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Translation and Poetry (Discussion Panel)

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Marcus Tomalin.

Within the domain of literary translation, poetry has traditionally attracted a great deal of scholarly attention (Holmes 1970, 1988; Lefevere 1975, 1992; Bassnett 1980; Hermans 1985; Eco 2003; Robinson 2010; Jones 2011; Reynolds 2011, Drury 2015). The constraints offered by rhyme and meter may sometimes appear to justify the statement (often attributed to Robert Frost) that ‘poetry is that which is lost in translation’. The notion of translatability frequently seems to defy the very essence of poetry since it is a literary medium in which meaning and structural form seem to be inextricably linked. Even proponents of strikingly different approaches to poetry translation usually agree that any expectation of absolute ‘fidelity’ (whatever that is) must necessarily be qualified or compromised in one way or another. But which aspects of a given poem can be safely jettisoned, and which must be doggedly preserved? Nabokov’s literal approach contrasts with Ezra Pound’s ‘remakes’, and the ongoing debate sparked by Paul Celan’s work offers numerous challenging and conflicting insights. From crib translation to ‘versioning’, from tribute to parody, from Bringhurst’s ‘re-elicitings’ to Queneau’s exercises in style – translation has been an important aspect of creative practice for many influential poets.

This discussion Panel will explore the role of poetry translation in different cultures and different historical periods. A range of practical and theoretical perspectives will be considered, and the resulting conversations will offer an important opportunity for reflecting upon the significance of these issues for poets and translators today.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Conversations in Translation series.

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