Reading & Chatting at the Bridge Series

bridgeYesterday was all rain and chill in New York City. So what better way to spend a damp evening than to go to The Bridge Series event hosted by Goethe Insitut. The Bridge Series “is the first independent reading and discussion series in New York City devoted to literary translation.”

I was pleasantly surprise. I can be a tough critique when it comes to readings (meaning, normally they are incredibly boring). But these translators chose mighty fine selections and their discussion after the reading was quite interesting. The translators included Ross Benjamin, Isabel Fargo Cole, Tess Lewis, and Tim Mohr. All four are working from German to English.

The standout of this whole event was how exciting all of the selections were. If they are not already released, the novels will be available very soon this year in the US (the UK already has some available in translation). Also, for any Kafka aficionados out there, Ross Benjamin is currently working on a translation of Kafka’s complete Diaries.

There were two questions that most peaked my interest. The first being, what happens if the author includes a blatant error in the original. An example given was an author writing about New York City had listed Gansevoort Street as being down near the World Trade Center (when in reality, it is over west in the Meatpacking District). The original author did this because he liked the sound of the name. It was convenient that he is a contemporary author because the translator was able to discuss this point with him and it was subsequently corrected in the translation. But whether or not such a mistake should be corrected was discussed further with one of the most notorious errors: Frank Kafka putting a sword in the hand of the Statue of Liberty in his work, Amerika. 

The second question was about how contemporary German literature (and foreign lit as a whole) has changed recently and how does that apply to translating. The translators hit upon the fact that many references are no longer solely Germany/Austria/Switzerland based. They also incorporate many North American trends and concepts. The translators didn’t weigh on whether they thought this was a good or bad thing but they did note that they didn’t have to look up as many culture reference anymore.

All in all, I was delighted to go to last night’s Bridge Series. I recommend it. Not only do they cover German literature but other languages as well. You can visit their website for more information.

Translating Dead German Poets

Translations of Dead German Poets.So what happens when you’ve been super busy, not responding to emails, getting back to people or being a suitable human? Procrastinate, of course. I’ve decided to collect my three previous translations I’ve posted to this blog and create a new project. I have already put up the originally three and some new ones are coming soon.

Some people squish stress balls in their hands, others clean their whole home. I choose to translate poems by dead and forgotten (at least, forgotten in the US) German-language poets to refocus and forget about everyday stresses. So without further ado…


a poem by August von Platen-Hallermünde

August_von_Platen_by_Moritz_RugendasIt has been almost a year since I posted a translation. This is a poem by August von Platen-Hallermünde, an early 19th Century German writer. I dare say that I know very little about him but apparently his slim volumes of poetry caught the eye of even greats like Goethe. I don’t know if he is available in English (or in any other language besides the original German) but I hope you enjoy.
Specks of colors dust the wings
of summer butterflies.

They are fleeting and ephemeral,
Like the gifts that I bring,
Like the wreaths that I weave,
Like the songs that I sing.

Swiftly hovering above all,
Your time is scarce,
Like foam on a swaying wave,
Like a breath on a bare blade.

I do not desire immortality,
Death is the fate of all things,
My tones are as fragile
As the glass which I ring.

Farbenstäubchen auf der Schwinge
Sommerlicher Schmetterlinge.

Flüchtig sind sie, sind vergänglich,
Wie die Gaben, die ich bringe,
Wie die Kränze, die ich flechte,
Wie die Lieder, die ich singe.

Schnell vorüber schweben alle,
Ihre Dauer ist geringe,
Wie ein Schaum auf schwanker Welle,
Wie ein Hauch auf blanker Klinge.

Nicht Unsterblichkeit verlang ich,
Sterben ist das Los der Dinge.
Meine Töne sind zerbrechlich
Wie das Glas, an das ich klinge.

Festival Neue Literatur 2013

The annual Festival Neue Literatur has announced the featured authors for this year’s festivities. Every February in New York City, the festival brings together six writers hailing from Austria, Switzerland, and Germany with the intent of offering interesting discussions and readings along with enhancing the visibility of these contemporary writers to an American market. With our dearth of foreign novels in this country, FNL can be an exciting time to learn about new authors.

This year’s events take place during 22-24 February and all are free and open to the public (however, a couple do require an emailed RSVP, so check the website for details). These events have filled up in the past; last year, most notably was NYU Deutsches Haus’ brunch. I heard they had to turn people away because there was no room.

Events are held all around the city. For the complete listings, check their website. You can also find information on the authors, moderators & curators, sample translated texts and more. Enjoy!

thoughts on my new translator

A few months ago, I was asked if I would write a story to be included in an Austrian anthology. I was very honored but I told the editor that I could only write a story in English; I can translate from German but not write the other way. I was told that this would not be a problem at all and a translator would be secured for me. I was excited but then after the initial blush of being asked to be a part of this lovely collection, my fears started to set in.

Some of you might remember my first round of literary translation (we had a joint project where we both translated each other. We had no choice in picking each other and we were strangers before meeting). Granted, I wrote more about my experience translating her story, but she surely drove me nuts all around. Although, I have let it roll off my back, I am still unhappy with the way my short story turned out.

I thought about it and then quickly asked if I could find my own translator. No problem! A young writer friend of mine in Germany has taken up the task. I didn’t know if he had ever translated before but I had read some of his poetry. I was more concerned with him being a great writer because I believe that in order to be a fantastic translator, one must also be a fantastic writer.

My story for the anthology is short–about 1,600 words–and my friend has about a month to translate it. I have already received the first page in German. He had only a few questions and one or two slight misunderstandings, but I am over-the-moon. It has been such a relief knowing my story is in the right hands. Having your work represented in an unoriginal state could make one feel as if a pale facsimile is being produced (which can happen) but I hope that the German translation can become his own. I am very excited to see the entire project once it is completed.

it’s a bird? it’s plane? nope, just me; i’m back.

After a lovely time abroad, I have returned to the Big Apple. With suitable jet-lag still in tow, I found myself awake in bed at 5:30 this morning trying to finish my engaging airplane read (perhaps, a review soon?). Even though I have been gone for only 2 weeks, I feel very behind in my life in Manhattan (I was chastised for not realizing The Hunger Games film had come out).

A few weeks ago, I was at a book festival promoting a book that has a literary translation I worked on and a piece of original fiction. It was the first time this writer of no significance felt like a 10%-big-shot. In total, I participated in 4 readings/panels/etc. I then took a much needed vacation in Prague for a week where I received a surprising tan.

Sitting in my small bedroom next to my giant pile of undeclared Czech chocolate bars, I am making a to-do list for the near future:

1. find travel grant to return to Europe.

2. find a new part-time job, ideally in a small bookstore, perhaps? I have much in the way of bookish expertise!

3. translate translate translate

and most importantly…

4. write write write

Looking forward to catching up on all of my favorite writerly blogs!

Medieval cellar where I participated in a reading.

a poem [anonymous]


Here is another translation I did of a small medieval German poem from my old verse book. I’m becoming a little more comfortable reading and understanding this type of German. The words are either identical or nearly identical to high German and when read aloud, sound a lot like English. There was no information about the writer of this poem.


Dû bist mîn, ich dîn:
des solt dû gewis sîn.
Dû bist besloʐʐen
in mînem herzen;
verlorn ist daʐ slüʐʐelîn:
dû muost immer drinne sîn.
Wær diu werlt alliu mîn
von dem mere unz an den Rîn,
des wolt ih mih darben,
daʐ diu künegîn von Engellant
læge an mînem arme.


You are mine, I am yours:
you must be sure.
You are locked away
in my heart;
the key mislaid:
and you are inside of it always.
If I owned the world
from the ocean to the Rhine,
if I could have
the Queen of England
resting in my arms.

a poem by Heinrich von Veldeke

I really know nothing about Heinrich von Veldeke. Apparently, he popularized courtly love poetry in the troubadour style.

I haven’t translated anything since January and have decided to try my hand at something new. Granted, I’m not an expert on any kind of poetry but I figured I would attempt something short from a book of German verse that I have. Bare with me. I’ve never translated poetry nor have I translated from medieval German (which I have no concept of!).

Tristrant mûste âne sinen danc

Tristrant mûste âne sinen danc
stâde sîn der koninginnen,
want poisûn heme dâ tû dwanc
mêre dan dî cracht der minnen.
Des sal mich dî gûde danc
weten dat ich nîne gedranc
sulic piment ende ich sî minne
bat dan hê, ende mach dat sîn.
Wale gedâne,
valsches âne,
lât mich wesen dîn
ende wis dû min.
Tristan was unwaveringly
loyal to the queen,
by reason of poison
rather than the virtue of love.
My Lady! Be grateful
that I did not drink such a blend
and my love exceeds his.
Fair and honest one,
let me be yours and you be mine.

What I’ve Learned from my First Literary Translation

Yesterday was the day. I turned in my first ever literary translation. According to the publisher, the book will come out in March, which I’m extremely excited for. In the past, the only experience I had translating was in college. I worked on ancient texts that were straightforward and the authors were clearly dead.

The frank saying, the deader the better, is one that is usually appealing to most translators. I think overall I agree with this statement on the heels of my maiden voyage, but who knows, perhaps my opinion will change if I keep up with this.

However, I did find a few positive aspects of being in contact with the very much alive author.

1. She was able to inform me of the type of voice she wanted the narrator to have. There was no way for me to know this because she had not written the character with a specific voice in the original German.

2. Knowing her real-life inspiration behind the story.

3. Hearing her opinions on what she liked about how her story could be portrayed in English that she was not able to accomplish in German (i.e., she liked the added mystery that English was able to lend specifically in regards to German being a masculine/feminine language and English is not).

4. etc.

Now, on the flip-side, she was WAY too nit-picky. Seriously, we quarreled over a versus the. Not all authors are like this I’m sure, but by the end of the process, I had more confidence in telling her: “It sounds fine. Don’t worry. Native English speakers will understand.” I had to keep reminding myself that I was the authority of my language in this instance.

In the end, the translator is the one who makes the decisions. The original work has been transformed into something else completely. If you ever take a look at the beginning of a translated work, there will be the author’s original copyright as well as a copyright for the translation credited to the translator–almost as if these are two completely different entities.

This weekend, the author finally told me that she was happy with it and apologized for all of the nit-pickery. In my mind, I knew that she was just nervous of putting her work into someone else’s hands (especially when multiple languages are involved).

I guess my words of wisdom to anyone who is looking to work on a literary translation for the first time would be: make sure to find a work that you are really excited about. The story I translated was perfectly fine, but it was not my choice (for various reasons I will not get into). At times, it felt like a slog because I had no passion just an everyday interest in the actual story. Parts of it dragged but when I hit really intriguing moments, it was a pleasure to work on it. If you’re trying to translate for publication, finding an author that hasn’t been translated before into the language you’re working with is the best way to go. I’ve heard this from numerous people, both translators and publishers. If you do decide on a writer who is alive, you have to figure out the legal rights situation. So, just remember, in that case, the deader is better.

I would advise against literary translation if you’re a scatter brain. You’ve got to keep yourself in check. I have a full notebook filled with my scribbles for just this one translation. No matter how fluent someone is you will still utilize at least 2 dictionaries. You have to be savvy with language dictionaries. Also remember that translating isn’t a solo activity. I ran stuff by both English speakers and German speakers.

But the most important thing is you have to be a talented writer. Word-for-word translation is bad. Literary translation is good.

Und fertig!

and finished! …in German.

I am happy to say after a week of scrambling thanks to the publisher bumping up a due date, I have finished my first real literary translation. Granted, when I say finished, I mean that I have scribbled out some English words that might in some way correspond to the original text. I still have the week to go over my translation with my helpful native German speaker, send some pages to the author, and go over some sections with two other German-English translators working on this project who will help me with the more idiomatic elements of the story. Oh yeah, I also have to type up a clean and literary final draft for 9 January.

Phew! My mind has been mush (hence, the lighter posts lately but hopefully, I have some reviews, etc. up my sleeve soon) and I will be completely relieved once this whole process is over.

In conclusion, come next week, I will be consuming champagne or proseco, a very very big meal, and possibly, some delicious baked-good will be involved. For now, however, I will be watching some brainless internet television before I have to start thinking about my translation work for the coming week…