StAnza Preview Blog 2: Annie Rutherford on ‘Translation’

For her second preview of the exciting and cutting edge 2022 StAnza Poetry Festival, 9-13 March, Jenny Lewis interviews Assistant Director Annie Rutherford on how and why translation plays such an important part in the programme.

Annie Rutherford by Perry Jonsson 

JL: Hallo Annie, it’s lovely to be talking to you and congratulations on the festival. The programme has a strong focus on translation, can you talk us through some of the huge range of events on offer?

AR: Absolutely! We’ve got a mix of events showcasing translated poetry and others exploring translation itself. New this year is the ‘Round the World’ series. Due to Covid, we couldn’t invite many overseas poets to StAnza 2022 in person – but we were excited about the potential of digital to further the reach of our international programme. Our six ‘Round the World’ events are the most eco-friendly world tour out there. With each event we touch down (virtually) in a new continent where we hear from two different poets. I’m thrilled StAnza audiences will get to experience the Japanese poet Takako Arai, who’s an amazing performer. She will be reading with the Singaporean poet, Theophilus Kwek. I’m also very keen on highlighting minority and indigenous languages at the festival, so it’s wonderful to have Yana Lucila Lema Otavalo reading in both Spanish and Kichwa.

Japanese poet Takako Arai

StAnza’s annual translation breakfast, where a panel of poets and translators chat all things translation over coffee and pastries, is a perennial favourite, and this year the breakfast brings together three people who’ve worked on translations of Chinese poet Yang Lian: Brian Holton, Pascale Petit and George Szirtes. All three bring very different perspectives, so it should be a fascinating discussion.

We’ve also got showcases of Dutch and Flemish poetry, and are working closely with Modern Poetry in Translation this year, with an exhibition exploring MPT’s longstanding relationship with Eastern and Central Europe, as well as a digital launch of MPT’s latest issue. And that’s just for starters!

JL: There’s a strong Scottish element running through the whole festival. Can you say more about this and other Scottish-oriented events?

AR: Over the last year, we’ve brought together four Ukrainian and four Scottish poets, as well as the fantastic translator Uilleam Blacker, in a series of workshops to collaboratively translate each other’s work. This kind of workshop is always a sticky one for translators: I bridle at the idea of translations created without knowledge of the original language – but I love the mind-bending, generous act of translating and I want everyone to be able to experience it! Seeing the poets – particularly Hannah Lavery and Olena Huseinova – spark off each other was an absolute highlight of 2021 for me.

I also think that bridge translations are particularly valuable when they enable exchange between minority languages. This workshop brought together Hutsul poet Myroslav Laiuk and Shetlandic author Roseanne Watt, which was fascinating. We’ve ended up with poems in Scots, Shetlandic, Hutsul (a Carpathian dialect), English and Ukrainian, as well as some very cool techno-reworkings of poems, which we’ll be showcasing in the project’s finale on Thursday 10 March.

And not 100% a translation event, but thinking about minority languages, I have to do a wee shout out for Harry Josephine Giles’ ‘Deep Wheel Orcadia’, a performance from her sci-fi verse novel written in Orkney Scots. Harry Josephine will be performing in Orcadian, but the book itself is dual language, and Harry Josephine has a wonderfully creative approach to the English translation, running English words together where the Orcadian has multiple meanings – so ‘birls’ for example becomes ‘whirlrushdancespins’.

Harry Josephine Giles by Rich Dyson 

We’ve also got a reading and discussion event bringing together Niall O’Gallagher and Louis de Paor, who write in Gaelic and Irish respectively. We had a fascinating discussion event last year with Gaelic, Irish and Welsh poets, and I’m looking forward to Niall and Louis taking that conversation even further.JL. ‘Epic’ is another powerful underlying theme of the festival and I’m looking forward to my event on 11 March with Philip Terry and Adnan Al-Sayegh when we will present our completely different takes on Gilgamesh in English, Arabic and ‘Globish’! Thank you for giving us these exciting opportunities.

Adnan Al-Sayegh

AR: Ha, it’s a slightly selfish programming move, to be honest! I get rather bored of the standard topic for poetry translation events: the endless discussion of whether or not poetry is translatable… There’s so much more you can explore once you’ve left that question behind!

I’m particularly excited about 1001 Nights Erased, a digital installation by Yasmine Seale, with a Meet the Artist event to learn more about it. Yasmine is the first woman to translate the 1001 Arabian Nights into English and she’s written eloquently about her complex relationship with the translators who went before her. While translating the text, she created beautiful erasure art/poetry from Edward Lane’s 19th century translation of the Nights, in a playful way of writing against Lane.

JL: Thanks so much Annie.

StAnza is a hybrid festival with a mix of digital and live events. Buy tickets here or from the Byre Theatre box office.

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