It’s the last day of class today. I’m rather sad. I’ve enjoyed coming “eye to eye” (as our teacher, Peter Levitt, puts it) with my peers and partners, seeing them lay themselves open honestly, reading their writing, seeing them progress. I think I’ve progressed too. Below I’ll paste in parts of my “learning statement” I had to submit today as part of my final sub.
For me one of the most interesting and educational things in this Translation course had to do with the differing degrees of modulation as we worked with the various texts (and various versions of the texts) and my reaction to these. At one end of the scale, there was the sticking closely to the bones. This felt pretty familiar and comfortable for me, coming from the perspective of a translator and editor, both of which are really about being a medium for the text from its originator to the source, trying to get a message across as clearly and faithfully as possible (I’m talking not so much about literary translation, but, say, technical).
And then, as I got braver and Peter gave us permission to get freer about playing with structure and form, we moved further down the scale, deviating from the bones more while trying to retain the essence of the work: that’s when I learned about writing and my own process. I think this was most successful for me when we worked on our own writing, or did the “backwards-forwards” poems [throughout the year, we had to post poems that resonated with us in some way. For this exercise, we had to choose one of those poems, break it down to its “bones” (see description here), and then recreate it], an exercise I loved. By really thinking about what I had wanted to say, and to play around with new ways to express it, I kept surprising myself. Towards the end of this semester, I felt like I had had a breakthrough. I know the writing I’ve come up with is not great or perfect or “there yet” by any means, but I have a start and I’m more confident in general. I feel more connected to my own pieces and my own “essence,” what I’m trying to say, to get across; this has felt like a stranger to me at times over the last couple of years, so it’s a relief to shake hands with it again.
I’ve also written some poetry, which is something I haven’t done for a good 15 years. I was surprised to realize how much I loved getting back to it, and I believe it’s helped my other writing: thinking on a microscopic scale about word choice, taking the time to sit down and slow down and be methodical. My biggest disappointment during the course—note I said during and not with!—has been lack of time to truly engage, sit, be still, during this unbelievably busy year. However, I’m coming away with a tool I’ll be able to use going forward.
Another tool learned has been the usefulness of breaking things down into the “bones” as a way of accessing the heart of the piece. This has been essential.
As an example of stuff we’ve done this year, below is a paragraph that came bubbling up out of some bones Peter gave us (I won’t paste them in wholesale, but basically there’s a boy at the end of a trail by a river that sounds like people chanting. He looks up and sees the geese flying; he realizes spring is coming).
He finds trees again at the bottom of the arid mountain, stunted survivor trees bent grudgingly over patches of shade. He sits beneath one of the trees and watches the water. Brown with mud, white with foam, the river tears the landscape apart. He’s trapped; he can’t get across until a ranger on horseback comes. He wonders how the Incas did it, how many they lost. They kept renaming this place: Conconcagua, Canconcagua, Concahua, Aconcagua. The foreign syllables bring a sudden gut-punch of homesickness, a sharp intake of breath. Eyes fixed on the other side of the river, he whispers the words to himself, a chant blending with the rushing roar of the water. He looks upward to find some familiarity in the sky. The sky looks the same wherever you are, even though it’s nearly autumn here, and at home, it’s nearly spring.
So, the end of another course, another phase, winter.