Cambo Snowdrops by Maria Keays, under a Creative Commons licence
StAnza kicked off on Wednesday, and from Thursday St Andrews is a town suffused by poetry, its streets populated by wandering poets and their readers. At present I’m surrounded by poets perched on sofas, laptops before them, and when we raise our heads we have the marvellously tranquil expanses of Cambo’s lawns in front of us. The famous Cambo snowdrops are out in profusion: we’ve never seen such a variety, from elongated to spherical, white tipped with yellow, white tipped with green. We’re not far from St Andrews in this secluded estate, bent on translation: it’s a wonderful opportunity to intensify the total immersion experience of StAnza.
The SPL runs an annual translation workshop with Literature Across Frontiers, and this year we’ve attached it to the poetry festival. With me are Charlotte Runcie from Edinburgh, Matilda Södergran who lives in Sweden and hails from Finland, Magnús Sigurđsson from Iceland, Ifor ap Glyn from Wales and Arvis Viguls from Latvia. We’re coming up with familiar questions – ‘Is the grandfather in this poem paternal or maternal?’ (many languages have different nouns for these) – and less familiar: apparently in Swedish the word for ‘bone’ is the same as the word for ‘leg’, so ‘bones’ in general (as distinct from skeletons) are a bit problematic. The Latvians have a word for a cellar that is underground but separate from the house – we still haven’t worked out quite how that can be described in other languages. ‘Avalanche’ in Icelandic is the evocative ‘snowflood’. We’ve covered topics from H-Block language lessons (Irish ones, but described in Welsh) to Chinese mining fatalities (evoked in Icelandic), looked at translations of braces/retainers (for teeth) and explained the significance of Ordnance Survey maps; Thomas Hardy and Emily Dickinson have made guest appearances.
It is difficult, of course, for poets to unpack a meaning they have so carefully packed away in a line, in a poem, but the poet/translators’ desire to do the very best they can for the poem as it makes its appearance in a different language is felt by everybody here, so it is deeply collaborative and also – as I always feel in these workshops – extremely generous work. We look forward presenting it to the StAnza audience on Saturday (at 12.45 in the Council Chamber) – meanwhile, this evening, we are going to sample some national drinks to enrich our acquaintance with each other’s cultures!
StAnza: Translation Workshop Showcase
The Town Hall, Queens Gardens – Council Chamber
Saturday 9 March
£3.00 / £2.00