I’m involved in an innovative project called Poetry Inside Out. The project is based around groups of mixed-level fluency students working to translate poetry into English. It’s a joint project of the Center for the Art of Translation in San Francisco and Teachers and Writers Collaborative in New York and funded by the NEA.
It’s being piloted in a mostly Spanish-speaking middle school in Washington Heights, where I’ve just finished my first week of teaching.
These kids are amazing. They get what living in a bilingual/bicultural world is all about. They understand translation on an organic level. They may need help with the written part of it, but they get it in a way that someone like me, raised monolingual, has to work to understand.
While the Poetry Inside Out pedagogy revolves around translating poetry, it is also more broadly about interpreting another’s vision while making it your own.
When I write graphic novel scripts, they are for someone else to interpret—to translate—into visual reality. When I am working on my novel, I am laboring to translate a vision of a book—or of my character—effectively into words, into scenes.
In fact, the more I think about it, the better metaphor of translation is for the work of a writer.
Funny how life works. Mulling this over, I came across this beautiful New York Times essay by Michael Cunningham on the translations of The Hours, and on the broader meanings of translation.