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try to build a pamphlet: Transreading Central Europe

Not just new ways to write, the Poetry School’s Transreading Central Europe course was about experiments in reading.

For the 10 weeks of the course, myself and other students puzzled over languages we barely understood to create poems based on the sounds or shapes of Polish, Slovene or Hungarian (homophonic translation)—which in my case had to be done directly between ear and hand before the eyes made the words swim into mistaken “sense”. We removed words to make skeletons of poems (erasure); glossed fragmentary poems to create new ones (annotation); re-situated poems from unknown to the more familiar places (re-contextualisation). The final exercise was a ‘straight translation’ of the Polish poet, Krystyna Miłobędzka—followed by a not-so-straight translation reusing some of these methods. Once we had a full set of translations, we began cutting and splicing these versions into new transreadings.

The results of our efforts have now been collected into this CAMPUS pamphlet, try to build a house of words: an essay on transreading, which you can read below, followed with contributions from my fellow transreaders each discussing one of the several methods and translation strategies used on the course.

Please enjoy!



Hilary Dyer: Collage

I considered a random process, like Tzara’s poem. But I wanted, I found, to retain something. Looking to “transread”, I noted types of movement I found within the poem. I stuck with “coming and going” and “happening and occurring”. I looked up how birds flock and fish move in shoals. This seemed a picture of how all our different versions moved and swarmed. From here it was quite straightforward. The movements fall into three phases: separation, alignment, coherence. So that’s what I did. I separated out the three phrases which meant most to me, I aligned them (still remembering the random idea for I kept their exact appearances ) by putting like with like and for the phase of  coherence I decided to use roughly the same form as the original. That underlay all else and held the movements, as it were, in check. I put my selected phrases into three stanzas that resembled the measure of the original Polish stanzas.


Laura Southgate: Cento

I wanted to create a kind of cento (a poem made up of quotes from other poems) from all of our translations of Miłobędzka. I went from poem to poem in alphabetical order of first names, selecting fragments in the same sequence of images as Miłobędzka’s original. The decision of where to cut and paste tended to be determined by skipping ahead one to the next translation, or in some cases, the next several translations. For example, unlike the rest of our poems (to a greater or lesser degree ’straight’ versions of Elżbieta’s literal translation), Jacqueline’s poem is a free-form, elliptical interpretation, with line breaks in place of sentences and paragraphs. Because it wasn’t guaranteed there would be a line to match the next sentence in the original, I needed to do some reverse engineering. Similarly, I wanted to look ahead to the end and calculate backwards to ensure the poem could complete two exact cycles of the group.


Rob Packer: Simultaneous Translation

In the composite poem I tried to create a cross-section these different paths across the space between the two languages. Putting pieces together is surely part of annotation, but I felt other techniques influenced me just as much. I printed out each translation, ordered them alphabetically and gave everyone a column in unpoetical Excel, which I had used in the erasure exercise. I cut and pasted sections of each poem into the columns, moving forwards and backwards through the alphabet and the translations, trying to break sentences at the middle and to elide sense across full stops, as I had tried with the homophonic translation. Or is that re-contextualising through juxtaposition?


Alex Josephy: this is me see-through

Ela asked us to identify a favourite line from one of our individual ‘straight’ or ‘other’ versions of the poem.
six lines gradually appeared
birds on a fence
what seemed repetitive
became a narrative
i liked their fragmentary nature
made them more so
breaking the lines
so they could listen to each other
and to Miłobędzka


Rosa Macpherson: a house with words?

Listening to these poems in their own tongues, purely as sounds, was, for me, like listening to a music whose rhythms and stresses were unknown yet sometimes almost familiar; patterns I thought I could hear; words almost known. It was a playing with meaning that went on in my own mind house; a joyful game where I tried to build structures to fit multiple rooms.

Imagine kicking off your shoes and running or tip toeing or strolling through different rooms, stepping through different shades of paint, creating trails of colour wherever your game guided you. Sometimes you might stay in a tiny room; echoes and stuttering bouncing off the walls or one another, blurring and vibrating through ‘no meaning’ to ‘every meaning ‘ or ‘whatever meaning’. Sometimes the poem demands a whole house for itself; multiple rooms, all almost.


Jacqueline Haskell: Sequencing the Pamphlet

I printed off all the poems, then arranged them across the floor in the villa I was staying in at the time—forbidding anyone to walk across them!

I looked at them close up, then at a distance so I could really concentrate on the black and white—taking the spaces (white) and deletions (black) into account as much as the words themselves, as well as the layout, the way they fitted together one after another, so I got a presence and an absence of words on pages mirroring each other.

I was very certain that I wanted to end on the ’out of words’ but everything else was up for grabs. I matched the more faithful translations with the sparsely worded journeys of imagination. But who in the end is to say which is more complete?


Transreading  – our translation course for both mono- and poly-linguists – returns this Autumn, this time looking at the poetry of Scandinavia. Book online or ring us on 0207 582 1679.

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