Poetry in Expanded Translation: an AHRC Network 2017-2018

Translation may seem like a simple matter of transposition between languages, but the translation of poetry in particular reveals the fascinating complexity and richness that comes from the interface of different languages and cultures. Language itself is constantly changing, and experimental forms of poetry have embraced the complex relations between words, meanings and the spaces they inhabit. As twenty-first century poetry expands into the possibilities of different media through international readings, performances and festivals, it also expands possibilities for translation. Poetry has always circulated internationally. The network will challenge the widespread view of autonomously monolingual poetic traditions while discovering how exchange between languages works in artistic terms, and how it brings cultural particularities into view.

Experiment across languages

This network will bring together practitioners and critics of poetry and translation with visual and sound artists to discover new ways of creating and interpreting language across art forms and cultures. In the context of a changing Europe, it will analyse the impact of experimental traditions that continue to forge links between different languages, and will discover new ways of presenting poetry to multilingual audiences. Through its link with the National Poetry Library in London's Southbank Centre, it will invite active involvement from readers and practitioners of poetry beyond academic contexts. Though located primarily in a UK and European context, with a special focus on Wales and France, the network is attentive to non-European influences and the co-existence of diverse cultures and languages. At a time when technologies such as machine translation are enabling communication, the apparent untranslatability of poetry makes it a crucial site for the creative exploration and understanding of intercultural difference.

How does poetry travel?

The network aims to discover how poetry travels internationally, by examining international links and legacies that connect poetry across languages. Examples include the influence of early twentieth-century Dada performances on contemporary sound poetry or the adoption of mathematical procedures inspired by the French Oulipo writers by UK and American poets. How might these cross-currents engage with the multiple linguistic communities of contemporary Europe? How these exchanges in experimental practice shaped by race, class and gender? How does collaboration contribute to intercultural dialogue? What political questions are raised by a cross-border ethics of translation?

Visual forms in translation

How do visual forms contribute to transition between languages? The network will consider collaborations between poets and visual artists that explore equivalences of word, form and image in intersemiotic translation, that is, translation that substitutes sign systems or art forms rather than one language for another. How do these, as well as emerging hybrid forms enabled by new technologies, expand possibilities for intercultural dialogue? In a visual environment where there is much competition for attention, what is distinctive about the role of poetry?

Sound in translation

The closing conference in spring 2018 will examine the role of sound in translation. What does it mean to listen to poetry in another language? In performance work that combines different media, what is the relation between translation and the political, physical or ecological dimensions of listening? How might considerations of noise open up new ways of listening to other languages? How can translation reveal different ways in which the poem 'listens'? How helpful is a musical comparison or vocabulary in discussion of the sound of a poem in translation? Conversely, what is meant when we talk about music as a language? Can the relationship between poet and translator be compared with that of composer and performer? The network will investigate these and other questions, developing new knowledge about how to present poetry to contemporary international audiences.