Sunday, July 30, 2017

Interview _ Renata Strzok

Renata Strzok is a writer, blogger, translator, and technical writer.

As a member of a student creative writing group, she had some of her stories, both in Polish and in English, published at CREATURE: Sekcja Creative Writing KNA UJ and currently is co-editing the second short story anthology to be published by the group.

Strzok also blogs at Uczę się mówić, which she describes as "a mixture of personal reflections, mostly on the issues of mental health, quotes, angry rants, and short fiction."

She finished her MA studies in translation and intercultural communication at the Jagiellonian University, and since then has cultivated her interest in translation through workshops and projects such as Yeats Reborn and Journeys in Translation. For two years, she has been working in the area of technical communication.

In this interview, Renata Strzok talks about creative writing, Journeys in Translation and poetry.

How would you describe your writing?

Most of my writing stays in my diary, which is as much a place to reflect on what happens within and around me as a document recording those reflections. Other than that, I write mostly short fiction, also quite introspective, but not necessarily personal.

For me, writing is a way to get the most important things – things that make me happy, angry, or which hurt – out of my head, and share them. This doesn’t apply to my work as a techwriter, which is not so much about writing as it is about gathering information and presenting it in the clearest and most useful way possible.

Who or what has had the most influence on you as a writer?

I think I’ve gone through several phases where I could notice different writers’ influence in my own writing. For example, there were the phases of Edward Stachura, Virginia Woolf, or Witold Gombrowicz.

What would you say are your main concerns as a writer?

Gombrowicz wrote that we should write about things that really interest us, and not be boring. That’s one of my main concerns: not to bore myself to death with my own writing because if I am bored, how can I expect a better response from others?

I also try to make sure that the things my characters do make sense emotionally, from the point of view of psychology. For example, if a character does something that’s bad for them, there should be a reason for it.

What is the name of the student creative writing group that you are part of? And, what does the group do?

The name is actually quite long: the Creative Writing Section of the Association of Students of English at the Institute of English Studies of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. The group has been active since 2014, and I’ve been part of it all along. I joined out of curiosity, and because I wanted to have people to talk to about writing.

Over the years, there were many occasions to discuss both serious and not-so-serious issues, have a beer together, and of course exchange feedback on the texts we write. In the very beginning, we agreed that the feedback must be constructive, so that we hear more than just “I didn’t like your story” or “you’re such a good writer”.

I can’t give you an exact number of people in the group - people come and go, but recently I think there are five people meeting regularly every two weeks.

Apart from the meetings, we organized two short story contests for students who are not native English speakers. We got submissions from Sweden, Lithuania, Spain, Russia, and of course Poland. We published the Obsessions anthology after the first contest, and we’re in the process of publishing the second anthology called Press Any Key. I got involved in the language editing of both books, and typesetting of the second one.

Press Any Key, the second anthology from the Creative Writing Section of the Association of Students of English at the Institute of English Studies of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, mentioned in a local newspaper.
Why are groups such as this important?

Through interaction with other writers, you really learn a lot. For example, you may learn about kinds of literature you’ve never heard about, or learn that criticism doesn’t have to hurt. Thanks to our meetings, some of us started to submit their texts to online magazines or publishing houses, which they didn’t feel confident enough to do before.

Accomplishing something together, like we did with the contests, is also a great experience. But probably the most important thing about such groups is the awesome people you meet there.

What led you to translation and intercultural communication? 

I liked learning English at school. When I started getting fluent and reading books in this language, my first attempts at translating fragments of them came about kind of naturally. For example, I remember translating a fragment of Life of Pi just because I wanted to see what it could read like in Polish. Then, I started studying translation and intercultural communication, and learned some theory which was also interesting for me.

I also had great teachers, including dr Agata Hołobut and prof. dr hab. Marta Gibińska-Marzec, whose knowledge and enthusiasm for translation were really inspiring.

During my studies, I had a lot of practice: we translated everything from promotional materials through to travel books and poems. Nowadays, I sometimes take part in events such as the ha!wangarda festival, or the Miłosz Festival, which offer challenging and sometimes unconventional translation workshops.

I’ve also participated in two translation projects so far, both centered around poetry: one of them was Yeats Reborn, a call for translations of selected W.B. Yeats’s poems, and the other was Journeys in Translation which is translating poems from Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) into other languages.

How did you get involved with Journeys in Translation?

I learned about it from a friend from the creative writing group. Then I read the poems, and found some of them interesting to translate. So I started translating.

Which were the most challenging aspects of the work you put into the project?

Given that Polish translations tend to be longer than their English sources, one of the biggest challenges was preserving the shape of some of the poems. For example, “Stories from the Jungle”, where lines are already long, so I didn’t want to make them any longer, and “Dislocation”, where I think the brevity of the lines contributes a lot to the meaning.

I also made multiple attempts at the poem “but one country”, where I strove to preserve not only the shape of a globe, but also the links between lines in both parts of the poem, which wouldn’t form naturally like in the English text because Polish has more cases.

One of the poems I liked best, “Yalla”, also proved difficult to translate. Its imagery is quite complex, but after reading it several times I started seeing that rock, that sand, that heavy sky and the remote land with my own eyes. I tried to render this poem according to what I imagined reading it. Some of the expressions I used, e.g. “pomarszczone palce gładzą sny / osad, co powstał wbrew ruchowi fal” (“wrinkled fingers stroke dreams, / residue all at odds with the tides”) are unusual in Polish, but I think that’s the strength of this poem, that’s what made the English text so memorable to me.

As part of Journeys in Translation, Renata Strzok has translated poems that include Rod Duncan's "but one country" and Trevor Wright's "Yalla", from Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015), from English into Polish.

What would you say is the value of initiatives like Journeys in Translation?

I guess all translation projects encourage people to communicate across language barriers as well as other barriers, to do with culture and politics. We may live in an era of globalisation, but this is still very important.

This particular initiative is also important in that it tackles the topic of refugees through a different medium, and from a different perspective than we’re used to. Where I live, the media focus on conflict, do little to fight xenophobia within the country, and hardly ever talk about ways to help those seeking refuge. The poems in Over Land, Over Sea offer a closer look at the lives of refugees, showing their experiences, so that we see them for who they are: people who need help.

Editor's Note:

Journeys in Translation aims to facilitate cross- and inter-cultural conversations around the themes of home, belonging and refuge.

The project encourages people who are bilingual or multilingual to have a go at translating 13 of the 101 poems from Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) from English into other languages and to share the translations, and reflections on the exercise on blogs, in letters and emails to family and friends, and on social media.

So far, the 13 poems that are being used as part of the project have been translated into languages that include Italian, German, Shona, Spanish, Bengali, British Sign Language, Farsi, Finnish, French, Turkish and Welsh. Currently, over 20 people from all over the world are working on the translations. More translations and more languages are on the way.

In Leicester, Journeys in Translation will culminate in an event that is going to be held on September 30 as part of Everybody's Reading 2017. During the event the original poems and translations will be read, discussed and displayed.

Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) was edited by Kathleen Bell, Emma Lee and Siobhan Logan and is being sold to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)Leicester City of Sanctuary and the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum.

Copies of the anthology are available from Five Leaves Bookshop (Nottingham).

More information on how Over Land, Over Sea came about is available here.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Interview _ Monica Manolachi

Monica Manolachi is a poet, a literary translator, and a lecturer at the University of Bucharest, Romania, where she teaches English in the Department of Modern Languages and where she completed her PhD in 2011.

Her research interests are American, British and Caribbean literature and culture, postcolonial studies and contemporary Romanian and Eastern European literature in translation.

Her books include Performative Identities in Contemporary Caribbean British Poetry (Ars Docendi, 2017); and the poetry collections, Joining the Dots / Uniti Punctele (PIM, 2016), Poveștile Fragariei către Magul Viridis (Fragaria’s Stories to Magus Viridis) (Brumar, 2012) and Roses (Lumen, 2007).

In September 2016, her Antologie de poezie din Caraibe was awarded the “Dumitru Crăciun” Prize for Translation at the International Festival “Titel Constantinescu”, Râmnicu Sărat.

Monica Manolachi has also translated children’s literature by classical authors such as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and Jack London into Romanian. [Editor's Note: See also, Manolachi's Galatea Resurrects #.25 interview on poetry, translation and research].

In this interview, Monica Manolachi talks about poetry, Caribbean and Romanian literature and Journeys in Translation.

How would you describe Performative Identities in Contemporary Caribbean British Poetry?

Performative Identities is a book about some of the cultural meanings of the poetry written by authors from the Caribbean, who live, have lived or lived in the United Kingdom: John Agard, James Berry, Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Fred D’Aguiar, David Dabydeen, Linton Kwesi Johnson, E. A. Markham, Kei Miller, Grace Nichols, Dorothea Smartt, Derek Walcott and Benjamin Zephaniah.

It focuses on five themes: performative identity; performative gender and race; postcolonial metamorphoses; collective trauma and memory; and religion. The thread that connects all these themes is the idea that the hubristic component of cultural hybridity may be considered a source of performative identity. The poet’s role is to transform hubris into an artistic product by using metaphoric language.

How did the book come about?

In 2008, I was sailing the ocean of literature published in English, trying to choose a topic for my PhD thesis. I was in Bucharest, where I live, and couldn’t decide what direction to take. The novels of Hanif Kureishi, Doris Lessing or Iris Murdoch, but also the metaphysical poets, the Romantic poets or the contemporary poets were on my list.

Apart from using elements of literary studies, I wanted to develop a translation component.

Professor Lidia Vianu, my coordinator, told me the work of black British poets hadn’t been approached here by then, so that would have been an excellent topic. After reading and listening to poetry by some of the poets mentioned above, after accessing some articles, biographies and interviews and watching some videos online, Caribbean literature emerged as a significant subject in my mind, slightly different from Bob Marley’s music (quite popular here) and very different from Pirates of the Caribbean (in the cinemas at the time).

Of course, I liked what I read: the pronunciation, the attitude, the wordplay, the approach to history, the focus on memory, ethno-racial matters and relationships, or the variety of poetic styles and techniques. The problem was that the main corpus was practically not available in any our libraries. I had been interested in postcolonial studies ever since we were introduced to the topic at the faculty; in 2003, I had seen the word “postcolonial” on a door at the ELTE, the state university of Budapest, where I was studying Hungarian (my minor). So, in the summer of 2008, I made my research proposal after reading only a small part of what was about to come.

I am a very intuitive person and now I think I made the best choice. The theoretical scaffolding was developed later, following the main idea of the hubristic side of cultural hybridity, in the sense that the latter may hide many inequalities and unhealthy relationships.

I had heard about the Greek term hubris in high school, when our literature teacher, Mr. Gheorghe Mitrache, introduced us to ancient Greek drama. Later, as a student of foreign languages, I realized there are etymologists who agree that there is a link between hubris and hybridity, and the Oxford English Dictionary mentions too that hubris is the root of the word hybrid.

It means there must be theorists who support this view, I thought. The more I read about (cultural) hybridity, the more I realize there are arguments for this perspective.

In the first year at the doctoral school, the scholarship offered by the University of Bucharest allowed me to buy some books online, especially the poetry collections. It was only in 2009, when I went to Oxford to do research in the Bodleian Library, that I eventually started to go scuba diving in the deep Caribbean Sea of poetry.

This is, in short, how my journey of cultural translation began.

Monica Manolachi's books include Performative Identities in Contemporary Caribbean British Poetry (Ars Docendi, 2017); and the poetry collections, Joining the Dots / Uniti Punctele (PIM, 2016), Poveștile Fragariei către Magul Viridis (Fragaria’s Stories to Magus Viridis) (Brumar, 2012).

Which were the most challenging aspects of the work that went into the book?

Firstly, the many local languages spoken in the Caribbean – Jamaican Patois, Guyanese Creole etc. – have been a source of poetry, of course, which means that what Kamau Brathwaite called “nation language” in The History of the Voice (1984) appears as a significant linguistic phenomenon in the collections published by these authors.

It is English, but not quite. At first, I had some difficulties.

In a slim book entitled Slave Song, writer David Dabydeen shows the gap between Standard English and the various dialects spoken there and gives some explanations why people prefer a hybrid language, suggesting what might happen in the psyche when such dialects are obliterated, and that translating dialects might pose problems.

When trying to translate some of these works, I realized Standard Romanian is like Standard English: it does not express the same reality. And then, what dialect to choose?

In this case, I guess, one perfect equivalence would be texts written in a Romanian dialect about our realities, through glocalization, which I have actually seen lately.

Secondly, the poetry written by Caribbean authors is rooted in numerous cultural phenomena originated in almost all continents: the triangular history of the slave trade, the multicultural European heritage, the New World, the mass migration across the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans etc. The texts are often palimpsests, one word may have multiple meanings and the translator must work carefully not to obscure them.

One book that seemed opaque to me at the beginning was Bill of Rights by Fred D’Aguiar, which deals with the Jonestown massacre from November 1978. Only after watching a documentary online did I have a better grasp of the tragedy the book is about.

Another challenging aspect I am researching at the moment is intralinguistic translation: how contemporary poetry interacts with various Anglophone literary and artistic traditions. It is challenging because it involves a lot of work and resources, but I find it rewarding and useful for future translations.

Last but not least, one of the risks of considering the hubristic component of cultural hybridity as a source of performative identity is to think that hubris must be produced or procured like any other resource. It happens anyway, because man is a small creature in the universe and cannot control everything.

I’d rather say that, instead of just sitting and waiting, man should consider why and how hubris occurs.

I don’t have clear answers to these questions.

What is obvious is that many crises are produced because of not understanding when and how certain phenomena become excessive.

It has taken me about ten years to read and partially assimilate what these authors have written. I’m sometimes suspicious of some of the ideas I put in the book. I fear they might be biased, unripe or improper. My English might sound awkward at times. However, I’m sure poetry has its own mysteriously redeeming ways.

Which were the most enjoyable aspects of the work?

One of the best features of Caribbean poetry is that it tackles cultural and historical trauma in many healing ways. It ranges from epic poems such as Omeros by Derek Walcott or Turner by David Dabydeen, dealing with collective wounds, to humorous and witty condensed poetry which debunks stereotypes.

It also ranges from poems written in Standard English to many others which combine it with dialects and other languages, or are written in dialect altogether. The colour of saying – to quote Dylan Thomas – is a rainbow of feelings and rhythms, the joy of difference I identified with from the very beginning.

As a learner of English, reading Caribbean poetry is very rewarding. It makes me dream in English and of distant places and people.

Last week, I dreamt I was on a beach in Barbados!

Last summer, I dreamt both Walcott and Brathwaite, and had a conversation with them. Walcott said “the night is young” and went upstairs. We were in Barbados too. I have recurrent dreams of this island.

Some years ago, I dreamt Grace Nichols in my kitchen: we were chatting like close friends.

Apart from this influence, I find very interesting the way these poets respond to other literary traditions, especially the Western one. It is a vivifying interaction with fusions, intrusions and disjunctions, which reveals traces of intercultural contact, the nature of that relationships and the tensions of power relations.

Postcolonial poetry from the Caribbean suggests directions in which cultures can relate to one another.

As a translator, I started rendering poems into Romanian some years ago. They were hosted by a local webzine, EgoPhobia. In 2016, Antologie de poezie din Caraibe (Anthology of poetry from the Caribbean) won a local prize for translation in Râmnicu Sărat, a town near the place where I was born, Galați. The book includes poems by seven authors. (My intention is to continue with a second edition and to include selections from other authors as well.) Thus, vocabulary such as “star apple” or “star fruit” arrived in Romania both in literature and along with fruit traders.

I see Caribbean poetry as the fruit of endurance and infinite hope, of freedom and genius, the fruit of the “poetics of relation”, in Edouard Glissant’ terms.

What makes Performative Identities different from other books that are out there that look at more or less the same issues?

I am aware that there are hundreds of books about Caribbean culture and literature.

In comparison with other studies that locate Caribbean poetry in the English or the postcolonial literary canon, or that focus on either Caribbeanness or Britishness, my book explores a set of particularities related to how these poets reconfigure the identity of the contemporary migrant beginning with the 1970s.

Following a two-fold approach, both synchronic and diachronic, both literary and cultural, Performative Identities argues that the prominence of Caribbean literature has been the effect of transforming the burden of (neo)colonialism into artistic products. I also look into several psychoanalytical theories (D. Winnicott, N. Abraham and M. Török, or L. Kirmayer) to argue for the importance of poetry as a vibrant mirror of the soul in instrumenting this metamorphosis.

What sets the book apart from other things you’ve written?

It is the only book I have written in English from first to last.

I also write poetry in Romanian and English, articles and essays, and translate literature from and into English.

Apart from being a breathtaking journey, doing research for and writing Performative Identities was a threshold and a source of inspiration, an occasion to learn about the world and to engage in creating my own view through writing.

In 2012, a poetry collection about leaving, returning and becoming a whirlpool, entitled Poveștile Fragariei către Magul Viridis (Fragaria’s Stories to Magus Viridis), was published in Timișoara, Romania. In 2016, Joining the Dots / Uniți punctele came out in Iași, Romania. It is a bilingual collection which includes poems published over the last ten years and in which I engage with contemporary ideas related to translation.

What would you say are some of the things that unite the various aspects of the work you are doing?

Although I don’t teach literature at the moment, I sometimes bring poems in class to show students various types of discourse, to familiarize them with metaphoric language, with its power of connecting fields that may seem incongruent at first sight or of interrupting metanarratives when they ruin parts of society. Fortunately, poetry is not only about love in a narrow sense. A poet sees the love between a stapler and a mustang or between silence and numbers or between cassava bread and quantum physics. Good poetry moves mountains, cultivates sensitivity and can be a delightful, thought-provoking or healing activity.

The main topics of Performative Identities are aspects I tackle in my own writing and research.

I grew up in a multiethnic market town called Tecuci, a place at the crossroads, close to the former border between two historical provinces, Moldova and Wallachia. We used to travel quite often between Bucharest and Tecuci. It was a time when cultural difference officially did not matter much, given the general uniformization and nationalist cultural politics before 1989.

The first time somebody said to me I am a Romanian ethnic was in England in 2010. It took me by surprise. I had never thought of myself an ethnic before. A national, yes. My family name sounds Greek, it’s true, but I had always thought of it only in aural terms.

I believe that translating literature of the Caribbean – and from other postcolonial spaces – might promote a more relaxed and informed approach to interrethnic and interracial relationships, because readers can get a richer perspective on such issues if they are allowed to reflect and talk about them.

How did you get involved with Journeys in Translation?

A friend from Scotland, poet Neil Leadbeater, told me about the project and encouraged me to participate. We know each other because he has been a contributor to a local multilingual litmag, Contemporary Literary Horizon, coordinated by Daniel Dragomirescu.

Besides, given that for several years now I have been working with international students who come to study in Bucharest, such poems form part of the material suitable to share with them.

Ten years ago, I graduated from an MA in literary translation studies in Bucharest and have translated poetry ever since, for anthologies, radio, literary magazines, friends and strangers, paid or just for my pleasure or for future projects etc.

Which were the most challenging aspects of the work you put into the initiative?

When translating the poems into Romanian, "but one country" by Rod Duncan required more effort than the others, because of its content and shape.

I worked on it in stages: the identification of meanings; the syntax and the arrangement of the linguistic chunks; the final round shape.

It took about a week, as I had classes at the time.

I had to work quite a bit on the line “you should blush when you say to us…” A word-for-word translation would be too blunt. For the verb “to blush” I preferred “a se îmbujora” instead of “a roși”. Whereas the latter seemed too common to me, stemming from “roșu” (Eng. “red”), the former reminds us of “bujor” (Eng. “peony”), which is more positive, it evokes a mix of shame and hope, rather than just shame, it makes the poem less bitter and more engaging.

The Romanian peony (Paeonia romanica peregrina) is the oldest flower in my country. It survived the ice age and is as old as crocodiles.

From a different angle, the overlapping verbal and non-verbal components of the poem, which together form an instance of intersemiotic translation, give a powwow tonality to the whole.

In my translation, the last two lines of the first half and the next two lines play upon the statement/question binary.

Another challenging aspect is the juxtaposition of words that can be both nouns and verbs, which implies that there might be more than one way of translating them and reflects the existence of more than one reality and sometimes the clash of various perspectives. That occurs in "Song for Guests" by Carol Leeming.

One other thing is that, in "Stories from ‘The Jungle’", Emma Lee uses the pun “the right to chase lorries”. At first, I wasn’t sure what that meant and had to ask: It’s recent history.

Which were the most enjoyable aspects of the work?

I was delighted that "but one country" could be translated into Romanian and arranged exactly as I imagined it when I first read it.

When I wanted to take a photo of the printed page, I noticed the shadow of my hand in the background and thought it looked better with it than a simple photo of the poem.

I find it wonderful that poetry allows us to do so much with so little.

Several weeks ago, we discussed some of these poems in class and students commented on them. They resonated with poems such as "Dislocation" by Pam Thomspon, "What’s in a Name?" by Penny Jones, "The Man Who Ran Through the Tunnel" by Ambrose Musiyiwa, "Framed" by Marilyn Ricci or "The Humans are Coming" by Siobhan Logan.

In some cases, they have family members who work abroad and are sensitive to issues of migration, cultural identity and cultural difference.

Monica Manolachi's translation, into Romanian, of Siobhan Logan’s “The Humans are Coming”, Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) p.79.

What would you say is the value of initiatives like Journeys in Translation?

Translation presupposes very careful reading.

If it is poetry, then reality is once again filtered through an imaginative aura, where there is space for mindful reflection, patience and creativity. Values such as friendship, compassion, balance, subtlety, recognition, transparency or awareness are some that come to mind when rereading these poems about the refugee experience and recollecting the act of sharing them with friends, students or family.

Initiatives like Journeys in Translation connect the reality of literature written in English with the everyday multilingual reality seen both in the street and online. They are signs of normality as they can contribute to reshaping our worlds from one year to another, from one decade to another, in a very practical way. It is an instance of what Mahatma Gandhi is quoted to have said: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Posting the translations in various languages and the interviews on blogs and social networks is very helpful in this sense because, for example, I have access to what other translators wrote and could relate to their perspectives and come up with improvements. It is as if we were a team in the same room.

Editor's Note:

Journeys in Translation aims to facilitate cross- and inter-cultural conversations around the themes of home, belonging and refuge.

The project encourages people who are bilingual or multilingual to have a go at translating 13 of the 101 poems from Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) from English into other languages and to share the translations, and reflections on the exercise on blogs, in letters and emails to family and friends, and on social media.

So far, the 13 poems that are being used as part of the project have been translated into languages that include Italian, German, Shona, Spanish, Bengali, British Sign Language, Farsi, Finnish, French, Turkish and Welsh. Currently, over 20 people from all over the world are working on the translations. More translations and more languages are on the way.

In Leicester, Journeys in Translation will culminate in an event that is going to be held on September 30 as part of Everybody's Reading 2017. During the event the original poems and translations will be read, discussed and displayed.

Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) was edited by Kathleen Bell, Emma Lee and Siobhan Logan and is being sold to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)Leicester City of Sanctuary and the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum.

Copies of the anthology are available from Five Leaves Bookshop (Nottingham).

More information on how Over Land, Over Sea came about is available here.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Interview _ Rinita Banerjee

Rinita Banerjee is a freelance copy editor and translator.

A recent graduate with a Master's degree in English from the North Carolina State University in the US, she worked, until recently, as an editorial intern at Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, and has earlier edited social sciences and literature in translation books at an academic publishing outside in India.

She also writes short stories and flash fiction. Her work includes "The Door" and "Keeping" both of which have been featured in Tuck Magazine, an online, political, human rights and arts magazine.

In this interview, Rinita Banerjee talks about her writing, poetry and Journeys in Translation.

How would you describe the writing that you do?

The writing that I do draws from the images, silences and noise that surround me and are within me.

Sometimes it draws from the infinitesimal moments that one would really pass on as insignificant: like a sigh, a smell, a streak, a twitch, a line; it is like I am keen on what is in between the pages of a book when someone holds its pages in the middle and runs the thumb over the rest, the pages moving very fast till one reaches the end; one could even suddenly stop in between, out of nowhere. I am also keen on absorbing the ruffle the action causes.

It is like a photograph of a single thing that holds my attention completely. I feel that sometimes an emotion at a moment is so engulfing, so all-encompassing, that an explanation of why it is there becomes insignificant. Even what follows, is not important. Therefore, I think I would perhaps never attempt a novel because there, I would have to give away the mystery surrounding the moment. I am not interested in complete, finished, well-rounded wholes; I am in favour of the momentary, rough on the edges, tilted, dark and dark and dark little things, important things, things that are to be guarded, kept, sheltered.

A lot of such dark and dark and dark little things, images, moments, and one very important phrase that a dear friend of mine said to me once.

Who or what has had the most influence on you as a writer?

Everything I read, observe, speak or am silent about, and absorb, and even some that I seem to filter out – all of that influences me.

It is difficult to point out one single inspiration. There is my intuition, what belongs to my heart essentially. Along side that, there is a constant grappling with different voices in my head; I am always arguing with those when I intend to express something. Between my intuition, and those voices, I begin to write better – I think.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

This is a very difficult question to answer.

I feel like I am not the kind of person who thinks that as a writer I am very separated from the kind of person I am. So, the stories I am keen to tell, somewhere, always are influenced by what I have felt at a certain point in time. Therefore, I am always in a quandary about whether I should write more memoirs or whether I should attempt fiction. Just that I can invent more and interpret more if it is fiction, whereas in a memoir – the interpretation I have of a situation puts on me the burden of expressing that as the only truth – and that terrifies me a little. To keep writing separate from my personal experiences is a task.

Journeys in Translation encourages people who are bilingual or multilingual to have a go at translating 13 of the 101 poems from Over Land: Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) and to share the translations on blogs, in letters and emails to family and friends, and on social media.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer so far?

My most significant achievement as a writer is perhaps yet to come. So far, I have had two of my short stories published in Tuck Magazine, an online UK magazine.

But I think, the best I have written so far is a memoir of my experience of my father (who passed away several years ago) that I wrote as part of my Capstone project towards the end of my graduate program. A well-published professor of mine said it ought to be published. I was overwhelmed by this feedback and very humbled. Overwhelmed because I wrote very differently from many of my American classmates; my voice was very different perhaps because I came from a very different culture. And so I was never a very confident writer. The praised memoir was one I had written non-stop across perhaps two days; although it wasn’t very long, it was exhausting because it was so personal. When I received the feedback with literally no edits on it, I was aghast. I never want to publish it though. But yes, this was perhaps most significant for me since I had brought together the ability to tell a story through writing that was convincing and strong, and was very authentic.

The fact that I am working on a translation of a children’s bilingual book (a very thin one, illustrated too) with an Indian publisher currently waiting for the first proofs is also significant to me! It will be my first published translation.

How did you get involved with Journeys in Translation?

I came to know of the Journeys in Translation project through Facebook, and I believe I wrote to Ambrose Musiyiwa thereafter to know the details. Since I am hugely interested in translation, I was immediately interested in the project since it would have helped me exercise the skills I thought I had with regard to translating/editing.

Which were the most challenging aspects of the work you put into the project?

I had thought that it would be an easy affair – after all Bengali is my mother-tongue and I have studied it at school too. However, it has been challenging – translating these poems into Bengali. That’s also because I am used to doing translations into English.

Further, I think the most challenging part of this work has been to not to get lost in the technicalities of translation – for choosing the right words to express the right layer of meaning has preyed on my mind every time I started translating. And then the next level of it was to choose a sentence construction, that even though contesting the original constructions in many ways, related the meaning in a more fuller way. And that would affect my view of the poem in totality.

I almost felt the need to sit with the author and discuss the nuance of a certain situation or words used, to attempt a good translation of it. So I have spent a lot of time on the poems I translated so far. In “Waiting”, for instance, I got stuck with the usage of pronouns because third person pronouns aren’t gender specific in Bengali. Again, and I think I mention this as part of the post I uploaded at the time of uploading the poem: I found it problematic to translate “There were more than she thought” literally, exactly. Adding “she thought” in Bengali was making the sentence construction rather cumbersome and not sounding right; hence, I stuck to the “intended” meaning of “there were more” in number than she had imagined till before she saw them. So I added a word shonkhaaye or “in number.”’

I am always dissatisfied with my translations. That is also because I am a finicky person. I like to see the threads as I weave something. That is most annoying too, because the process tires me out, to keep going back and redoing an attempt to translate. In this context, consulting with my mother has been extremely helpful. In translating “Children of War” – I was getting stuck in between the voice of the speaker which I took to be a child’s and the diction that was best relating the meaning/ethos of the poem. So, my mother and I were into a long discussion on how to relay the meaning of “suffer” or even “milk mixed with fear”.

The literal translation of the word “suffer” in Bengali, in the context of the poem was sounding frivolous. And so I had competing thoughts mainly put in my head by my Ma. A word I used, jorjorito, to render the meaning of “suffer,” literally perhaps, means, to be oppressed by, or ridden with – but it sounded right in that I was able to interpret the sense of the sentence better.

Even for the title “Children of War” – it was a significant discussion that my mother and I had. For children afflicted by war, war is everyday, life is war, war is quotidian. So, my mother asked if “Children of War” could reel in “life” as a concept. We discussed this and titled it in Bengali as Jeebon-shawngramey biddho shishu – “jeebon” as in life. (I am still debating about it in my head.)

There was always also the tussle between using passive against active sentence-constructions – the former sound better and more correct, but then this is a child’s voice (how I saw it). But a child who has learnt to live with a gun as best friend, how both raw and grown up can he/she be – are questions that helped determined the course of the translation. Conversations with my mother, and thinking aloud and for longer periods of time, have immensely helped tackle the translations.

As part of Journeys in Translation, Rinita Banerjee has translated Pam Thompson's "Dislocation", Kathleen Bell's "Waiting", Penny Jones' "What’s In A Name" and Malka Al-Haddad's "Children of War" from English into Bengali.

What would you say is the value of initiatives like Journeys in Translation?

There is certainly immense value in initiatives like Journeys in Translation. This project is important because it helps us understand that words uttered in one language are words communicating emotion; and emotion is not shackled by language. This project allows this thought to transcend categorized identities like that of “refugee.” Refugees are, ultimately, human beings; so their pain, joys, experiences are no different from those of other human beings and are, thus, equally important. Their experiences need understanding, since they are worth that – understanding and empathy – emotions we must all be capable of.

Editor's Note:

Journeys in Translation aims to facilitate cross- and inter-cultural conversations around the themes of home, belonging and refuge.

The project encourages people who are bilingual or multilingual to have a go at translating 13 of the 101 poems from Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) from English into other languages and to share the translations, and reflections on the exercise on blogs, in letters and emails to family and friends, and on social media.

So far, the 13 poems that are being used as part of the project have been translated into languages that include Italian, German, Shona, Spanish, Bengali, British Sign Language, Farsi, Finnish, French, Turkish and Welsh. Currently, over 20 people from all over the world are working on the translations. More translations and more languages are on the way.

In Leicester, Journeys in Translation will culminate in an event that is going to be held on September 30 as part of Everybody's Reading 2017. During the event the original poems and translations will be read, discussed and displayed.

Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) was edited by Kathleen Bell, Emma Lee and Siobhan Logan and is being sold to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)Leicester City of Sanctuary and the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum.

Copies of the anthology are available from Five Leaves Bookshop (Nottingham).

More information on how Over Land, Over Sea came about is available here.