About the conference

This conference will explore the role that translation plays in mediating transatlantic poetry relationships. By understanding the Atlantic as multilingual, and poetry from the UK and USA in the broader contexts of Europe and the Americas, it will challenge the assumption that anglophone poetry inhabits a seamless transatlantic space, as imagined, for example in a culture of “international” literary prizes open only to works written in English. The apparent fluidity of this space is formed by the exclusions and inequalities of a colonial past, and it also masks the very real differences of cultural experience and contemporary politics between the USA and the UK. What role does poetry translation play in this context?

Jahan Ramazani’s A Transnational Poetics (2015) makes the case for poetry as a form that, above others, travels imaginatively, since poetry’s valuable potential is to create new spaces of intercultural discourse through its ‘radial connections, imaginative leaps, and boundary-crossing ventures.’ While Ramazani’s observations relate to poetry written in English, poetry translation generates further modes of transnational encounter. It can expose closely protected values, as Johannes Göransson argues in Transgressive Circulation (2018), showing how, in the USA, a belief in poetry as an expression of interiority has become part of the promotion of a hegemonic global culture. Indeed, the shift towards “translational” poetics set out by Apter (2005) and Perloff (2010) may be situated within a broader cross-cultural and multilingual turn. As in the ‘Transnational/Translational’ issue of the journal Tripwire (2015), translational poetics resists the homogenizing, racialized violence of neoliberal globalization understood as “exchange” or “connectivity.” These conflictive territories have been theorized by poets wary of translation as a technology that may perpetuate extractive, colonial models, such as Heriberto Yépez, who sees translation as colonial extraction (2007) and as transnational battlefield (2017). Translation is also a site for contesting these models: Don Mee Choi’s Translation is a Mode=Translation is an Anti-neocolonial Mode (2020) emphasizes the frictional zones of deformation and dissonance between the borders separating languages and nation states. At the same time, Göransson shows how translation can open the way for a reimagination of the ‘foreign body’ of the translated text. As described in the translator Kate Briggs’ memoir This Little Art (2017), experimental approaches to translation contest the notion of ‘fidelity’, instead stressing contingency, slippage, disturbance, and the textures of “error” as a generative source of open-ended meaning. Taken together, these trajectories seem to spell the end of older intercultural paradigms of translation premised on shared understanding, discrete languages policed by national or cultural boundaries, and the governing trope of fidelity to origin.

What then are the stakes of the present, future and postwar history of transatlantic translation networks, in light of these shifts within critical poetics? Contact between poets in Europe and the Americas, particularly those from modernist and experimental traditions, has created communities in which productive lines of influence have run in both directions, albeit with asymmetrical effects and varying degrees of recognition. How might these multilingual exchanges help to reframe national literatures? International poetry festivals, particularly across Europe and Latin America, have modelled a utopian vision of international exchange through live events focused on poetry translation, in contrast to the typically more commercial emphasis of anglophone literary festivals. What is at stake in such events and the communities they create? How might they now evolve as a result of the pandemic and increasing ecological concerns?

Contributions are invited that open new lines of critical discussion and communication in poetry, its translation, practice, and circulation. In looking at how the poetry of different languages traverses the Atlantic space, the conference will explore contrasts as well as synergies, existing connections as well as the potential for new collaborations and relationships. Proposals are welcome in the form of academic papers of 20 minutes or for a limited number of hour-long participatory workshops that will experiment with different forms of collaborative translation. In either case, they might address the following questions:

  • How are poetry communities formed across languages and cultures? Who is included or excluded, and what structures support them?
  • What role does translation play in decolonising poetry, or in extending neocolonial cultural hegemony? In what ways can translation build solidarity with and between Black and Indigenous struggle and resistance?
  • How does translation contribute to the diversity of poetry networks in terms of race, gender and minority cultures?
  • What ideas or values are disrupted in the process of translation?
  • What is the value of international relationships in poetry and how can they be sustained in a time of ecological and economic crisis?
  • How can poetry in English be placed more fully in dialogue with the languages that surround it?
  • How does multilingual poetry reimagine geographies of identity? What is its relationship to translation?
  • What approaches to the practice of poetry translation might enable new conversations to take place?
  • What do experimental forms of poetry and translation contribute to or draw from transatlantic exchange?
  • What structures enable multilingual exchange across the Atlantic? How might these be developed?
  • What are the distinctions and overlaps between poetry and translation as modes of practice? How might these to be understood through reference to the figure of the ‘poet-translator’?

Proposals: Please send an abstract of 300 words by November 15th 2021 to z.skoulding@bangor.ac.uk and d.eltringham@sheffield.ac.uk

Registration: Details tbc