Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Trialogue: Poetry in Translation

We're looking forward to hosting Trialogue, an afternoon of poetry and discussion about the art of translation, at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 30, and we'd like to thank the Goethe Institut Washington for this First Person Plural blog posting.
Imagine a neighborhood that spans three continents, inhabited by people of diverse interests and varied backgrounds, and who speak at least three different native languages. That, in a nutshell, is what Trialogue is all about—a three-way conversation across time and distance undertaken in the hope of helping turn former enemies and uneasy strangers into neighbors.
Since February this year, the Goethe Institut Washington, the Confucius Institute at George Mason University, and the D.C. Public Library System have collaborated on a series of readings featuring poems by German, Chinese, and American poets, each of which have been translated into the other two languages. The focus of all the poems was “passions”—things that generate excitement in many cultures—from art, to sports, to political protest, to life after dark.
The final reading in this series, to be held at the Writer’s Center, on Sunday June 30, will focus on the challenge, frustration, and fun of translation itself—particularly the translation of poetry.  It will feature live readings in German and Chinese (including a performance via phone-link with Germany’s champion rap-poet Bastian Boettcher) as well as original poems in English by Sarah Browning, Joseph Ross, and Fred Joiner.  In addition, professors Peter Beicken from the German Department at the University of Maryland and Dr. Lihong Wang, who teaches comparative literature and Chinese at George Mason University, will be on hand to discuss the translation process and their own personal experiences with literary translation. 
Moderating the session will be Lane Jennings, whose activity over the years as poet, scholar, and translator “without portfolio” gives him a non-professional’s perspective on the translation process.  As an enthusiastic amateur, translating only what he likes for the sheer fun of it, Jennings insists that no translation is ever finished—merely abandoned, that no existing translation should ever be considered “definitive,” and that even badly flawed translations can have real literary value.
Poets will read their own work and react to hearing others read that same work in translation, discuss which elements of poetry can and cannot be accurately passed back and forth between languages, and be available to respond to questions and comments from the audience.

More about the poems in the Trialogue project can be found at www.goethe.de/usa/trialogue.