Tag Archives: translating poetry

The London Poetry Game

Following on from yesterday’s post presenting some of the finest literary mags and journals coming out of the UK, I thought I would share this unique collaborative project: The London Poetry Game.

Poet, Ross Sutherland has written a 26 line poem titled Symphony, presented on screen in more than 15 languages. This is where the game begins… the organisers have put the call out to all Londoners to translate the poem which will be broadcast from the London National Theatre on Sunday July 11.

Using poetry in a public project to bring together people from diverse language backgrounds is a brilliant idea and this Lost Shark would love to see more of it. I know I will be checking into the site in approx 35hours to read the translated poem!

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Lost in Translation – haiku by Basho and Buson

My recent interview with Kirk Marshall, editor of bi-lingual literary journal Red Leaves has had me reading widely about the art of translating poetry.

There are many that say poetry defies translation. In her essay, Translating Poetry, Erna Bennett says:

Poetry … is a music of words, and is a way of seeing and interpreting the world and our experience of it, and of conveying to the listener a heightened awareness of it through an intense concentration of metaphor and words in which the natural flow of speech sounds is moulded to some kind of formal pattern. Such patterns can never be the same after the act of translation.

So what then is a translator to do?

Well I liked Willis Barnstone’s take on this question in his An ABC of Translating Poetry

Translation of poetry is conceivable. A translation dwells in imperfection, using equivalents and shunning mechanical replicas–which is the dream of literalists who believe in truth. It gives us the other. Or under another name it gives us itself.

Whichever way you look at it, translating poetry is a difficult art.

I have always been fascinated by the various translations of haiku, particularly, Basho’s famous frog haiku. Some of them adding to the depth of my love for this incredible image, others fueling my distrust of translation (or at least the translator).

I recently found this page showcasing 31 translations (with a commenatry) of said haiku. It illustrates perfectly (or should that be imperfectly?) the varying nature of translation.

Read here:


I also found these translations of Buson’s temple bell/butterfly haiku, which provide further insight into the nature of translation.

Read here:


After many readings of these haiku, the words of Willis Barnstone were ringing in my ears…

A translator operates in the unknown. To choose the unknown path risks loss–and often brings gain.


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