The following articles were authored by Elisa Gallego

The opening ceremony

Ion Mureşan © Elisa Gallego

Last night the festival opened with an event dedicated to Rotterdam and poetry entitled View from the bow. Bas Kwakman, director of Poetry International, presented the event and was joined by international poets Eduardo Espina (Uruguay) and Ion Muresan (Romania) who read poems inspired by archive films about the city of Rotterdam. Yan Jun (China) performed a sound piece inspired by one of these films. Alongside the international guests, Rotterdam poets, including Peter Goedhart, Marco Nijmeijer, Hester Knibbe and the official city poet Ester Naomi Perquin, performed their work.

Interview with Correen Dekker

Correen Dekker © Sarah Ream

Could you tell us about your role in the 42nd Poetry International Festival? What will be different about the festival this year compared to previous festivals?

As one of the two programmers, I am responsible for the content of the festival programme, but my role also involves thinking in broader terms about the form and structure of the festival and the type of events that we organise. Working in this context, it is fascinating to see the impressions of the public regarding the new scheduling of the festival events. This year, the frequency of events increases during the week of the festival, with the highest concentration at the weekend, including a large variety of programmes during the day. I think that we have reflected the festival theme in our events more than during previous festivals. The festival poets too, will be extremely busy this year: they have been actively involved in the planning of the events and be appearing multiple times during the festival.

I first began working at Poetry International as an intern. One of my responsibilities then was to organise a translation workshop for poets: they concentrated on translating the work of one festival poet into their own languages, and interpreted and discussed the meaning, syntax and metaphors, and unravelled a poem in detail. To translate poetry requires such an intense reading, and I definitely find that interesting. That is also the reason why we decided to launch the project ‘Met andere woorden’ (In other words) this year – to give an introduction to translation – and, indirectly, to reading poetry too – to large groups of Dutch people. And, for the first time, we have also organised a translation symposium, at which professional and aspiring translators can meet and exchange ideas.

Tell us a little more about the festival theme, Chaos and Order, and how it relates to your work.

The theme has seemed very relevant in the weeks preceding the festival, which are always chaotic in terms of work, and this year is no exception. I think that we all feel the tension of the unknown aspects of a new schedule; nobody knows exactly what to expect. However, the choice of theme this year stemmed from our interest in various forms of social engagement and our curiosity about how poetry reacts to these. I think it is impossible not to see chaos in newspaper reports and not to recognise various attempts to impose and find order, from events on the world stage to the frustration people feel in cities – places that are constantly ‘event-inducing’, so to speak, and are thus becoming more and more uninhabitable.

Which events, workshops or sessions are you are most looking forward to?

So many, for various reasons: Les Murray being interviewed by none other than Robert Hass is a unique event that I do not want to miss. But I am also looking forward to hearing more about the work of Eugène Savitzkaya, Øyvind Rimbereid and others. Furthermore, I am curious to see how panelists will reflect on the ways in which the Internet affects the development of poetry in the ‘This is me’ event. I personally think that the Internet provides many opportunities for the dissemination of great poetry, but, at the same time, I ask myself whether my impressions are one-sided because of the language barrier and whether there is more I am unintentionally missing. So I am keen to hear what the festival poets think about this.

Correen Dekker is a programmer for the Poetry International Festival.

Interview with Renske Brandhoff

Could you tell us about your role in the 42nd Poetry International Festival? What are the biggest challenges you will face before or during the festival? What are your favourite tasks, and your least favourite?

During my internship at Poetry International, I have helped organise educational projects, of which the biggest is a translation project called ‘Met andere woorden’ (In other words). For this project, people were able to sign up to translate poems by the festival poets at home or in school. During the festival, they will be able to meet the poet whose poems they translated. Since so many poets are coming to Rotterdam, this is quite a challenge to coordinate. Furthermore, I will be coordinating the different festival programmes that will take place in the foyer and in the garden of Café Floor, making sure there everyone turns up at the right place at the right time and that there are enough chairs to sit on and so on. It is definitely going to be a busy week, with so many different programmes in the foyer. It’s my very first festival, so I’m not quite sure yet how it will all work out but I’m really looking forward to it!

© Renske Brandhoff

Which events, workshops or sessions are you are most looking forward to?

The influence of the internet on our daily lives is still growing, and that is both making our world smaller and bigger at the same time. I’m looking forward to the ‘This is me’ event about how the digital world influences poets and their work and how they work with the internet themselves. That’s definitely going to be interesting. Also, many events are related to the city of Rotterdam, which I think is wonderful, and I would like to see some of those events as well.

What does this year’s theme Chaos and Order mean to you in terms of poetry, the festival and your work?

That’s a hard question. I grew up in a small place, so for me, working in Rotterdam automatically implies some sort of chaos, especially at the Poetry International office . . . The different festival events have made me realise that poetry embodies and examines many kinds of chaos or order. I really appreciate the fact that poetry can make you aware of these kinds of things and perhaps make you look at the world in a slightly different way.

Which poet or poets are you most looking forward to see at the festival?

Truong Tran, Øyvind Rimbereid, Daljit Nagra and Robert Hass.

Renske Brandhoff is a production intern at Poetry International.

Interview with Robin Myers

© Robin Myers

How do you normally begin a translation? Did you use the same approach in the translation of Eduardo Espina’s poetry?

I usually start rough: I don’t do a starkly literal translation per se, but I start with a certain literal-mindedness, trying to get as much of the ‘stuff’ of the poem on paper as possible without worrying too much about cohesion or grace. From there, I return both to the original and to my draft, looking at how the particular phrases and images happen in Spanish – what they do, how they move, what they’re made of – and then trying to find a way to get them to happen in English, too. In abstract terms, I begin a translation by letting the poem teach me how to read it. Nothing about my approach as such was different in translating Espina’s poetry. But even the ‘literal-mindedness’ of the beginning was much harder, much more painstaking, than it often is, so there were more holes in my rough drafts as a result, more fits and starts along the way.

As the translator of these poems, do you agree with Espina’s views of his work being untranslatable? How successful do you feel you were  in translating his poetry?

You know, when I translate, I worry a lot about the other questions (some more rhetorical than others) that I think are embedded in your first question, and in Espina’s description of his work as potentially untranslatable: Can a poem really be defined as untranslatable? If so, does that mean we shouldn’t attempt a translation? What are our responsibilities and limitations – surmountable or inevitable – when we translate? Which are attributable to the poet and which to the translator? Is anything translatable?

In any case, Espina’s poems daunted me more than anything else I’ve translated, and I completely agree with him that some of its most important components – its syntax, its atonal music, its overlapping and fragmentary images and tenses – can so easily be lost. I know I lost them sometimes. And when I did, I often knew I was losing them, but I couldn’t quite figure out what to find instead. Those are the times when I was unsuccessful as a translator: when I could tell I wasn’t fully doing justice to the original self-contained complexity because I couldn’t fully configure a new one. There were other times when this reconfiguration did, I hope, take place.

That said, and without letting myself off the hook for what I didn’t pull off, I think it’s important to remind ourselves that a poem isn’t a collection of elements to be recreated, and that this isn’t what translation is for. Successfully or unsuccessfully, you have to move away from the original syntax, vocabulary, etc., in order to move closer to a new one – and the new one will have, like the first, its own logic, its own restrictions, its own possibilities. Ultimately, the poem must stand on its own two feet. And then walk around, run, skip, swim, whatever. A translator friend of mine says it’s like a musician covering a song: you must honor what you’re playing (you’re not making stuff up), but you are not beholden to every single thing that made the original what it was, and, in fact, you must imbue it with other things. I don’t think I always got the hang of this with Espina’s poems, but it’s an ideal he made me work towards; and so to him, and to the poems themselves, I feel both apologetic and thankful!

How were you able to cope with the non-conventional syntax in Espina’s poems?

Espina’s poems – his entire poems, but also their syntax – often seem almost ‘coded’: bristling with images and phrases that can be hard to parse on the most literal level. Even the grammar can be unorthodox: Espina sometimes elides verbs and sentence structures, condensing an entire serious of actions or emotions into a sort of suggestion of what has happened. To translate them, I had to try to learn his shorthand – to examine the literal pieces hidden from view, understand them, and hide them away again, albeit by different means and in different guises, in English. In some cases, even if it was impossible to maintain, say, the particular music of a particular phrase, or a particular rhythmic pattern, I tried to understand the effect of this music or this rhythm in the original, and then tried to find a way in English to reembody the effect, to keep the wheel turning in English as it turns in the original Spanish without trying to reproduce every cog.

Also, the more I read Espina’s poems and grappled with his syntax, the more I felt that not only the level but the nature of their complexity was a very tricky business. Even at their densest and most abstract, his work feels extremely meticulous and his choices deliberate. So, it was both sobering and liberating to realize that part of ‘coping’ meant not only permitting ambiguities (because there are so many, and of so many kinds) but making them sound sure of themselves. A line that’s intentionally opaque in the original needs to stay opaque in translation – but that doesn’t mean it can be sloppy. It should be confident; it should encourage the reader to follow.

Could you give us an example of a line or an image that was particularly difficult to translate?

Here’s a passage from the poem ‘Que pase el que sigue’ (Next in Line, Please):

desde el principio supo a la perfección
cómo respirar despacio, acercarse a las ideas huidas al jardín
que por diciembre en la mente era otro mes aquel, respirando
de menos a esto, o al revés porque está bien que el viento vea
de vez en cuando, cierzo al que solo el olvido ha podido dividir.

And my attempt:

since the start she’d mastered perfectly
how to breathe slowly, approach the ideas that had fled to the garden,
which, around December, was another month in the mind, breathing
from less to this, or else the opposite, because it’s good the wind can see
once in a while, the wind that only oblivion has managed to divide.

Has Espina’s work given you new insights into contemporary Hispanic poetry?

I don’t think any single poet can really do this. I know reading Espina’s work has given me new insights about what makes it Espina’s work: that means, even unconsciously, a clearer sense of how he inhabits language, the kinds of ideas that matter to him, even the other writers and thinkers who have shaped his own writing and thinking. In this way, reading Espina (or any other writer) can expose us to ideas or patterns or concerns that are threaded through, in this case, contemporary Latin American poetry, but I wouldn’t ask or expect him to expressly speak on their behalf.

Robin Myers (USA, 1987) is a freelance translator and editor. Born in New York, she has spent the past several years between the USA, Mexico and Palestine. She was a 2009 Fellow of the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA), and she is working on a collection of her own poems.