are Miroslav Holub, Vasko Popa, János Pilinszky, Paul Celan, Maria Tsvetaeva, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Tadeusz Różewicz and Zbigniew Herbert. That’s quite a roll call. Read more: The Guardian

Project ‘Poets Translating Poets’ proves that poetry is more than art

June 21st, 2016 by "It was splendid for me," says Indian poet Rajendra Bhandari. "We usually lose so many things by translating poems. But this time, we gained much more. We got to know the language, the culture." Bhandari was among the participants of a project established in 2002 by a Berlin-based center for poetry called Literaturwerkstatt. The project "Poets Translating Poets," or PTP, aims to bring poets of foreign cultural regions into contact with German poets. With the help of linguistic mediators, they translate poems from one language into another, like from German into French, Russian and Hebrew, and vice versa. The results of these efforts fill 13 volumes published over the years by the publishing house Wunderhorn Verlag. "Poets Translating Poems South Asia" is a unique translation project, involving 51 lyricists working in 20 languages. Seventeen German-speaking poets encountered colleagues from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The participants of this project have demonstrated that it is actually possible to translate poetry. Read more: Deutsche Welle

Tagore Translation Deemed Racy Is Pulled From Stores in China

February 8th, 2016 by BEIJING — More than 80 years after his death, Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet and Nobel laureate, still has a huge following in Asia. Outside India and Bangladesh, perhaps nowhere is his legacy more alive than in China, where his works have been part of the middle-school curriculum for decades. This month, to commemorate the 155th anniversary of his birth, the People’s Publishing House will release “The Complete Works of Tagore,” the first direct translation of his entire output from Bengali into Chinese. The project took a team of translators nearly six years. But Tagore has also been at the center of a controversy here, after another, more racy new translation of some of his poems by the writer Feng Teng, called “Stray Birds,” set off a storm of criticism. The furor was so intense that the Zhejiang Wenyi Publishing House pulled the volume from stores. Read more: NY Times‎

Chinese writer’s translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s works draws ire

December 22nd, 2015 by BEIJING: A Chinese writer has translated Rabindranath Tagore's works with "vulgar" sexual connotations, drawing sharp condemnation from the admirers of the Nobel Laureate in China who termed it as a desperate attempt to gain popularity. "There's a fine line between imprinting creative works with unique personality and screaming for attention," columnist Raymond Zhou wrote in state-run China Daily, criticising the writer, Feng Tang, who has published new translations of Tagore's poems. "Feng just crossed it, when he translated Tagore's tranquil verse into a vulgar selfie of hormone saturated innuendo," Zhou wrote in his column titled "Lust in translation". Read more: NDTV‎

Why isn’t Hindi poetry being translated into other languages, including English?

December 13th, 2015 by Some nights, I imagine what it would be like to live without a particular poem, without its bruise on my mind, what it would be to dream without it, what it would be to live in a world where words so necessary to my life did not exist, or worse: where they exist, but not for me, forever locked in a language unknown to me. I wonder, then, how much poetry is hidden, accessible only to people who know its secret code of language. If all poems existed in all languages, how many lives could have been saved, and how many murders prevented? Not many, but perhaps many. At least a few. Who then gets to decide what and what doesn’t get translated, who gets to select and thereby erase certain voices from certain languages? We all talk, read, and think about translation and its political and academic need, how important it is to know about diverse voices, and “other cultures”, but we often forget to talk about its poetic need. In this chaotic, terrifying time: none of us have enough poetry in our native tongues, so we borrow and lend, we need more, as much as possible: to live, to forget, to remember. I have fond memories of reading almost everything in Hindi growing up: Bangla stories, Ukrainian folk tales, Stoker’s Dracula, poems by Mayakovsky, Cela’s Pascual Duarte, and many, many more books. Not to mention, literature, especially poetry, written in Hindi. That’s why maybe most nights, certainly not all, the poems I return to are written in Hindi – and yet, when I sometimes want to recommend a poet to someone who is not comfortable with the language, I cannot. It seems like publishers and readers are now, more than ever, engaged with the question of translation and its importance, and mainstream English publishers in India now translate much more. Hindi prose is represented, in problematic fragments. (Is it because novels are easier to sell, or they represent a more conventional form, or because most of the selected titles depict an India easier on Western palette? I don’t know.) But Hindi poetry remains dubiously missing from the newly translated titles. Read more: Scroll.in‎

Pablo Neruda and translation’s losses

September 18th, 2015 by Perhaps it’s down to his wonderfully refreshing manifesto for “an impure poetry” or maybe (whisper it not) it’s due to the seduction of David Soul, whose one-man show featured gloriously on the books podcast, but I’ve become more than usually obsessed with Chile’s Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda. What’s not to love about a poet who wrote odes to artichokes and laundry and argued for “a poetry impure as the clothing we wear, or our bodies, soup-stained, soiled with our shameful behaviour, our wrinkles and vigils and dreams, observations and prophecies, declarations of loathing and love, idylls and beasts, the shocks of encounter, political loyalties, denials and doubts, affirmations and taxes.” So it was great to learn that a tiny US press is to publish an English translation of 20 lost poems that were discovered last year. Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda will be out from Copper Canyon Press in April 2016 in a translation by Forrest Gander. Read more: The Guardian

Seamus Heaney translation of The Aeneid to be published next year

September 18th, 2015 by CATHERINE HEANEY, daughter of the late poet Seamus Heaney, has announced that a new translation by her father is to be published in March 2016. Faber & Faber will publish Heaney’s translation of Book VI of The Aeneid almost three years after the death of one of Ireland’s most distinguished poets and authors. Ms Heaney said: “This translation is the result of work and revisions carried out by him over many years – from the 1980s to the month before his death [in June 2013] – and the decision to publish it was one our family took after long and careful consideration.” Read more: Irish Post

When Did We Stop Using ‘O’?

September 2nd, 2015 by For centuries, O was used in English literature to deliver longing, rapture, and melancholy in the package of a single letter. It appears in the writings of William Blake, T.S. Eliot, and even in the King James Bible. But today you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone using the word outside a Shakespeare festival. So what caused the death of literature’s favorite exclamation? According to Douglas Kneale, a scholar of Romantic poetry and administrator at the University of Windsor, William Wordsworth and poets like him may have set O's decline into motion. The romantic poet was known for trying to “democratize” language and move it away from the lofty, stylized verse that was standard in poetry at the time. “He tried to find a language really spoken by men,” Kneale told The Paris Review. O, which was used to invoke people, things, or ideas that weren't present, was exactly the type of language Wordsworth was trying to avoid. Read more: Mental Floss

William Jay Smith, former U.S. poet laureate and translator, dies at 97

August 25th, 2015 by William Jay Smith, who wrote poetry with classical precision and childlike whimsy and who was a globe-trotting poetry consultant to the Library of Congress for two years, died Aug. 18 at a hospital in Pittsfield, Mass. He was 97. Read more: Washington Post