In this issue of Room we explore literature translated from languages other than English, and the act of translation in all its senses.
As a dilettante polyglot, I carry a collection non-English words in my mind—this started in Manitoba schools, where as a teen I learned to swear in Cree, and extends to today when I use one perfect word to say I miss you in Egyptian Arabic. My sophomoric beginnings aside, I think each word I learn that doesn’t exist in my mother tongue provides another way for me to look at things, another angle I hadn’t considered.
In my interview with Carmen Rodríguez—in which we discuss how her writing travels like she has from Chile to Canada—she shares one word in Spanish that means someone you cannot do without. In the opening of the issue, Souvankham Thammavongsa shows us how a Lao connotation opens us up to a new way of understanding the word pregnant. We then close the issue with michele marie desmarais' exploration of the word “owl,” where she finds relationships between meanings from Michif, Dakota, Sanskrit, and English. Writing such as theirs shows how submerging ourselves into another language can give us a greater understanding of the world. When we try new tongues, our own becomes richer with infusions and transfusions of new elements, and foreign turns of phrase.
But just reading a good translation in English—and we also have some of those in the issue—gives us a lens to look through and understand (if only briefly) how writers from other times and places may think and feel. Because we know the impact literature has on our humanity, we see the potential for reading to dissolve preconceptions or misconceptions we have about another culture. More than ever before, readers understand how crucial it is to expand our repertoires, to find stories and ideas outside of narratives that dominate prescribed reading lists and literary review pages.
In this issue, our “translators,” like Rodríguez, Thammavongsa, and desmarais, are often the original writers. They are immersed so completely that they can express themselves in two (or more) tongues. Take our commissioned writer, Erín Moure, a true polyglot and voluminous translator, who presents an impossible play to illustrate her ideas about language and meaning.
Since contributors to this issue typically began their language immersion in transit (migration, travel, forced exile), it’s also appropriate that translation means moving from one place to another. Najwa Ali describes languages as “becoming tickets and mirrors.” Sneha Madhavan-Reese listens to stories in a language she doesn’t know, filled with words she still understands. Shelley Wood describes her own “clumsy, dismemberment” of language that becomes poetic while travelling in the back seats of taxis.
Finally, it is Meryl McMaster’s series of portraits that illustrate the most direct definition of translation. Each of her subjects, which includes herself on our cover, become sculptural creations, converted from one form to another. This definition is the thread that binds the creative expressions found in the following pages.
I hope you, too, are transformed by the act of reading “In Translation.”
michele marie desmarais was born and raised in Vancouver. Her background is Métis, Dakota, English, and French. Along the way, she also learned Sanskrit. Recent publications include poetry in Yellow Medicine Review, ISLE Journal, and Room. She lives in Nebraska but visits home frequently.
Rebecca Fisseha (@rebsee) is an Ethiopian-Canadian writer from Toronto. Her plays have been produced and developed by b current and Obsidian theatre companies, and published by Playwrights Canada Press. She is currently working on short stories and a novel. Her ruminations on diaspora await eyes at rebeccafisseha.com.
Amy Goh is a Singapore-risen artist specializing in black and white illustrations in the surrealistic and sublime vein. Amy is currently based in Montreal, where she has a foot down in a few too many dimensions of reality, and is actively exploring the potential for cross-medial artistic collaboration. Her work can be found at atlantisdreaming.org.
Sneha Madhavan-Reese lives in Ottawa. In 2014, she was a finalist for The Malahat Review’s Far Horizons Award for Poetry and won third place in The New Quarterly’s Occasional Verse Contest. Her debut poetry collection was a finalist for the 2013 Alfred G. Bailey Prize and is forthcoming from Hagios Press in 2016. Please visit madhavan-reese.com/sneha.
Meryl McMaster is an Ontario-based artist and a BFA graduate from OCAD University. She has exhibited internationally and is a recipient of various awards and scholarships. Her work is in several private and public collections including the AGO, Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, Canada Council Art Bank, and the Eiteljorg Museum.
Montreal poet and translator Erín Moure’s most recent works are Insecession, a biotranspoetics, published in one volume with her translation from Galician of Chus Pato’s biopoetics, Secession (BookThug, 2014), and The Unmemntioable (Anansi, 2012). Other recent translations are White Piano (Coach House, 2013) by Nicole Brossard, translated with Robert Majzels from French, and Galician Songs (Small Stations, 2013) by Rosalía de Castro, translated from Galician. In 2015, the poem-play Kapusta will appear from Anansi.
Carmen Rodríguez left her native Chile following the 1973 military coup and made her home in Vancouver. She is the award-winning author of Guerra Prolongada/Protracted War (Women’s Press Literary, 1992), a volume of poetry; De cuerpo entero/and a body to remember with (Arsenal Pulp Press, 1997), a collection of short stories; and Retribution (Women’s Press Literary, 2011), a novel.
Rachel Thompson joined the Growing Room Collective in 2010. Her book of poetry, Galaxy (Anvil Press, 2011), won Simon Fraser University’s First Book Competition. She recently moved to Montreal where she tries to speak French.
Christina Tjandra practices Indonesian narrative-culture through her work. A delegate of the Republic of Indonesia for the UNEP, she was raised in the Indonesian art community. Since receiving her BA from OCAD University, her work was published in American Illustration 31. She exhibits work internationally and lives in Toronto.
Shelley Wood worked fifteen years as a health journalist and editor before summoning the audacity to try other types of writing. In the past year, her stories have appeared in The New Quarterly, Pacifica Literary Review, carte blanche, and The Danforth Review. She lives in Kelowna, B.C.