Category Archives: blog

Happy International Day of Translation!

September 30 is the International Day of Translation, which the UN General Assembly formally recognized on 24 May 2017 through Resolution 71/288.

This year, the work of translators and interpreters becomes even more important because of COVID19. The COVID19 pandemic is not only a health crisis; it is also a linguistic crisis, described by one source as history’s biggest translation challenge. In many places overseas, and even here in the US, access to healthcare begins with access to proper information delivered in the languages spoken by diverse linguistic communities. It was for this reason that the theme the International Federation of Translators (IFT-FIT) has proposed for this year’s International Day of Translation is “Finding the Words for a World in Crisis“.

Happy International Day of Translation to everyone!

International Translation Day poster for 2020

From the Archive: Alexandra Niemi translates Dmitry Golynko

This week, we take a look at Alexandra Niemi’s searing translation of Dmitry Golynko’s poem “Government Funding,” which deeply resonates with our uncertain moment.  Read the poem in full at The Offing.

From “Government Funding
(Translated from the Russian)

a rusted-out sedan stuck in traffic, they arrived
in droves from the rebel region to enroll, life
embittered in solid chocolate, an osteopath
found signs of pelvic dislocation in a laborer
from the mining sector, in government funding,
the inevitable bankroll of negative emotions,
siphoned for military use with third-party
government assistance, cooked up Turkish style

white supremacists, approaching
a migrant, don’t break a sweat slapping
your noble visage, called that old-hag baby
momma the proprietress of the paunch, get to the top
thanks to brain excision, fast-tracked
by government funding, an armored security vehicle
cut off by a station wagon, going out with bats
for a good thrashing, practically clinging to his leg

a shabby drone takes off from a war base
acting the false target, instantly shot down
by the powers of the Protective Ground Forces,
rebels fall around the fucked supervisory mission,
pouring rain fills the government-funded
UAV, the rocket bombardment of enemy
supply stations was memorable, the likelihood
of missing utterly low, the time has come

an overgrown manchild importantly spitting
his wild image, going shopping along the main
drag of city life, greedily bringing his lips
closer to the bottle to get to the bottom
of non-things, government-funded
direct shipments of liquid soap are held up
en route, caught him red-sleeved, rubbed
his nose in what he’d done, toasted to the deal

sucked down a liter of brown liquor
in one swig before boarding, the microflora
turned out badly by all accounts, delayed
release didn’t earn any fans, thrown under
the bus on bad advice, with government funding
the formula of modernity isn’t manifesting
at all from the desired preconditions, a jacked
motionless body, risked a step aside

two thugs carrying a stereo system, the climax
of the shopping riot at the looted corner
store, the night before the savage collapse in prices
the cash machine was ramped to full speed, looks
dead on its feet, the government funding
includes educational developments, raises
tuition, the dodo bird’s getting fat, started
hiccupping from the booze, yawns sweetly

Alex Niemi currently teaches Russian at the University of Iowa where she received her MFA in Literary Translation in 2014. Her writing and translations from the French, Russian, and Spanish have appeared in Drunken BoatAsymptoteAction YesHorse Less Press ReviewPreludeDusie, and others. Her translation from the French of The John Cage Experiences by Vincent Tholomé is forthcoming in 2018 from Autumn Hill Books.

Dmitry Golynko’s books of poetry include Homo Scribens [1994], Директория [The Directory, 2001], Бетонные голубки [Concrete Doves, 2003], As It Turned Out [2008], Что это было и другие обоснования [What It Was and the Other Arguments, 2012], Приметы времени [The Signs of Time, 2017]. Golynko is a recipient of numerous grants and fellowships including CEC ArtsLink Residency at UPenn, DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program, KulturKontakt Austria, International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, Ventspils Writers’ and Translators’ House residency. Currently he teaches film theory at St. Petersburg University of Film and Television Studies and works as an independent scholar in the field of contemporary visual culture, biopolitics, accelerationism and object-oriented poetics.

2020 Senior Prize in Literary Translation: Congrats Lauren Levitt!

Lauren Levitt’s translation of “Las Cartas de Gerardo” won the Senior Prize in Literary Translation! We interviewed Lauren about her experience translating this short story.

Briefly describe the short story you translated.
La isla de los conejos [Rabbit Island] is a collection of short stories by the distinguished Spanish author, Elvira Navarro, published in January 2019.  I translated the first short story in the text, “Las cartas de Gerardo,” which centers on the long-awaited fallout of a young couple, Natalia and Gerardo, while they take a trip around their native country of Spain. Much of the story’s setting is within Natalia’s mind, as her questions about her relationship with Gerardo, past feelings, memories, and confusion consume her during the trip.

Why did you choose to translate this particular short story?
I chose to translate this short story out of the collection due to its cultural similarities to young American adults’ quests, in terms of relationships, growth, and self-exploration. Aligning with many American interests of romantic betrayal and a questioning sense of self, the translation of this text allows Navarro’s craft and narrative to be enjoyed across the Atlantic, an audience I perceive as one to appreciate this text, both as entertainment and as an intellectual pursuit.

What sort of challenges did you come across while translating?
My priorities when translating this text were fidelity to the source text and readability of the target text, a coexistence that required me to  overcome multiple challenges. Achieving fidelity to the original text in my translation involved retaining Navarro’s elegant yet succinct use of prose to convey the emotional turbulence of her characters. Doing so would provide American readers with the same sense of discomfort and disorientation provided to Spanish of the original text. However, this aim interacted aggressively with the additional objective of readability. The original text could be argued to lack readability because of the confusing nature of its style, but it is important to note that this complexity is not the result of a cultural disconnect. I was resultantly charged with the task of creating a linguistically legible and intelligible text that maintained the story’s sense of confusion, while meticulously doing so not through cultural differences, but rather through style.

How did the Minor in Translation Studies prepare you for translating this story?
This process required careful consideration and took much of what I learned about translation theory in my classes into account in order to solve issues that presented themselves throughout the process. In my coursework for the Minor in Translation Studies, I learned about a multitude of phenomena and methods to employ and consider while translating. I used many of these including literary estrangement, dynamic equivalence and domestication/ foreignization. This toolkit allowed me to successfully translate not only the words in the text, but all of the meaning behind it as well.

What do you like most about translation?
I enjoyed translating this text, as it required me to be creative and try to find different solutions to convey metaphors and emotions from one language to another. I was able to use some creative writing techniques in re-creating these literary devices, which added an artistic element to the work of translating. Additionally, I enjoyed reading and dissecting Navarro’s text, as I found many experiences in the narrative similar to my experience studying abroad in Spain. I was able to draw real-life connections between my experiences in Spain to those in the US, and I thought it was super interesting that Navarro studied at the same university I did when abroad, la Universidad Complutense de Madrid!

Congratulations to Lauren and thank you to all of the seniors who submitted their translation to the contest this year.

Translators at Work: An Interview with Kelsey Trotta

In anticipation of our 2021-22 Mellon Sawyer Seminar on “Sites of Translation in the Multilingual Midwest,” we are proud to highlight members of our own translation community.

For our first interview in this series, we had the chance to talk with Kelsey Trotta, a University of Michigan graduate and full-time freelance translator. Kelsey’s prior work includes translating interviews for The New York Times, subtitles for National Geographic docu-series, training videos for multinational corporations, USAID interviews, United Nations documents, legal, medical, and technical documents, vital records, as well as interpretation for asylum seekers. You can find more information about her work here.


Meg Berkobien: When did you first become aware of translation as a process or a concept?

Kelsey Trotta: Well, I suppose this is more a memory of interpretation than translation per se, but when I was 12 or 13 years old, I was watching a newswoman reporting in English from abroad. When someone approached her, she said something in Arabic or Dari, then she went right back to her report. I didn’t know much about code switching until college, but at the time I remember thinking, Ok, that’s what I want to do.

MB: What about that exchange felt so vital to you?

KT: I think it was the fact that she transitioned so smoothly from one language to another. I grew up in a monolingual household so I’d never seen anything like that before.

MB: I know you translate from Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Which language did you learn first? How did you go about learning each of them?

KT: I started with Spanish. I remember telling my parents that I wanted to study French and they said to start with Spanish and move into French in high school. So I did. And then when I was in college, I took an Italian class because my grandparents speak Italian, and then I learned Portuguese. After college, I decided to apply to teach English in Brazil for a year. And what really kind of did it for me was being able to be fully immersed in the culture there because very few people spoke English. Most non-Brazilian people were from different parts of Latin America, so I got a lot of great experience with folks speaking different dialects of Spanish and Portuguese and really learning how to communicate in a language that wasn’t my own beyond theory.

MB: Yeah, I mean, it’s such a powerful thing, not having that English crutch.

KT: You fall into learning the hard way. And that can be fun—it’s kind of like learning how to ride a bike. You’ve just got to get back on if you’ve fallen down.

MB: When did you start getting curious about translation as a field of study? In undergrad?

KT: Yes, I would say I had a few different classes that were particularly impactful. Translation as a full-time job kind of fell into my lap, but I started being interested in translation probably around my junior year of college. I had a couple of classes, one, for instance, with Professor Christi Merrill, called “The Truth Claims of Indian Literature,” where we spoke about rendering certain concepts untranslatable and not having them conform to European ideals, which was beyond fascinating. There was also another with Professor Catherine Brown on Don Juan where we discussed untranslatable concepts, specifically untranslatable words. I also took a class with Professor Teresa Satterfield that really helped me break down sentences, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but learning to do that was indispensable to translation because it’s what I do literally every day.

MB: I know you focused on Latin American literature in college. Did you also study a specific national literature?

KT: Not exclusively. I definitely read Borges, Cortázar, García Márquez. But I don’t think I was really able to fully appreciate the beauty of Latin American literature until I went there. Once I went, though, everything just kind of fell into place.

MB: Where did you go?

KT: After living in Brazil I travelled to Argentina, Peru, and Colombia. I only got to spend one night in Uruguay.

MB: Ah, Uruguay! The author I primarily translate, Cristina Peri Rossi, is Uruguayan. Which leads me to another question—do you do any literary translation, by chance?

KT: To be honest, it’s not my strong suit, so I’m more on the translating content and technical side of things. But I really have so much respect for literary translators because that’s a whole other level of getting into the author’s head. It’s like looking through a kaleidoscope and describing it clearly, and I have so much respect for it as an art and profession.

MB: Did you do translation in any community capacity while you were in undergrad?

KT: I translated a bit to make money during college, but it wasn’t until after graduation that I started working in the community.

MB: Ah, I ask because I know you’re connected to the Language Resource Center here at the University. They love your work. And they’ve been doing the Translate-a-thon here at the University for a while now, and I was wondering if you had participated in that.

KT: Oh! Yes, I participated in that a year and a half ago.

MB: So after you graduated. You came back!

KT: It was really cool to be able to do it, because it felt like an honor to be back and help other people. The person we were translating on behalf of was a Mexican journalist, Emilio Guttiérez, who was fighting the good fight and letting people know about what was going on. He has been seeking asylum for the past ten years.

MB: Can you say a bit more about that project?

KT: The project was to translate Guttiérez’s newspaper articles. He was exposing human rights abuses and being threatened for it, which is why he crossed the border to seek asylum. Michigan’s Language Resource Center took up his cause and made translating his work the focus of the 2018 Translate-a-Thon. I was very lucky because I’ve worked with a fair amount of asylum cases, so I had translated similar things before. It felt great to be able to do that for someone, especially someone who was fighting the good fight.

MB: Exactly. And I think that’s important because when you’re a freelance translator, you don’t always get to take on that kind of work. Often, the people who often pay best are businesses.

KT: I’ve been very lucky in terms of clients. I’ve been able to make a living without working with companies I disagree with, those committing human rights abuses or whose practices go against what I believe and that I’d have to go against my conscience to work for…

MB: That’s honestly so great to hear. I guess this would make a good pivot point–what do you translate in your day-to-day?

KT: Half of my work is translating legal documents, vital records, and technical translations. I do a lot of work for immigration law firms. And I do a lot of work for different companies that work with Latin America and Europe. And then a big part of my work and also what’s called localization. Localization is basically where you translate copy and then you tailor it to a local market in a way that the content will appeal to a local consumer. I really love it. Occasionally, I’ll get academic journal articles and technical documents but my bread and butter are localization and legal documents.

MB: So what kinds of technology do you utilize? What makes the difficult work of translating easier?

KT: Lots and lots and lots of dictionaries. The WordReference forum is one that every professor I’ve ever had recommends, and I use it every day. Linguee is another good one. And if I’m really, really stuck on something, I’ll go to the DRAE (Spanish), the Priberam (Portuguese), or the Larousse (French).

MB: Ah, I use all of those online resources, too! I don’t have any physical dictionaries around anymore. I just keep asking myself–what happens if the Internet goes down? Will I still be a translator? (Laughs.)

KT: I have at least two or three dictionaries on my phone, too!

MB: Have the classes you took at Michigan had any bearing on your professional work?

KT: Oh, they definitely have. Like I said, I had a lot of great professors there, I can’t speak highly enough of them. The biggest thing that I took away was the ability to break a sentence down, work with the different meanings it contains, and doing a close reading of the source content in order to convey the message I want to convey.

I mean, I remember when I was working on my first asylum case and the person was granted asylum. I contacted a couple of my professors and just said, “Hey, I just wanted to let you know that your classes were really instrumental to my growth. I’m a full-time translator now and my client just won the asylum case I was working on. So, thank you.”

MB: What a feeling! I’m just thinking kind of back to what you said about the untranslatable—how does that work in a professional context? I mean, I don’t think that clients will tend to want you to keep things untranslated. I know that’s a bit of a high theory kind of thing, in the realm of literary translation maybe, but do you see the untranslatable at work in your asylum cases?

KT: Sometimes concepts don’t translate well. Usually when I encounter those types of concepts, I’ll ask if I’m allowed to adjust the content accordingly. This could be finding an equivalent situation, or finding a different way to explain something. I think it’s really important when translating, to know, understand, and respect your audience, because that’s primarily what we’re doing when we’re translating. Part of that obviously has to do with the word, but another part of it conveying the sense of the message in terms your audience will understand and respond to.

MB: Do you work pretty closely with lawyers or paralegals?

KT: I do. I work with a few different immigration law firms. Sometimes I do tricky things like articles of incorporation or business agreements, or MOUs (memoranda of understanding). I work with a fair amount of lawyers on various projects.

MB: So, I know that you can’t talk about any cases in particular, but, in general, has that work led you to do any community organizing around immigration outside of your translation work?

KT: Most of the work I do surrounding questions of immigration is my translation work. And I’m all for writing to local politicians to make sure they’re aware of what’s happening in our area. I’ll also post on my personal social media about orgs working on immigrant rights, why immigrants are so important in our communities, and how people can help. And I try to stay very aware of what’s going on by listening to different news outlets in the US and abroad.

MB: Exactly. That’s such an important aspect of our work, I think, because part of being a translator is being an advocate.

KT: Agreed. The way I see it, I’ve been lucky enough to be invited into these communities through language, and because of that, I want to use my platform in any way I can to pass the microphone so to speak and raise awareness about the issues that many are facing.

MB: What is your dream project?

KT: I wouldn’t say I have just one. I’ve localized content for hotel chains, and I absolutely love doing that. I worked in hospitality for a while after college, and I was a tour guide in Rio during the World Cup. I love being able to tell people about different places and different ways to travel, places to go and what to eat, etc. What was really cool about those particular projects was that I was able to learn more about my own country. I would love to be able to do more work translating in different areas of hospitality.

I would also love to translate food-related texts. In my spare time, I love baking and so I’ll go to popular foreign-language websites and translate recipes. I would love to be able to translate a cookbook or a book on the history of food and colonization’s impact on food systems that shape how we eat today.

I guess the last project would be translating a documentary about visiting different bakeries around the world, tracing the history of bakeries and different baked goods. For example, the history of different pastry work is fascinating; I’d love to learn more about how certain forms came to be and the impact that monasticism has had on it.

MB: I’m pretty sure everyone who subscribes to Netflix would watch that.

KT: I hope so! I’d love to do something similar to Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat but for baking.

MB: So, I was hoping we might end with the question of the untranslatable. What’s your favorite untranslatable word?

KT: Ah, that’s like asking me to name my favorite language or favorite book. In Spanish, I guess I would say “engañar” or “burlar.” Because this idea of an intentional and artful deception is something that we don’t really have in English. And it is an important concept because it informs certain ways of communication that I think to a certain extent, the English language is limited by. In Brazilian Portugese there’s the word “malandro,” which as a term is common throughout Brazil and can mean something to the effect of being savvy and sometimes untrustworthy, but the “malandro” archetype and the concept of “malandragem” are unique to Rio de Janeiro and “carioca” (from Rio de Janeiro) culture. Plus, there’s the subjective—it’s one of the coolest tenses in my opinion.

MB: Well, thank you so much, Kelsey, for sharing your story with us. I know I’m proud to be in community with past grads and translators like you.

KT: Thank you!

From the Archive: Emily Goedde translates Wei-Yun Lin

This week, we’ve been diving into Emily Goedde’s translation of selections from Wei-Yun Lin’s My Mother’s Parasites. Read the full excerpt in The Brooklyn Rail

(Translated from the Chinese)

When I was a kid, I would often go down to the river to fish with my friends. The fish all had tapeworms, which we would pull out of their stomachs and bury in the ground (we were afraid dogs would dig them up). Then we would roast the fish and eat them. One time, a kid started to play near where we had buried a worm. He was digging and digging at something, but he didn’t know what it was. Later his parents came to get him, and holding our tapeworm in his hand, he proudly turned to them and shouted, “Ha ha ha! Look what I found! A shoelace!”

– A story my Polish friend E. told me


One of my clearest childhood memories is a tapeworm I saw in Tokyo’s Meguro Parasitological Museum.

It was a human tapeworm. I don’t remember how long it was—I just remember it was enormous, like the white paper used for receipt tape. Even wrapped in coils, it was many times longer that I was at the time. Now that I think about it, it must have been ten meters. Or maybe it wasn’t that long—it just seemed that way to me as a small child. It was simply beyond my comprehension.

The reason I saw this tapeworm at all was because of my mother. At the time she was assistant professor in the Parasitology Department at the celebrated NTU, National Taiwan University. When people asked her profession, she would give a sly smile and say, “I teach parasites,” implying that the students were the parasites. On the other hand, so as not to be “parasitical” students, her students would say they were in the microbiology department.

Parasites have been in my life for as long as I can remember. We were around each other a lot, like best friends or favorite toys (although they couldn’t play with me; nor I with them). They were like invisible friends.

Before I learned to say my ABCs or “How are you?” in English, I had memorized the complicated and hard-to-pronounce English word “parasitology.” It was listed on the elevator next to the floor of my mother’s department. Still very small, I had great aspirations to memorize all the other English words on the elevator as well: anatomy, pharmacology, biochemistry, public health.

Did I think about earning a PhD in biology like my parents? The answer is both yes and no. The first thing I remember wanting to be is a zoo director (because both my parents studied animals). Later I wanted to be an inventor (that was because of Doraemon) and an elementary school teacher (my parents and maternal grandmother and great-grandfather were all teachers). Then, when I was twelve, I set my heart on becoming a writer (after I read Zhang Xiguo’s book Chess King). Although when I was in middle school, I suddenly decided that I wanted to research jellyfish (because we went to Palao, where the jellyfish were amazing, and I wanted to feel what it was like to be stung).

My parents didn’t comment on my jellyfish announcement. My father just said, “If you want to study jellyfish, you should go to France, because that’s where the best research is being done.” To this day I still don’t know what they thought about all this. Were they glad, “Our daughter has finally chosen the right path.” Or were they worried, “What? She changed her mind again!” Or were they afraid, “Good Lord, not another PhD? Can no one in our family escape this fate?” Speaking of fate, perhaps becoming a “high-level academic” really is a fated, family curse. In the Qing Dynasty, my grandmother’s father was a xiucai, a scholar who passed the imperial exams at the county level; her older sister directed a girls’ school, and my mother and two of my uncles all got their PhDs in the States. On my father’s side, however, he is the only one to have a PhD, and that’s just because the first time he went to my mom’s house for dinner—and an interview—my grandmother pulled him aside and threatened him: “My daughter is going abroad for her PhD, if you want to marry her, you’ll go too.”

Emily Goedde has been translating and thinking about translation since she was a high school student, when she spent her senior year as an exchange student in France. After college she lived in China for several years, where she was a writer for ex-pat publications. She then returned to the states to earn an MFA in literary translation from The University of Iowa and a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Michigan, where her “creative” dissertation was a study of how translating wartime poetry taught her how to listen. She has been teaching writing, translation, and listening for over ten years to students of many different backgrounds, and she has developed sound studies projects, a literary translation journal, and translate-a-thons, which bring students together with professionals to translate documents for nonprofit organizations. For the past two years, she has been working as a freelance literary translator, and has published her work in The Iowa Reviewharlequin creature, and Jade Mirror: Women Poets of China, among other publications.

Wei-Yun Lin (林蔚昀) was born in 1982 in Taipei, Taiwan. She is the author of three prose collections: 我媽媽的寄生蟲 (“My Mother’s Parasites”),  易鄉人 (“Translanders”), and 回家好難: 寫給故鄉的33個字詞 (“So hard to return home”). My Mother’s Parasites won a Golden Tripod Award from the Taiwan Ministry of Culture in 2017 and was published in Korea in 2018. Lin has also authored a poetry collection entitled 自己和不是自己的房間 (“A Room of One’s Own and Not of One’s Own”) and is now preparing a picture book called 憤世媽媽日記 (“The Diary of a Cynical Mom”). She currently lives in Taiwan with her husband and two sons.

Senior Prize in Literary Translation: Deadline Extended to April 21st!

The Department of Comparative Literature is pleased to invite graduating seniors in all departments at the University of Michigan to submit entries for our annual prize in literary translation.

Submissions are due by Tuesday, April 21, and will be judged by a team of faculty members in Comparative Literature.

A prize of $500 will be awarded at the end of winter term.


  1. All seniors graduating in Fall 2019 or Winter 2020, and affiliated with any department at the University of Michigan, are eligible to submit a translation.
  2. Students may choose to translate into English any literary text (or excerpt of a literary text) that was originally written in another language and in any literary genre (e.g. fiction, poetry, drama, creative nonfiction).
  3. A submission should consist of your translation (no more than 10 pages), and a brief translator’s preface (no more than 5 pages) that introduces the text and author you have chosen and explains your method of translation.  If you have worked significantly with previously available translations, glosses, or commentaries, please note these in your translator’s preface. Make sure your submission references all texts and tools you have used to produce your translation (i.e. other translations you have consulted, translation software you may have used, etc).
  4. Please submit your translation in the following format: an email listing your name, your graduation date, your major(s) and minor(s), and the complete title, author, and language of the original text you have translated, and an email attachment without your name that includes your translator’s preface, your translation, and a copy of the text you have translated in its original language.
  5. Your submission should be emailed to no later than 11:59 PM on Tuesday, April 21, 2020.

Questions?  Contact

From the Archive: Meg Berkobien translates Alba Cid

This week, we recover Meg Berkobien’s stirring translation of the first poem from Alba Cid’s poem cycle “Natural History. Cid’s work, originally written in Galician, considers the implications of the human/nature divide. Read the poem in full at The Offing.

“An Apocryphal History of Tulips, or Hallucination in the Low Countries”
(Translated from the Galician)

perennials require quite some time to grow. as
for tulips, so
for poisoned arrows plied of yew,
for histories.

contrary to popular belief
—florists included—
tulips are not native to Holland, but to Anatolia instead.

I’ll present this clarification with my hands deep in soil,
silken artillery, useless caution
of an alliance moved from finger to finger
and lost all the same.

perhaps I’ll even whisper to you:
Anatolia comes from the Greek
from Ionian colonnades it signified East
and as the fifteen hundred rooms of the Knossos Palace rose,
the word was welded to ana tellein, which has come to be
dawn, which has come to be
rising over any horizon

tender western girl,
trust the history of words
for you’ll never be able to trust those of men.

Meg Berkobien is pursuing a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan. See more of her work at

Alba Cid (Ourense, 1989) is one of contemporary Galician poetry’s most fervent voices. Her stories and poems, for which she has won several awards, have appeared in numerous anthologies and literary publications. She is currently finishing her Ph.D. from the University of Santiago de Compostela in Literary Theory.

From the Archive: Monika Cassel translates Daniela Danz

Over the next few months, we’ll be revisiting translations we’ve loved from graduates and faculty. This week, we’re proud to feature Monika Cassel’s gorgeous renderings of Daniela Danz’s triptych of poems featured in the July/August 2016 issue of Poetry and available here.

“We Are Alive. We Are for Everything”
(Translated from the German)

After Otto Piene

How does beginning go how does
remembering without forgetting go
in front of me in the snow a man
his back lonesome somber
how does beginning go not remembering
flashes of light that showed him images when he
was a boy quick and blinding see the shadows
in the light how does not-remembering go
listen to the hissing see the light
and Germany’s lightness
how bright Germany is like soot
like images quick and blinding how does
beginning go smell the snow
it’s new it fell in the night
in the dark gets forgotten
in images quick listen to the snow
it lies light like linen
something’s burning a hissing somber
like images at night on walls listen
to the hissing smell the smell of burning
look at the soot on a white background

In the introduction for another set of translations of Danz’s work for Waxwing, Monika writes of her process: “I am drawn to Danz’s simultaneously intimate and historically and philosophically wide view, the beauty of her lines and images, and her challenging syntax and line breaks. As a translator, I seek a musical register in English that mirrors what I find in Danz’s German, working until I see two poems in conversation side by side, each speaking to the other.”

Monika Cassel is a translator and poet who teaches at the New Mexico School for the Arts in Santa Fe. Her chapbook, Grammar of Passage, won the 2015 Venture Award. She received her PhD from the University of Michigan in 2001, and was an American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) Travel Fellow in 2016.

Daniela Danz is the author of several books of poetry, including V (2014) and Pontus (2009), both from Wallstein Verlag, and two novels. She directs the Schillerhaus in Rudolstadt.

Available now: Professor Benjamin Paloff translates the work of Dorota Masłowska

Professor Benjamin Paloff’s recent translation of Dorota Masłowska’s Honey I killed the Cats (2012) is out and receiving some much deserved attention. The publisher, indie darling Deep Vellum, describes the novel as “an incomparably hilarious satire of modern consumer culture, with everything from personality to religion commodified, like Virginie Despentes meets Blade Runner.” This is Paloff’s second translation of Masłowska’s work, the first being his “pitch-perfect” translation of Snow White & Russian Red (2009).

We suggest checking out Ambrose Mary Gallagher’s insightful review of the translation in Michigan Quarterly Review, or, for a quicker read, Matt Janney’s write-up in Calvert Journal or Bridey Heing’s overview in World Literature Today. Can’t wait to dive in? We love this excerpt in Lithub.

Congratulations, Professor Paloff!

Meet Complit major Davis Boos, winner of the Sweetland Upper-Level Writing Prize in the Humanities!

We recently caught up with CL major Davis Boos, whose translation and critical introduction of Mario Benedetti’s “Geographies” and “Out of Pure Distraction” recently won him a Sweetland Upper-Level Writing Prize in the Humanities.

Boos is interested in the problems language helps to overcome and to create. The essay that won Sweetland’s award explores this duality and the exile. As you read this, he will be studying in Buenos Aires and, with luck, translating more of said author’s work.

  1. Where are you from? What is your Major/ Minor? What year are you graduating?
    I’m from Orchard Lake, an easy forty-five minute drive from Ann Arbor. I’ll be graduating in the Spring of 2021.
  2. How does your major/minor fit together and why did you choose them?
    Coming to U-M, my two majors—Comparative Literature and Environment—were only united by my interest in each subject. I started reading very young and have never stopped. This cultivated, nearly by accident, an appreciation for and respect of language. I found the English department too restrictive and landed in the Complit office. The Environment major came about through my appreciation for the outdoors and desire to preserve it. Now, after a few years, the connections have become, sometimes through force and sometimes organically, clearer. I plan to write a thesis comparing the environmental legal structures of Latin America and the United States, especially focusing on the somewhat recent codification of environmental rights.
  3. What was your favorite thing about CompLit 322? Would you recommend this class and why
    The most enjoyable aspects of 322 are the freedom you are given as a student and the practicality of the course. Students can pick nearly any source text in any language and have the entire semester to produce a translation and their reflections on it. There is little distraction from the work. Through this largely independent task, you begin to hone a tangible and pervasive skill—the ability to translate well. It turns out to be harder than it sounds.
  4. Can you briefly describe what your essay was about and what inspired you to write about this topic?
    The essay is a critical introduction to the translations I produced for the class. Broadly, it relates the linguistic exile we each experience as citizens of a multilingual world and the physical exile of Mario Benedetti, the author who wrote the source texts for my translation project and was forced to remain outside of his home country of Uruguay for over a decade.
  5. What was the creative process like for you as a translator during this paper?
    It is largely a process of revision. The initial translation, which seemed fine while it was underway, was comically bad when I sat down to read it over. With each round of edits the translation became a fairer compromise between the original meaning imbued in Spanish and comprehension for readers of English.
  6. What do you hope to do after you graduate and how will your major/minor help your goals?
    I plan on attending law school after graduation. Comparative Literature not only sharpens rhetoric, comprehension and critical thinking, as many humanities departments can claim, but fosters second (or third or fourth) language acquisition. This is a skill that is becoming fundamental in an increasingly smaller world.

Here are two of Davis’ favorite excerpts:

From “Geographies”:

Ah, she said. But I don’t think either of you would recognize the city. Both of you would lose that game of geographies. For example? Dieciocho de Julio no longer has trees. Did you know that there is no longer shade to walk beneath on that long avenue in the heart of our city?

Suddenly I realized the trees on Dieciocho were important, almost crucial for me. It was me that they had mutilated. I am without branches, without limbs, without leaves. Imperceptibly, the game of geographies transformed into an anxious investigation. We went through the city, our city, mine and Bernardo’s, with questions blurred by our desire.

From “Out of Pure Distraction”:

He never considered himself a political exile. He had abandoned his land because of a strange impulse that took form in three stages. The first when four beggars came up to him on the street one after the other. The second when a government official used the word peace on television and his right eyelid immediately began to twitch. The third when he entered his neighborhood church and saw Christ (not the one most prayed to or surrounded by candles but a tired Christ in a back hallway) crying like a saint.

Congratulations, Davis!