Play with, and question, the notion of mistranslation to rethink what it means to communicate through poetry.
In the children’s book Bloomability by Sharon Creek, a Japanese character called Keisuke translates the Japanese word for ‘possibility’ to ‘bloomability’ in English. On a visit to see family in Uganda, I was amused and delighted to be asked to ‘extend’ rather than ‘move’ my body. German words have a brusque logic that when directly translated are wryly humorous: ‘handschuche’ means glove, literally a hand shoe. How awkward, how strange: how deliciously poetic!
Mistranslation can be frustrating, but also creatively fruitful. At school, we are taught to approach poetry like learning a new language, a process of decoding that promises illumination at the end; but how might we approach close reading if we unpack what it means to ‘understand’ or ‘misunderstand’ something?
We are constantly mistranslating and misinterpreting each other, even when we share a language. For some, poetry illuminates the human condition. For others, it obscures it further. Thanks to colonialism, there are languages and ways of communication that dominate our cultural landscape to the detriment of others. There is also the precedence of written and spoken language, which marginalises sign language, Braille, and other forms of communication. There is an onus on certain humans to constantly translate their thoughts and experiences while others assume a certain universality. What does all of this mean for how we write and who we write for?
We know that there are many words and expressions that exist in some languages and not others. What do these differences in language and vocabulary say about our cultural differences and how might mistranslations offer their own distinct and specific lens on our increasingly globalised yet polarised world?
Exploring works in a variety of languages as well as works in translation, we will play with and question the notion of mistranslation and rethink what it means to communicate through poetry.
Studios are 4 week intensive courses. Reading material will be distributed before the course begins. There are no live chats so they are suitable for both UK & International students.
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Image credit: Ryoji Iwata
About Vanessa Kisuule View Profile
Vanessa Kisuule is a writer and performer based in Bristol. She has won over ten slam titles including The Roundhouse Slam 2014, Hammer and Tongue National Slam 2014 and the Nuoryican Poetry Slam. She has been featured on BBC iPlayer, Radio 1, and Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, Blue Peter, Don’t Flop and TEDx in Vienna. She has appeared at an array of literary and music festivals and was Glastonbury Festival’s Resident Poet in 2019. She has been invited to perform all over the world from Belgium to Brazil to Bangladesh.
Her poem on the historic toppling of Edward Colston’s statue ‘Hollow’ gained over 600,000 views on Twitter in three days. She has two poetry collections published by Burning Eye Books and her work was Highly Commended in the Forward Poetry Prize Anthology 2019. She has written for publications including The Guardian, NME and Lonely Planet and has publication credits in pending anthologies with Canongate, Orion and Penguin Random House. She has worked extensively in theatre with Bristol Old Vic, Kneehigh Theatre and Pentabus and her Arts Council supported show ‘SEXY’ toured nationally in 2017. She was the Bristol City Poet for 2018 – 2020 and will be co-tutor for Southbank Centre’s first ever Poetry Collective alongside Will Harris. She is currently working on an essay collection and her debut novel.
'This was my second Poetry School course and I found both highly enjoyable and inspiring. I'm about to start my 3rd. They have been particularly helpful during this time of the pandemic and various lockdowns. It may be that normally I would not have had the time to engage so fully with the courses.'