Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Translation: Presentation and Workshop Samples


Lyric Poetry, Translation, and the Voice of the Feminine (LT)

Jeannine Diddle Uzzi

Modern notions of subjectivity, gender, and voice have their roots in ancient literary genres, but for those with no training in ancient language these roots can be difficult to trace.  This class addresses the art of translation, not only the translation of words and ideas from one language to another but the translation of what Walter Benjamin would call the intentio of a text.  Students will compare multiple translations of a limited number of Greek and Latin poems in order to approach the intentiones of the poems in their original languages.  In addition, this class employs the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan to inform a modern reading of Catullus’ approach to subjectivity, gender, and voice. 

Required Reading:

Selected poems of Sappho and Catullus

Page Dubois, Sappho Is Burning, “Fragmentary Introduction” (Chap. 1)

Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator” from Illuminations

Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose, Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the école Freudienne (excerpts)

The Art and Craft of Translation (C, T)

Kazim Ali and Tony Barnstone

Two poet/translators will discuss some of the practical and theoretical issues in the process of literary translation. We will use our own current projects, a translation of Iranian poet Sohrab Sepehri and a translation of Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib to discuss various issues including metaphrase, paraphrase and imitation, translating for form, translating for image, translating for rhetoric, translating for linguistic structure and translating for levels of diction.

Required Reading:


Hugo Friedrich, “On the Act of Translation”

Tony Barnstone, “Machines Made Out of Words: Translating Function and the Translator’s Function”

Yves Bonnefoy, “Translating Poetry”


Sohrab Sepehri, “Water’s Footfall,” translated by Kazim Ali, Omnidawn Publishing

Translations, Transformations and Transmutations (C, LT)

Tony Barnstone

In this session, we will be exploring a wide range of translations, transformations and transmutations that to a greater or lesser extent free themselves from constructing themselves as mirrors to an authentic, “authorized” original.  In brief, the session will be both a theoretical exploration of questions of literary authority and authorship and a practical set of writing exercises that use literary translation as a “pretext” for original creative writing.  The models here go back to Robert Lowell, with his loose versions that he called “imitations,” William Butler Yeats’ famous adaptation of a Ronsard poem, Kenneth Rexroth’s original poems in the mode of Japanese tanka and the voice of a Japanese woman, and Alan Michael Parker’s anthology of poetry “translated” from the work of imaginary poets (poets whose biography, style, and work were invented by the translator). 

Required Readings:
Jorge Luis Borges, “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quijote”

Robert Lowell, preface to Imitations

Alan Michael Parker, “Introduction” to The Imaginary Poets

Handout to print out for the session (including):

Pierre de Ronsard, “Quand vous serez bien vieille”

William Butler Yeats, “When You Are Old”

Tomaz Salaman and John Bradley poems

Kenneth Rexroth, From The Love Poems of Marichiko

Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur”

Tony Barnstone, “The Dead God Codex”

Suggested Readings:

Jorge Luis Borges, “Kafka and His Precursors”

Susan Bassnett, “When Is a Translation Not a Translation?” (Chapter 2 of Constructing Cultures: Essays on Literary Translation, by Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere), available online at Google Books.

Patrick Herron, “Ruthven’s Faking Literature, Forging Literature and Faking Forged Literature” at

Absenting Language: Translating the Fiction of Marguerite Duras (C, LT)

Kazim Ali

We will discuss the process of translating (with Libby Murphy) L'Amour, a 1971 lyric novel by Marguerite Duras that marked her turn from narrative, realist work to a decade in which she worked almost exclusively in film. No knowledge of French is required, though Kazim will read passages from the French original as well as his translation, discussing theoretical and practical issues surrounding the act the of translation. Though no other English translation of the novel exists, students who have reading knowledge of French are encouraged to read the original.

Required Reading:

Marguerite Duras, India Song and The Man Sitting in the Corridor

Film Viewing: Marguerite Duras, India Song and Nathalie Granger

Crimes of Passion— Murder on the Translation Express (C)

Sholeh Wolpé

Poetry is distinguished from prose by the language’s musicality and by its metaphoric life force. A translator of poetry who fails to respect this fact can become the unwitting destroyer of poems.

In this presentation, we will discuss the case for poetry as an experience, and the necessity for it to remain so in any language—for it to preserve, in Robert Lowell’s words, “the fire and the finish of the original.”

We will explore portions of a translation of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself into Persian, a language very different from English both dynamically and linguistically, in order to discuss these important questions: Should a translator preserve the original state of his or her own language? Or is it preferable to allow the target language to be profoundly influenced, expanded and deepened by the foreign tongue? Is a translator ethically bound to make the translation only as good as the original? What about a brilliant translation that could render a text in such a way as to exceed the original? Would that be unethical?

During the second half of the presentation, participants will collectively engage in translating a musically and contextually complex poem from Persian into English, demonstrating how writers can benefit from translating poetry from any language to enhance their own writing in any genre.

Required Reading:

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, (1881-82 edition)

Edith Grossman, Why Translation Matters

Selected poems: available on Blackboard

Suggested Reading:

Umberto Eco, Experiences in Translation  Alastair McEwen (Translator)

The Forbidden—Poems from Iran and Its Exiles, edited by Sholeh Wolpé