Translating Across Forms at BCLT


Shaking things up

trumpetIn the spirit of keeping things fresh, instead of talking about Italian books in translation, this week/month/season’s blog (it’s been a while and who knows when the next one will be!) is going to be about something completely different: translating across forms instead of from Italian. In other words, turning a piece of prose into poetry. It’s still translation of sorts and as it’s the closest I’ve ever come to actually penning poetry of my  own, forgive me if I toot my horn a little.

bclt3International Literary Translation and Creative Writing Summer School

I’m at the British Centre for Literary Translation in Norwich this week. Lots of things have been happening (more later) but the one thing that’s really blown me away is the creative writing programme. Translators spend their life “hemmed in” by the words and narratives of others. To coin a sporting metaphor, you could say it’s a bit like playing football. Only on someone else’s pitch, with someone else’s ball, and someone else’s rules.  The only thing we have of our own is our feet.

Mental gymnastics

So, staying with the football image, the route from one language to another is a bit like dribbling a ball successfully from one side of a pitch to the other. You need to get it in the net without breaking the rules or kicking it offside while dodging your opponents and entertaining the crowd. Oh, and you have to do it all so well everyone will come back to watch the next game. Which will be completely different of course: a new set of opponents, new formations, new surfaces, new tactics. Sometimes you dribble, sometimes you pass, sometimes you run straight for the goal.

In translation as in football, the only way to be ready is to stay supple and keep flexing your muscles, obviously of the creative variety if you’re a translator. Cue useful creative-writing exercises like the ones we were set this week by the staff of Writers Centre Norwich.

From prose to poetry

I was taken by a piece of condensed fiction by Lydia Davis – The Mice. It has everything I like in a piece of writing: pithiness, humour, rhythm, repetition, alliteration, imagery and an interesting personification of its animal protagonists. Our tutor, Anna Metcalfe, asked us to think about carrying the short prose form over into poetry. In my version, I decided to play on Davis’ comic portrayal of human feelings and behaviours in mice which “live in our walls but do not trouble our kitchen. We are pleased but cannot understand why they do not come into our kitchen where we have traps set, as they  come into the kitchens of our neighbours. Although we are pleased, we are also upset, because the mice behave as though there were something wrong with our kitchen. …..”

Here’s what I came up with.



We have traps

dirt, scraps


more than them

but to them you go


We are untidy

you like untidy

they are tidy

but to them you go


You hunt, nibble

for them

our neighbours

but our counters

our crumbs

you shun



What is wrong

How do you go

What do you fear

is it us? 


About MagicaTransla

Denise Muir is a creative commercial and literary translator who delights in writing, telling and translating stories. She is also Magicamente Translations, a professional linguist who looks beyond the words of a text to find the magic. By then recreating that magic in English, she strives to set sparks alight on the page and to touch people by what she (or rather, her clients) have to say. She is also an advocate of Italy’s indy publishing sector and promoter of strong female voices tackling big issues, as well as working in schools to champion diversity in children’s literature.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s