Poetry Day Ireland Powwow

PoetryDayIrl2A group of eight individuals practising or interested in translation and poetry met for the first time at a poetry in translation “Powwow” in “The Swagman”, Sligo, on Poetry Day Ireland 2017.

After introductions, which revealed a good diversity among the group, who came from teaching, anthropological, legal, travelling, writing and other backgrounds, a cornucopia of readings was shared, with each participant having been asked in advance to bring a poem in translation to read if they wished.

The venue being Sligo and Yeats presiding over our table from a painting on the wall behind our heads, it was apt that Anne-Marie opened contributions with a reading of Yeats’ celebrated “Cloths of Heaven” followed by translations of that poem in French, Arabic, Dutch, German and Gaelic, featuring her own translations and work from fellow meeting participant and translator of Yeats’ plays into Gaelige, Brian. Continuing with Yeats, Brian contributed a wonderful reading, by heart, of his own Irish translation of “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, capturing the attention not only of our small group but of other visitors to the pub within earshot of our readings.

Irene invited some teamwork by asking for involvement improving a draft translation from German into English of a poem by Christian Morgenstern, which led to some discussion on the challenges of translating poetry touching on rhythm, rhyme and vocabulary choices. On the same theme, demonstrating how ten translators may come up with ten completely different translations of one poem, Yvonne read Baudelaire’s “Correspondances” and no less than seven, unique, translations of the same poem  including her own version.

Leesa read her own evocative translation of a travel narrative by Swedish-speaking Finn, Olof Enckell, describing watching the rain in Ireland, something which we could all relate to! Peggie Gallagher read beautifully from her published poetry collection, “Tilth”, and shared the poignant poem, “Places We Love”, by Ivan V. Lalic, translated from the Serbo-Croat by Frances R. Jones. Anna concluded the formal contributions with a prize-winning (Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize) translation by Constantine Rusanov of the Alexei Parshchikov poem, “The Hedgehog”, noting that, as she had no Russian, this poem would have been inaccessible to her in the absence of the translation.

Our topics of discussion were as wide-ranging as the readings contributed aloud: What translation software is favoured for commercial work? What does the practice of ‘transcreation’ entail as opposed to translation? Is it necessary to know the writer’s intentions and be familiar with the places he or she haunted to produce a good translation and if so, how then, do we translate the work of the long-dead? What is a ‘native’ or ‘first’ language?

There were also some fascinating insights into the experiences of the different contributors’ lives working with words: translating food texts, using both machine translation and creativity, listening to Stephen Spender lecture, translating plays for local performance, providing translation workshops to schoolchildren, attending a British Centre for Literary Translation summer school, translating for a hobby in retirement, learning multiple languages and travelling to international translation conferences were just some of the experiences mentioned.

The “Powwow” had been advertised as a Poetry Day Ireland Event and word put out about it via the translation network, ProZ.com, and in local foreign language-speaking groups. It is hoped that this group will meet again, welcoming the opportunity of community in what can be isolating professions at times and finding points of connection across the very diverse fields of work, languages and experiences of the group.


On Culture Night, September 2017, Sligo Translators Powwow presented a celebration of international poetry and poetry in translation. Read more here.


Thanks to: Peggie Gallagher, Leesa Wheatley, Irene Murphy, Brian O’Suilleabhain, Anne-Marie Delmotte, Yvonne Gallagher, Connie Nell. Convenor: Anna Morvern