Poetry in Translation

4 weeks. Tuesdays between November 30, 2021 and December 21, 2021. 7-8:30PM

Click here to sign up!

Translation is always, ultimately, a kind of failure. To shift the language of poetry from its origin means you must lose some of the texture of that original. And yet, as the poet James Merrill once wrote, “But nothing’s lost. Or else: all is translation/ And every bit of us is lost in it.” The loss and failure that defines translation is evidence, at least, that we are still trying to understand one another.

In this course, we’ll look at a single book of poetry-in-translation, alphabet by Dutch poet Inger Christensen and translated by Susanna Nied. Organized in an alphabetical series of ever-expanding poems, alphabet is a powerful meditation on environmental wonder and collapse, as formally inventive as it is deeply poignant.

We will also attempt to complete our own translations* of a poet we admire. Through weekly prompts and exercises, we’ll try multiple translation tactics, learning the many different ways a text can be translated.

*Mastery of a second language is not required for this course—we will treat translation as a tool for more deeply engaging with the function of meaning in language, rather than expecting to create “perfect” translations.


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