Modern Poetry in Translation

Brighton Festival: Modern Poetry in Translation

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while will know that I helped Modern Poetry in Translation (MPT) when they attended Brighton Festival last year. I loved it, and even though I probably wasn’t needed this year, Mathew (organiser of the literary events) kindly let me help out once again.

As I didn’t have the opportunity to pick up this spring’s edition of MPT, Twisted Angels, I don’t have a poem for you. However, I’ll try to recount the event with so much enthusiasm you’ll want to buy your own copy regardless.

Modern Poetry in Translation

For those of you unfamiliar with MPT:

When Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort founded MPT in 1965 they had two principal ambitions: to get poetry out from behind the Iron Curtain into a wider circulation in English and to benefit writers and the reading public in Britain and America by confronting them with good work from abroad. They published poetry that dealt truthfully with the real contemporary world. For more than 40 years MPT has continued and widened that founding intent.

MPT builds on the first editors’ extraordinary achievement. It affirms the vital importance of poetry in the modern world. It brings the best new translations, essays and reviews that address such characteristic signs of our times as exile, the movement of peoples, the search for asylum, and the speaking of languages outside their native home.

This year was different from the last, both in content and format. Sasha Dugdale – editor of MPT – chaired a small discussion on Brazilian poetry and prose. The panel consisted of poet Angélica Freitas, and translators Hilary Kaplan and Daniel Hahn. Hilary translated Angélica’s poetry for the spring MPT edition. While Daniel has translated the novel ‘Nowhere People’ by Paulo Scott.

“perfect teeth, listen up, you’re not going to get anywhere” | “life’s tough, perfect teeth” – Angélica Freitas

Sasha began by asking why the panelists thought Brazilian literature is so current. Daniel speculated that it isn’t that Brazilian literature has suddenly happened, but that we’ve finally taken notice. Angélica described the Brazilian scene as a vibrant one. It has become aware that there is more to poetry than one page of writing, and more indigenous poetry is being noticed. Hilary explained there is a generation of Brazilian poets who are looking outside of Brazil for inspiration. Angélica being an example of this, she writes poetry on beauty, gender and sexuality. During the dictatorship (1964-1985) there was an internal focus, on nation and nationalism. Once the dictatorship ended there was opportunity to look outside of the ideas of nation in regards to creativity.

“Gertrude Stein has a big butt, move over Gertrude Stein” | “the rubber ducky is mine Gertrude Stein” – Angélica Freitas

Hilary went on to discuss the difficulties of translation, on preserving meaning while translating accurately. Is it her task as a translator to translate the poem or translate word for word? Hilary has a love of language that shone through as she spoke. She is passionate about translating while retaining meaning, finding that balance. There was a lovely moment when Angélica praised Hilary’s translations, explaining she would never want to translate her own. I don’t believe Hilary and Angélica had met before.

Angélica’s latest poetry book focuses on women and she identifies as a feminist. She is proud of her latest collection (rightly so) and sees nothing wrong with being a feminist writer writing about women.

The latter half of the evening moved from poetry to prose as Daniel read a section of the novel he translated, ‘Nowhere People’. He spoke of how the translation of prose is similar to the translation of poetry – in trying to translate, but also retain meaning. In explaining the complications that arise with translation he was so interesting I forgot to take notes.

I felt inadequate as Daniel discussed what goes in to translating foreign fiction. A lot of love and care is poured into the process, it can become as much a work of the translator as the author. A bad translation could turn you off what may be a brilliant book. It was one of many moments in the evening where I berated myself for not at least being bi-lingual.


Modern Poetry in Translation is only £19.90 per year, £14 for digital, a small cost for all the work that goes into the editions. You can find MPTSasha, AngélicaDaniel on Twitter, should you wish to delve deeper into the world of Brazilian poetry and poetry in translation.


Have you read any translated poetry? What is your favourite?


4 thoughts on “Brighton Festival: Modern Poetry in Translation

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