Translating Contemporary French Poetry

Translation plays a key role in the lives of contemporary poetic texts and their creators. It may introduce a poem into another linguistic context and to new audiences, propose a new reading of a celebrated work or give a deeper insight into an individual’s poetic practice. Many poets engage in reading poems in translation or even translating other poets’ works; it is one of the principal ways in which poetry is disseminated and encourages dialogue between different poetic traditions and tendencies. Between 2012 and 2015, Nina Parish and Emma Wagstaff managed an AHRC-funded network on contemporary French poetic practice and its interdisciplinary connections. One of their findings from the network as a whole is that historically there has been little exchange between French and British poetry, in contrast to the important links between the French and American poetry scenes. This co-presented paper covered two areas with the aim of opening up discussion on the specificities of Anglo-French translation practices and on the experience of translating poetry more generally:

First, it examined how the gap between the French and British poetry scenes is currently being addressed, drawing on two projects in progress: 1) an issue of the on-line review Double Change devoted to the translation of contemporary French poets chosen and translated by British poets and academics; 2) a bilingual anthology of contemporary French poetry commissioned by Enitharmon Press, which they have been invited to edit. 

Second, it discussed their experiences as translators. It gave an account of the practical translation workshop—led by Stephen Romer and Jennie Feldman—which Nina Parish and Emma Wagstaff organised as part of the study day on translation. They discussed also the experience of translating the work of living poets with whom they are in contact, and of their role as non-expert translators working in tandem with published translators and poets on these tasks.