Dan Bellm (literary translation, poetry) is a poet and translator living in Berkeley, California. His translations of poetry and fiction from Spanish and French include two works by Mexican poet Jorge Esquinca, Description of a Flash of Cobalt Blue (Unicorn Press, 2015) and Nostalghia (Mexico City: La Diéresis, 2015); several works by French poet Pierre Reverdy, including The Song of the Dead (Black Square Editions, 2016) and Sun on the Ceiling (American Poetry Review, 2009); The Legend of the Wandering King, a young adult novel by Laura Gallego García (Scholastic, 2005); and Angel’s Kite by Alberto Blanco (Children’s Book Press, 1994). He has published three books of poetry: Practice (Sixteen Rivers Press), winner of a 2009 California Book Award and named one of the top ten poetry books of 2008 by the Virginia Quarterly Review; Buried Treasure (1999), winner of the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay DiCastagnola Award and the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Prize; and One Hand on the Wheel (Roundhouse Press, 1999). His poems have appeared in such journals and anthologies as Poetry, Ploughshares, The Threepenny Review, Best American Spiritual Writing, and Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Writing, and The Ecopoetry Anthology. He has been awarded residencies at Yaddo and Dorset Colony House, an Artist’s Fellowship in Literature from the California Arts Council, and a Literature Fellowship in Translation from the National Endowment for the Arts. More information is available at www.danbellm.com.
The Art of Translation
I teach translation in a ten-week online “Art of Translation” conference that all MFA students take during their second project period. Why translation? Because it’s a genre of creative writing in its own right, it’s the closest possible form of close reading, it’s an excellent skill for any reader or writer to develop, and it’s an incomparable way to encounter the world of words that extends far past our borders.
Over the 10 weeks of The Art of Translation, we try our hand at translating passages or brief works of prose and poetry from eight to ten different languages. How is this possible, especially if you don’t read or write in another language besides English?
Each week, along with the text in question, I post a basic glossary and contextual information, along with recordings or other links if possible, that help you create a “literal,” rough-draft, first translation. Then, in conversation with your fellow students online, each of you develops a second, more refined translation of the text. Since this is an art of interpretation, no single version is “correct.” Engaging in dialogue, and learning from each other how you have tackled the same assignment, are a central part of the course. I take an active part in the discussion as well. Each week, I also ask each student to comment on each other’s work and to post a brief “process note” addressing matters of craft: what was difficult, how you solved problems, what choices you considered. At the end of the term, I host an Art of Translation reading at the Antioch residency where all students showcase some of their work.
The Song of the Dead, Pierre Reverdy
Sun on the Ceiling, Pierre Reverdy
Description of a Flash of Cobalt Blue, Jorge Esquinca
Nostalghia, Jorge Esquinca
The Legend of the Wandering King, Laura Gallego García
Angel’s Kite by Alberto Blanco